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The Illusion of Control 16

The Illusion of Control

Do you ever feel out of control? Do you ever feel that when you’re in control, you’re really not?

A few weeks ago, I took a tumble on my motorcycle. I use the word “tumble” because it sounds less threatening than wrecked, crashed, or wrapped around a tree. But perhaps that’s just my way of ignoring that I wrecked or crashed….near a tree.

It’s the second motorcycle accident I’ve had.

The first occurred in 2009 when the uninsured driver of a pickup truck pulled in front of me. I avoided the truck but not the gravel on the side of the road. The bike was totaled and I got ten stitches in my chin but in the big scheme of things, it was a minor accident.

So, I got back on the horse and felt relatively comfortable riding again. Since I knew how the accident happened, I felt sure I could pay closer attention in the future and avoid idiots like the uninsured truck driver.

In retrospect, I see that I may have been operating under the illusion of control. Similar to a magician’s use of sleight of hand, the illusion of control relies on sleight of mind.

My second motorcycle accident occurred a few weeks ago. It was Father’s Day and I had just left the Blue Ridge Parkway for some fantastically twisty roads near my home. It was a beautiful day and I remember thinking how lucky I was that I now live in one of the best motorcycle riding areas in the country. Unfortunately, that was the last thing I remember.

Apparently, about 5:00 p.m., I was found standing in a ditch next to my upright motorcycle. The passerby said that when he asked me what happened, I didn’t make much sense. A number of family members and friends have pointed out that in my case, that’s not conclusive evidence that something is wrong.

The nice man loaded me into his car and took me to a nearby general store where he placed me in a rocking chair while he called the rescue squad. For the record, a rocking chair is therapeutic on many levels.

The EMT’s arrived and checked me out. I had serious road rash on my arms and legs and was unable to retain new information for more than about two seconds. Yet, I refused to be transported to the hospital. I was, however, able to retrieve the phone numbers for my wife and sister so the EMT’s called on them for backup.

About an hour later, my wife and sister showed up. The EMT’s asked my wife if she thought I was acting normal.

She said, “No.”

It’s reassuring that my wife had the ability to discern my truly abnormal abnormal behavior from my typically normal abnormal behavior.

My wife told me that in addition to short-term memory loss, I was repeating the same three questions over and over. I asked,

“What happened?”
“How is my bike?”
“Do I have any speaking engagements coming up?”

Clearly, when everything else was knocked out of my head, these were the three priorities that remained — to know what happened, to know how bad it was, and to know if it would affect my livelihood as a relatively good looking professional speaker. The immediate seriousness of my head injury (later determined to be a concussion) and significant loss of skin on my elbows and knees were of no concern to me.

Again, I suggest, that I held tight to my illusion and believed that if I just knew what happened, I would be able to control not only the situation, but also the outcome.

Today, I have no recollection of my accident. There is a five-hour gap in my memory and I am unable to piece together what happened. Losing that memory is not only frustrating, it feels like I lost control before, during, and after the accident. Clearly, my mind had a mind of its own.

But upon further reflection, I wonder if I was ever really in control to begin with. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much of our lives is out of our control.

For instance, I can’t control my health. I can’t control what my children do. I can’t control whether my wife loves me. And I certainly can’t control whether an uninsured man in a pickup truck is going to pull in front of me.

So, do I have any control over my future?

As a motivational-inspirational-humorvational speaker, it’s hard for me to consider that I can’t control my future. My business and the personal development industry is based on believing that we are in control.

In fact, we live in a society obsessed with having control. We believe that if we know why someone is murdered, then we can avoid a similar fate. We believe that if we know why someone got divorced, we can avoid a strained marriage. And we believe that if we know how to erase our wrinkles, we can avoid getting older.

But I believe these beliefs are just illusions of control.

So, how are we supposed to function if we really don’t have control? Are we supposed to give up and just let the world happen to us?

I don’t think so.

