I have been going through one of those weeks where I feel so depressed about the state of the world.
I’ve been trying to cocoon, not pay attention to the news, not think about much of anything at all.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I stop making a difference.
On the contrary–I realized a long time ago that I am far more effective at changing the world when I stop obsessing over things I cannot change, and start paying attention to things within my sphere of influence.
I used to obsess over politics, and get so upset (and even feel so righteous, because I was obviously right!), but there was just one problem. I wasn’t actually changing anything. I could see what needed changing, but I was putting all sorts of emotional energy into worrying about something that I couldn’t actually do much about.
I came to the conclusion that the world wasn’t going to get better until people understood that family mattered and that people mattered.
We needed to take responsibility for ourselves and act right. Reading the news constantly reinforced my views and made me sure I was right (which is a very heady and great feeling), but it didn’t do anything about the essential problem–that people were ignoring their families.
And so after one election I quit cold turkey. I decided no more blogs, no more news, I would just write this blog. By writing this blog I might be able to actually help a family or two. I decided to put my energy into the places where I might actually have influence.
My mother shared with me this concept about influence, and I thought it was brilliant. I’m going to adapt it slightly here, but essentially we live in a world that can be divided up into three circles: the things you can control; the things you can influence; and the things that you cannot influence or control.
Things I Can Control
Basically, this circle is very small. It contains only one person: yourself. You can control what you do, how you react, how you spend your time, etc.
Things I Can Influence
You can influence those closest to you: your family, your friends, your coworkers. And you have a higher degree of influence on those closest to you.
Things I Can’t Influence or Control
You can’t change the weather, the economy, what your boss decides to do with your company, what ISIS terrorists do, what happens with happens with Supreme Court nominations, etc. etc. etc. Most things are out of our control, and God does not ask us to spend time in areas that are out of our control. He asks us to do what we can–in the areas we can control.
But where do we spend most of our emotional energy? Worrying about things that we can’t control or influence.
Yet here’s something interesting: the more time we spend in the circles we can control and influence, the more influence we will have. And as we do that, often our sphere of influence grows. We’re actually more effective. And there’s a side benefit: people who spend most of their emotional energy in these two circles tend to be more joyful and peaceful. They aren’t worrying about things they can do nothing about; they’re pouring their energy into things they can influence, and often they’re seeing real changes.
Let me give you three examples of how this plays out.
When something’s bothering you about someone else, change how you react
In marriage, we often spend most of the time wondering how we can get our husbands to change: how to make them more romantic; how to get them to spend more time with the family; how to get them to want to talk to us. But you can’t change him. If you spend more time in the circle you can control, though–yourself–you will likely see your marriage changing. You can change how you react to him. You can find ways to insert joy into your life. You can change how you react to the kids and change the tone of the house. And as you do that, you’ll find your marriage, and your attitude about marriage, improving.
Learn to live in the present and enjoy those you love, rather than worry about the future
Here’s another one: when I was pregnant with my second child, we found out that he had a serious heart defect that would likely end his life early. I spent a lot of time in that outer circle, worrying about him and fretting and crying. But I couldn’t do anything about his heart defect. When I decided to spend time in the circle I could control–my own reactions–I started looking for little things to be grateful for everyday. I started learning to savour every moment I had with him. And when Christopher did pass away, I was much more peaceful about it because I had leaned on God rather than given over to worry.
Invest in those over whom you have the most influence
The first two points really talk about how not to live outside of your sphere of influence. But there’s another side to it: deliberately nurture your sphere of influence.
For me, that was a large part of the reason why I stayed home with my children. I realized that there were no two people on earth over whom I could have a greater influence, and I wanted to throw myself into them. And honestly? That’s still the thing I’m most proud of in my life. I just loved those years that I was home with them, and those years that we homeschooled. I know not everyone is able to stay at home, and I know that I was really blessed. But we had such great conversations, and I taught them how to be the kinds of people who would change the world.
Interestingly, I can see how both of them are now acting in their spheres of influence. I had an effect on them; they are having an effect on others. And that’s what’s cool: When we spend time with our kids and their friends, we can change this little bit of our culture, and that can have an effect on the wider society. When we help out a single mom in our neighbourhood, we can give her kids hope that marriage can work and show them good role models of strong, responsible men. When we choose to act in our circle of influence, we can end up changing, albeit in a small way, the culture that so upsets us.
In fact, when you spend time in your sphere of influence, your sphere of influence tends to get bigger.
And that means that you can invest in yourself, too! When my kids were little, I started writing because I wanted something to do when they napped. That’s turned into this blog, books, and speaking tours. Many of the young women who work for me do so from home, and they’ve been taking courses and learning new skills and they’re having a ton of fun.
And that’s what’s so neat. You don’t have to stop learning and dreaming now, because the internet has opened up the world to us! I’m a HUGE proponent of online education (my girls took their first year of university online, from home), and I think that’s awesome for moms and dads, too. The website Online Degree, for instance, lets you take your entire first year of college from home, at your own pace, tuition free. Check out their free courses right here!
And Rebecca and I are starting a business soon where we’ll set up websites in specific niches that can generate an income, so that someone can buy that website and then have a business they can do from home. I’m just passionate about giving people the kind of options I had–to have flexible work, to contribute to your family’s income, but still feel like you’re able to be with your kids when you want to.
Yes, the news is difficult and depressing these days. But I still feel like we live in amazing times.
We can learn from home, work from home, use the internet to have an influence. And no matter what we do, we can still choose to love those around us.
So if you want to have influence, don’t just worry and fret and complain. Actually do something in your circle of influence. Invest in yourself, and those around you. That’s the way we change our marriages, our communities, and the world–and that’s the way we find true joy, true purpose, and true effectiveness in this life.
What do you think? How do you make yourself focus on your sphere of influence, and not fret about the rest? Let’s talk in the comments!
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