It’s July, and it seems like everyone is acknowledging this new month by remarking how wild it is that we’re only six months into the year.

2020 has been extremely disorienting for me – and not just because I’ve spent the vast majority of the year in pyjamas. The hardest part to come to terms with has been that, thanks to all the upheavals this year has brought our way, I no longer have an easy way to imagine what the future might hold.

I think most of us will agree that human beings are amusingly egoistic. To cope with the complete randomness of our existence, many of us make up all kinds of stories that place us at the centre of the universe. We tell ourselves we have control over so much that affects our lives, and when things happen that prove we actually don’t, we find ways to integrate these incidents into our story of control anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course; it’s just part of what it means to be human. Still, this illusion of control that so many of us depend on to survive is a big part of why 2020 has felt like several exhausting lifetimes rolled into one. There’s been an unprecedented amount of collective chaos in extremely quick succession; all but the most insulated of us have been unmoored from what we imagined to be indispensable facets of our lives.

It’s not a good feeling, is it? That’s why we’re burnt out, scared, tired, angry. We’re suffering the consequences of other people’s inaction, irresponsibility or selfishness (and, perhaps, difficult as it may be to admit – even our own). We’re scrambling to build safety back into our lives, or maybe access it for the first time. We’re starved of touch and companionship. We don’t know whether the economies in which we conduct our lives will recover, or how these upheavals will alter the trajectory of our futures.

It’s a lot. And it’s only July.

So today I’d like to share with you a few tips for surviving when things feel like they’ve been "a lot" for way too long, yet it’s only July. None of these tips is particularly earth-shattering; in fact, all of them are obvious. Still, one thing human beings tend to do (besides deluding ourselves about being in control) is forget obvious survival tips. So here we go:

  1. When you realise you don’t have control over a situation, accept it.
  2. Get an honest sense of the power you do have in the situation you don’t have control over.
  3. Use that power to manage how the situation affects you and those around you.

Pretty simple, right? The best things usually are.

The difference between "power" and "control" is a lesson I’m still learning, but it’s an important one. When I think about "power", what comes to mind is responsibility, intention, impact or change. "Control", on the other hand, brings to mind imposition, short-sightedness and ultimately, futility.

In the grand scheme of things, human beings are puny life forms; an evolutionary accident; a random blip in a vast and incomprehensible universe. Here we are, huffing and puffing and warring and fighting, as if we won’t all pass away like a flame in the wind. (If you’re wondering whether I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiastes; I have not. I just get philosophical in July, apparently).

Ecclesiastical philosophising aside, I’m here to remind you this week that while we may not have control – no matter how desperately we desire it – we do have power.

For the rest of this year (or at least, until I have to remind myself again), I’m going to hold on to this comforting knowledge. I can’t control what happens, but I can honestly assess whatever power I have in uncontrollable circumstances, then use that power to achieve the greatest possible good I can.

This is the best I can do as a human being, until I pass away like a brightly burning flame in a sharp gust of wind.

In the end, human beings might not matter much in the context of our vast and incomprehensible universe, but light – even the light of a tiny flame – absolutely does.

Till next week (no matter how long this week feels!),


Greyscale cartoon image of OluTimehin Adegbeye, Othering correspondent, on an orange background with a white envelope in the foreground. Want to receive my newsletter in your inbox? Follow my weekly newsletter to receive notes, thoughts, and questions on the topic of Othering and our shared humanity. Click here to subscribe to my newsletter.