You Are the Author

I believe that the most important measure of success and maturity at my age is whether you’ve managed to shift the locus of control over your life inwards. This is almost impossible at 20 or 25. But at my age, it’s pretty crucial.

A small test of whether the locus of control is internal or external is to think back to the time recently when you had a really shitty day and ask why it was shitty. If the answer begins with, “it’s because I …” the locus is internal. The next question is, what happened to make things better? If the answer starts with “I did / said / decided, etc,” again, the locus of control is internal and you are on the right path.

Obviously, we don’t choose the bad shit that happens to us. And it happens to absolutely everybody pretty regularly. Every human being carries a list of real personal tragedies in his or her memory. But we are the story we weave out of these tragedies. I am the story I tell myself about the events in my life. Maturity arrives on the day when you realize that the author of story – if not of the events – is you.

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9 thoughts on “You Are the Author”

  1. I find that these things are true up to a point. But at 20 and 25 I really did have a lot of control over what happened and also a relatively uncomplicated life that I had chosen without an undue amount of coercion and constraint. I’ve found later on that saying one is responsible and trying to tell a nice story is … what adults do to stay neurotic. Far more useful is to see situations for what they are. That is, if you want things to improve, not imagine you are saving face. I tend not to see how bad things really are, not to see that situations are not of my making, and also not to see where my power lies.

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    1. Here is an example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say I can’t get published. I write and I write, I send out articles, but they get rejected. Five articles in a row get rejected. This is actually my situation 10 years ago. There are several narratives available to me.

      “I’m a loser and I can’t do anything right.”
      “I’m in the wrong profession and need to switch jobs.”
      “The peer review is broken and only crap gets accepted while brilliant pieces like mine are rejected.”
      “My topic doesn’t excite me and I need to move into another one ”
      “I am not a research person but I’m great with people so I need to move into admin.”
      “My editing is careless and my scholarly base is limited, so I need to work on that.”
      “I will concentrate on pedagogy instead because it’s more exciting to me.”
      “God hates me and I’m a waste of space.”
      “My scholarship is so brilliant that those losers out there are incapable of grasping what I say.”
      “The system is corrupt and only schmoozers succeed.”

      And so on. The basic fact is still that articles get rejected. But there will be a narrative we use to integrate this fact into our vision of the world. That narrative we absolutely can control. Facts are what they are but our reaction is under our control.

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      1. I would say: My ideas are not entirely fashionable, so need more explanation and support than I am giving them / I have not yet found enough like minded people / I am not selecting the most appropriate journals for these pieces.

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  2. Yes, but I find all the yapping nowadays about “taking personal responsibility” to be counterproductive. I am so tired of hearing that everything would be better if we just thought differently about it. People laugh at the Christian Scientists, who want to think disease away, yet they want to apply this theory to everything else.

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    1. Where is that yapping, though? I’m seeing the exact opposite. A colleague wants to close down a tenure line because she can’t get students to enroll in her classes so the problem should be that we have too many professors (even though all of the other classes in the program are overenrolled.) Our sister school has plummeting enrollments while ours grow. Their explanation? That we are stupid and don’t do enough research so students choose us. A student doesn’t show up for class for a month and then blames it on me because I assign too many readings and make her feel depressed and overwhelmed. Who are these people who are eager to take personal responsibility? Sixty years ago, maybe. But these days it’s a culture of blaming everything and everyone.

      We are on the verge of losing one of our 5 tenure lines because one person won’t take personal responsibility and everybody else thinks that pointing it out is too cruel. What kind of a dumbass department loses a tenure line over something like this?

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      1. Exactly. When I wasn’t getting published, I took control of the situation, worked on my editing, worked on my scholarly base, etc. And as a result I published 17 articles and 2 books in the 10 years since.

        My alternative would be to sit here, miserable, unpublished, and bitter. As I’ve seen other people do.

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