What to Do When Life Feels out of Control Monica Stoltzfus, a mom of three from Lorton, shares a life lesson she learned in high school

what to do when life feels out of control
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I had a coach back in high school who I really didn’t care for, actually. His demeanor was a mix of sarcastic remarks barked through a megaphone and an attitude of perpetual punishment, as if he had done something terrible in a former life and was living out his penance every moment he spent with this team of spastic teenage girl swimmers.

I never understood Steve. I don’t speak fluent sarcasm. I never have. Sure, he gave lots of commands and directions, but they always went way over my head. Until one night at practice when he managed to make himself perfectly clear.

He gathered us over to the pool deck and told us all to listen up. He expressed his complete and utter disappointment in our nautical focus, reiterating that our stressing and girly “freak outs” about life in general was not accomplishing anything.

We were skeptical.

So, Steve proceeded to take out a ballpoint pen from his checkered linen shirt pocket and held it out over the pool.

And then he dropped it.

As the pen plunked into the chlorinated water, dropping further and further, Steve proceeded to throw a toddler fit on the pool deck, flailing his arms, screaming, dramatically pulling his hair and verbally willing the pen to stop dropping.

When the pen came to its ultimate destination at the bottom of the pool, Steve simply looked at us.

“So,” he said. “Did any of my panic, stress, worry, fret or freaking out actually stop the pen?”

“Um, no, Steve,” we collectively answered.

“Well then,” he finished. “Let’s go swim.”

Point for Steve. Well played, Coach.

I have to laugh as I refer to that teachable moment often in my life. I’m sure I spent a good portion of practice wearing a puzzled teenage expression, and I did not leave the pool that night a more improved, technical swimmer. But I believe I walked away with something a bit more valuable.

What dawned on me then—and what is weighing on me now—is that there is much in life I simply cannot change or control. A lot in today’s world.

But with that “ah-ha” moment can come clarity on what you can do when life feels out of control.

  • Think of your loved ones, those closest in both body and heart.
  • Smile at strangers. We are all craving human contact, and it’s the closest thing to a hug.
  • Do your thing. We’re not all teachers, nurses, chefs and Fortune 500 CEOs. But you are one powerful person, and you bring a lot to the world. Especially now. Serve those around you with your strengths.
  • Live each moment of every day. Our children didn’t get to hug their teacher goodbye, we never got that coffee date with our best friend. Don’t waste a minute.

Life has changed. But you can change with it.

Call me crazy, but maybe there’s more to a day’s lesson than helping our children become better students. Could it be that this is a chance to help our children become better people, too?

What if, in our new “schools,” there was an emphasis on the true humanities: Cultivating Compassion, Spreading Kindness, Shining Bright, Staying Strong and Resilience 101?

Imagine the amazing things they could learn to overcome and achieve when all this is finally over?

This is for you, Coach Steve.

Now, “let’s go swim.”


Monica Stoltzfus lives in Lorton with her husband and three energetic daughters. A former MCPS kindergarten teacher, Stoltzfus stays busy baking, crafting and working on her debut picture book about kindness, “The Ripple.” Her personal blog is called Just Compose Yourself.

If you’re a local parent in the DMV with a story to share about parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic—or parenting, in general—we’d love to hear from you. Please send your personal essay (700 words or less) with a short bio to our editor, PJ Feinstein, at [email protected].


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