What You’re In Control Of

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There’s a hip coffee shop by my house that serves $5 drinks and has some small tables outside on the sidewalk.

One morning I was sitting at one of those small tables, reading some helpful business book, and the chair across from me was empty. I have a small tattoo of a rectangle on the back of my left arm and I heard someone walk up behind me and say “this guy’s got a rectangle on his arm!” A woman with bright eyes, a big dusty jacket, dreadlocks, and a cup of Subway coffee sat down across from me and continued, “what’s next, a circle?” 

I didn’t really know what to do next.

I was sat down there to enjoy my usual morning routine, where $5 coffee people just nod their heads and smile as I bury my face in business books. Instead, a $1 coffee person sat down and engaged me in conversation.

(I need you to understand that what I write next is the anomaly, and I’m writing about it because I want it to become more normal for me and for you.)

At that moment, somehow it became very clear to me what I was in control of, and what I was not in control of. I was not in control of my new coffee companion’s assertion to sit down and start talking with me. I was in control of how I responded and how I contributed to what happened next. 

My usual response would have been to say, “Haha, hey sorry, I actually have to go, I have an important business phone call and I have to read numbers on the spreadsheets before that, you see? Haha have a good day though!”  Maybe I got a little extra sleep that night or something, because instead, I put my book down and said “you should get the circle tattoo so we can have more shapes accounted for.”

For the next 30 minutes, we enjoyed a lively conversation in which we both contributed equal parts, and laughed a lot. She asked how my mom was doing, and asked to see pictures of my girlfriend. I heard about her sister, and the time she broke her arm on the skateboard. She tried to read my Tarot cards, but concluded they were broken because they only showed pictures of sad people, and “that couldn’t possibly be you.”

It would have been very easy for me to mix up what I was in control of.

If I thought I was in control of the entire situation, then my new friend sitting down could have made me feel like I lost control, or like someone was taking advantage of my control. If I didn’t realize I was in control of my outlook, I would have seen the whole thing as a nuisance, instead of a genuinely fun interaction.

I think it’s important for us to realize that we’re rarely in control of the external circumstances, but we’re always in control of our internal response to them, and our contribution to what happens next.

Let’s take a couple more examples and see how they play out.

If a client I have decides they’re “too busy” to complete my invoice, I can see the situation two ways. I can conclude that I had lost control, see myself as the victim, and conclude I’m someone who’s not worth paying. However, a better choice would be to realize that I’m totally in control of my response to the situation! I can change my approach, call the client on the phone, and add a short signed agreement in my next gig.

If a client drops me, I can see the situation two ways. I can conclude that I’m no good at what I do, that the client must not like me, and think that I lost control. But it’s important for me to realize that I was never in control of the clients’ choices in the first place. A better choice would be to see all the things I am in control of. I can choose my outlook, and decide to incorporate more client-keeping tactics next time.

I encourage you realize what you’ve never been in control of, and then realize all the things you are in control of. It’ll relieve a lot of stress and disappointment, and help you continue to grow and develop each aspect of your life.

I hope this was helpful for you, please share it with a friend who you think will find it valuable. 

Joshua Reese