The things you can’t control very well

It’s almost a cliché to say that you shouldn’t bother with or worry about the things you can’t control. After all, if you can’t control them, spending any time on them is a waste. It makes sense, right? But what about the things you don’t control very well or the things you don’t control completely? I don’t know about you, but those are the things that drive me nuts. They shouldn’t, but they do.

For example, look at other people’s opinions of you. In the bigger scheme of things, their opinions shouldn’t matter. You can’t control how other people think. If they hate you, they’re going to hate you no matter what. You can’t appease them. All you can do is make sure that their anger towards you doesn’t materialize into some kind of physical threat. (And I don’t mean a perceived physical threat, either. I mean the real deal.) I know that I am not likely to convince antivaxxers that they are wrong for putting all of us at risk by not vaccinating their children. They’re convinced of it, and that’s that. What I can do is influence the people who are on the fence about vaccines and tell them the truth: That it’s going to be okay and that they’re doing their community and themselves a big service by vaccinating.

Still, there are some people whose opinion of you matters. Take your boss, for example. Or maybe your academic advisor… I don’t know. I’m just saying. Their opinion matters because they have a great deal of influence on your life. If your boss doesn’t like you, then you’re pretty much screwed. You should probably look for some other job instead of trying to please them. On the other hand, you can maybe influence their opinion a little bit by looking at their criticisms of you and seeing if there is something you can do with that… See if you can influence their opinion just enough to get you by.

I was told by a professor that I didn’t seem to be taking one of my classes seriously. That is his opinion, and I respect it because I have a great deal of respect for the man. I thought long and hard about whether or not I was taking the class seriously as I ran the four miles the other day. I have tons of notes from each class. I do the required readings. I ask questions and help other students get answers. I get up at 5am to be at school by 8am (class starts at 9) to read up on the previous lecture’s notes and be ready for that day. So it is my opinion that I do take the class seriously.

But here is one of those weird situations where someone’s opinion could greatly influence the outcome of my academic career. Thankfully, there are more objective ways to evaluate my performance than his opinion, but, still, it kind of hurt a little to be so misunderstood. As I finished my run, I realized that it is his opinion, and that I can’t control that. I can only influence it.

I guess I’ll be at the school earlier than 8am.

From time to time, I’ll also take on the burdens of other people and worry about them. I shouldn’t. The great majority of people I care about are adults, and they are automatons with free will who choose to get in trouble, choose to have drama in their lives, and choose to lead their lives their way. I can’t control that. I just nod and smile politely as I hear of all the drama and thank God that I’m not in their position… Just like I’m sure they’ve thanked their lucky stars from time to time that they’re not in my position.

So my advice for the day is to try and let go of the things you can’t control and spend the least amount of energy on influencing the opinion of others towards you, especially the people whose opinions don’t matter. As for the people whose opinions do matter… Well, do the best you can and live with it. You’ll drive yourself insane trying to please the whole world.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen