On one of my trips to Kenya I was interviewed on the business news program for a major television station in Nairobi.
As we were waiting for the floor crew to finalize camera and light angles, the interviewer began joking about his rather diminutive stature.
He commented, "We have a saying in Africa that your height is given to you by God, but your girth is something that you give yourself."
I found it a delightful proverb, and one that points to a vital principle. There are many things in life that we cannot control. And these "uncontrollables" often limit our options, confront us with difficulties, or even cause us heartache.
It’s easy to sit around lamenting these misfortunes, as though lamenting them would make them go away. But no amount of wallowing in disappointment about things beyond our control lessens their hold on us, not one iota.
Far better to devote our time to managing the things that we can control.
To borrow the TV journalist’s proverb again, I’m one of those people who has given himself too much girth in recent years. I can’t control the fact that the body is getting older and that it takes more work to keep it in shape. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that I could do a better job of controlling my weight.
Yet our tendency is to complain about things that we cannot control and to make excuses for the things that we could manage, but fail to do so.
I’ve got a ready-made excuse for my weight. It was given me 40 years ago by a short-order cook in a place that I frequented for breakfast. She and I became cordial acquaintances, so that we were always jesting with one another.
When I told her one day to "drain all that fattening grease off the bacon," she turned her body of considerable girth in my direction, shook her spatula at me, and said, "Mr. Armour, it ain’t the fattenin’ grease that does it. You just turn thirty and spread."
Unfortunately, there was as much truth as humor in her words. And I’m tempted at times to fall back on her explanation to justify my weight. But that’s not taking responsibility for things I can control.
Successful people and successful leaders, I’ve found, have mastered the art of focusing on what they can control, managing them well, and dismissing everything else as beyond their influence. They fret very little about what they cannot do. Instead, they stay riveted on what they can do.
That’s why some of the most unlikely people have become great leaders. Conventional wisdom would have dismissed their potential because of some limitation in talent, resources, or social status.
But ignoring conventional wisdom, these men and women capitalized on the capabilities available to them. And through sheer application of determination and persistence, they ended up making a lasting mark.
So manage what you can control. And don’t fret about the rest. And if you’re under thirty, watch out!! The days are coming when you’ll just turn thirty and spread.