The Circles of our Lives

Written by Braiden on February 1, 2011

This is the first offering from my husband’s cousin, John Paul Carter, a retired mental-health counselor, part-time pastor, and long-time columnist for the Weatherford Democrat newspaper in Weatherford, Texas. He’ll be submitting his previously published columns from time to time; they offer a wealth of wisdom and are just perfect for the Five More Minutes With audience.

So herewith follows “Going Around in Circles.”


Like many counselors, it’s easier for me to listen to others’ problems than it is to talk about my own. Asking for help for myself is not something that I do easily or in a timely manner.

As a result, I was almost at the end of my rope last Monday, when my friend Byron called, offering lunch and a chance to unload some of my angst. His invitation was a godsend, and I jumped at the chance.

For well over an hour, Byron listened as I described my symptoms and talked about the impact of my son-in-law’s sudden death and other personal matters related to this stage of life’s journey. I also shared my concerns about the war in Iraq and other national crises.

His responses were empathetic and supportive. As I talked, it was like the air was gradually being let out of an over-inflated balloon. The load seemed to get a little lighter.

As I finally wound down, Byron shared a concept that he learned in a seminar with Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” He went to the board on his office wall and drew two circles–a smaller one inside a larger one.

He labeled the smaller inner sphere as the circle of our influence and the larger outer sphere as the circle of our concern.

The circle of influence, he said, encompasses those matters which we care about and have the power to effect and change. The larger circle of concern includes those things that matter to us but over which we have little or no control.

We are most effective, he pointed out, when we give ourselves to the things that we can influence. On the other hand, we drain ourselves of vital energy when we stray too far out of the circle of our influence into the circle of our concern.

Both circles, he explained, are continuously expanding and contracting at different stages of our lives, requiring us to regularly reassess what currently falls within each circle.

With what’s happened in my life lately, my friend gently reminded me, my circles have changed and I can no longer afford the luxury of spending my energy on things over which I have no power and influence.

I certainly have more than enough within my circle of influence to fully tax my energy and resources–without trying to control people and events over which I have little or no power.

Under stress, it’s easy for all of us to wander across the boundary of one circle into the other.

So when you feel yourself going around in circles, take a deep breath, reflect a moment, and remind yourself which circle you’re in.

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