A Boomer’s Point-of-View: The ONLY Thing I Control is What I Eat for Breakfast

Category: A Boomer's Point-of-View, Weekly Columns

Control graph

Lately, a lot of things have been going on in my life. And, my ability to influence them – aka control them – is pretty much ZILCH. What a surprise. I like to quote myself and the title of this column is one of my quotes. In fact, on my website I have a scrolling quote bar right below my name at the top of each page.

It’s an illusion to believe we can control much of anything, especially our spouse and our kid(s). The ONLY way people change is if they make a concerted effort to do so. I re-married – at decidedly middle age – a woman just a few years younger than myself.

We both had illusions about each other – that with our great powers of persuasion, we would change those few things that annoyed us about the other. Guess what? It never happened.

The Serenity Prayer Tattoo

So, in our case, we are trying to make the choice to accept those things we cannot change (think the AA prayer). My wife likes things clean and organized. I’m a slob. I am doing my best to put things away EXACTLY where she wants them and I’m doing my best to accept that after I carefully wash a pot or pan, she’s going to still put it in the dishwasher. Duh, rinse the pot or pan and put it in the dishwasher myself. It’s never going to be clean enough for her if I wash it!

Her list of things she’d like to change in me is too long for any single column.

As for children, yes we have some control when they’re younger. As they enter their teens, we all learn how little they listen to us and how, in many cases, they don’t listen at all. They have a mute button for us.

Funny card about control - men and women

My oldest son was so stubborn that he stayed “grounded” for nearly a year when he was in middle school. I don’t even remember what the “infraction” was that caused that. But, he was content in his room – after school – with all the toys/electronics WE provided him.

And, of course, I made numerous exceptions to his being grounded in the first place. Kids are smart. They know they can wait us out and usually get their way. When I was a single parent, I felt so bad over the loss of their mother, that I was a total wimp when it came to strict parenting.

I’ve paid the price now that my boys are legal and young adults. Now, the ONLY way I have any influence is fiscally. My younger one will scowl at me over anything I ask him to do, but reluctantly do it eventually, since he’s dependent on me for college.

Quote about control

My older one has continued his stubborn streak, though I still support him to a degree.

Perhaps, I’m the fool. But, I believe now that I have to let my wife and my grown kids live their lives as they choose to do. With my wife, since we share a life together, it is easier with each passing year. With my kids, the checkbook will cease soon for both of them and we’ll see how our relationship changes.

  • jack43

    Damn. You control what you eat for breakfast? I wish I did. My doctor and my wife usurped that prerogative years ago…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @jack43:disqus – it’s about the ONLY thing my wife doesn’t control!

  • David Weber

    This is philosophically very interesting. A person can either operate from a position of “I have no control” or “I have control” over what unfolds in my life. I suppose the third position is “I have SOME control” but then the issue is: Where is the line between what I have control over, and what I don’t?

    I have operated for many years from the principle that every result I have in life follows on from choices I made…had I made a different choice, I would have had a different result. For the first several years I believed (or pretended to believe) this, I would get caught up in something like this: “If I become aware of, say, a poverty-stricken farmer in India, how did I ‘create that result’? I don’t know the man, don’t live in India and don’t know how my actions affect him or not.” Or: “There are some things I cannot do and will never happen for me. For example, “At the age I am, and never having been an athlete, I will never be a QB in the NFL, no matter how diligently I try to get myself in superlative shape and study football and arrange to get a try-out.”

    As is true of many principles, the I-control-my-life principle was, obviously, tested in the extremes. How to get out of that dilemma? The way I did at first was to say to myself, “Well, I made choices that led to the result. For example, I chose to NOT be an agricultural consultant, and therefore didn’t go to India to help the farmers there be more productive” and “I chose to not work in a field or business that would enable me to make millions of dollars and buy an NFL team and be the sole owner…after all, if I were the sole owner, I would have the power to put myself into a game occasionally as QB, as long as it was OK with me that we would lose that series or game.”

    That was not wholly satisfying. What REALLY helped me was to realize that whether or not the principle was true was irrelevant…what mattered was whether or not I acted AS IF it were true.

    That made all the difference for me. When I don’t get results I want, my first question is, “How did I make choices that led to this result?” I almost always would trace back and be able to say, “OK, I’ve either learned or not learned to make a different choice under such circumstances in the future,” and would go on from that point. Only occasionally do I find myself saying, “You know, this result was really completely out of my control,” which is simply evidence for the fact that I’m acting AS IF control is something I have in my life.

    Or, after achieving a certain result, I might ask myself, “If I actually DID have control over my life, how would my choices have or have not led to this result? And what can I do in the future to ‘manage’ my choices in such a way that I may, or may not, get these results again?”

    I seldom even joke about not having control, because the principle of acting AS IF I did is for me a very powerful foundation for my life. It is a VERY hard sell to persuade others that this perspective has merit, so I rarely bring it up…especially with my students at the university, who find it abhorrent to imagine having any control over results they construct in their lives. But operating from the as-if-I-had-control principle works for me.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus – as usual, you give me the most thorough and thoughtful comments. I feel about this (control) much like I do about most things in life – most things are NOT black or white (except things like murder is wrong – vs. killing). Most things are grey. So, with control, we of course control some things in our life through actions and choices.

      As you probably remember, EST was a big deal in L.A. in our younger adult lives and they said nonsense like if you cross a street and are indiscriminately hit and killed by a car, YOU brought it on yourself. To me, that is nonsense.

      Some things – who gets cancer and who doesn’t – are simply random and out of our control. Yes, some people get cancer because they lived in a contaminated area of smoked a lot of cigarettes (but, ironically what is never reported about the dangers of smoking is that 2/3 of smokers never get any smoking related illness or die young from it – and I hate cigarette smoking so I’m no defender of it).

      So, I do control what I’ve just written in response to your comment…but maybe not that much else most certainly in the world at large.