What Can I Control in My Life?

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© 2020 Peitho Publishing / Michael Froehls
Written by Michael Froehls

Most of us prefer having more control in life than less. Control makes us feel empowered. It allows us to make choices. When planning our life, recognizing what we can control and what we cannot is important to make smart choices. Mixing up the two can lead to overconfidence, thinking we can run things that we cannot. Alternatively, it can lead to resignation and depression when we assume we’re powerless, when in fact we could change things. Thus, being clear about what is within our control in life should be the first step in any life planning. Needless to say, what you and I can control is different.

Outside Your Control

Where you born in the US or in Germany? Congratulations, you are part of the “lucky sperm club”. My wild guess is that maybe 80% of your success in life is based on the lucky fact of being born in a rich, industrialized nation, with access to food on the table, medical services at your disposal, schools, a functioning legal system and society, free speech, passport to travel, and much more. You did nothing for all this. You were just born. In other words, you got lucky. The person who was born in Syria or South Sudan was less lucky.

You operate in the country you live in. This means you have to follow the law, your country’s tax policies, and need to operate within the mores and accepted culture. Moreover, you might be conscripted to the military, face travel restrictions (e.g., Cuba), or forbidden from certain things because of social or religious convention. If unlucky, you might carry a cancerous gene that runs in your family. Are your parents poor? Again, something you have no control over. Worst case, a civil war or natural disaster might destroy your economic and physical well-being.


Lack of control means there are forces at work that restrict your choices. If you don’t accept the things you cannot control, you might be going a sub-optimal path. One way to achieve happiness is to accept the limits in your life. Maybe it’s your height, a learning disability, the class you are born into, or a limited job market in your region. In other words, you work with what you have. You optimize your life within what’s given to you. You never leave your hometown.


Luckily, sometimes you have the option of making the uncontrollable a bit manageable. Maybe you inherited high cholesterol from your parents. This does not mean that you can’t bring it down through workouts and diet. While you may never be able to achieve the cholesterol levels your friends have, at least you influenced the uncontrollable a little bit.

Sidestep and Arbitrage

If you cannot accept or fight a restriction in life, can you sidestep it? Is there a way around a roadblock you can’t remove?

Say you want to get a master’s degree. You cannot control what US universities charge.  It would be natural to get grumpy at their out-sized tuition rates and bite the bullet by going deep into student loans (another uncontrollable if you are not rich). On the other side, you can control your language skills. You can invest in them. You are also able to decide on what to do with your passport. Applying to a master’s program abroad is in your powers – some programs are taught in English, some in two languages, and some in the local language only. In other words, with a bit of planning you can escape the boundaries of a non-controllable, arbitrage it out, and use what you can control to live a better life. Masters programs in Europe, Asia, or Canada are usually much cheaper than in the US, and many are ranked higher.


When optimizing your life and planning your future, it helps to take a hard look at you and your surroundings. What are the things you can control? Which ones lie outside your spheres of control, but can be influenced in your favor? Can you find a path around insurmountable obstacles on your way to success and happiness?

Create your own list and take your life from there.

© 2019 Michael Froehls – All Rights Reserved

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