You Can’t Control Everything – Sucks, Doesn’t It?


You Can’t Control Everything - Sucks, Doesn’t It?

Silly as I am, I packed merely a week and a half’s worth of clothes when I moved to the Philippines. One small duffel bag later, my room in Arizona still looks like I live there, as over 90% of my wardrobe sits untouched (and probably dusty.)

I miss having my clothes. I’m a clothes kind of guy, but I abandoned that when I came over here, expecting that the scorching humid weather would force me to wear only basketball shorts and t-shirts when I go out. My nice chinos, dark denim jeans, and rolled up long-sleeve shirts didn’t make the journey overseas with me and now I miss them.

So I decided to go clothes shopping to fix this laundry problem (having to wash all your clothes every few days isn’t fun.)

You’re going to bet that I’m about to complain about how I couldn’t find the brands I wanted, right? Oh, woe is me! The lack of control!

No, I’ve actually come to terms with that. What happened while shopping was even more irritating than being a drama king about labels.

Dealing with others’ inefficiency

Imagine you go to a store to buy jeans and ask for a certain size. “28×30 in slim straight, please!”

The nice employee maneuvers around the piles of boxes littering the entire store, which oddly enough, reminds you of the day your parents moved houses. She reaches for a random pair and comes back to you with a smile, “Here, sir.”

Hm, 30×32 in regular fit? That’s not what you asked for. “Can you get me 28×30 in slim straight?”

“Just take it,” she insists. Okay… No. You know what you want and that pair simply won’t fit.

You ask her to try again over and over as she gives you the same pair of jeans you didn’t ask for. The employee looks at you like you’re crazy. Why don’t you just take the pair, go away, and let her get back to chatting with her coworkers?

After the 10th attempt of getting her to just take a look at the tag before reaching for a pair of jeans, you tell your friend that you’re leaving before you erupt in a volcano of boiling rage.

Now that’s exactly what happened to me when I was shopping for jeans.

Being an uptight control freak (something I’m still working on,) I get frustrated when things don’t go my way.

People behaving the way I expect them to? Perfect!

Being praised at work for a job well done? Yeah, baby!

Philippines McDonalds has change for 1000 PHP, the equivalent of a twenty-dollar bill? I’m on top of the world!

But… Expecting things to always go smoothly is crazy, even more so when you’re in a country that doesn’t mind inefficiency. This place really opened my eyes to how lacking I am in the “let it go” department.

Which is why I remind myself that you can’t always have everyone act the way you’d expect, regardless of whether or not they’re being irrational.

Having things around you act outside of your control is a normal part of life. You won’t be able to manipulate every variable. That sucks if you’re uptight with a thirst for control like I am, but what can you do about it?

Doctor’s prescription

You laugh it off.

Save for the serious situations that actually impact your life, the little things that frustrate you, like shopping for jeans, shouldn’t put a damper on the rest of your week. Laugh at the absurdity, laugh at how big the universe is, and laugh at the fact that your face is getting redder with rage.

That whole jeans fiasco would have kept me upset for days if it happened to me about 4 months ago. Now? I look at it like a funny story only hours after it happened. “Oh, Philippines! You so crazy!”

It’s all outside my control. If I had my way, everything would be efficient. Things would be so neat. But don’t you think life would be boring that way? There wouldn’t be any surprises.

The Stoics really did get it right (contrary to their dictionary definition.) Stoicism says to separate events into things you can control and things you have absolutely zero control over.

You’re in a predicament of the former? Sweet! Control that until the cows come home.

You’re in the latter? Laugh it off. I don’t think the Stoics specifically prescribed a dose of “laugh it off,” but hey, welcome to 2014.

Go forth, fill your belly with air, and release a hearty chuckle.

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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29 responses to You Can’t Control Everything – Sucks, Doesn’t It?

  1. I most definitely like to control everything as well! It is a daily struggle to let little (and big) things go, so at least I know I’m not alone in the struggle 🙂

    Would it have been inappropriate to look through those boxes yourself? 😛

  2. Haha, your story was crack up! Thanks for sharing, especially seeing as it was so recent! Letting go is something we all need to do – me, I don’t generally get worked up about inefficiency, but I’m working on accepting that my plan for my life won’t always go the way I want it to. It will work out in my best interests, but I can’t define what that will look like. The unknown is the joy of life I suppose – I mean, if we could control everything, what would be the point of living? the outcome would already be pre-determined.
    So you’re right, learn to let go (especially the little things) and thanks for making me laugh! 🙂

    • When I was a kid, I got frustrated and complained about how other people didn’t think the same way I did. An older friend of mine commented that if things always went your way and if everyone was the same as you life would be pretty boring. Years and years later and he’s still right. Yay for the unknowns and the diversity!

