Everyone knows, the only way to live life is to attack it. To go after what it is you want, and get it. At any cost. Hustle. Keep your eyes on the prize. Cut throats when necessary.

And for some people, this works. To have full control over every waking second is definitely one way to go through life. But to do it, you really have to believe, whole-heartedly, that you know what’s best for you. Most people I know who are like this don’t do serendipity. Serendipity isn’t planned. It’s uncontrollable. So rather than submit to it, they steamroll it. And that’s cool – for them. Just not me.

I used to be a control freak – back when I was an active alcoholic. Which was ironic, considering that I surrendered my will to a bottle every day. But it was ok, I had plans. And anyone who got in the way of those plans were bound to get hurt. Eventually, I came to. But not before submitting my will to God. I know what you’re thinking – God blah blah blah. And that’s cool – this isn’t a God post. But it is a post about what we really control and what we don’t and how collisions with others and outside circumstances and natural occurrences play a role in how we move through and mature into the 80 years of life we’re given here.

When I met my wife, I wasn’t looking. Yes, I went to college. No, I didn’t plan on getting into advertising. Yes, we planned for children. No, we didn’t plan on both losing our jobs after 9-11 with a baby, a new mortgage and another baby on the way. Yes, I just got a new car. No, I didn’t expect to nearly die on Friday when my truck lost control of its steering on a highway. The list goes on. And I’m more aware of how little I control today than ever before. Hell, I barely control what we eat for dinner. But when we gather round our little table at night, I’m acutely aware of how lucky we are to have each split up in the morning, moved around within our individual little worlds for 10-12 hours during the day, and reconvened to break bread together at night. A simple gesture that I used to take for granted.

And for me, I think that’s it – the gratitude that keeps me happy. Do I try to make good use of my time? Yes. Do I set goals and walk in those directions every day? Yes. But I also know that I’m not really in control. None of us are. Just ask anyone who has lived through a natural disaster. Or a plane crash. Or cancer. Control is just a temporary illusion. But it’s so sparkly and shiny and it makes us feel like Gods when we set plans to control things – that it’s an illusion most everyone embraces. And because so many of us actually believe that we’re in total control of things, we celebrate those who appear to be the most successful at it.

I’ve long accepted that I’m not the kind of guy who anyone will ever point at and say – ‘There goes a great man. He has a house made of gold. And you want to know why? Because he made up his mind to go after the things he wanted in life. And he got them.’ No, if I’m lucky I’ll be a guy people point at and say – “See that guy over there? He’s a good man. Trust him.” Hopefully. Because all I really control in life is whether I am honest with myself. If I end up living in a house made of gold – you’ll know something went terribly wrong.

No, we don’t control much. But we do control what we choose to accept. And so the trick is to keep a broad range of view as we walk through life. Because I’ve learned that every interaction and every random collision, offers an opportunity of some kind. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “Nothing is insignificant.” Which means even if you’re the type of person who chooses to ignore the forces at play around you as you plow your way to your life goals – it matters. Everything matters. Even denial.



Jim Mitchem

Why I Don't Read

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.