About a decade ago, my dad and I were talking about the world's problems, specifically about third world countries and their need for clean water, education, and safety. I told him my whole plan and although he thought it was a great idea, he said, “You know, you’ll never see this come to fruition in your lifetime.”
I argued with him. I couldn’t wrap my mind around his comment. It actually threw me into a small identity crisis where I started questioning whether or not this was something I wanted to do since I’d likely never know if I ever actually changed the world. Now, almost a decade later, I realized I was codependent with my dreams.
I knew I could be codependent within romantic relationships but never with ideas, dreams, my community, etc. I’ve had ideas for improving work-related situations go unimplemented. I’ve tried to assist friends to release their dependency on drugs but they’ve chosen the drug over me. Recently, I had a friend who took a year longer than I wanted to get out of a toxic relationship.
In all of these scenarios, where I had a less than desired outcome, I often became frustrated with not feeling satisfied by the result. I felt helpless, depressed, and anxious at the thought that my solutions wouldn’t be applied and that even if they were, that they’d be less than perfect. These negative feelings would often spin me into a listless state.
I was so wrapped up in the outcome of these scenarios that the success or failure of such would become my identity.
So then, I thought, I can’t have myself be so wrapped up in something that I can't control that it ruins my life, if even for a week.
Yet I want to help.
But I can’t stay in bed all day if things don’t go as planned.
But I want to help.
The internal struggle between the dichotomy created chaos!
Finally! I came across a great phrase a week ago that helped me name the issue and I hope it helps you when you’re up against the same struggle:
Let go of the outcome.
This phrase literally changed my life and how I viewed helping others, helping my community, contributing at my job, and ultimately (hopefully) changing the world.
Let go of the outcome.
This ricocheted in my brain back to Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More. Remember codependency? Remember how we’re not to be so wrapped up in someone else’s emotions and that we can only control our own selves? We can be the same way with work, friends, even the world!
Instead of trying to force change and become inwardly chaotic and crazy when everything goes sideways, why not suggest, act, and hope independently from the outcome?
You want an environmentally friendly workplace? Recycle. Put out recycle bins. You can even post pictures of examples of what’s supposed to go in those bins above them. Now, remove yourself from the outcome. You don’t need to follow up with everyone, you don’t need to clear out all the trash cans, you can be free of the anxiety that comes with having (or not having) the most perfect recycling program possible. In fact, any errors gives you and your office room to improve!
To be clear, letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean you all of a sudden don’t care about your project. Of course you care! Similar to becoming interdependent in relationships, we must understand that the person (or project in this instance) that we are trying to help improve may or may not change in the way, or as quick as, we prefer. In this example, people may or may not recycle. They may use the wrong bin for the wrong refuse. Or it could go exactly as planned! The point here is to notice the outcome, adjust your approach, and move forward; treat it like an experiment instead of your identity (i.e. if the program is a success, I am therefore a successful person).
I know a small recycling project probably wouldn’t incite inward chaos for you and cause you to experience an identity crisis. So in order to participate in the following exercise, think of something that has the power to create a crisis if things didn't go perfectly according to plan - your career, your family, your community.
Recognize what part of this you could actually control;
What parts can you absolutely not control?
Play devil’s advocate and ask yourself what if my perfect outcome doesn’t happen?
What’s the worst that could happen?
How will I react?
What will I do instead?
Allow that to resonate on a larger scale as well. When we think about misfortune in the world that we’d like to change whether it be famine, drought, climate change, laws, etc., do your part to change and control what you can, but if things don’t go perfectly, how are you not going to let it affect your anxiety, your identity, your ability to move on, press forward, and try a new approach?
Personally, I would like to live in a world where violent crimes don’t exist, where I don’t feel scared walking alone in the dark, where animals and children aren’t neglected or abused. However, because of human nature and everyone’s ability to choose, these crimes will likely continue since I have no control over the world and how the deviants of our population behave. As I come to this conclusion within my mind and spirit, instead of allowing this to debilitate me, I have found with an unattached outcome, I am MORE empowered to act and change what I can. Whereas the prior mode of thinking would have me demote my desire to act by repeating, "Well, what can you do?"
Therefore I have found it much easier to release my codependency with the world.
Instead of worrying about the outcome, I make strides toward the goal of a violence-free world by writing about it, speaking with others, teaching young women non-violent forms of communication, teaching emotional intelligence, and so on.
When you release the worry or fear over an undesirable outcome it's FOR YOU. It’s a form of self care in that you’re allowing your anxiety to lessen and you will likely gain some much needed distance between yourself and your subject while simultaneously enabling you to act and act courageously so you can save the world!
None of us want to be codependent within our relationships and now that we know we can be codependent within other areas of our lives, it’s time to let it go. Let go of the outcome and become independent.
If this is something you struggle with, I’d love to hear from you, feel free to contact me and we can discuss this together :)