I believe we do have control over some things. For instance, I have control over what I eat and how often I exercise. I have control over how I express love and discipline to my children. I have control over how I treat my wife.

We have choices every day that can lead to good outcomes. But we just don’t have control over everything.

So, every day, we must do what we can to have an impact on those things we can control. But, at the same time, we must be content with what is out of our control. Trying to control the uncontrollable is ineffective and leads to frustration. And eventually, the illusion will come crashing down — just like I did on that fantastically twisty road a few weeks ago.

Most people who know about my accident think I should sell the bike. If I decide to keep it, I am probably just holding on to a sense of control that may not actually exist. If I sell it though, I’m admitting that I don’t really have control and that feels even worse. And if I keep it in the garage but never ride it, I could still wear my leather jacket and claim that I’m the proud owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. But, without the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth, it’s just not the same.

The bottom line is this. It’s disheartening to find out we don’t have as much control as we thought. On the other hand, if we realize we never had it to begin with, and we can accept that reality, maybe we didn’t lose as much as we thought.


  • Bruce Turkel says:

    This is a very insightful post, Ron, and one I’m going to share on all my SM outlets and with the people I care about.

    I don’t know what “humorvational” means but other than that… brilliant!! Thank you for sharing your experience and learning.

    I found it very valuable.

  • Laura Stack says:

    Good God Ron! I’m just glad you’re okay. You have to get on the bike again. Maybe around the block. My daughter fell off her horse at 11, broke her arm, and never got back on her horse again. Years later, at 16, she asked me for a riding lesson (even though she had been an expert horsewoman). I took her to the barn. I thought she’d have a panic attack, but she got back on and even got up to a canter. At the end, a big triumphant smile on her face, she told me she’d been thinking about that incident for 5 years. She’d finally conquered her fear and got past it. But she suffered for many years needlessly. I say the sooner the better. And then you can sell it. Meagan hasn’t ridden a horse since then but doesn’t feel beaten by it any longer. XO

  • Lois Creamer says:

    Wow! What a post. Gives us all something to think about. I too have had circumstance remind me (over the last dozen years especially) that no matter how “careful”, stuff happens. We can’t control many aspects of life – like health. But, we can, and we do, live in faith. It’s how I handle fear. Glad all is well Ron!

  • Anita Ciano says:

    I’m wondering if you had a helmet on and sure hope that you did. Here in NJ helmets are mandatory and when we travel to other states we are amazed that anyone would consider going without. Anyway, I hope you will continue to enjoy your motorcycle, but with a helmet. And as for the memory, it may be less scary for you than if you had a vivid memory of a large bear jumping in front of you! I fell off of my bike at age 9 or so and hit my head (long before the age of bike helmets) I managed to get myself home and to this day have never remembered anything about it – strange feeling! My brothers insisted someone just picked me up off of the side of the road and dumped me at “their” house to be a sister for them to pick on . . .

  • Barbara Wood says:

    As always, I love your posts, comments, insights, stories….pretty much anything you write. I’ll admit though this particular one was not only a great story, but what a tremendous life lesson it presented. This is one I’ll probably have to “chew on” a bit, but in the end, I think it will prove to be very helpful to me personally. Keep writing….love the lessons, but also love just reading a good story. And yes, we’re all glad the bump on your head was not serious.

  • Jan Fox says:

    First, I worried about you.
    Then I wanted to tell you I blew out my knew skiing and went back.
    Next came the mother thing: That bike is wrecking ball.
    Then it hit me. You are one of the smartest, funniest, life loving, GOOD men I know. You will do the next right thing!!!
    I still might worry about you a little!

  • Pat Tith says:

    Quite a tale and the wisdom you write about is so true!!

    I can totally relate. I had a scuba diving “issue.” I knew I had to “get back on the horse” so I signed up for another diving trip. This incident happened after I had logged about 90 dives! Things happen…sigh

    Glad all is well.


  • Steve Wilkinson says:

    Is the tree OK?

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