I grew up in a broken home that was chaotic. As a child, I tried to produce order by taking control of the details of my life. As soon as I could put letters on paper, I had my first day timer.
It was charted out something like this:
- 8:00 Wake. Shower. Wash face. Brush teeth.
- 8:15 Make bed.
- 8:20 Prayers.
- 8:25 Dress for School.
So it went.
In my early 20’s I worked for four high-powered attorneys in one of the most prestigious firms in Los Angeles. By the age of 24, I was hypoglycemic and on my way to an ulcer. I remember thinking that my broken body was just a sign of “getting old.”
I worked long hours, but my incessant fatigue was more about self-perception than anything else. I was a Control Freak. Determined to be the perfect wife, employee, daughter, and friend., I had boxed myself into a corner. The problem was my day timer just wasn’t big enough.
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Control is about brokenness. It’s less about how we manage time and delegate and more about how we perceive ourselves in relation to the world.
Yes, we can end or avoid burnout if we have order in how we live out our day. However, we must be careful not to overindulge the demon within. You know the one. That voice inside your head that says you must control every detail of life around you.
The Control Freak experiences an endless cycle of exhaustion because he/she finds it impossible to let go. Of anything. If I am the god of perfection, clearly, there is no one who can do it better.
Solution #2: Let Go of Perfectionism
Everything I learned about my need for control and perfectionism I learned from my son Michael.
Perfectionism is a personality trait that causes us to strive for flawless, excessive high performance in every area of our lives. Perfectionists are typically overly critical of self and others.
Like power, perfectionism can be positive or negative. It can motivate us to achieve our goals. Or, it can drive us toward unrealistic goals. When we feel perfectionism slipping away, we sink into the quicksand of control.
Here are two ways to counter the need for perfectionism and control:
1. Distinguish between Perfectionism and Excellence
God blessed me with an “imperfect” child so that I could learn to let go. Our son Michael taught me that perfect comes in different packages.
When you have a child with a life-threatening disorder, birthdays are a big deal. I planned every event to perfection. I particularly remember Michael’s third birthday party. I had arranged every detail.
The event was a character lunch at Walt Disney World. I even managed to get Mickey there though the Disney team had forewarned me that he was completely booked.
But the event wasn’t perfect. At least not for me. All I could see was the things I couldn’t control. The dark circles under Michael’s eyes. The fragile way he clung to his walker unable to keep up with the other children.
It was a beautiful day, but I missed it. My need to control, fix, and cure Michael overshadowed it all. Years later, as I sat looking at old pictures, I saw how beautiful and joyful Michael looked at that party. Control had robbed me of the perfection and joy of my own child.
When we try to do parenting or life as perfect, we risk burnout.
I learned to distinguish perfectionism from excellence. For me, perfectionism doesn’t exist except in the Almighty. Excellence is about doing the best you can given the circumstances you’re in.
I say this all the time because I need to hear it often. If I have limited time, resources, or energy, I give it my best, and then I let go and move on.
2. Master Negative Emotions
The Daily Examen is a great way to do this. The short version is that you examen your thoughts and emotions at the end of the day to detect God’s presence in those events. You can also examen your negative and positive emotions.
Mastery simply means you develop awareness of how and when your emotions are attached to a need for control.
It’s not difficult to recognize any tendency for control. We find ourselves frustrated, angry, stressed out, guilty, ashamed, or experiencing some level of anxiety.
Sometimes these emotions are warranted. Other times, they arise because we feel a loss of control over something we need not control in the first place. Awareness of how and when you’re slipping into these emotions will help you move in the opposite direction when necessary.
When our need for power, control, and approval becomes our triune god, we are doomed.
Remember, what you resist will persist. Learn to master your emotions, let things go, distinguish between perfectionism and excellence, and you will avoid burnout. You will learn to experience the flow of life in all its twists and turns. It is in those unexpected moments that we wake up and grow into our deepest experience of life.