I stepped out on my porch a few days ago to take an evening walk. It was mid-May, so it should have been 78 degrees. The sky should’ve been cornflower blue with fluffy clouds that reminded me of cotton balls. There should’ve been a gentle warm breeze blowing by. I should’ve been wearing flip-flops and a short sleeve t-shirt with some cheerful saying about sunshine on it.
Instead I dug out the fuzzy pink jacket I wear in the winter and zipped it up to my chin to stave off the crisp cool wind. Instead of sun, the sky was full of silvery gray clouds, which spat out an occasional mist of rain, and the temperature never made it to 50 degrees.
Someone forgot to tell Mother Nature it was May, not March, not November, but May. I pulled on that pink jacket, because I had a choice. I could dress for what the weather was supposed to be or I could dress for what the weather actually was.
Isn’t that how it is in life? We can rail against what is because it’s not what it’s “supposed” to be, or we can accept what is and dress for the weather.
Stephen Covey taught about the two circles of our lives in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He drew a large circle and called it the “circle of concern”. These are the things that affect us, that are of concern for us, like the weather, time, and other people’s actions. Then he drew another smaller circle inside the bigger one and called it the “circle of influence”. These are the things that we actually have some control over, that we have the power to influence, like our thoughts and our actions.
He explained that if we truly want to be effective, we need to focus on our circle of influence. That’s where our power is. That’s where we can make changes. Everything else is just beating our head against a wall.
In her book, It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now, Barbara Sher describes it this way. She explains that we have control of about 50 percent of what happens to us. You can have a great interview with all the right credentials and the boss’s son can still get the job. You can exercise and eat all the right food and you can still be diagnosed with cancer. You can be a loving attentive spouse and your partner can still walk away.
She writes, “You must try your best to do 100 percent of your 50 percent…The other 50 percent doesn’t belong to you anyway.”
What if instead of resisting the 50 percent we can’t control, we just practiced focusing our attention on the part we can influence? What if we followed The Serenity Prayer and truly committed to accepting the things we cannot change? What if we just let go of the rest?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is room in our lives for disappointment for the times when our lives are not what we intended, when life does not go as planned. But let’s not stay stuck in that space forever. Let’s give ourselves time to grieve. Grumble a little, cry about it, throw a fit if you must, and then get back to giving 100 percent of your 50 percent as soon as you can.
There was nothing I could do about the chilly weather the other day. I could resist it if I wanted to. I could stay inside in protest, or go out in a t-shirt and flip-flops and freeze. Those were certainly choices I could have made. Or I could do what I did, dress for the weather and head outside.
And I had such a sweet experience, seeing red roses spilling over someone’s chain link fence, smelling the rich scent of peonies in the air, noticing a patch of little flowers children tie together to make necklaces, reaching up to touch a clump of leaves dangling from a low branch. All while bundled up in my fuzzy pink winter jacket.
Barbara Sher went on to write in her book, “No longer focused on dragging fate over to your corner, you fall in love. And this time you fall in love as you never have before-with the world as it is, not as you wanted it to be.” Yes, it was supposed to be 78 degrees that day. Instead it was cold and cloudy with fits of rain, but boy, there was still so much to fall in love with.