It spoke to me. I love the fatherliness of the advice—reminds me of my dad. And I’ve thought a lot about option #2. “To be warm, generous with self, open to the paradise or pain that this [whatever it may be] promises.” So much of the suffering in my life has come from trying to concoct, contort, coerce, and control other’s experiences and my own outcomes. I’m not sure how it worked for the people around me. I think I was pretty good at playing it cool as I did this. But let me be clear—it definitely caused me suffering.
I want to talk about that suffering for a minute. I suffered because I believed I had power in this way. I’ve thought a lot about locus of control. And I am very identified with an internal locus of control. This means I believe in my ability to affect the world around me in ways that I want to. It’s what made me think I could run for student body president in 5th grade, try out for cheerleading as a junior in high school, go back to school to be a PA after majoring in communications, take a terrifyingly solo job in Wyoming as an urgent care PA right out of school. These things all took courage but they also took the little bit of crazy that comes from a strong internal locus of control. Essentially, I believed I could make my life what I wanted it to be. So these examples make it sound pretty positive because all of those things worked out more or less. But there is one glaring area in my life where it did not serve me, and that was in my relationships.
Relationships don’t respond well to the internal locus of control because people don’t like to be managed. And let me be clear, this management mentality, for me, came from the BEST of intentions. I wanted to ensure that the people around me suffered as little as possible. That they achieved their potential (that’s a heavy weight, right?). Is this a feminine condition? Part of the original “help meet” assignment given by God to Eve? This is the context where my internal locus of control was most damaging for me—my marriage.
Nine months after I married I was diagnosed with a rare type of neuroendocrine cancer. I was 21 years old and they told me I had five years to live. Being diagnosed with cancer felt like disappointing everyone I knew simultaneously. And I, understandably, felt I disappointed my new husband. I spent the next ten years trying to make up for it. Trying to show everyone and, maybe more importantly, myself, that I was fine. FINE—fine—FINE! My internal locus of control and “help meet” mentality directed me to spend a year traveling with my new husband (one of his dreams). Then it directed me to find a job that would give me consistent health insurance (in the age of pre-existing conditions) and that’s what put me on the path to becoming a PA. I encouraged my then-husband to go back to school. I tutored him. I filled out applications for him. None of this created any overtly negative results in my life.
I was a freaking awesome “help meet.” Reema Zaman describes it this way, “I don’t merely walk on glass. I dance so delicately on glass that the tinkling song of my toes upon shards sounds lovely to all witnessing ears. Dancing upon glass is the emotional labor of the peace-keeping and ultimately enabling….”
Actually, when I think about those years, it reminds me of the Parks and Rec episode when Leslie is pregnant with triplets and has to run an auction, but she’s been told by her doctor that she needs to avoid stress. So Ben become her stress Shamwow. He tries so hard to control her experience that he ends up losing it. And then they realize that they both need to be responsible for their own stress management That’s essentially what happened to me. I was a voluntary Shamwow for more than a decade. I simply could not absorb any more.
And that’s the big downside to an internal locus of control. You feel like you have ALL of the control. I used to look down on those with an external locus of control. To me, the embodiment of an external locus of control is the phrase, “It’s all in God’s hands.” This still makes me cringe a little bit. I have a hard time identifying with those who leave things up to God or fate or chance. But I’ve realized there is something really powerful in this surrender. It’s the surrender of things I cannot control. That is the power of option #2.
Here are the benefits of option #2 as I see it:
- To be warm feels soooooooo good. I love showing up as my warm, genuine self. I want to do it every chance I get. And to be warm for the sake of how it makes me feel, rather than trying to provide some experience to someone else—way better! Way better for both of us.
- To be generous with self. I’ve thought about this phrase a lot. I don’t think it means you become a maniacal, selfish beast. But I think it does mean just because I want to is a totally valid reason to do something and maybe the best reason. It’s taking off the should’s and should not’s and allowing myself to breathe and to be. That feels good too.
- To be open to the paradise or pain. Yes! A thousand times, yes. This also feels equally good. Most outcomes are at least somewhat, if not mostly, out of my control. Surrendering to this. Not basing my choices on the fear of pain. There is power in this.
I still have a very strong internal locus of control but I am learning the art and power of surrender… and it feels like peace.