Best Practices

Taking Control in an Uncontrollable Time

Read Time: 7 minutes
Beth White
Sr. Manager, Educational Content, Teaching Strategies
June 6, 2023

As an early childhood educator, and in life, you are well accustomed to the fact that there are often things that are outside of your control. Whether it is some new requirement from administrators, the “big feelings” displayed by children that you didn’t see coming, or just the day-to-day weather (“Can we play outdoors today?”), you are probably used to rolling with whatever happens. But, of course, there are times when things may feel even more out of control than normal.

Finding Inspiration and Renewal

When much feels outside of our control, it’s imperative that we find opportunities to renew, regenerate, and feel inspired.

We can find inspiration and renewal in so many places—really, whatever is most meaningful and restorative for each of us. For some people, it’s finally decluttering the family junk drawer or organizing years of family photos. For others, it’s walking or running or biking. For still others, it’s spending time on an old hobby or finding a new one. Baking bread. Writing letters. Working in the yard.

Whenever you’re not sure what you can do to relax or rejuvenate, remember a time in your life when you enjoyed a feeling of empowerment and consider what you did that led to that feeling. Think about what causes you to say, “I was really, really proud of myself!” It can be helpful to start a list—a real, handwritten list!—of activities that you yourself find personally satisfying. Each person’s list is different.

Look for things that energize you and things that calm you. Think about things that don’t require a great deal of time or money and that don’t offer just a short-term spurt of positivity: search for a long-term investment in your well-being. On your list, add the emotions you feel from each activity, such as joyful, inspired, fulfilled, hopeful, grateful, eager, proud, amused, strengthened, or relaxed, to help yourself better understand what moves you forward.

A Personal Story: Receiving Inspiration From a Rocking Chair

The word purchase has a couple of very different meanings. One meaning—the one with which people tend to be most familiar—can be either a verb meaning “to buy something” or a noun that means “the thing that you bought.”

Another, less familiar meaning refers to some type of advantage when applying power, such as gaining a firm hold or solid positioning. I first heard the word used this way in reference to rock climbing and mountain climbing. Climbers seek purchase as they attempt to advance—something beneath them to ground their footing and something ahead of them that they can grasp to help pull themselves forward.

I recall an experience I had with the first meaning that taught me something about the second. Here’s what happened.

During the pandemic, I decided I wanted a porch rocker. I’d been toying with the idea off and on for probably a year, although I kept putting off actually finding one. But the weather was nice (it was almost fall), and I was spending a lot more time at home, so it only made sense to me: the time had come to invest in a porch rocker. “Go ahead. Make the purchase,” I told myself.

I did a bit of research online and found three places near my apartment that said they carried porch rockers. I visited each of them only to discover that all of their outdoor rocking chairs had either already been sold earlier in the summer or returned to warehouses where they would be stored until next spring. I heard the same thing three times in a row: “That’s a seasonal item.”

I told them I didn’t realize rocking chairs had a season.

The third of the three places I went actually had two porch rockers left, but the store manager had recently incorporated them into a new “seasonal” arrangement with pumpkins, mums, and lawncare tools and labeled the whole thing as “For Display Only.” It was quite a lovely set-up.

“See,” I thought, “It really is a great time for an outdoor rocking chair.”

Fortunately, another customer who overheard my conversation with the store manager had a tip for me: he had just seen one at a store across the street. I ran right over, and, sure enough, this place had one porch rocker left, which quickly became mine. Success!

But then, just outside the store, my next problem became abundantly clear: the rocking chair wouldn’t fit in my car. Neither front seat nor back seat nor trunk would accommodate my new purchase, in part because I couldn’t get it through the open car doors.

Undiscouraged, I walked back into the store and asked if they had an Allen wrench I could borrow, and they obliged. I took the tool and my new chair outside and methodically took the chair apart, right there in the parking lot. At first, I thought I could get by with removing only the two long rocker pieces at the bottom of the chair, but, even then, the rest of it was still a couple inches too wide. There are only so many ways you can turn a thing before you realize it just isn’t going to fit. But instead of giving up on the idea of owning a rocking chair, I went back to work.

As soon as I had dismantled the chair into about a dozen separate pieces, it fit into my backseat just fine…and with plenty of room to spare. In fact, I could have hauled a dozen rocking chairs at once!

I drove back home, reassembled the chair, and spent a quiet afternoon in the late summer sunshine, rocking and reading. It was as lovely an experience as I had imagined it would be. Later that evening, talking to my mother, I recounted the story of what I had to do to get the chair home.

She asked, “Were you embarrassed?”

“No way!” I responded. “I was really, really proud of myself!”

The Other Kind of Purchase

It’s human nature to want to be in control—maybe not of everything in your life, but certainly to have at least some control of the big things, like your family, your home, and your job. It’s human nature to feel the need to gain “purchase” as you climb life’s mountain. When you have solid footing below you and something to grab onto ahead of you, you feel safe in taking the next step, moving forward, continuing to advance.

Of course, I couldn’t help but consider my purchase of a rocking chair (and the process of actually getting it home) a metaphor for so many other concerns and problems. It’s often easy to see only the “big thing” that a particular issue presents. Solutions seem impossible; purchase appears dicey.

“It won’t fit!”

Try harder. Make it work.

“I tried to make it work, but it still won’t fit!”

Each of us has times in our lives when our concerns are just too big to “fit” into our usual methods of moving through life. There’s so much that we have neither control over nor experience dealing with. We can’t gain purchase because we don’t quite know where to step next or what to hold onto.

But—like my rocking chair—it can help when we don’t give up at first discouragement and instead start taking apart the big problems. We can break them into smaller pieces until we get to something we can indeed manage and thus control.

And, by the way, I can also now recommend the healing powers of time spent in a rocking chair, at pretty much any time of year.

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