Fifteen years ago as a school counselor, I was browsing through a collection of books on the shelves of the office I began inhabiting. I was replacing another school counselor that year, moving from a high school to a middle school, and the person in my new office left behind treasures. I stumbled upon a book titled “Life Strategies for Teens,” by Jay McGraw. The aesthetic value of the book was a little teen-like, having comic strip-type illustrations. But the meat in the content was absolutely amazing.
I didn’t notice it then, but the truth of the book’s entirety resonated enough with me to start a small group of boys with the material as the curriculum. Truth be told, we really didn’t use the curriculum. We just hung out and traded stories. The boys didn’t need lessons as much as they needed someone to show up for them.
After seven years being counselor there, I moved on to private practice, but I’d since looked up the book, noticed that Jay McGraw was none other than Dr. Phil’s son, and ordered “Life Strategies.” Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of Dr. Phil. I though he was a pompous ass. His method of “counseling” on the show was more showmanship, and his ego seemed huge. I’d really never enjoyed the show, although his advice wasn’t terrible.
However, I couldn’t deny the merits of the book. I read it cover to cover. I put into practice the exercises he had included. And, to this day, the book is the most worn book I own as a counselor. Though I liked almost every chapter, the one that hit me the most was Chapter Three: “You Create Your Own Experience.” That chapter would later become part of a daily mantra.
McGraw stressed personal accountability for everything. He was against victimization to the extreme. Of course, as a counselor, red flags went up in my brain with this.
What about rape victims? What about children who are abused? What about refugees?
Yes, there were those things. Those people really had been traumatized and needed help and support. Telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps wasn’t going to do any good because they owned no bootstraps. They didn’t have equal opportunity.
But that misses the point, what I garnered from the chapter, and make no mistake, this chapter is the heart of the book.
The chapter was not attempting to dis-acknowledge trauma, which even Dr. Phil, if pressed, might agree if he had Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth around him. The idea was to gain for oneself a sense of responsibility and ownership.
Let me explain.
So, it’s healthy and okay to acknowledge our trauma. If I’ve experienced it, I can be honest about it. I can own the processing of it mentally and emotionally, I can see counselors, I can participate in EMDR therapy, or whatever I need to do practice self-care.
But notice that if I ENTER into that process, I am acknowledging my own participation in healing. I’m going forward. I am no longer a victim if I’m taking charge of becoming the person I want to be.
THAT is his point.
When I shift responsibility for my life from others to myself, I’ve gained a considerable amount of power. I have personal agency over my life and circumstances. Does this mean I am always or even sometimes in control of everything? Absolutely not! But it does mean that whatever happens, I can control how I react to it, and I can influence my circumstances to a great degree.
That’s what creating my own experience is. Even though I’m not in control of everything that happens, I am enough of an influencer that I make choices that significantly set my own path.
I’m not in control of everything that happens when I have set my path, but I’m responsible for keeping tab of how the path goes, deciding when to take turns, change paths, or even and if I want to forge a completely different path.
The principle of me having free agency to do all these things gives me choices. If I have vision, choices make me feel like I can do anything. Possibility is endless. If I don’t have choices, I am trapped, and if I’m trapped, why do anything except mope?
This, I believe, is the essence of victimhood.
Proverbs 29:18, paraphrased, says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” If I am a victim, and my mindset has abdicated responsibility for my life, all that’s left is being resentful, blaming someone, and feeling sorry for myself.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that others’ choices don’t affect me or others. They certainly do. But it’s my actions that make the difference with what happens in my world. A famous Gandhi saying is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe that is the statement of a possibilitarian. It’s my job to make the world what I want it to be, beginning with me.
Earlier, I mentioned that my mantra is “You create your own experience.” Not long ago, I added to it, “…so try to create the results that you want.” My thinking was that I might not always like the experience that I create. If I get results that I don’t want, I should try to create different experience. And so, it goes, day by day.