Be Your Own Damn Hero

And quit waiting to be saved by everybody else.

I never wanted to admit it, but I spent most of my life waiting to be saved from some seriously shitty circumstances. Growing up in poverty with weird family secrets and parents who could never really get their shit together for themselves makes it no easier to get your own shit together. Stunning truth, I know.

At any rate, I doubt any of us dysfunctional kids could ever really explain to everybody else just how screwed up we are from our fucked up upbringings, because we don’t even know. Sometimes we need other people to fill us in or at least serve as role models for understanding more “healthy” dynamics.

Growing up, my mom was always looking for someone to save us. That’s what a lot of impoverished people do, and for good reason, but it teaches their kids to have an external locus of control.

How does a person wait to be saved? My mom would waste money on Powerball lottery tickets, and enter giveaways at the holidays but stretch the truth about how bad things really were for us. My whole life, she blamed my medical treatment for precocious puberty as the reason we were on welfare, and being on welfare as the reason she didn’t look for a job again.

She saw herself as stuck and just stayed there.

Mom used to order every imaginable catalog and make lists adding up everything she would buy if she had the money. For a while, she was convinced she wanted to open a coffee shop or begin a business that could work seasonally at the state fair. Which meant a ton of food service catalogs began to fill the mailbox.

Her dreams for the future more or less hinged upon other people giving her the money to make them happen. There were periods in grade school where she sold baked goods at the holidays or for craft shows which allowed it. She also made beaded rings and earrings she made me and my sister sell at school. But it was all shortlived and embarrassing.

The saddest thing about all of it is that mom was crazy talented. In baking, in sewing, in crafting… she could have had her own Etsy shop. She could have been a real success story, but in the end, because she spent more time dreaming and waiting for a hero, she wound up doing nothing to help herself get out of poverty.

An internal versus external locus of control is one of those issues we should be talking about with our kids from an early age. We don’t, and of course, much of what we teach them goes against their development of an internal locus of control.

If anything, we raise our kids to feel like nothing is in their control, and then we get irritated that most grow up not knowing how to "adult" well.

Why such surprise?

I’ve known for years now that I struggle with the concept of control. I tend to feel that life happens to me and I don’t typically believe I have a lot of options to improve upon my existence. Like my mother, I spent most of my life dreaming that things would get better. Unlike my mom, I’ve also worked my whole life since I was 14, but I never invested in myself or did the kind of work that fed my soul. It was always just a matter of survival.

Last spring, I lost a big chunk of freelancing clients, and I didn’t know how I was going to make ends meet. I fully expected to lose my apartment over the summer because I ended up losing more than half my regular income. It was scary and the whole spring and summer were a struggle to get by, but I made it through because I finally decided to exercise an internal locus of control.

Honestly, it’s probably the only time the whole “fake it til you make it” advice has ever worked for me. And it worked so well that I quit my job in December.

Last spring, I decided that if I was so close to losing everything, I would finally give writing a shot. Not more freelancing, however. I decided to start writing whatever I wanted to write about. I told myself I would use my own ridiculous life experience to become my own hero.

I would show my daughter how to save herself.

Look, I’m not going to lie. An internal locus of control doesn’t come naturally to me. Not at all. There are days where I still want the answer to lie with someone else. Sometimes I do still want to be saved.

Success, of course, comes by working through those frightful moments.

Most of us have some area in our lives where we’re looking for a hero. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — it’s perfectly human! But it would serve us so much better to quit waiting and start saving ourselves instead.

We’re capable of so much more than we think. It’s just that most of us are too afraid to try. We worry about looking foolish or wasting our time, yet we forget that some of us have already been wasting years — decades, even — in dead-end jobs, relationships, and routines we only hold onto because we lack the belief that we could be the masters of our own destiny.

Yet discovering our genuine power to change ourselves and circumstances can be really simple. Sometimes it’s as big — and small — as writing each day. And just one small thing like that can help fill in bigger dreams.

I’m saying this as someone who used to be a helluva lot more melancholy than optimistic. So I was never been too impressed with advice to just believe in yourself. But here I am learning firsthand about the power of believing in ourselves to be much more capable. I’m telling you — it’s worth every bit of effort there is.

You can quit waiting. You can be your own damn hero. And you can start today.

You just have to try.