  3. Lol Vincent! Love this. Laughing it off works! Glad it does in Philippines too mate. 🙂

    • I’ve noticed that the ex-pats out here are either humored or totally pissed off by the way things work over here. Being angry doesn’t solve anything, but it does get you some weird looks from other people. 🙂

  4. I remember the time I went on a trip with a friend, only to discover that she was in a really bad mood and the fun had completely left her bones. I had to spend 36 hours in her company and try as I might, nothing helped…

    But instead of getting angry with her I just thought about the amusing story I could tell in the future of how I was stuck on foreign soil with an adult child.

    It helps!

    That’s the trick – laugh it all off and leave the negativity behind.

  5. It’s funny because people assume that I’m not a control freak because I’m messy. But I am. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized just how much of a control freak I can be. I just have different standards and tolerances. Like when it comes to the design of my blog, even though I’m not a designer, I am 100% involved. Thankfully I managed to outsource the logo and it came out great, so hopefully I can use that as a starting point to let more go of things that need to be outsourced.

    But honestly man, in the example I don’t think you were being a control freak, buying a pair of jeans that doesn’t fit because of the situation would have been ridiculous in my book, but definitely it’s something that should be laughed off and not be allowed to ruin your day.

    • If you actually tried 10 times before walking away, maybe you were a little bit. But man that would test my nerve too! If it was me I would probably just be so amazed that I’d finally offer to do it myself or just walk out shaking my head.

      Thankfully I’m great at laughing things off. So if I just remember to do it more often, I should be more than fine.

    • I suppose that wasn’t the best example, but it was recent and I figured it’d be a funny story to tell. I cheated a bit. 😉

  6. Haha, I was waiting for Stoicism to be mentioned! I was not disappointed. 🙂

    That girl in the store should not be working in customer service. Prioritizing chit chat with her friends to a customer… WTF?

    Didn’t take you for a “clothes kind of guy” Vincent.

    • You’d be surprised buddy! A lot of the employees in the PI are like that. Totally different world, which is why I’m trying to practice calming myself down before I get too upset.

      Heh, neither would my bosses! All they see me wear most days is basketball shorts with a t-shirt. “Jesus, this guy has more basketball shorts than I do!” -Said by my basketball playing boss.

  7. Shit man, that’s just ridiculous. But I like your attitude, haha.

  8. I hear you on how it can be frustrating when things are out of our control. It’s the worst feeling. I would say you handled it pretty well though. What you say at the end of the post about how to deal with things we can control versus the things we can’t is very true. It’s taken me some time but I’ve finally learned that there’s no point in worrying about the things you can’t control. And if we spend less time (or no time) worrying about the things we can’t control then we can spend more time doing something about the things we can control.

  9. For me, the desire to let go comes pretty darn hard. I am naturally ambitious and want to control evry aspect of my life in the way I wish to go.
    Sometimes, we tend to ignore that nothing is ever the way we always we wish. There are no straight lines in the universe.
    I am guilty of this. I have been goaless for over a year now. I wanted to do everything,control everything and then ended up doing nothing.
    I am letting go everyday in every way,living in each passing day.
    Thank you,Vincent for being such an inspiration!

  10. Great observations!! I agree that it takes quite a bit of patience to deal with the lack of decent customer service in third world countries. I’ve had my own personal experiences when I visited Viet nam.
    It’s an eye-opener to how spoiled most of us are. Good customer service in poor countries become a luxury instead of an expectation. I guess it makes sense when you look at the bigger picture…their people’s main goal is survival while ours seem to be more focused on image.
    But shining a light of humor on emotionally and mentally challenging situations definitely makes us leave every difficult experience as a winner. Because we always win when we can find amusement in the “not so funny at-the-time” type of situations. =)

    • My bosses have a lot of theories as to why customer service is the way it is. Not sure what the real answer is, but yours sounds pretty good!

      Although being an ex-pat can be frustrating out here, there are a lot of good things about it too. I’ve been beating this place up a bit these past few weeks, but it’s out of love. 🙂

  11. I went to India once, and I wanted to murder quite a few business owner as well…In the long run, they taught me a lot on how to keep my cool and accepting the inherent sloppiness of life.

  12. Vincent, I definitely understand this! I went through a radical change in 2013, a year self understanding and growth. Me the former uptight, strict (Asian culture, definitely know you understand haha), military mannerisms to laid back not letting any set backs phase me. Living day by day and always looking back, laughing everything off, its refreshing!

    • Same here, Eugene! 2013 was a big eye opener and 2014 looks to be the same. I think the only thing I have to say about getting away from typical Asian uptightness is to be careful of overcorrecting. You don’t want to fall too deep into “IDGAF” mode if it’s not really who you’re comfortable being, you know? 🙂

  13. Control is an illusion anyway. What we have is influence.

    On the other hand, this thought is merely a theoretical brain exercise. When it comes to practical and actually empowering thoughts, wanting to take control (exercise influence) is a damn good thing 🙂

  14. Wow. So many aspects of who you used to be, are like who I am today (I’m 17 years old). Just want to say thank you for your honesty and for sharing this valuable information. I seclude myself from others because throughout my life I’ve been bullied and called weird or dumb and I have awkward, awful social skills. But Im going to read everything I can, starting with your website, to improve this situation hopefully :).

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