You submitted the proposal two weeks ago and there has been no response. “Action!” Everyone is talking over each other during the meeting. “Quiet on set!” Your child isn’t listening to your chore list. “Boom!” The team can’t seem to get any traction on the project. “Roll!” Wouldn’t it be great to have a giant megaphone in your hand and a bird’s eye view of all aspects of your life? So if you wanted your friend to sober up, your boss to give you a raise or make your partner a sexy beast, all you would have to do is change the script and make it happen. The truth is, while we may have delusions of being the director of our lives, we really just need to rewrite that script and surrender control.
There is an ongoing theme that crops up a lot when I coach. More than a lot. Clients are constantly striving to change the other people in their lives. They want their son to stop smoking, their co-worker to quit being nosy, their boss to acknowledge their accomplishments–you get the picture. With all this constant striving to control and change others, we become embittered. “I’ve told him to quit smoking dozens of times and he doesn’t listen to me.” Sigh. “I’ve quit talking to my co-worker but they are still nosy.” Argh. “I’ve finished 6 projects ahead of schedule and my boss hasn’t said a word.” Woe is me. The heart of this is the way we react to it. The story we tell ourselves in our heads and the approach we take.
Here are some tips on how to let go of your need to be the Director:
- Acknowledge that you are trying to direct others. Changing a mindset always starts with acknowledging that it even exists. Several years ago, my son was baking a cake in my kitchen. I ran around cleaning everything up and putting things away. Critiquing each step. He stepped back and said, “Let me fail.” It was profound for me. I needed to acknowledge that I wanted to control the situation, as if a cake was life or death. So this is what control is like.
- Reflect on your striving. As a coach, I ask, “Can you control your boss…your daughter…your co-worker?” Invariably the client says “No.” I ask, “Can you let go of the striving to control?” Client: “That’s not easy.” The striving itself is the source of your pain. You are trying to change reality (albeit for the better) but the striving is undermining your relationship with the person you are trying to change. So think about that. You can’t change someone else’s actions, and you striving and worrying and manipulating will only twist you into a knot. So pick it up and put it on the table to look at it. So this is what striving is; it’s striving to change things that you cannot direct.
- Shut down the illusion. So when I was in the middle of the baking catastrophe with my son, I decided to leave the room. I was nothing but a stressed-out hindrance. I took off my director’s beret, let go of the story and went to my trailer (actually my office). Let go of the illusion of control. I already knew how to make that cake. Now it’s his turn. My being in the kitchen was not going to change the end result. It was delicious, by the way. All by himself. Successfully directing is just an illusion.
- Figure out what you do have control over. Hmmm. Well, your reaction. You have control over your reaction. Even better to tell yourself, I have control over my response. I can get mad, angry, frustrated, sad, or resentful. I can also be sublime, calm, happy, relaxed or joyful. You really do get to choose; the choosing is just different than what you initially thought. I can remember being in the restaurant business and dealing with disgruntled customers. My reaction to their bitterness was to be over-the-moon friendly. Big smile, eye contact, “My day is just fabulous” attitude and it was infectious. I was amazed at how I could turn a situation like a miss on a rare steak around through my own outlook. Be that spark. Understand that you can control yourself.
- Don’t take it personally. This is hard. I have several clients that are putting off their happiness until…they get a promotion, their nemesis quits, their husband loses 20 pounds or their daughter sobers up. I can’t be happy if my daughter is unhappy. I can’t be happy until Suzy quits. The failures (and successes) of others are happening independent of you. Whether or not that cake failed had nothing to do with me. Let go of your personal responsibility for others’ actions.
- Realize that everyone else wants to be the director of their own lives. This is especially true when world events seem out of control. So buried behind your boss’ request for a new venue for the holiday party is likely their need for control. The tight deadline from your co-worker is to make sure it fits in their life. Understand and respect that even your dog wants to control you by pawing you when you stop petting. We all want influence and control.
This is not easy and it is a slow process. Take it slowly and consciously and it will change. Just remember when you start getting wrapped up in the dramatic film in your head to ask yourself, “Am I really the director? Am I really in control?” and let it go.