I love – love – hanging Christmas lights on a house.

When I was a young adult, my mom tasked me with handling the lights situation on our house for a few years. I dreamed big, trying to top myself every year.

We lived in a one-story ranch home. There was a short peak on the right side of the house, above the living room window. Normally, we set up the nativity scene under that peak and hung an old wire star wrapped in Christmas lights at the top.

Once I got onto the roof and felt comfortable, I wanted to experiment.

So the first year, I set it up as normal, with the star at the peak. But then I dropped two strands of lights on each side of the star, climbed off the roof, and staked them down on each side of the nativity scene, creating something of a “shine-down” effect coming from the star.

In Year Two, I ditched the wire star and used the peak to create a massive, ground-to-roof star out of Christmas lights.

In Year Three, I hung two strands of lights down from the roof, wrapped them in garland, then zig-zagged lights and garland up the newly-formed triangle. I tied bows to the garland, hung the wire star at the peak once again, and placed a few lighted gift boxes at the base. Boom – a giant Christmas tree.

Note: I sure wish I had pictures of all these. Dang.

Point is: I’m not afraid to put in a little extra work to add some pizzazz to Christmas decorations.

Over a decade later, the townhouse we’re renting is… not quite as receptive to lights.

Sometimes, you’re just handcuffed and you can’t help it

We now live in a two-story, side-by-side townhouse. To say it hasn’t been maintained would be a bit of an understatement, especially on the outside of the house.

(For illustration, since we’ve moved in, I’ve been thanked several times by multiple neighbors for simply mowing the grass regularly and bringing up the dumpsters from the street. The bar is pretty low here, apparently.)

With a big house, you’d think I’d be raring to get lights out there, right?

Well, the first year, sure. I spent hours just trying to string lights along the gutter. There is a very tall peak in the middle of the house that I couldn’t reach unless I went on the roof.

So it was a little half-baked. Last year, I didn’t even put lights out due to other circumstances, but my wife finally marched out there and threw lights on the bushes and around the windows so that there would be something.

This year, I wanted to return to form. I wanted lights on the gutters, and I wanted to reach the peak. I was looking to drape the entire house in lights for the season.

But then I looked outside.

The gutters are, at this point, hanging off the house. They’re packed with dirt and mud to the point that there are literally plants growing out of them. Getting lights attached to them would be a challenge.

And climbing on the roof? Considering what I’ve learned about this house in the last 2+ years, I didn’t want to spend any time walking around on the roof.

We even have giant pillars in the front of the house, but using my landlord’s ladder, I didn’t feel safe trying to wrap those in lights.

So I just threw lights on the bushes and hung a lighted sign that we owned outside the window. I was pretty disappointed.

Then again, it spoke to something that I have worked to keep in mind repeatedly throughout this year: work with what you have, where you are, and be satisfied with it.

We’re not moving before Christmas. We don’t own our own house yet. We are at the mercy of our landlord and his care (or lack thereof) of the property.

There’s no sense in getting frustrated over that right now, because it won’t accomplish anything.

Hanging lights on the bushes and putting out the sign is small, but at least it’s something. It’s literally the best I can do right now.

Are you getting angry at stuff you can’t control?

So much stress, worry, and anguish revolves around how you think things should play out.

The kids shouldn’t be sick right now.

We should be in a better house right now.

I should have gotten a raise by now.

I should have more clients by now.

I should have more experience by now.

And so on.

But what if you just stepped back and focused on what you can control? Can you control how you react to these situations? I bet you could.

I stopped stressing over whether or not a client was going to keep me. Because that’s something that they control, not me. Instead, I’ll just do my best work with each client and hope for the best.

You know what’s happened? I’m having my best year professionally in five years.

Certainly, when you have children, you can’t control everything. What’s more important is how you react to them.

If things aren’t where you want them to be, see if there are ways you can change that – or even put yourself on the path to change it. And if it’s something you can’t quite control, then let go of the stress and worry over it and just do the best you can with where you are.

It’s all you can expect out of yourself.