Control has been on my mind a lot this week – especially my need to control the things that are really outside of my control. Notice how I used the word “need” there? I should have replaced it with the word “fear.” Words matter. My need to control is really about avoiding mistakes – or more importantly, it’s about avoiding the feeling of the inner agitation that comes with mistakes.
Every change brings mistakes. Learning brings mistakes. Growth brings mistakes. So I if I want to change, and learn and grow, I have to do something about that feeling.
What is that feeling anyway? Is it real? Is it unavoidable? And who is behind that voice that shows up with the feeling – the one that beats me up for making those mistakes?
I’m learning that the story I tell about the feeling makes all the difference.
Lately, I’ve been calling that feeling “froth.” It’s like the mix of air and water at the edge of the ocean. It’s a good word that matches the squishy feeling I have on the inside.
I had a moment of “froth” the other evening while out on my rowing shell. This is a long, skinny boat, only as wide as my hips, with long and unwieldy oars. When I’m reaching and pulling with the oars, the boat glides through the water like a speeding dolphin. A rowing shell trades speed for agility. Mind you, I’m going backwards, so I only see clearly what I’m leaving and use a tiny mirror to see where I’m going. Making quick turns is not going to happen; this boat does not turn on a dime, nor is it possible to row if there are big boat waves.
On this evening, I needed agility and didn’t have it. I had to use something else to save my life.
As I stroked down the lake, I noticed two boats coming towards me. Because my boat is small and low to the water, I always wear a VERY bright orange shirt that can be seen from far away, and I stay near the shoreline. Both boats were cruising somewhat slowly; one of them spotted me and took off, leaving me in his bouncing wakes. The waves were so bad, I had to stop rowing. Then I realized that the other boat was heading right towards me. All I could see was the nose of the boat – the heads of the passengers were hidden from view. Which meant I was hidden from their view. Needless to say, the inner feeling of agitation was high. I was in the froth.
I instantly assessed my position and realized I could not move quickly enough to either side to get out of their path before the boat ran over me. Time to use another tool. With my outdoor voice, I said “Hey! Do you see me?” Immediately, the boat turned toward the middle of the lake and four smiling women waved as they went by. No horror or apology for the near miss. They just kept cruising for their lovely evening on the lake.
In that moment, I realized that surely they hadn’t seen me and I was so grateful for the powerful voice that got their attention over the sound of the motor and other lake sounds. But I also had a nagging question wondering whether they had seen me. They certainly didn’t act like we had a near miss. Maybe they were about to go around me when I yelled out? A tiny part of me wondered if I had “made a mistake” by calling out my position. Remnants of a childhood where I was taught to use my “inside voice” clawed into my awareness. I could almost hear my mother telling me not to be rude to my elders. Hysterical. I’m 62. Do I even have elders anymore?
Then, I realized that’s exactly what the froth is all about.
There isn’t necessarily a “right” answer. You could argue that every move is a mistake, or that none of the moves are a mistake. All that matters is what comes next. And the baby step after that and the one after that.
As soon as it was over, it was over. We all went about our evening. I carried none of the feeling of agitation with me. Resentment offered itself up as an option and I let it go. We all spent the night in our own beds. I found the strength to control what I could, even if it went against my conditioning.
What if we could see every challenge as an opportunity to grow? What if we welcomed potential mistakes as stepping stones rather than black holes? What if we saw the things that trigger our need for control as the best thing ever?
There was a time in my life when I would have been so afraid to continue rowing, I would have hightailed it home and put the boat up for the summer. But I’ve been using the froth now for a while and it’s changing my relationship with fear.
Last night was a beautiful night on the lake.