Grace’s Advice on What We Can (And Can’t) Control – From Our Summer Interns

Our summer interns are back! These undergraduates spent part of the summer interviewing older people Welcome-Interns-Signabout their advice for living, through the Risk And Resiliency Internship at Cornell. Here’s the post from David Lachs, a junior attending New York University majoring in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Mental Health studies. While conducting his interview, David learned the importance of considering the role of control in our lives.

David writes:

We often find ourselves faced with challenges, stress, and difficult decisions on a daily basis. I interviewed Grace, age 67, who says it’s how we handle these situations that makes all the difference. When we encounter such a circumstance, Grace reminds us how critical it is to take a step back and exercise our judgment. She noted:

Many events that happen to us are a result of a chance. But of course many, too, derive from conscious choices we make. Nevertheless, consider the idea of us able to categorize things into two groups: that which we can control, and that which we cannot control.

She went on:

When the moment goes awry, and the circumstances drift away from you, recall the two aforementioned categories. If a decision is not yours to make, or an event is not contingent upon your will, or someone’s actions will be independent of your own, then what is the use in fretting [over them]? Stress is already abundant! And free for the taking. It’s not as if you can change these outcomes. Be conscientious with what you bring in your domain of concern.

Grace finds this advice particularly applicable for those “crunch-time” work situations:

If you have a big deadline to make, as an example, consider what is most probably in your hands: where you decide to work on the assignment, when you decide to do the assignment, whether to have a mobile phone around, whether to surf the web, and the option to use caffeine [she highly recommends coffee!]. But, how your boss reacts to your report is contingent upon too many arbitrary matters you do not have complete control over. Certain people prefer certain styles of writing and authors. Optimize your capabilities to promote the most desired outcome, and to make it a healthy transaction, so to speak, for everyone.

From my interview with Grace, I learned an important lesson for living. Some things we have control over, and some we do not. In making this distinction, a redefined sense of control can be empowering, allowing us to maximize our efforts and drop the futile concerns of changing the uncontrollable in a situation.


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