How control is the biggest thing holding you back in life
That’s why we’re all here, right? You read to learn something new. You eat to satiate your hunger. You drink to quench your thirst. You watch TV to avoid feeling bored.
We make the choice to consume to remain comfortable and avoid these inconvenient feelings.
What happens when we face those feelings of discomfort?
“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
— Bertrand Russell.
My Fear of being wrong, looking stupid, or getting hurt has led me to my most life-changing moment yet. At the time, I was self-medicating with alcohol to the point of being blacked-out drunk and projecting my insecurities on other people and my professional life. I was searching and consuming things to fill this void I wasn’t aware I had.
I was trying to escape the one thing I could not escape from — myself.
I was living my life on autopilot. It was easier to let life just happen to me. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize we are trying to fix a problem we don’t know we have.
Children are perfect at simply living. They are invincible and uninhibited, fearlessly navigating the world and resiliently learning from their behavior. They fall down, then get back up.
I attended a birthday party for my best friend’s one-year-old son. The living room was overflowing with boisterous children no older than five. They were running around and playing with other kids they had just met, unoccupied by the possibility of being judged or hurt. Instead, giddy laughter and excited squeals filled the room.
When the energy quieted down, we all gathered around the television to watch Frozen. If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a short summary:
It’s a coming of age story about Princess Elsa and her younger sister Anna, who both live in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with supernatural powers that allowed her to produce ice and snow, creating frozen playgrounds for her and her sister to play in. When they were young, Elsa accidentally injured Anna, ultimately causing her to lose memory of the event and of her sister’s powers. Ashamed, Elsa tries to protect Anna by ceasing any contact with her and hiding her powers away from the entire kingdom.
As we were watching the movie, four-year-old Maya sat next to me. We only met for the first time that night. At her age, she’s already so outspoken and has a lot of sass. She is who I aspire to be. When she sat next to me she simply wanted to cuddle, enjoy the movie, and make sure I was warm under the blanket. She even adjusted the cozy apparatus so it covered all corners of my body, including all toes on my two feet.
In an instant, my heart thawed. I don’t remember the last time I received this type of pure love from a stranger. My entire adult life I avoided this feeling, trying to protect my own ego. Like Elsa, I avoided contact with the outside world and built a frozen castle to hide away in.
With her simple act of kindness, Maya showed me what true power is — to give love by being your true self and expect nothing in return.
Research indicates that individual experiences are the strongest predictors of fears and phobias.
That moment got me wondering about all the ways I don’t show up for other people or reasons I don’t operate out of love. Similar to Elsa, in many cases I automatically operated out of fear.
I fear I’m not good enough.
I fear I’m not smart enough.
I fear I’m going to get hurt.
I fear I will lose control.
Our reactions to the stimuli that caused fear are conditioned responses, which leads us to hide or avoid the fear-causing stimulus that caused the feeling altogether. In Elsa’s case, it was her magic that she later perceived as dangerous.
I tried to control my fears by completely avoiding them, looping me to experience the same, stagnant feelings of being stuck and afraid. My desire to control the situation prevented me from living up to my truest potential. It hindered me from living.
So how do I conquer these fears?
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.”
— Charles R. Swindoll
First, control what you can control. Most of life is how you react to situations. By understanding and distinguishing the things in your life you have full control over — your reactions, habits, and how you choose to spend your time — empowers you to proactively live your life on your terms.
The remainder of life includes situations you can’t control. What is meant to be, will be. In my entire existence, I’ve been trying to control the outcome and my emotions. I feared my emotions so much that I learned to avoid them.
Instead, I’m beginning to understand the antidote to control — trust. I tell myself,
I trust that I am resilient, strong, and competent.
I trust that I can handle whatever comes my way.
I trust that this is changing me for the better.
I trust that my emotions are trying to tell me something.
I trust that this too shall pass.
As they say, live and let be. In my 28 years of existence, I have been trying to control my emotions. For one reason or another, I learned to repress them and stay guarded. However, now I am relearning that in order to fully heal, I need to fully experience my feelings and let it pass. And trust that it will.
Letting It Go was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.