Hey Accountants… It’s Time to Let Go of Controlling the Uncontrollable

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to let go of things outside of your control? 

As an accountant, you likely face complex challenges that require unique, creative solutions, especially during unpredictable times. You can develop your ability to address unprecedented challenges by letting go of what’s outside of your control and by being willing to step outside of your comfort zone. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented a webinar all about letting go and facing unprecedented challenges titled, “Letting Go of the Urge to Control the Uncontrollable.” The webinar featured Amber Setter, an executive coach and inactive CPA, and she shared invaluable insights into exiting your comfort zone and adapting to unprecedented times. 

In addition to this article, Part One of the series, you can read Part Two and Part Three to learn more about letting go of control. You can also watch the entire webinar here

Learning to let go

Amber opened her presentation by discussing how accountants and others are undergoing a challenging, unprecedented time. At the time in which she gave her webinar, people were struggling with adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people were in conflict with how to react to the situation appropriately. She noted that people use their energy to focus on things outside of their control:

“Divisions are really showing up in places closer to home. … COVID has created a lot of uncontrollable stuff, so people’s reaction is, ‘Let me try to control other people.’ … You should wear a mask. You shouldn’t wear a mask. You should get a vaccine. You shouldn’t get a vaccine. … We’re trying to control something outside of ourselves, [and it’s] really a lot of wasted energy because all we can control is our own action and our own reaction to things outside of us.”

Amber Setter

Rather than focusing on external things outside our control, we can focus on internal growth. Amber discussed a book she found helpful, titled Letting Go: The Pathway to Surrender by David R Hawkins. She shared a quote from the book about focusing on what you can learn during difficult experiences:

“A big part of learning to let go is to really get inside of yourself and understand what is going on. In this quote, [Hawkins] says, ‘Handling an emotional crisis leads to greater wisdom and results in lifetime benefits.’ When you’re going through something hard, what can [you] learn from the experience? There’s no point [in wasting] energy … and asking, ‘Why am I having this experience? Why did it come to be? What did I do?’ … Look within. What is [your] great wisdom [that you’ve learned during challenging times]?”

Amber Setter

If you’re currently going through a challenging situation, you can focus on what is in your control rather than what’s outside your control. You often can’t change situations outside of yourself, but you can focus on what you can learn and how you grow. 

Businessman wearing spectacles sitting with hand to his chin.

Additionally, people often struggle with fear during periods of adversity, but often those fears aren’t rooted in reality. Hawkins observes in his book that people can overcome fear by gaining control of their emotions: 

“[Hawkins] says, ‘Fear of life is really the fear of our emotions. It is not about the facts that we fear, but our feelings about them. Once we have mastery over our feelings, our fear of life diminishes.’ … Look inside yourself [and] learn, ‘I’ve got an urge to get things into control, but things are uncontrollable. What’s going on? … What are my fears telling me? Are my fears telling me I’m going to lose my job?’ … Perhaps the facts are very different when you get some altitude. … My skills and experiences are in high demand. There was a recruiter that reached out to me last week,’ right? Facts are very different than fears.”

Amber Setter

When we’re fearful, we often have a harder time seeing things objectively. You can address your internal fears in order to grow. 

Adaptive challenges in leadership

One critical part of addressing our fears and overcoming adversity is learning to address adaptive challenges. Amber discussed the difference between adaptive challenges and technical problems:

“A technical problem is something like you’ve got a flat tire while you’re driving your car. … I pull over, [and] I pull out the jack myself. … It’s [a] pretty fast solution that can be implemented there. … In contrast, and this is what the world is filled with right now, especially with all of the uncertainties with COVID, is adaptive challenges. These are much, much different than technical problems. [For example], what do we do about the taxation of cryptocurrency?”

Amber Setter

Unlike technical problems, adaptive challenges don’t have clear-cut solutions. There’s typically no precedent we can point to in order to solve the problem.

