It’s hard to let go of control at any stage in life. Retirement age is no exception, although I’ve found that this period gives me a much stronger sense of control. I don’t have a boss, deadlines are those I choose to impose on myself by going to school, and I have much more say over the little routines in life, such as, what time I get up in the morning, what clothes I put on and how I spend my days.
Unfortunately, as we age we face the risk of losing more and more control. But I don’t want to think about that depressing topic today. Instead, I want to talk about habits of control freaks, including my own.
Real Simple magazine did a study, reported on the Jezebel blog, to find out how women spent their time. The research yielded one obvious answer — nobody has any free time — and a mostly obvious one — that for two-thirds of the participants, their jobs didn’t contribute as much to the lack-of-time problem as did the household responsibilities of caring for children, laundry, cooking and cleaning. The women in the study couldn’t point to their husbands as the reason that these tasks used up so much time, because the wives had chosen to assign all these responsibilities to themselves. The majority did not believe their spouses were incompetent working in the home arena. Some said they kept control because they enjoyed the work; others adopted the view, “If I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” The latter are the women, according to the research, who may be choosing control over happiness.
Here’s my control freak story. Four weeks ago I decided I would walk four miles five times in one week. Why? I felt I needed to get more exercise and I was enjoying my morning walks with friends. After week one I decided to complete the same number of miles the following week. I was tired but I wanted to challenge myself to accomplish this anyway. By the end of week three I was worn out, but I extended my goal to eighty miles in four weeks. Why eighty miles? It sounded like a big number, one that would make me feel like I had accomplished something. What do you supposed happened after mile seventy-two, eight away from my self-imposed goal? One knee started hurting. It hurt so much yesterday that I cancelled my walking date for today. Two days left to complete my goal and I had to stop walking. When I decided to cancel, my reaction was somewhat like that of an Olympic miler who learns she has damaged her Achilles tendon and can no longer compete for the gold medal. How could this happen to me, I wondered, only eight miles short of my goal? It’s not fair. It’s not right.
The good news is that I recognized my irrational response fairly quickly, but it showed me how much conscious effort it takes to let go of the desire for control. I asked myself what made eighty miles the magic number and how would my life be different if I could have squeezed in those last eight miles. The answer to these questions were “nothing” and “it wouldn’t,” respectively. It became clear from this experience that by giving up one kind of control I would be gaining more of another.