Commit and Embrace the Process, AND be Prepared to Accept the Outcome.

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By Dr. Allison Belger

Some friends of mine had a baby last week.  It seems that any time someone remotely close to me has a baby, I’m brought right back to my own first delivery and the magic, wonder, and total chaos of it all.  Now that my kids are 9 and 11, the mystery of who they will become has unfolded substantially from when they were infants.  This process of unraveling is the starting point of this week’s post. Non-parents stay tuned; this post is not only about parenting, but also about how we all manage the unknown when our hopes, dreams, and expectations are caught up in a vital end product.

When the end product is a live human being, the stakes are especially high.  Our self-interest (“narcisism” if you will) combines with our history, genetic potential, and self-doubt, along with our hopes and dreams for something better for our children.  These elements become the backdrop of their development through childhood and beyond.  With each step in their growth—including physical, emotional, and psychosocial changes—the amorphous gathers shape, and the person in question becomes more defined.  We, as parents, need to step back from our own agenda, as the genetic code unfurls and the outside world plays its role, not to mention divine intervention (if you’re prone to believing that way) – or the random accidents of life.  Along the way, we must manage our expectations, confront disappointment and frustration, reckon with our own insecurities and the reasons we want what we want for our children, and learn to embrace who they are and what they continue to become.

What if the work in progress is not a child but a goal for ourselves?  We may be assessing our future job outlook or professional aspirations.  What if we are talking about an outcome of a training regimen for sport?  Aren’t our psyches tied up in these goals and outcomes in significant ways, with the same influences mentioned before–our past experiences, internalized failures and successes, really all of who we are? While likely not as critical as the unraveling of a live human being, the unfolding of a goal—especially one that is long-term and involves years of serious dedication—might just require some of the same psychological processes of reckoning with the reality that things don’t always go as planned.

How do we manage the twists and turns along the way?  While we can line up coaches, read up on best practices in our sport, train to develop our weaknesses, follow a nutrition plan meant to optimize performance, gain skills for new job options, and otherwise do what it apparently takes to succeed, ultimately, the outcome is not ours, alone, to decide.  We do not control who else shows up on game day.  We do not get to choose the way our body will feel the morning of a big competition. We do not get to design the weather or program the workouts. We do not get to select the job interviewers with their own preconceived notions, or the most experienced referees, or our assigned location relative to where our fans will sit.  We cannot protect ourselves from all injuries, nor can we guarantee our best work when it matters most.

So what can we do to avoid devastation when things don’t go as planned?  How do we handle our disappointment when our kid, who we imagined would take the Broadway stage one day, or at least star in the school play (for crying out loud), has no “it” factor whatsoever?  How do we let go of our dreams for our son to be a star hockey player when he chooses the trombone?  How do we deal with our own shortcomings as athletes and our own less-than-stellar outcomes when so much of ourselves has been committed?

Today is not necessarily a day for answers. It’s more about raising important questions to get us to check in with ourselves about our efforts, and how much (or little) we have come to terms with our inability to control all variables.  I’ve written before about managing a “bad day,” finding perspective, and knowing when to take a break.  Each of those articles provides some assistance.  Ultimately, there is no single mental exercise or tool that will allow us to manage the unfolding of our lives.  The idea is to find a balance between staying engaged, motivated, and seriously committed–doing the best we can–on the one hand, while acknowledging and accepting our vulnerabilities and lack of total control on the other.  This tricky balance may apply to all domains–raising children, training for sport, working toward careers, developing relationships, and striving for goals, which often must adapt and change from our original vision.

Keep embracing your children, seeking your dream job, and training like there’s no tomorrow.  Just remember, the end product may be different from what you first had in mind.  We must be OK with uncertainty in order to enjoy the process –and make it count—growing and learning from the inevitable bumps along the way.

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