Some Things To Try When Life Feels Out of Control

We are meant to be powerful. I really believe that. We are born with an innate power over our decisions, power over our bodies and personal space, power over our circumstances and power to organize our surroundings the way we want them to be. We are not all-powerful but we are incredibly powerful.

Yet many of us are living powerless.

Powerless might not be the word you would use for your circumstance. You’d probably say something like, “depressed, anxious, helpless, frustrated, angry” instead.

I wrestled with powerlessness for nearly two decades before I ever called it that.

Powerlessness usually starts because of injustice.

This is how it was for me. My first experience with a loss of power was when someone I trusted took advantage of me when I was very young. At the time, I was a child. I didn’t have power to change my circumstances. I didn’t have the voice to speak up about what I wanted.

I didn’t even have enough of a consciousness about what was happening to make sense of it.

But, here’s the crazy part.

Even when the injustice stopped, I didn’t suddenly begin to feel more powerful. It was as if I had gotten so used to living without my own power, I didn’t want it or need it anymore. If I’d had it, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Even the idea of having power over my life and circumstances was foreign to me.

I thought we were all just victims to circumstance, to those around us and to injustice.

What I didn’t realize was that I was really a victim to my own choices.

Powerlessness is learned. But it can be unlearned, too.

This is what I’ve been trying to focus on lately. The powerlessness I have learned for so many years—which led to depression, anxiety, frustration and persistent hopelessness—can be unlearned if I’m willing to change the way I think about power.

Although powerlessness began with an injustice, the only injustice now is that I’m still living powerless, by my own choosing.

For me, powerlessness shows up most often in these four ways:

  • Complaining
  • Blaming
  • Striving for acceptance
  • Disengaging or numbing

Are you living powerless?

I’ll never forget the first time someone suggested I might be giving away my own power. I felt furious. I seethed for days. How could that person possibly say something like that!? Clearly, they had no idea what I had been through.

If they had, they would understand what I was up against.

It wasn’t until I ran out of energy to be angry that I realized she was right.

It’s horrifying to stand up, turn around, and realize the oppression that once controlled your whole life isn’t there anymore. When did it leave? You wonder. How long have I been living as if I were oppressed, when I really wasn’t?

In order to reclaim my power, I’ve had to focus on the four behaviors I listed above.

It hasn’t been easy. They are deeply ingrained habits that are hard to change. I don’t have it totally figured out. But the more I lean into the learning process, the happier I feel.

I struggle less often with depression. My anxiety is slowly shifting. I feel more centered and peaceful.

Here’s a little about how that has looked for me:

  • Rather than complaining about being too busy or stressed, I choose to organize my time differently.
  • When there is a miscommunication, I choose to assume I didn’t communicate well, rather than that the other person didn’t listen.
  • Rather than complaining about how certain people treat me, I try to set better boundaries and expectations.
  • Rather than looking for someone to blame when things don’t go how I want them to, I look for ways I can accept responsibility, even if it’s small.
  • Rather than always deferring to the advice of others, I’m learning to listen to myself
  • Rather than worrying about my reputation, I focus on my character
  • When conflict or discomfort comes comes, I work to stay engaged and open—being as honest as I can about how I feel.

Like I said, this isn’t easy. I don’t get it right every time. But I keep working at it because I believe it is my obligation.

With power comes responsibility.

Maybe this is the reason so many of us avoid grabbing hold of the power we deserve—because we recognize that when we take the reigns of our circumstances, we have to own those circumstances.

We can’t pass the blame anymore. We can’t complain. Our choices create our reality.

This isn’t about controlling everything that happens to us. But it is about trying—it’s about failing gloriously, being willing to make a fool of myself, about not taking myself too seriously—and about using the small amount of power I’ve been given and using it well so that power can multiply.

The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Life And Career Is Make A Fool of Yourself

I’ve dedicated a great deal of energy in my life trying not to make a fool out of myself.

When I was in junior high, I remember thinking EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD was allowed to watch TV shows I wasn’t allowed to watch and listen to music I wasn’t allowed to listen to (at 13, most of life happens in caps-lock).

So to avoid looking foolish, my solution was to wait for the moment my friends began talking about the latest pop culture phenomenon and pretend like I knew exactly what they were talking about.

“Oh, I know! Boyz II men are so bad-ass!”

“Isn’t Clueless like, so totally awesome?!”

Even now that junior high is over (thank God) I still find myself, at times, going to great lengths to not make a fool out of myself.

These days, it looks something like this:

  • I prepare and prepare and prepare and over-prepare for speaking engagements, so I make sure not to say anything weird.
  • I sometimes agonize over what to post (or not post) on social media.
  • I obsess over blog posts. “Did I say it right? Did I miscommunicate? Am I going to look stupid? Do I know what I’m talking about?”
  • I hold back from doing things that feel outside of my comfort zone (even something simple, like playing frisbee) because I don’t want to look like an idiot.

