Safe Haven Counselling

What to Do When You Can’t Change the Outcome

Have you ever felt powerless? As though you are no longer in the driving seat and not really sure if you ever were? No need to answer; it’s part of the human condition.

We like to be in control—to know that the small plot of land we are in charge of, namely our own lives, are ours to groom, pull out weeds and plant seeds as we wish. But our neat little gardens rarely stay well manicured—before too long something happens to destroy several of our plants, and occasionally the ground will need completely new soil.

A few years ago my garden was completely annihilated. I had to look long and hard to find any good crops still standing and believe me there weren’t many.

Sometimes an overhaul isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need to make your garden flourish.

You can till fresh ground, pull out the weeds, plant new seed, but at some point you have to sit back and let the journey of life take its course. That part is out of your control.

No matter what struggle we may find ourselves in, our natural tendency as human beings is to hold on, overcome and control. When it comes to our own lives the thought of being out of control is scary. If we can’t control our lives, what can we control?

But what if in that place of futility there was freedom? Because when we can’t control the outcome, we can control how we feel.

The problem with control

I’m definitely one who has tended towards control. I want to be able to put everything in a neat little box labelled success, tie it with a bow and write the contents on my epitaph.

But success looks very different now than it used to, and I’m quite okay without the bow or the perfect contents in the box. I’m okay with saying, “I showed up, I did the best with what was in my hand, and I surrendered the rest.” Surrender has become my goal in every situation.

I can only control my own actions; I can’t control anyone else’s.

You can (and should) do everything in your power to align your life with your vision, but there comes a point where it simply isn’t in your hands anymore. Letting go of control can be the most freeing thing you do in a situation. Your only responsibility is to give it your all; when you can say you’ve done that, it’s out of your hands.

Control incites fear and anxiety.

Control precludes faith and trust.

And total control is simply impossible.

The freedom in surrender

I’m learning to surrender more and control a whole lot less. For me surrender looks like giving it all to God, because at the end of the day I’m usually pretty lost and in need of direction. For you that may look like trusting in fate, or other powers that be.

Surrender allows us to trust in the process and the journey.

Do what you can do and trust that the rest will be what it’s meant to be.

What surrender is NOT

Surrender is not sitting back and letting life happen to you.

Surrender is not relinquishing your hopes and dreams to someone else.

Surrender is not giving up.

Understand the power you DO have

One of my favourite books of all time is Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and spent three years in concentration camps witnessing both the physical and mental deterioration (and ultimately death) of thousands of prisoners. The premise of his book is that no matter how desolate and inhumane our experience, if we can find meaning in our lives we can not only survive but find fulfillment. Ultimately we have a choice in how we respond to our circumstances.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Too often in the past I have chosen to give up, rather than find meaning, to accept defeat rather than trust. To surrender without giving the best of myself first.

When we have given everything we can give but the outcome is still that garden full of weeds, we have a choice: will I be defeated by this, or will I choose to find the meaning and surrender the outcome? 

Journal challenge

What is the biggest thing you are struggling with in your life right now? Have you given it your very best?

Have you entered into the situation as your authentic self, according to your values?

Try writing about your struggle, answering all of the above and leaning into your values along the way. Trust the process—watch what happens.

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1 Comment

  • Hi Claire,
    Thank you so much for these timely words of Wisdom. My mother is having an operation tomorrow morning – and the outcome is something that I certainly have no control over. It is a reminder to trust God and place her in His capable hands, and surrender my own fears to Him. Thank you. Carla Townsend, Tauranga, New Zealand.

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