Luck, Bad Luck And The Illusion Of Control

I used to be a control freak. No longer than 4-5 years ago I was owning and running a moderately big online business. By “moderately big” I understand a network of websites with more than 1.000.000 unique users each month and a yearly income in the hundreds of thousands of euros. According to today’s economy, I guess this will easily qualify as a big business anyway 🙂

My daily management routine was a very tight one. I wanted to keep an eye on each and every aspect of the activity. From human resources to strategy, and from technical expertise to sales. The good part of it was that in time I became really good at pretty much everything that relates to running an online business. The bad part of it was that in 10 years I was completely burned out.

I sold that business 3 years ago. And with it, I also sold my “control freakeness”. Took me almost 10 years to realize that control is nothing more than an illusion.

Luck, Bad Luck, And The Illusion Of Control

The simplest definition of control could be summed up like this: “no unexpected events”. Everything planned and working as scheduled. Actively preventing any surprises from interfering with our plan and course of actions. Simply put, being in control means you avoid any potential chaos.

But, as surprising as it may feel, our mere notion of ‘luck’ is based exactly on chaos. If you really take the time to think at it, you’ll realize that “luck” comes from our desire to have an unexpected crack in the controlled flow of our daily events. Somehow, deep inside, we desperately need to believe in a “friendly”, supportive chaos.

We all have this clandestine hope that something good may happen to us all of a sudden. And we name this unexpected positive change “luck”. You can’t plan, schedule and allocate resources for luck; it will just be there, if it’s bound to be there. (Subsequently, you can’t really prepare for “bad luck”; by definition, “bad luck” is something that happens agains all odds).

The Fixed Path

Being a control freak means you’re ignoring any of these two possibilities. You willingly abdicate from luck. And, subsequently, try to protect yourself from bad luck. You simply don’t take them into account anymore. You just negotiate a certain outcome, stick to it and get rid of anything else.

From my personal (long and rich when it comes to being a control freak) experience, reaching your goals may be a little bit more predictable if you’re a control-freak. That’s a fact. But from the same experience, I also know that this approach is not only boring, but also diminishing. It’s true, I achieved a lot with my company by being a control freak.

But it’s also true that I passed by some very interesting opportunities, because, at that time, they were not “fitting” into my scheduled course of actions. They were simply things that were happening, out of nothing. Surprises. Unexpected events that I did not follow through, because I already had a schedule in place. I cannot say what my company would have become if I would follow those opportunities. And that’s kinda sad.

Completely protecting yourself from chaos will only give you an illusion. Because life is not predictable. It can’t be controlled. It’s something that just happens. And you always have the choice to “protect” from what happens, or to embrace what happens and figure your way as you go along.

For a certain amount of time, being in control will certainly give you a feeling of security. But at the same time it will take away any chance of luck. Or happy accident, as I like to call life events.

3 Ways To Let Go Of Control

It all may sound nice and easy in theory, but what about some actionable stuff? How about some simple (and I mean really simple) things you can do in order to get rid of control, and still be on top of your game?

1. Keep Your Eyes On The Road

And your hand upon the wheel. That means you should never lose sight of your goal but that you’re also ready to steer right or left if something unexpected occurs. And if you’re on a regular road, unexpected things will happen and you will have to steer right or left, or use the brakes from time to time and start again.

If you would have been a control freak, it would have mean your car doesn’t have a steering wheel at all.

2. Assess The Progress Rather Than The Process

If you’re focusing too much over the processes you’re implementing, you’re entering the control freak area. If you’re assessing progress, you can change processes at any time. I know for sure that this is completely against every management technique that you will ever read about. And I don’t really care about that :).

It’s more about where you really go, not too much about “how” you go. That may change. Be ready.

3. Take Risks

Not too often, not too big. But do take risks regardless of the outcome. Break the patterns and let something new to happen, every once in a while. Challenge the fate. The outcome may be something you don’t really expect, but as long as you’re learning, you’re ok.

For instance, go out an try to meet somebody new. Like right now 🙂

Control And Resources

But probably the most important thing about control is your access to resources. If you set course to a certain way of doing things, you’re limiting yourself. You limit your access to resources.

That’s very easy to understand in business. For instance, if you choose only one way to approach your customers, you’re limiting yourself. That’s obvious. Everybody will advice you to use the famous “marketing mix”, which is, well, a mixture of a lot of different approaches.

But in relationships, for instance, this correlation between control and resources is a little bit more difficult to spot. For instance, if you apply only a one specific strategy in order to meet new people, you’re drastically limiting your potential universe. You will only reach to those prone to be touched by your moves. There will be a lot of people that you may want to meet, but you won’t be able to, because, well… you never change your approach. And that’s because you’re only using a tiny part of your resources.

In fact, you’re having a huge pool of resources out there. Or, should I say, in there. Change the ways, try something new, assess, decide if it’s good for you, and the go on your path.

So, that’s the reason I’m not asking for any comment to this post right now. And I’m ending it quite abruptly, right here. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Luck, Bad Luck And The Illusion Of Control”

  1. It’s not that exciting really, just a guy living on a rock in the ocean making stuff for fun and (eventually) profit 🙂 But maybe I’ll write something up on my blog sometime later this year, there may be some more things to say by then…

  2. Hey Dragos,
    Nice to hear about your business, I’d love to read more about your story. Have you published a detailed article about it on your blog? Otherwise maybe we can do an interview, I’m always interested in learning from the success of others.

    Let me know:)

    • Hey Diggy,

      There are a few articles on the blog pertaining to business, but none of them directly tied to my personal experience. If you feel like doing an interview about this, let’s try something 🙂 It was a 10 years long effort, though, and I may not come with a shiny story. Most of it was just get up, move your ass to work, go to sleep. Day in, day out.

  3. I recognise this story very much, and I too only stopped when I burned out.

    For me though, the way I was eventually able to let go actually came out of earlier successes that were driven by that very same control freakery – financial security. Once you have that, suddenly you can relax more, take more risks, and actually probably end up being more successful than you were when you were controlling everything, because you’re willing to play the longer odds and trust that the balance will right itself eventually. Early on though, when I had no buffer fund and a big mortgage, this just wasn’t an option – failure would be disastrous. So in effect the last 20 years for me has been an iterative cycle of gradually gaining the space to relax more and take the next step – I expect that’ll continue indefinitely.

    So I wouldn’t blame yourself for being a control freak early on. Unless you start off in a wealthy family who can help you out if things go wrong (and the ‘self made’ entrepreneurs who have that option as a last report often don’t realise what a psychological benefit it is), this need to control is directly related to the relative consequences of risk. It can just be a hard habit to break later on 🙂

    • I am totally with you about that “hard to break habit”. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, on the contrary. I supported myself since I left home and came to university. Creating, running and, eventually, selling that company was a huge lesson for me. I learned a lot of stuff and I also achieved much more than any of my generation colleagues.

      But at the same time I realized that there are other ways to create value. Some of them easier and more in sync with my values. I’m not saying that owning and running a company was against my values, I just had to work very hard to keep that mechanism going on. I’m sure you understand that. But since I started this blog, almost 3 years ago (just after I sold the company) I understood that there really are many, many ways to skin a cat. You can create a sustainable income stream in a more relaxed and fulfilling way.

      Anyway, there’s a lot to talk about this. I may write another blog post about it 🙂 Or even a series. 🙂


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