May 26, 2024

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Controlling the Controllable, Choosing our Reactions

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate that no one has it easy. Fame and fortune have their challenges, just as a quiet life in the suburbs or on a farm has its own complications. It’s easy to romanticize one lifestyle over another, but in the end, we all face our struggles. We share more than we might like to admit, and that realization feels odd to me.

Without sounding like a cheesy greeting card, I bring this up because it’s been a week of hearing about these very struggles. People often speculate that others have it easier. Yes, factors like financial security or societal privileges can make life less abrasive. But in the long run, no one gets a cakewalk.

One of the few things we can control is how we react and respond to what life throws our way. That might sound like something a therapist would say—guilty—but it’s the truth. We can stomp our feet, curse, and blame others, but it remains a fact. We control very little, yet we often don’t take advantage of this gift.

I’m not sure what hinders our recognition of others’ struggles. I know I’ve been guilty of foot stomping and cursing, but there’s always a voice in my mind saying, “You don’t have to do that; it won’t change anything.” Do we not want to see others’ struggles? Can we not identify with them? I haven’t figured that out yet. For me, it sometimes comes down to an intangible sense of fairness; what I’m upset about doesn’t feel “fair.”

Sometimes, I wonder if our resistance to seeing others’ pain is due to an unwillingness to do so. We hold onto the idea that if we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, something awful will happen to us. It’s an old superstition, but maybe it slows us down. That’s sad because there is so much to gain from moments of empathy. We can learn a lot if we hold onto our handrails while listening and watching.

I thought of this after watching a social media clip early in the morning. A guy talked about grief and how it impacted him. He described how stunned he was that grief doesn’t just come and go like other emotions; it lingers and appears unexpectedly, like in the middle of grocery shopping or when a song plays on the radio.

Grief is universal, yet we don’t hear about it often. Recently, with the rise of podcasts and social media, more topics are being discussed. I find that lovely and helpful, but are people paying attention? It’s hard to tell.

This circles back to the notion that no one has a smooth ride devoid of pain, heartache, anger, and terror. With so much out of our control, you’d think we’d strive to control what we can. I say this while munching on a snack an hour before dinner—a snack I don’t need. Controlling what is controllable is no easier than being mindful of our reactions. 

So, consider what may lie ahead to avoid being caught off guard. Life will throw challenges at you—some fun, some not, and many downright terrifying. The good news is you won’t be the first to walk that path. Others have felt your joy, sadness, terror, fear, and peace. In controlling the controllable, we can remember to look up and see how others have navigated the path ahead of us. No one has it easy, but none of us have to go it alone.

If you’re finding yourself in a place where you’d like to learn more about choosing your reactions and controlling the controllable, please don’t hesitate to reach out for some support. I can be most easily reached by email at

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