For those (of us) who like or need to control, we receive lessons periodically that show us that there are many things that we can’t control. Our family is experiencing one of those lessons this week. We planned a Spring Break ski trip to Colorado a year ago, and that trip is now in process. Regrettably for us, this is a very warm end of winter in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and there is very little snow. We are here to ski, well, the children and grandchildren are here to ski, and I am along for the memories! We are having 60 and 70 degree days, and disappointing amounts of snow. While there is some skiing possible, with the best conditions between 11am-3pm, it isn’t the ski trip out west we envisioned. Although there is plenty to do here other than ski, we planned this trip for the skiing. So we are disappointed. Although several of us more than once have echoed the words, “You can’t control the weather,” I know that we wish we could.
This experience reminds me of other things we can’t control, and some things that we can. I am reminded of some points I make when speaking and consulting on Communication and Leadership. Perhaps I need to remember these points as we make the best of this Spring Break vacation.
- We have no accountability or control of the response(s) of others. We have absolute accountability and control of what we say and how we say it. If we communicate effectively, the other person should not react, but we can’t control that. Regardless of what we say and how we say it, some people will be defensive and react. How we respond to the defensiveness may at least in part determine whether the reaction gets worse or improves, but not necessarily so. We should do our best to communicate well, and when the response isn’t what it should be, refuse to let the reaction of the other person pull us down.
- Relationships change over time, and some of those changes are not what we expect, or what we would prefer. Some friendships can last through all of our life changes, and some can’t. I have a couple of friends who are more like sisters than friends, and those relationships have survived moves, divorce, remarriage, death, and many other changes, and are still strong after 45 years. There are other relationships which were once close friendships, but that have not remained so. Being one who has difficulty letting go of anything (including clothes, stuff, and organizations) I tried to keep those relationships alive, but realized that there wasn’t enough interest from the other person to do so. I have come to accept that while I can control keeping clothes, stuff and organizations long past their usefulness, I can’t control relationships that have outlived their time. Keeping relationships alive requires two people, and I can only control one of those people. So instead of grieving over lost relationships, I can enjoy those relationships that I have, and do my best to make them even stronger.
- Family relationships are even more complicated than friendships, and have similar issues of control. I am an only child with no living parents. I have always longed for a close family, and struggle to understand families who “should” be close, and aren’t. I have finally accepted that “coulda, wouda, shouda doesn’t work with any relationships, including families. The issues that divide or unite siblings are varied, and even when siblings grown up together in what appears to be a functional family, there is no guarantee that those different people will choose to remain close as adults. I am thinking of three different families who one would think would have more to unite them than to divide them, yet who are not close as adults, and even less so once the parents are no longer present. In each case there is at least one sibling who would choose it to be otherwise, yet who has realized that relationships can’t be sustained by wishes to do so that aren’t shared.
What are the lessons from all of this? For me, there are three that are most important.
- While we can’t control the response or other behavior of others, we can, and should control our own. When the realization is obvious that the relationship has outlived its usefulness, we need to be able to let it go. While we can hold onto the good memories, we can’t hold on to others who choose to go, be they spouses, friends or family.
- There are seasons for a reason, and there are seasons of life. If we live long enough we will have seasons of growth, and we will also have seasons when the best we can do is to try to hold on to what we have, for nothing is growing. In the seasons of growth we should put some things away to carry us through the other seasons. While we can’t control the seasons, we can control our response, and we can control what we do with our learning from nature’s lessons.
- One thing we can control is our response to whatever changes we experience. During the good times, we should rejoice in those and share what we have with others. During the times when we struggle, we can look for the meaning in the struggle, and the lessons provided, and do our best to not need to relive those lessons.
Instead of being disappointed or immobilized by unexpected and unwanted changes, we can choose to accept and perhaps even embrace the change. Instead of snow skiing, our family is off to explore the beauty of all that Steamboat has to offer, which is much more than snow!