On Being a Powerful Evaluator

As evaluators, we aim to use our talents to leave the world in a better place than the way we found it. Times are tough, though, and the confluence of our political climate, the economy, our public health, and the relentless racism and acts of violence can leave even those with the most resilient of spirits feeling discouraged and powerless. That’s why today I want to share with you a pearl of wisdom I recently learned.

This pearl of wisdom comes from the Stoic philosophers and is called the Dichotomy of Control. It divides all events into one of two categories: the things we can control and things we can’t. The Stoics then posit that, in order to be our most happy, free, prosperous and powerful, we must be meticulous in investing our time and energy only in those things which we can control.

That leaves a majority of events in the second category: things we cannot control. For these types of events, the Stoics have two recommendations: you can divert your attention away so as to preserve your energy, or you can identify an aspect of the event over which you do have control. For example, it was easy for me to feel angry and hopeless when I heard the news about Jacob Blake. In order to not get stuck in that place, the Stoics would encourage me to focus on those things I can control: raising my voice in protest, doing what I can to ensure my partner – a Black man – feels as safe as possible, and working with him to give his son the tools he needs to navigate society.

How does this help us as evaluators? In our line of work, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or burned out in the face of constraints around budget, time, resources, or support. Not only that, our role is most often that of facilitator and teacher. We are not the funders and do not have the power to make the rules. Nor are we the people who implement the programs, making the daily decisions about what does and does not happen. We don’t have control over how people perceive or receive us. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about an event or dynamic, stop and identify what it is you wish you had control over. Take a moment to mourn, and then let it go. Instead, ask yourself what aspect of this event or dynamic you do have control over. It might be the way you choose to show up, the way you decide to feel, or the goals you set for yourself. Taking the time to explore our thoughts and beliefs, and making adjustments as necessary, can provide the shift in energy we need to move forward with optimism and grace.

Rad Resource: William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life is an excellent way to learn more about this and other tools for living from the Stoic philosophers.


This post was originally featured on the American Evaluation Association’s blog, AEA365 (www.aea365.org/blog).

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