Originally pubished on The Huffington Post

In my work over the years with individuals as well as corporate leadership teams, I often bump into the same phenomenon: many of us seem to prefer living in our myths to living in our lives. The preference for myth to reality seems to get us in all kinds of trouble.

Two of the more common myths I encounter are the Myth of Control and Myth of Stability. These two are playing out in interesting ways as we struggle with one of today's big issues impacting many of us - the economy and what we can do about it.

Interestingly, control and stability are simply different versions of the same myth. Today, I want to focus on the control side of the equation.

The Economy with a big "E" is well beyond most of us to pretend like we know what to do, other than complain that it should be different.

The small "e" economy, however is something you and I can do something about. You may not like the choices, but choices are all we have. How you exercise those choices is going to make a huge difference going forward, primarily on how you experience the next couple of years.

If you are a control addict, then you may be spending a whole lot of energy worrying about the "loss of control" over what's going on around you.

Control Is an Illusion

Control is one of those seductive illusions most of us suffer in our daily lives. We like the illusion of control, because it makes us feel like we know what's going on and that we can direct its outcome. On the other hand, some people recognize that they no more control the economy than they do the weather or how others drive their cars.

Unfortunately, many of those who recognize their lack of control on the larger scale of life, fail to recognize and so relinquish the one level of control they do have. That is perhaps best summed up by the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus: it's not what happens to you but how you respond that matters.

You can always control how you respond to what's going on. Sometimes, the level of response is limited as Viktor Frankl discovered as a concentration camp survivor in WWII. (If you don't know this story, read Man's Search for Meaning where he chronicles his life in the concentration camps. To paraphrase, we wrote that freedom is that point in time just after they do something to me and just before I choose my response to it.)

The current economic mess is a prime example of people focusing on what's happening to them and their apparent loss of control, when control isn't the real issue. If you can't control what's going on around you, what can you do?

As we find ourselves moving through this time of economic and social change, some will find the experience daunting and overwhelming. Those who do, may choose to contract inwardly, to pull back from the world, and abandon choices that might make a difference.

Others will put on a cheerful face and talk about making lemonade out of life's lemons.

Lemonade From Lemons

If you can work with the notion of lemonade from lemons, then you may discover choices you can make, choices that will help you deal with the challenges of these times in a way that will be expansive.

As the larger economy appears to be collapsing around us, it may be tempting to contract right along with it. However, others will find ways to expand in the face of that same apparent contraction.

I am being challenged as many of us are - I wound up losing my two long time clients last autumn, found a new client in December with the promise of at least 100 days of consulting for 2009, and then lost that client on the day everything was to start in mid-January.

What choices do I have? There are plenty of people to blame, tears to shed, etc. When all that is done, then what? Either I do something about my situation, or I do nothing. In either case, I will get to enjoy the fruits of my labor or suffer the lack thereof.

So what can you do as you are going through these difficult times?

You might enjoy reading a post that went up this weekend from Anne Naylor talking about job creation in the wake of the collapse of the British steel industry 30s years ago. The job creation story is a great one about displaced workers transforming empty industrial buildings into industrial villages of small businesses.

Thousands of new businesses and jobs were created. Help was provided in many ways, some by the industries that were closing down, some by governmental bodies assisting with start up support.

However, the primary lesson here is one of choice and expansion in the face of extremely difficult times. None of these impacted industrial workers could control the circumstances that lead to the collapse of their employers; however, each could do something about the impact of those changes. Each chose to find ways to improve their lot in life, to educate themselves in unfamiliar areas, and to take the initiative in shepherding themselves and their workmates into a new era.

My family went bankrupt three times as I was growing up, the last when my father died of leukemia and the insurance company refused to pay claiming that leukemia was a pre-existing condition when he took out the life and health policy 19 years earlier. I wound up living in my car for a while, subsisting on a dollar a day.

Turns out that was a blessing in disguise. I learned that I have what it takes to get through difficult times. I learned that I have to keep my focus on where I'm heading and make the choices necessary to get there. I also learned that no matter how bleak the circumstances, I was still OK inside myself.

Most importantly, I learned my quality of life is not driven by what happens to me, but my response to it.

Respond well!

You can find out more about Russell Bishop at http://www.lessonsinthekeyoflife.com . Contact Russell at: russell@lessonsinthekeyoflife.com

The author of Lessons in the Key of Life, Russell is an Educational Psychologist, professional life coach and management consultant, based in Santa Barbara California.

Author's Bio: 

Intent.com is a premier wellness site and supportive social network where like-minded individuals can connect and support each others' intentions. Founded by Deepak Chopra's daughter Mallika Chopra, Intent.com aims to be the most trusted and comprehensive wellness destination featuring a supportive community of members, blogs from top wellness experts and curated online content relating to Personal, Social, Global and Spiritual wellness.