Creating a Sense of Control When Everything’s Out of Control

Dapper man with glasses in business attire against a natural backdrop
Luis Ramirez, NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Luis Ramirez
NU Scholar and & BSN Student (Nursing 2nd Bachelor’s), San Diego

Some days you’re the windshield. And other days, you’re the bug. But more often than not, I feel blessed to be the windshield, and these days, in the times of a pandemic, that’s a lot to be grateful for.

Like many, the transition from full-time student to full-time stay-at-home parent and elementary school teacher happened overnight. And the first thing I learned was … I am sorely unqualified to be a teacher. Nevertheless, we do our best and now, after a few weeks of trial and error, my family seems to be adjusting to a new groove and doing our best to make it work.

kids studying
I went to school to become an RN – not a teacher! But, like all of us during this time, me and my family are doing our best to adapt.

For people who like to feel in control (as I do), this is an especially challenging time. I’m not sure if it was out of necessity or desperation for order and control, but I’ve resorted to making lists. Lists for everything. I now have multiple lists and calendars going simultaneously. And even though my wife teases me about it, I love my lists. At first, the kids weren’t crazy about it. I started with a list and schedule of their daily home-school routine. This may not work for everyone, but from the moment I taped copies of the schedule on the fridge, they welcomed the routine and structure. In fact, they actually get excited about following it.

I find that a clear schedule has helped my three young kids to stay focused during the transition to homeschooling – giving me time for my own schoolwork!

I have my list of things to do that day around the house. Some days it’s more ambitious than others. Today the list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok (don’t judge). Is it intended for a younger demographic? Probably. Who cares? It’s on my daily watch list. So is Reddit – particularly the always entertaining “TIL” category (“Today I Learned…”).

The other list I update daily is the “Call/Write” list. This is for people who I want to call but, unless I put it on a list, I’ll forget or it’ll just never happen. Of course, there’s the ever growing “Shopping List,” which these days usually consists of grocery items we’re trying to get delivered online, or arts and crafts supplies for upcoming projects with the kids.

I don’t quite understand the psychology behind it. But for some reason, the act of making a list, and crossing something off it, is not only satisfying, but gives me a sense of control over my life. Writing things down helps me capture those ideas on paper before they disappear, poof, in a cloud of idea dust – and then crossing it off the list gives me the sweetest sense of satisfaction and accomplishment (although, many of those moments are short lived, because, honestly, how much credit can I give myself for organizing the spice rack, or for replacing light bulbs that have been burnt out for 3+ years?).

to-do list
The best part of a to-do list? Crossing things off. Remember to have a to-do list not just for work around the house, but for folks you’d like to reconnect with.

Lesson I’ve learned about the power of lists: For me, they create a sense of accountability, and allow me to feel accountable to stick to a strategy for the day, the week, the month. While not everything on the list gets accomplished, it certainly gives me much needed motivation and a sense of normalcy and sense that I’m moving forward, making progress. Some days, it’s baby steps. Some days, it’s big steps. Oh, and something I adopted in nursing school early on… ERASABLE PENS! Who knew? I remember the day I discovered such a thing existed I ordered a set of six on Amazon. That was nearly two years ago. So when you’re making your lists, you still feel like an adult by using a pen. But then as you start to read things back, you can erase the ridiculous ideas or the home repair projects that would likely lead to accidentally exploding something or losing a finger. While lists are great, it’s also good to self-edit. That’s where erasable pens come in.

Some days you’re the windshield. Some days the bug. So, for my to do list tomorrow, be the windshield.

Today my to-do list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… I think it’s called a Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok. Who cares?