And what good have these obsessions ever done me? Are they preventing me from making a fool out of myself? Probably not.

My latest realization is this:

The harder we work not to make fools out of ourselves, the more foolish we end up looking.

Trying not to make a fool out of myself has kept me from so many things I wanted to do in my life.

It has kept me from trying something new for fear of coming across as incompetent or unintelligent or unrefined (recently a friend offered to let me paint with watercolors and I nearly refused…for fear of looking stupid. I’m so glad I didn’t!)

It has kept me from taking risks.

It’s kept me from speaking up about things that matter to me.

It has kept me from being myself.

What has your fear of looking foolish kept you from doing in your life? When you consider the opportunity cost, ask yourself this: was it worth it?

What if making a fool out of ourselves could actually work to our advantage?

What if the things we think of as “foolish” aren’t really that foolish after all (like being out-of-the-know when it comes to pop culture)? What if they are the pieces of the puzzle that set us apart, that make us who we are?

What if making a fool of yourself could teach you an important lesson?

What if the chance of making a fool of yourself meant you got to try something new? What if you succeeded in an area where you never thought you could?

What if a willingness to make a fool of yourself is a prerequisite for creativity and innovation?

Would you give it a try?

I have a challenge for you—and it’s the same challenge I’ve been giving myself lately. It goes like this:

Go ahead, make a fool of yourself.

Seriously. I mean that as a literal challenge. Look for ways this week you can make a fool of yourself and go for it.

Wait for a moment when you would have, in the past, stayed on the sidelines or held back. But this time, don’t retreat. Don’t back off. Don’t give into fear. Move forward. Get in the ring. Make a fool of yourself.

Just see what happens. I think you might be surprised.

One Phrase I’ve Stopped Using When It Comes to Money

Do you ever feel like no matter how much money you have, it just isn’t enough?

You try to tell yourself it is enough (after all, you should be thankful for what you have, right?) but maybe you’re struggling to pay your bills or you have dreams and aspirations which seem unattainable at your current income.

No matter how many “you’re blessed” pep talks you give yourself, it doesn’t eliminate the frustration of limited finances.

I get this. I didn’t grow up with a ton of money.

I mean, it’s all relative I suppose. I always had what I needed. I had more than some and less than others. But we didn’t shop at the fanciest stores. We didn’t eat out much. We didn’t drive brand new cars.

When people talked about buying things or going on nice vacations or spending money on experiences, just the thought of it would give me anxiety.

The things I wanted always felt a bit out of my financial reach.

That is, until recently.

To be honest, my financial situation hasn’t changed that dramatically. I do make more money now than I did when I was in college or graduate school (obviously). Plus, I’m married and we don’t have kids yet, so with two incomes, we have a little wiggle room in our financial life we didn’t have before.

At the same time, I’m still in a little bit of debt from graduate school and we have bills and obligations, like anyone.

We still don’t drive fancy cars. We probably eat out too much. But I look for coupons and sales. For the most part, we are pretty conscious about where our money goes.

There are still several things we desire to do for which money seems like an obstacle.

That said, something really specific has changed about my financial life—and that’s the way I talk about money.

Talking about money differently has significantly reduced the anxiety I feel around money, it has given me the freedom to spend money on the things that matter most to me and in a really weird way it feels like it has expanded the money I do have to make it more valuable.

I know that seems impossible, but stay with me.

There is one particular phrase I’ve stopped using when it comes to money.

The phrase goes like this: “I can’t afford that” (or “it’s too expensive”)

It’s not that this phrase is never true in its own right. But learning to reframe the statement has helped me reframe the way I think about money—to stop thinking about it as a scarce resource, only available to certain people, and to begin thinking about it as a renewable resource that follows certain laws of nature.

So, for example, I really wanted to go to Italy for our anniversary this year. It’s obviously not a necessity, but we never went on a big honeymoon and it’s always been a dream of mine. I checked airline tickets and they’re around $1200 each.

To us, that’s pretty significant.

But rather than saying, “It’s so expensive!” or “We can’t afford it!” I’m saying, “it’s not our number one priority right now. Maybe next year.”

This simple change takes the responsibility off of my outside circumstances and puts it onto me for my financial choices.

It allows me to be the one who controls my money, rather than the other way around.

This might seem like a small deal, but I don’t think it is.

The more I pay attention to the people I know who talk about money this way—as a renewable resource that is not fixed in space and time, but as a resource we can train and use to our advantage—the more I believe this is a key to being content with your financial circumstances, no matter what they are.

I find this simple shift to be helpful whether I’m talking about a trip to Italy or whether I’m talking about my next light bill or rent payment.

As Marie Forleo says, “Not enough is a spiritual state, not a financial one.”

I’m curious. What phrases do you need to stop using when it comes to money? What are your strategies for being content with what you have, rather than constantly hoping for more?