I’m writing this on Wednesday, November 4th—the day after election day in the United States.
I’m home, but I can smell the anxiety in the air.
Who’s going to win? When will we know who wins? Will all the votes be properly counted? What sort of legal challenges will follow?
I go downstairs, make coffee, and enjoy the gorgeous sunrise over Mt. Hood from our bedroom window.
I’m not worried—even though I care deeply about this election (and our democracy in general). As an immigrant, I had to fight to win my right to vote in this country. I’ve voted in every election since I became a U.S. citizen, and this one is no exception. I filled out and mailed my ballot the day it arrived.
But, Ozan, how can you not be worried? The future of the country—nay, the world—is at stake.
It’s simple: I can control how I vote. But I can’t control how the election turns out. No amount of refreshing news websites will move the needle in my candidate’s direction.
In moments of uncertainty, we act like we don’t have a choice. But we do. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Viktor Frankl writes in one of my favorite books of all time, Man’s Search for Meaning, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
When the astronaut John Glenn was waiting for liftoff on top of an Atlas rocket—with the explosive power of a small nuclear bomb—his pulse ranged between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Even when the rocket roared to life, burning with an unbelievable fury, his pulse peaked at a modest 110 beats.
Glenn wasn’t superhuman. He just knew what most of us ignore. Stress arises from attempting to control things that you can’t control. Glenn had plenty of reasons to worry about the integrity of the Atlas rocket that would take him into orbit (“Glenn is going to ride on that contraption? He should be getting a medal just for sitting on top of it before he takes off,” as one NASA engineer quipped). But by the time Glenn was strapped on top of the rocket, he couldn’t control what would happen at ignition. Instead, he focused on the mission—the variables within his control.
For me, it all boils down to one question: Will this help?
Will it help to worry about who will win?
Will it help to refresh your favorite news site for the upteenth time this hour?
Will it help to shake your fists at the Gods, wishing the universe dealt your candidate a better hand?
If the answer is no, let it go.
Worrying gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Instead, focus on what’s yours to shape—the actions you can take to address prevailing problems—and ignore the rest.
In the end, you can’t control the hand the universe deals you.
But you can control how you choose to play it.