Reality Check: Who’s holding the pen?

How much of our troubles (or our happiness) do you believe we are responsible for causing ourselves? All? None? Some?

My Reality Therapy colleague, Becky Wentzell, uses the metaphor of looking at your life as a story to help folks figure out what is and isn’t under their control.

In her words, “Your life is your story. To whom are you giving the pen?” 

We’re not talking about writing an autobiography. This story is your life: each day as you decide what to do, what to say, what to think. Every choice, small or large, turns you in one direction or another. Day in and day out, those choices make up your life; they are the “pen” that’s writing your story.

If you let them, other folks may happily take that pen from you. Spouses, partners, parents, children, even friends may act as if they know what’s best for you. Do they know how your story should be written better than you do?

Lucy has become so accustomed to responding to others: her children, work, community; that she had barely given a serious thought about what she wanted her own life to be. It wasn’t until a health scare that she began to think seriously about her own life and how she might want to start being an active participant!

Lucy’s wish—to finally get her GED—had been set aside since she had her first child. Since she has determined that she’s ready, she’s become aware of what seems like subtle sabotage. It’s as if the very people who say they love her are trying to keep her from achieving her goal. There’s always somewhere to go or someone who needs her, and when she struggles with her studies, someone who says, “Dear, maybe this is just too hard for you, and you don’t need it, anyway.”

“Old Lucy” would have accepted that and given up. But “New Lucy”—the one who’s decided to hold her own pen and write her own story—is not so easily deterred. Still, because Lucy’s habit has been to let others define her story, it feels quite unnatural when she tries to change the habit.

What can Lucy do? It’s hard to stop a habit; it’s much easier to replace an old habit with a new one. One new habit she could try is a “broken record” strategy. (If you are too young to remember vinyl records, all you need to know is that a scratched record skips, so it plays the same thing, over and over and over.)

When Lucy hears discouraging words, try being a broken record! Repeat this simple truth, “Thanks, but I really want to do this.” She has a goal and she’s going to achieve it. No need to be angry; no need to explain.

It can be scary to take charge of your pen—to write your own story—because then you own the bad choices as well as the good choices. But isn’t it worth it?

Are you holding the pen that’s writing your life story? Or do you feel that you have given it someone else? Let me know

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