Monday, December 31, 2018

The Externality Trap

I'm not sure if this will be my last blog post of 2018 or my first of 2019, but either way, it's a new beginning for me in terms of my outlook on the future. In 2019 (barring some intervening catastrophe, which I always secretly feel is around the corner) I'll be looking for kindness, reason, and allies in the repudiation of silence. I'll be looking to feel useful, safe, and valued in my work. And I'll be fighting for human rights and our constitutional norms while cursing about boob hairs and Twinkies on my blog. But mostly, I will be looking within myself for guidance on what to do (or not do) next. 

My mom texted me this:
Being resilient means using adversity to gain strength. That’s what you can do now. I know I’m right about this. Don’t let yourself feel defeated. That’s a form of surrendering to the enemy. Life has some nasty unfair turns. Don’t let external events define your sense of who you are.  
Sadly the world is fairly corrupt. The longer you live the more you learn from experience that this is true. And under Trump we are fighting to maintain even the most basic democratic norms, ones that we thought we could take for granted. This is a dark time and unfortunately you are directly experiencing the consequences of it. But you will overcome this adversity—you have what it takes to do that. So fight the thought that you are defeated.
Separately, she wrote that whatever successes I've had in my life have been because of who I am, and not any job I've had. She pointed out that just because someone else does something to me doesn't mean that anything about me has changed; and that's because a person's talents and motives reside within them.

That's the part that really stood out to me: The idea that we let external events define our sense of who we are, and we do it a lot. At least I do. Most of us seek some form of external validation driven by ego. Does this person find me attractive or want to date me? Will I receive this award or that? Will I get the credit I deserve? Will I win some contest or race? Will this person be mad at me if I say/don't say/do/don't do something?

And on and on, ad infinitum.

What my mom said resonated with me so much because I realize that I do a lot of this and it's unhealthy. I've done it with men and I've done it with work and I've done it with blog traffic and I've done it with activism. It's the idea that we are somehow reliant on an external force of some kind to determine our own happiness, and this traps us into ceding control of our self worth to another person or circumstance.

It's a more grownup version of a sign hanging in my son's second grade classroom that reads, "Rule #1: You are Responsible for Your Own Happiness." It's a great first rule of life in general.

I'm not too into New Year's resolutions. I think they're kind of corny and basic so I don't like to admit that I make them to myself every once in awhile. But I guess this is the year I am resolving to climb out of the externality trap and take responsibility for my own happiness once and for all.

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