Best Practices

Taking Control in an Uncontrollable Time

Read Time: 8 minutes
Beth White
Sr. Manager, PD Content, Teaching Strategies
October 14, 2020

It’s been over 7 months since the pandemic began, and the feeling of “it’s outside of my control” is still very much front and center. And now, many of you have the added pressure of providing high-quality instruction for our youngest learners in distance learning settings—or, if you’re back in the classroom, the pressure of maintaining new health and safety regulations. Needless to say, many parts of our current everyday lives still feel out of control.

No, none of us can control a pandemic, and no, none of us can control the need for or the shift to distance learning.

But each of us can find one or more aspects of our own personal health and that of our close family members that we can pay attention to and take control of.

We can stay home as much as possible and wear masks and practice social distancing when we do go out. We can make thoughtful decisions about nutrition, rest, and physical activity.

Finding Inspiration and Renewal

When so 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.

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 find personally helpful.

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.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to take the time to view our recent webinar on self-care. My colleagues Sandra Faria and Erin Kester offered lots of practical advice on how we can take better care of ourselves, including Erin’s presentation on mindfulness, which can be a powerful tool to help you find balance during this oh-so-insecure time.

A Personal Story: Receiving Inspiration from a Rocking Chair

The word purchase has a couple of very different meanings. One—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.

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

Last weekend, 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 is nice this time of year, and I am spending a lot more time at home these days, so it only made sense to me: the time has 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 home 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!

Currently, we are all experiencing many concerns that are just too big to “fit” into our usual methods of moving through life. The pandemic! Distance learning! Taking care of our loved ones! 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, breaking 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.