Stop Trying To Understand Everything

How To Stop Trying To Understand Everything

As Jim Morrison used to sing, people are strange.  There are so many things going on underneath each of our respective hoods that sometimes I think it’s a small miracle we can understand each other at all.  Sometimes things happen and we just want to know why.  For some reason many of us, myself included, feel SO MUCH BETTER if we just know why., when we can explain it to ourselves.  But I’ll tell you what, life’s a lot less stressful if you give up trying to understand everything and everyone.

In my first career I was a retail manager in a place that used to be called Kinko’s.  When I left in 2004 Kinko’s had just been purchased by FEDEX and for a while it was known as FEDEX Kinko’s and now it’s simply known as FEDEX office.  During my last stint in Las Vegas I managed a top 10 Kinko’s store as well as having another store with pretty sizable revenue roll up under my management as well as a high volume print center that did the huge printing runs, like 1,000’s of manuals for folks attending conferences in Vegas.  In one fashion or another I was responsible for the performance of about 90 employee’s.  For the most part I loved my job.  I guided my store to rise from the bottom 10% of Kinko’s rankings to the literal top 10 of all stores.  That baby was humming like a top for a while.  I used to semi-joke (as in nervous laughter) to several other store managers that managing a store like that was pretty easy……..except for the people aspect.  Why?  Because people are unpredictable.  And many times hard, if not impossible, to understand.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Figure It Out

I was thinking of a few examples that help provide perspective on why you sometimes just can’t figure something out and it’s simply easiest to let it be because you will never understand it.

In that same Kinko’s time period one of my mentors was downsized.  This guy was the manager at the first Kinko’s store I started working in when I was in college.  He moved on to bigger and better things and eventually was a VP of a fairly large geographical area of Kinko’s when I was in Las Vegas.  I think at that time there were 8 VP’s who split up the US territory.  About 6 months prior to my departure there was a lot of activity at Kinko’s because they were doing some restructuring in attempt to either go public or look good for purchase by another company.  So they decided to downsize some management and my former boss and mentor was 1 of 3 VP’s let go.  When he asked for the reasoning there was none.  When he pointed out that his region was ranked either 1, 2. or 3 in all the categories he was simply told the decision had been made.  The company refused to explain it or give him a direct answer to his question of “why?”.  For a while he was very pissed as you might imagine then he adopted the mindset that there was nothing he could do about it, he was never going to know the reason why and he knew he was good at his job so might as well move on.

A large portion of my position responsibilities the last 10 years has been recruiting.  Now I primarily focus on senior level roles but over 10 years I’ve recruited for everything from a just out of college sales job to a CIO to a Medical Director role.  One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my years of recruiting is that there is a whole ton of things that have to line up just right for a good match to be made between a candidate and an employer.  I’ve advised many job seekers who get frustrated that there are simply many things that could be going on that you don’t know about.  What gets really tough is when a candidate feels like a perfect fit for the role advertised and discussed and they hit it off with everyone they meet and they go in for 4 live interviews and everyone acts like it’s a match made in heaven and everyone is laughing and having a great time in the interviews and the candidate is super pumped for the next role in their career and then suddenly……..crickets.    They don’t hear anything for a few days.  Then a week.  Then 2 weeks.  Then their calls go unanswered.  UGH.  The reality is there are so many things that COULD be happening that they’ll never know about.  The company decided to change some of the job responsibilities.  They want to look internally first.  The top dog decided that a former colleague of his would be good to talk to about the role first.  There was a big piece of business that was going to come on board that fell off at the last minute.  And on and on and on.  And the perfect candidate who was all fired up walks away disappointed and angry (with every right to be) and they’ll never know what happened.  I’ve seen it more than I want to.  But with a little luck they are able to shake it off an realize they had nothing to do with it.  Which leads me to a few points.

A Few Suggestions

Don’t try to control everything – The simple truth is there are SOOOO many things outside of our control and we have to learn to acknowledge it, accept it, and simply let it be.  We can lose so much of our stress here by just realizing there’s a lot we can’t control and losing less sleep over it.

Surrender – This one is hard for me because while I can be spiritual I don’t have one specific faith.  But if you can lose the need to control and simply relax and remember that things tend to work out the way they are supposed to it can help you relax and not feel like you need to know everything.  Simply be and accept things for what they are.  It helps lighten the load for sure.

Manage Your Expectations – We all have expectations of everything.  Our spouses, our bosses, our jobs, ourselves, the movie we just saw, how our kids should act.  From time to time you should take a step back and really loosen up on those.  When we place expectations on everything it’s akin to trying to control something or someone.

Realize You Are Scared & that’s Ok – we tend to try to control things and to understand things because of fear.  We are scared of the things we don’t understand.  Remember that it’s okay to feel this way, simply recognize it for what it is.  This is why we like to make our lives neat and orderly.

Don’t Take It Personally – This one is tough.  We can all read into situations and how it might say something about us.  Like the reason we didn’t get that job was because someone doesn’t like us.  The reality is most people are so focused on their own worlds that they notice a fraction of what you might have noticed.

Be Too Busy To Care – When we are busy doing good things we enjoy with our lives and in general being engaged we don’t seem to care as much when we don’t understand something.  We can shrug it off and move on to other things we have going in our lives.  It’s a lot like choices – when you have a variety of choices you don’t worry as much when one doesn’t work out.

Moving On

Bottom line is you’ve got to realize there are things that you simply will never understand.  And that’s okay.  There are simply too many going on outside of our control to know why they are happening.  There’s too much stuff in other people’s heads we will never know about.  And that’s fine too.

One of the cats in our house recently got outside and she’s not an outdoor cat.  Occasionally she will hide by the back door and very sneakily run out.  But almost every time we catch her.  Apparently this time we did not.  She was gone for almost a week.   In the middle of the following Friday night at 3:45AM our other cat was meowing so loudly at the foot of our bed it woke my wife and me up.  I went to the end of our bed and lo and behold, the missing cat was sitting there, pretty as you please, just looking up at my unbelieving eyes.  We looked all over the house for an open window or door or any place she could have gotten out and back in.  She had a few burrs in her fur so we know she was outside.  We never found a place she could have gotten in by.  None. 

I finally decided she was a time traveling cat and somehow shifted between our existence and another parallel universe.  I’m never going to understand how she got back in so that’s the story I am sticking to.

All my best,

Mat A.




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  1. this was a very insightful article, thanks for posting. I have been guilty of trying to understand everything all my life and it often resulted in me being overwhelmed or giving up on doing something because i thought that there was no point in doing something when it was impossible to ever fully understand it.

    after reading this article I now know how to avoid thinking like this and has helped give me a better mindset on the issue of overthinking in general.

    1. Jacob,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences.  I as well have had a long history of trying to get to a reason for everything.  It took many life lessons to finally “get” that it’s not possible to understand it all.  Thanks!

  2. Hey Mat – thanks for the inspiring post! I’ve been really struggling with trying to just let things go, and accept circumstances as they are. Everything you said makes a lot of sense…. and I can just see myself, “not” caring so much, and taking a load of stress off my shoulders.

    I’ve been the kind of person that always has to have an answer for everything… but my eyes are starting to be opened that sometimes – I just don’t have to no… there may not be a reason, so just let go – and focus my energy on my future.

    Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Mei!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your view and experiences.  It is a major load off when we don’t try to understand everything.  It’s one of those things  where it can suck our energy away worrying about things that are simply outside of our control – not worth wasting the energy.  Thanks again, Mat A.  

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