Monthly Archives: March 2014

Who’s Driving My Bus?

Steering wheel

I am self-employed for the first time in my life.

I occasionally feel a wee bit panicked.

Okay, a LOT panicked.

When I ask myself why I feel afraid, I realize that I don’t know if I’m doing things right anymore. I don’t know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, because I don’t have an authority figure — a parent, teacher, principal, professor, supervisor — telling me what to do. And I no longer have someone judging my behavior or my work as adequate (or, better yet, EXCEPTIONAL), and then rewarding me in the form of grades, money, or approval. When I think I can’t trust myself to be my own boss, I feel adrift and anxious.

This habit of looking to others for direction and approval is so ingrained that I often don’t know I’m doing it. So I’m proud of myself for spotting this pattern. Psychologists call what I’m experiencing an external “Locus of Control,” and there’s a lot of research that shows a correlation between a person’s locus of control and how happy they feel.

Our culture trains girls, especially, to have an external locus of control. Our schooling system and much of our religious training is geared toward shifting our innate internal locus, where we know what we want and we set out to get it, toward an external orientation where we seek direction and approval from other people.

What are some clues that I’m looking outside myself for direction? Here are just a few:

  • I say “I can’t,” or “I have to,” or “I need to” frequently.
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or resentful.
  • Seeking approval.
  • Explaining myself.
  • Withdrawing and shutting down.
  • Feeling exhausted.

I think growing up has a lot to do with regaining a healthy internal locus of control, and being successfully self-employed will require that I continue to do that work.

I already know some steps I’ll continue to take, to learn again how to “drive my own bus”:

  • Notice what’s going on in my head and body.
  • Pay attention to what I want.
  • Trust that what I want is okay.
  • Notice what’s keeping me stuck.
  • Say “I want” and “I choose to” unless it’s literally true that “I can’t” or “I have to.”

There’s so much more to dig into here, so stay tuned! I’ll report on my progress, and I invite you to reply in the comments.