“There’s no policy or existing process to help solve the challenge. … How to successfully and safely navigate a pandemic? [There’s] no precedent, no policy, [and] no existing process. It requires more people than are directly affected to come up with some form of a solution. … It’s not just this quick, easy fix. Sometimes, there might even need to be experimentation involved to solve it.”

Amber Setter

Amber used the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. People needed to experiment with combating the problem because there was no precedent for the specific virus and its variants, so the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization shifted their recommendations based on new data and studies as they came out. There were no simple solutions for solving the crisis, so people had to adapt to face the challenge. 

Employees meeting in corporate building, planning and working together.

Unlike many technical problems, adaptive challenges require learning, collaboration, and communication: 

“What happens with adaptive challenges is they really require learning and a lot [of] communication. They disrupt the status quo, and they really put conventions and habits up for revision. … It’s like, … ‘If only you did that technical solution and applied it to this adaptive challenge, then we’d all be healthy [and] life would go back to normal,’ … but the thing is, we can’t, right? We have to learn how to experiment. We have to expand our capacity to [deal] with disruption.”

Amber Setter

Adaptive challenges disrupt the status quo and require us to develop creative and innovative solutions to take on unprecedented situations. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone

One critical component in addressing adaptive challenges is being willing to exit your comfort zone. Amber discussed a valuable exercise in self-reflection and progress called Accomplishment Coaching:

“This is a fantastic exercise if you ever wanted to explore … what goes on inside of you. What are the fears that go on inside of you that keep you inside of your comfort zone? … In this model, … there’s the comfort zone, the big circle. At the very center of the circle is what is defined as fears, and these aren’t fears of things … outside of us.”

Amber Setter

Amber presented the illustration of a comfort-zone circle with our fears at the center. Our fears are often based on our conception of reality and how people see us:

“[The fear] inside of our minds [is] about perception. … We’re afraid of what people might say about us, what they might think about us, [and] how they might react to what we’re up to. … When we have fears inside of our minds, what happens is we design automatic ways of being.”

Amber Setter

Amber compared our automatic ways of being like a turtle receding into its shell. When we feel uncomfortable or insecure, we tend to recede into our comfort zones, and we do this instinctively:

“If the turtle is cruising along in the ocean and it sees a shadow, it doesn’t stop and do a whole analysis, right? … It just automatically withdraws, and it protects its vulnerable parts. … We all have these automatic ways of being, [and] we all have these automatic thoughts that happen. We have these things that we do to keep us feeling safe and protected. … When you start getting attuned to your automatic ways of being, it’s an absolute game-changer.”

Amber Setter
Business people chatting during their break in the office.

You can look inward to uncover your automatic ways of being. When you experience fear, how do you react? Do you retreat into your comfort zone? Although it can be difficult to break out of your comfort zone, you can’t fix unprecedented problems with comfortable, easy solutions. Addressing adaptive challenges requires us to be innovative and creative, which are often uncomfortable. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many small businesses to close temporarily. Many accountants had to exit their comfort zones to address the unprecedented crisis and help small businesses. They had to step into advisory roles and assist their small business clients with obtaining PPP loans and other forms of economic relief.  

Learn more about letting go of control 

Focusing on problems outside of our control can be draining, so it’s important to approach external adversity introspectively. Rather than stressing and dwelling on things you can’t control, you can focus on how you can learn and grow professionally and personally. Additionally, when you face unprecedented challenges, you can work to step out of your comfort zone in order to create innovative solutions.

If you’re ready to learn more from Amber’s insights, read Part Two and Part Three of this webinar article series. You can also watch the entire webinar here

You can improve your ability to take on unprecedented challenges by honing in on your ability to advise your clients. The world is constantly changing, and your small business clients need an advisor to help them with their people-based operations, such as payroll, benefits, and HR. Fortunately, you can get started with people advisory through Gusto’s People Advisory Certification program. As a people advisor, you combine your financial expertise with people-focused advising. Gusto has the tools to help you do just that. Learn more about People Advisory.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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