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Stop Being a Control Freak. Why You Need to Embrace the Chaos

There's a lot you can control in life, but how you handle random events will determine your success--and your happiness.
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October's a big month around here.

It was 25 years ago that I met my wife. She'd decided to dump my roommate--who she'd been dating--and wanted to drop off some of the loser's stuff when she knew he wouldn't be there. Luckily, I was. We'd never met until then. We almost never did.

Our first date was on Halloween. She was dressed as a flapper--the 1920s version of a party girl. I was a nerd, sort of a "Revenge of the Nerds" type. Not very attractive. She took one look at me and wondered if she'd made a mistake. She almost didn't stick around.

We were married a year later, also in October. We didn't really think it through. One day we just boogied down to the county courthouse and tied the knot. We didn't tell a soul until afterwards. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? Trust me, it wasn't, not by a long shot. The first few years were pretty rocky but we somehow managed to get through it.

Funny thing is, the best thing that ever happened to me was the result of a complete string of random, low-probability events. Had one of us given the slightest thought to what the heck we were doing at any point along the way, things never would have turned out the way they did.

I don't know about you, but after more than half a century on this planet and thirty-something years in the business world, I can honestly say that all the pivotal events in my life happened just like that. In business as in life, the best advice I can give anyone is to embrace the chaos. Take risks. Big ones.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that taking chances is all there is to success and happiness. You also have to follow through and get things done. You have to be willing to compete and fight to win. You have to take responsibility for your actions. And you have to face your fears and learn from your mistakes.

Indeed, there's a lot to the business of life that is in your control, but in my experience, the major make-or-break events always involve letting go. Giving up the illusion of control and embracing the chaos. Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that's true.

Runaway product successes are never planned. You can't predict which websites, apps, or TV shows will go viral. And dozens of venture capitalists will tell you you're crazy before one sees the real potential of your disruptive technology or concept and writes you a check.

How do you know which risks to take, which chaotic rides to jump on, which random events to see through? If it feels right, do it. If it works out, if you accomplish something good, it'll boost your self-confidence. If it doesn't work out and you learn from it, that'll give you strength. And through it all you'll gain experience, insight, and perspective.

These days, it seems that everyone who wants to get ahead is some sort of information junkie. Everyone wants to be more productive, effective, optimized. That's okay for a little fine-tuning, but don't lose sight of the big picture. In this world, control is an illusion. How you respond to random events is far more important.

IMAGE: ernestoborges/Flickr
Last updated: Oct 2, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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