Control has been a big part of my life, across many aspects of my life. Growing up a figure skater and a dancer control over my body was a daily struggle. Stretching, contorting into various positions and maintaining balance were just the beginning. I had no real time to myself. After school I had just enough time to snack, change, and leave for whatever I had scheduled that day. Weekends were taken up with more training, or perhaps a competition.
Sometimes I wonder if that lifestyle from a young age is what drove me to be the control freak that I am, or if that just came as part of my programming. By the time I hit high school I had a detailed day planner organizing my school, sports, home-work, and social life. Well, to be honest that last one was more of a day dream than a reality. It came to a head in university when I was spending more time arranging my various pursuits than actually pursing them. If I wanted to spend time with a friend I had to schedule them in weeks in advance.
It wasn’t just controlling my time that was a problem. If I was participating in a group project I ended up leading it. Of course I took the time to listen to others’ ideas but inevitably I ended up telling everyone what to do and how to do it. Most didn’t complain, I was a great student and my plans normally worked out to benefit everyones grades.
When I began working my need for control caused me a lot of anxiety. I got a job in a retail store in the local mall. Watching customers come in and ruin all my hard work folding, sorting, and placing almost gave me a panic attack. I ended up getting promoted to stock manager which meant that I had free reign in the backroom. That dingy, half-lit, cement and shelf-filled space became the epicentre of my perfectionism. It had never been so well organized and I doubt it ever has since.
Then I got a job in a kitchen, and I discovered a profession where my insane attention to detail actually benefited my work. I got to clean and organize to my hearts content. Once I upgraded from dishwashing and started cooking, every plate I put up looked as identical as possible, every new skill I learned I drilled into myself until I could do it in my sleep.
Meanwhile I was still going to school, still trying to fit my friends in, still organizing my entire life into a combination schedule/to-do list. Ten years of living like that and it went to my head. I grew irritable when life didn’t fit in my plans. Missing out on spur-of-the-moment adventures with my friends because I had something scheduled for that time (usually weeks in advance) gave me serious FOMO (fear of missing out).
Along came my trip to Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t go there entirely unprepared. I had spent months looking up places, activities, accommodations, and must-sees. My friends asked for my itinerary and I gave it to them. Land in Sydney. Three nights booked in a hostel. Go from there.
They couldn’t believe it. What do you mean, they said, how come you don’t have a fully booked and organized vacation? For starters, it wasn’t a vacation. I was going to there on a Working Holiday Visa, a wonderful invention for the youth of the world if they want to go traveling on a budget. I knew that I was going to see, do, and try many things but I would also be building a life there. Working, living, forging relationships.
I had a lot of inspiring people who helped me during the six months between when I decided I was going to go and live in Australia and when I actually left. One of the biggest pieces of advice they gave me was not to over-plan. Not to miss out on random, spontaneous adventures because I happened to have booked a plane or bus ticket on that date weeks beforehand.
I followed their advice. I left with a terrifyingly empty day planner, and a resolution that to live my life differently. Letting go of that control, that habit that I had built into myself to always be busy and organized, was one of the best decisions of my life. I met people, went on tours, saw things that never would have been possible if I had landed in Sydney with a crammed itinerary and handful of booking confirmations.
Today, 6 years after I began that trip, and my life is a nice combination of the two. I have a planner because I am adult and some things just need to be written down. Sometimes I still over-schedule things but then there are the times when I under-plan, something that never would have occurred before.
I am still a control-freak. I like to be the one holding the dogs leash when my boyfriend and I take our puppy for a walk. I can’t see someone cooking anything without tips or instructions bubbling behind my lips. I almost always volunteer to be the designated driver, partly because I love driving, partly because I hate over-priced drinks, and partly so that I can choose exactly when I leave an event.
Sometimes control is a good thing. Having enough control not to eat a full container of pringles or an entire chocolate bar in one go for example. Or picking up a shirt from the sale rack, realizing I wouldn’t buy it if it was full price, and putting it down. Being a creator and an artist, control over your hands is a necessity.
Most things in life are out of our control. Some of those things are fundamentally impossible to control, others the control is taken out of our hands by one circumstance or another. Having anxiety about those impossible things has ruined my day more than once. I am working on learning when it is prudent or necessary to be in control, and when I have to just let it go. Having a puppy helps, she is a bundle of eccentricity. Loving family, good friends, and an incredibly patient boyfriend also help. No matter what, I have a feeling its going to be a lifelong lesson.
What do you feel the need to control? How do you keep yourself from micro-managing?