I used to think I could set a course, work hard, and arrive at my destination.

I like it when life goes according to plan. I like things to be dependable and consistent. I like to know whats going to happen. In other words, I like to feel in control.

But often life doesnt go according to plan. Your moms diagnosed with cancer. You have a miscarriage. Your son flunks out of college. Your car breaks down on the way to an important meeting.

How do you feel when life throws you a curve ball?

  • Guilty
  • Ashamed
  • Like a failure
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Afraid
  • Inadequate

We often end up judging and blaming ourselves for things that we cannot control. That isnt fair.

No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, or what you do, there are simply some things that you cant control.

Not everythings your fault. Some things are, of course, and its important to take responsibility when you really did do something wrong, but Im talking about all the things that happen in life, that catch you off guard and send you into a tail spin, because they arent what you expected or wanted.

As much as you want to control life, theres also relief in accepting that you dont control everything that happens.

Trying to control everything and everyone, trying to make your life go just perfectly, is tiring. Its a huge burden to carry to expect that you will always know what to say and what to do, how to make everyone happy, how to succeed, the right way to do things, and what everyone should be doing. You cant and shouldnt be responsible for controlling and fixing all that.

Accepting that life is unpredictable and at times, out of control, allows you to move forward. If you dont accept this truth, you keep fighting hopelessly against reality. You remain caught up in the suffering and struggle of trying to control, fix, and change what you cant control, fix, and change. More effort, more perseverance, or more self-control won’t always create the outcome you seek.

You can hold tighter to what you wanted, what you expected, or you can release your expectations and embrace what is. Accepting what you cant change doesnt mean youre stuck and doomed to misery. You may not be able to change the situation or other people, but you can change how you react and think.

Accepting that many things are out of your control, isnt giving up or giving in. Its not weak or passive. It doesnt mean someone else wins and you lose. Its simply knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. It allows you to put your effort into what you can actually control.

How to let go of control and cope when life doesnt go as planned:

  • Figure out what you have control over (your own actions and emotions), what you have influence over (perhaps your childs beliefs), and what you have no control over (the traffic, the weather, your mothers drinking, or your brothers snide comments).
  • Notice when youre trying to control people or situations that are out of your control.
  • Pay attention to your feelings, thoughts, and self-talk. They let you know how youre interpreting whats happening. Check them against the reality of whats within your control.
  • Grieve your losses and disappointments. They are real and deserve to be acknowledged.
  • Remember youre not alone. Nobodys life turns out exactly as they planned. We dont need to compare our hardships, just know that we all have them and can empathize.
  • Look for the positives. Eventually, you may be able to see positive in even lifes most difficult challenges (but dont judge yourself if youre not to this point yet).
  • Remind yourself that sometimes good things are unexpected, too like an unexpected raise, an unplanned, but very much wanted pregnancy, or changing careers at mid-life.
  • Enjoy the freedom of not being responsible for everyone elses behavior.
  • Focus on what you can do and do it well.

I know that its not easy to let go of expectations and trying to control things, but I also know its worth it. I wish you well.


For more great content and support, join me on Facebook and my e-newsletter (sign-up below).

2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash