4 Tips for Taking Control of Your Life

Tom is a software engineer. He recently got his dream job, working for a gaming company. He had a new girlfriend and life was looking great. Then he got furloughed when work slowed down. His girlfriend found out a dark secret from his past that made her doubt the relationship with Tom, and he doesn’t know where to turn or what to do next. His life is reeling, and it is all because of situations which are completely out of his control.

If you’ve ever felt like Tom and that the world is against you, it is time to end that pity party. Get to work on building yourself into a person who is able to achieve their goals, whatever they are. The world is not against you. In fact the universe is conspiring for you. That’s right. When you can focus on what is within your control and release what is not, you will find that a cornucopia of opportunities are awaiting you. Some you may foresee and others you’ll have no idea existed until they present themselves to you.

Maybe Tom’s work for a game developer was a sample of what is to come through the development of his craft. Maybe his new girlfriend wasn’t meant to be in his life for long. Perhaps she served as a bridge to something better and a lesson for an area of Tom’s life that needs attention. Conceivably life is really on the upswing for Tom, despite the immediate signs suggesting otherwise.

One key in getting to a place in your life where things align for your benefit is to take action that moves your life forward. You can improve your skills, spend time with people who are important to you, and check things off your to-do list that keep you progressing, focusing on what you can make happen instead of what happened to you will have you life propelling forward instead of sliding backwards. Here are four things you can do today to take control of your life.

Stop blaming others

Your life is your responsibility. Despite how it may seem, no one has enough malice towards you (or energy) to spend time plotting your demise. If you think they are, why are you letting people like that in your life to begin with? Be stronger than they are by working on ways to improve yourself daily and choose to take more control of your environment. Most people are too busy with their own lives to actively spend much time trying to disrupt yours.

Take the time to evaluate your situation and consider why opportunities are not coming into view. If you are not getting called for job interviews, your resume probably needs changes. If you are not attracting the right people into your life, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. These are just a couple of examples of the ways you can take more control of your situations and their outcomes.

Release the things that are out of your control

Being laid off, labels others place on you, the economy, or not getting an invitation to go out with people you thought were your friends are all things you have little control over. Dwelling on those will take you down the rabbit hole of anxiety and depression. Instead, work to understand what role you have in these things happening around you. Letting go of those things you can not control and making an effort to improve the things you can, will free your mind to focus on more constructive ideas.

This takes more than just flipping a switch; it is a complete change of mindset. As above, there is a fine line between your influence on outcomes and control of decisions. You cannot control who gets promoted at your organization. However, you can increase the odds that it’s you by doing high quality work and being professional. At the end of the day if you are not promoted, realize that you provide your company a high quality service that you are proud of. That is a victory unto itself.

Chose to do one thing that moves you forward

You don’t need a big action or grand result now to be successful. Take a small step towards your goals and the person you want to become. Capture that action on your calendar or in your journal. Over time your progress will materialize on those pages as clearly as the ideas in this story materialized out of my own reading and experiences.

Life moves incrementally, not exponentially. Thus, the small steps you take today are the ones that will pay big dividends in the future. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to move forward one footstep at a time. Taking one step towards your goals everyday will have you 365 steps closer to those aspirations at the end of the year. That is something you have ultimate control over.

Look for an opportunity to make a difference in your own life

If you are not looking, opportunities will never find you. Carefully evaluate your decisions throughout the day and make conscious choices about what you do. That is the basis of taking control of your life. When you consider how simple decisions such as what to put on your grocery list or what to do first thing in the morning shape your life, you will start making choices that are more meaningful. These seemingly unimportant decisions will make a difference in your life over the long haul.

It is widely documented that we make an average of 35,000 decisions every day. Thirty-five thousand! Every time you say, ”I don’t care” or ”It’s up to you,” you are forfeiting a decision. Start being mindful of the decisions that have been placed in front of you. Consciously make choices as an exercise in seizing control of your life. Watch not only the outcomes, but also how your decision-making process changes. As a result, you will make better decisions and increase your confidence in doing so.

A caveat here is to be careful not to dismiss things you think are out of your control but that you do actually have influence over. For example, those friends who don’t invite you out may not like that you become increasingly negative the more you drink. Thus, cutting down on your alcohol consumption and avoiding complaining would make you a more desirable person to spend time with. When you find that many people have the same problem with you, then you are the problem. It takes a brave person to admit that.

Finally, don’t create added obstacles for yourself. Those recurring patterns and seemingly negative cycles you experience are a sign that you need to do something different to get past this life barrier. Look at your approach, your decisions, and your mentors. Then decide if you’re properly equipped to win. If you are not, ask yourself what you need to do to break through. The resources are undoubtedly at your disposal. You just need to consider all your options and ask the right questions. Then do something today to make the change.

At the end of the day, the control you have over your life solely rests in the decisions you choose to make, or to forfeit to someone else. Be mindful of those and choose to be the determining factor in your life. After all, you are the driver of your life.

This article first appeared on Medium.com as Who’s Driving Your Car

An Opportunity in Disguise

It’s only failure if you don’t learn from the experience

I recently completed my six-month evaluation and it has been a year of terrific growth. However, no assessment is complete without looking at how you got there. The road here has not been smooth. In fact, it’s had a lot of ups and downs, that’s true for everyone. But what’s amazing is that where I am now would not have been possible without those trials and tribulations. Opportunities often come disguised as failures.

In the past, I leveraged an interest in marketing into a position as a brand manager, developed a top-rated podcast, managed an international call centre that made $3 million on a single event, and helped clients become confident presenters and meeting facilitators. Yet, there were times I wondered if I’d wasted my life. There were times when I felt absolutely worthless and that I couldn’t go on. Nevertheless, in the last six months, I’ve become a professional writer, started an online coaching business and developed my own website. All the while adding a group of successful people to both my personal and professional networks. And I’m just getting started.

It’s not where you have been that matters, it’s where you are going.

What I’ve learned from these experiences is that life prepares us for what comes next. We may not be able to see what lies ahead. But God knows. Living with trust and faith (regardless of who or what you believe in) I can accept that everything I experience is getting me ready for what comes next. Bruce Lee said, “be like water.” Living that way reveals possibilities.

Viewing my past experiences as valuable lessons for my future allows me to continue growing, and living the entirety of my life without regret. Of course, there are things I wish I could’ve done better, but I can’t do them better. They’ve already been done. But going forward, I can learn how to be more thoughtful in similar situations.No regrets, only lessons to be learned.

This philosophy gives me a different perspective on life’s challenges than many have. When a friend is sad about the passing of someone close to them, I say: “You’re lucky to have had that person in your life.” When looking back on losing a job, I say: ”I’ve contributed all I could to that company. It’s time to make new ripples.” If a colleague is apprehensive about their future, I say: “What can you do today to make your tomorrows better?”

You see, the future is what you create with your present actions. When you choose to binge watch TV all weekend or focus on what is happening in the news, you are choosing to let others control your mind and heart. When you go for a walk in nature and experience your surroundings or spend time discussing how to solve meaningful dilemmas, you are deciding to expand your skills and abilities of perception. Make meaningful decisions.

Not every day is sunny

Days that seem the worst are actually some of the best, in reflection. There were days I felt that I hadn’t accomplished anything. On a recent Monday, no to-do’s were crossed off my list, a new project without clear objectives was added to my responsibilities, and a night out with friends was cancelled.

Looking back at the end of the week I realized when no to-do’s were crossed off I actually moved a couple projects forward and then was able to complete them by the end of the week. The new project dumped in my lap was to develop a personality assessment. In this project, I will use the knowledge and skills I have developed in several of my past jobs and assignments all on one project. Then Wednesday night my boss asked me to do a presentation for one of our top clients on Friday (just three days later). It’s a good thing the plan to meet with my friends was rescheduled. I might not have had time to work on the presentation and gone out. The point is, I did accomplish things that week. But I didn’t see those accomplishments would be possible on Monday until I reframed them in my mind. In retrospect, it actually was a fantastic week!

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how. — Paulo Coelho

Just put it out there

If there is one takeaway from all of this, it is to seek opportunity. That is how we truly grow and are presented with the experiences that will make us better people. Don’t wait for the stars to align, they never will. Don’t doubt your own skill or abilities. The tools you need to succeed will find you. Don’t get discouraged when you get downsized or fired. It’s time for something new. Have a dream, make a long term goal, expect the unexpected and believe with all your mind and heart that it is possible. Finally, look at each detour as a learning experience. Though they may come disguised as problems or failures, your dreams will find you. Be ready.

This post originally appeared in ILLUMINATION

Why Do You Need Art

Van Gough Irises

The other night I caught Gillian Anderson in A StreetCar Named Desire from London’s National Theater on YouTube. During the COVID 19 lockdown they, and other theater companies across the globe, are presenting different plays from their archives every week. Watching Ms. Anderson’s performance as Blanche Dubois made me really appreciate the artistry that goes into live performances. It was a pleasant reminder that art is a deep level of communication that we rarely get in the world around us.

Watching Blanche transform from a woman down on her luck to one experiencing a psychotic breakdown, I could feel the depth of emotion that Ms. Anderson poured into that performance. I could not only see but also empathetically sense the triggers that sent Blanche past the point of no return, and the role that each of the pivotal characters had on her descent.

The performance brought to the forefront how we, knowingly or unknowingly, affect the lives of others. This play wasn’t just about a house disrupted by neurosis. It was also a reminder of the role we all play in the lives of others. Art helps us to consider such questions and get in touch with our emotions.

Rather than looking for distraction and a world far from reality, art gives you the opportunity to explore your own feelings and build your skills of understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. It gives you access to experiencing the pure emotions the artist is sharing. Surgi Rachmaninoff said that music is communication from the heart of the musician to the listener. No need for language to dilute the emotion. 

No musician epitomizes this more than Pat Metheny. Watching and listening to him play guitar, you feel he is reaching out and sending you joy with every note and chord he plays. He and his band give you a bath of exhilaration as you experience the emotion that goes into every bar of a tune, not just from him but every member of the band as well. Like in this clip of As It Is.

Paintings and sculptures can affect you in a similar way, if you take the time to let them infuse you. Consider your mental and emotional impressions. Art may even give you a physical response such as shying away from or drawing you into it. Let the artwork wash over you. Think about what the artist and their art is saying to you. Consider their state of mind as they worked on their creations for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. What compelled them to share this image from the thousands they had in their mind? 

On a visit to the Getty Museum in California, I saw a woman looking at Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises with opera glasses. At first this seemed odd. That is one manic art lover, I thought to myself. Later, as I considered the scene, it dawned on me that she wanted to ingest every stroke and fine detail in Van Gogh’s work.

Maybe she was imagining him putting oil to canvas, in the field and then in his studio as he recalled the image from his mind. Perhaps she wanted to connect with the emotion he was feeling as he intricately detailed each leaf and petal. Perhaps she wanted to imprint those strokes and the finished painting in her mind as a living experience. Like with theater and music, the painting was delivering a message to her directly, from the artist’s heart to her own. This deep appreciation made her one with the painter as she interacted with his masterpiece.

Van Gough Irises

Rather than just considering art a pleasant diversion from your daily life, take the opportunity to interact with it deeply and intimately. Experiencing these works on an emotional level and considering what the artist’s heart is communicating to you will leave you with a new perspective and a lasting impression that you can relive over and over again. 

This article originally appeared on Medium