My daily blogging streak began under personally and professionally trying circumstances.
In October 2009, Collegewise (and many of our families) had been hit hard by the recession. In less than ten months, we’d gone from being a thriving business to one struggling to keep our doors open. I knew that if we made it to the other side, the prospects of us reclaiming our footing and our customer base were certain—we’d always had a long line of delighted customers who were happy to refer us. But every day of that year felt like a personal fight to drag my sleepless self out of bed in the morning to face the day. I was running out of ideas, time, and money. And I was losing my confidence that we could weather the economic storm.
I still vividly remember sitting at my desk on October 12 of that year and making what became a ten-year decision: I would start blogging every day.
Not in the hope that it would solve our problems, and not as part of a complex marketing strategy that could somehow contribute to our business bottom line. It simply felt like something productive to do when I was running low on productive practices. Looking back, the decision was impetuous—it took me less than two minutes to make it. But I knew that no matter what happened, at the absolute minimum, I could end each day knowing that I’d made some kind of contribution I could feel good about, a small win every day at a time when the wins seemed few and far between.
Lesson #9 of my final 31 posts: During stressful times, focus on what you can control.
Much of the stress we feel is caused by circumstances we can’t control. Finances, health, family dynamics, work–when we’re confronted with difficult challenges without easy solutions, we lose our sense of agency over our own lives. And it’s precisely during those times when we need to recognize which parts of our situation are actually in our control, no matter how small, and then relentlessly focus there.
When we were in the throes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, there was very little I could control. Other than making sure we kept taking care of our customers and continued to speak at any high school or community organization who invited me, I could only control how to spend the rest of my time. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but in the face of an enormous problem, blogging was a way to grasp a tiny portion that was still in my control.
One of the reasons that the college admissions process has become so stressful for so many families is that they choose to focus on the outcomes that aren’t in their control. You can’t control that another student got picked for the lead in the school play. You can’t control that your SAT score didn’t go up as much as you’d hoped, or that you didn’t get an “A” in AP English, or that Swarthmore denied your admission.
You can absolutely control your effort and attention in pursuit of those outcomes. And you should maximize that control to align with the goals you’ve set for yourself. But you can’t control the outcomes themselves. And the more time you spend trying to worry or will your way into desirable endings that you don’t ultimately get to decide, the more stress you’re going to feel.
I’ve written frequently about this concept of focusing on what you can control during your journey to college–you can find a few past posts here, here, here, and here. If the college admissions process is feeling a lot more anxiety-inducing than it is enjoyable for your family, I encourage you to read them. I’ve found that one of the very best ways to bring some relief during a stressful time in your life is to find the controllable portion and then take control of it.