There is a feeling I get sometimes. It’s a sense that although things are fine now, they are about to go wrong. I remember hearing once that really good typists know they are about to make a mistake several keystrokes before they actually do. They say the same things about jugglers (substituting “flaming blowing balls” for “keystrokes”). A former colleague compared it to riding a runaway horse. Right now you are on top and kind of steering. You know it will probably change and you will end up under the horse. But right now – man what a ride!
It’s not so much about “things being fine” or “things going wrong,” as it is about control. Am I in control or out of control of what’s happening and what’s coming next and what’s after that and after that?
Two months ago, I was on vacation in Northern Minnesota on the shore of a really big lake. I was also heading into my last month at my job. I had nothing certain waiting for me on the other side. I had resumes out. I had folks interested. I had lots of good wishes. But nothing certain, just an odd sense things would work out.
I spent a fair amount of that vacation offline. There was a lot of staring at the water and thinking. You can do this, I reminded myself again and again. Don’t panic. Keep busy. Spend the time between jobs writing and reading. Use the opportunity for some reflection and self-care. Toward the end of the trip, I was in a coffee shop that just happened to have Wi-Fi. I took a quick look at my email and discovered someone I had sent a resume to on a whim wanted to interview me the day after I got back into town.
Since then life has felt like a run-away horse. Two interviews and a job offer later my infinite “funemployment” had shrunk to two weeks. And then I had to pull off a huge fundraiser and plan a mission trip. And then I got a freelance gig out of the blue. And then I volunteered to do some driving for a family undergoing a medical crisis. And I lent some marketing help to an organization where I sit on the board of directors. I was getting up earlier and putting in longer days than when I had been employed. My days were tightly scheduled.
And then the flaming bowling balls started to crash to the ground. I missed a deadline. I got dates confused and completely missed an enneagram training I had worked to get a scholarship for. It felt like my home was nothing more than a place to dump my briefcase for a few hours before heading in again.
Like I said, it’s about control. The thing I hate the most about these times is feeling out of control. But we only have limited control over life at the best of times. And we all lose control sometimes. I struggle to make peace with that reality. I struggle even harder to see that the more I try to lock down control – to predict and prepare for what might happen, to decide what should happen – the less energy and flexibility I have for dealing with what actually happens. Sometimes it seems I eliminate the space life needs in order to happen.
I am beginning to think the opposite of control is not chaos, mostly because I seem to create a lot of chaos for myself when I try to maintain too much control. I am not sure what the opposite of control is. Acceptance? Flexibility? I’m not sure, but I know I need to keep working on it.
I have been at my new job as social media specialist for a large suburban church now for two whole weeks. I love the job – it’s the right mix of creative planning and tightly managed details. I love the people – they are fun, friendly and helpful yet leave me alone to do my job. They changed the job to give me more freedom and chance to be creative. They are already talking about new, additional projects. Best of all, the bowling balls have rolled out of the way and the flames are dying down.
But the job part-time and not enough by itself to keep body and soul together, as my dad used to say. I know I need another source of income. I have some leads and some resumes out. I have folks interested in my freelance services. But I don’t know what will happen. I long for more control.
Then I remember where I was two months ago. Back then, I had no clue I would end up where I am now. I know that if I had been in control two months ago, I would not be here now.
So, I work at being accepting. I keep flexible. I try to view my life as a huge trust exercise with me throwing my arms open wide and falling backwards, laughing into whatever is coming. But it’s hard. I give into the panic and the worry and when I do I scrabble for control again.
So I go back to working on acceptance and keeping flexible. It’s a practice. I’ll probably never completely get over my need to control my life. But that’s okay. It’s about the practice. And when the practice gets too hard, I remember where I was two months ago and tell myself this:
Make space for the surprising place you will be two months from now.