One of the great sacrifices of subjecting kids to school is that it trains them to ask for permission for everything, from turning in work late, to changing to a different class, to more mundane things like going to the bathroom. It's a tradeoff, of course: condition kids to seek permission for everything, and by doing so enable a system to exist where they receive an education.
Maybe that's a worthwhile tradeoff, and maybe it's not. But the real harm in it, in my opinion anyway, is that when we leave school, we're still in the habit of asking permission for everything. That's dangerous.
A manifestation of this that I come across with frequently is the questions that people send me by email. Here's a paraphrased template, which covers a good 60%+ of the emails I get from strangers:
"Hi. I've made the logical decision that X is what I want to do. But, there's one minor thing in my way and I want your opinion on it. What do you think?"
These are smart people, by the way. The minor problem isn't something that would actually thwart them; it's just a convenient excuse to revert to their conditioned response of seeking permission before acting. I'm something of an authority on a few different topics, so a bit of encouragement from me is usually all they need to have the confidence to push through and do what they want to do.
I remember this feeling, and I remember the first time I overruled the instinct to succumb to it. I was in college and hated it. Living with my friends was fun, being on campus was fun, classes were pure drudgery. I wanted to drop out, but there was no one to give me permission to do so. All of my authority figures were family members, and family valued school over everything else. Finding role models online wasn't something that happened back then.
If I own a car and you borrow it, I can tell you where you can and can't go. If you own it, you can take it wherever you want. So, in that spirit, I decided to own my life. In one package deal, I accepted the responsibility and freedom of being the top of the food chain for personal decision making.
What's really profound about owning your life is that it allows you to do things no one has done before. Traditional authority figures will always try to keep you on the straight and narrow, and specialized authority figures like myself can only give meaningful permission to do things we've already done. To do something brand new, you have to generate your own permission.
Confidence is tied with self ownership, both as a consequence and as a means. To fully rely on your own judgment requires confidence, which maybe has to be faked the first couple times through a leap of faith. But as you make more and more decisions solely on your own authority, especially decisions that others oppose, and you see that they're successful, or at least not as disastrous as predicted by others, you gainconfidence. Soon the idea of anyone else having the final say in any of your affairs seems bizarre.
If you're the type of person who likes to put new ideas into action, here's my advice: search your mind for something you've been wanting to do, but have been hesitating on, and just do it. Don't ask anyone, don't tell anyone (a passive form of permission asking), just do it and see how it feels. Maybe it's something small like walking around your neighborhood barefoot, or maybe it's something big like quitting your job because it sucks. Whatever it is, do it not for the immediate benefits of indulging yourself, but rather because it's a first step towards owning your life.
Awesome post. I ended up putting up a post in reference to yours about it and how your post was pretty much the impetus to some distinct changes :) It's really quite a significant revelation once one gets their mind completely wrapped around the concept. I look back at how many times I asked for permission just to go to the bathroom and how often I was told that I couldn't... As always, great insight. Another reminder of why I subscribed to your blog. ;)
Just read the other posts and say the question about attending a Montessori school as a child,
I did for a few years and think it has had a significant effect on my outlook and ability to think way out side of the "standard" boxes people see.
I am always asking why do we have to do it that way ??????
I'm glad I stumbled onto your site. I couldn't agree with you anymore. I believe fear plays a major role in not "owning your life". We are taught to be fearful and it carries over to our decision-making. Combine that with the programming to do what is the "norm". That is why 90% of the people are sheep. They just do what they're trained to do.
Thanks for sharing.
When people ask for your permission. It feel awkward.
I had an intern asking me for a permission going to restroom.
I was like "...ok...".
On larger scale, I agree with what Tynan was trying ot state on how our life doesn't fulfill because we wait on for a permission.
Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. When you do and it is so liberating feel.
no need to ask permission to others who never bothered step into my shoes, no need ask approval to people who never understand my angle of view, and deaf to all the sharp prejudice words that won't be accurate.
Another great post. I've finally finished and left academia and looking to blaze my own path.
One thing I talked to my friend about though was that when you're put into a system, there's external motivational factors pushing you to learn and grow. But when you're on your own, you have to motivate yourself for better and for worse.
The point of my thoughts was in line with your initial post: Own Your Life . . . obviously they will have no trouble owning their own lives . . .
Hey there, really enjoy your posts. I'm a posting virgin, so this is fun and wanted to mention that I read an article in the paper the other day about a family that let their children do whatever they wish. They don't go to school and aren't even home schooled but learn whatever they are passionate about with the help of their parents. No rules, eat what they enjoy as long as it's in the household pantry any time etc etc ... what a fantastic concept ! I'm a bit of a gypsy so this tickled my fancy :) take care xx
Todd and I hang out a lot, which breeds a sort of familiarity that leads to every phrase being shortened as much as possible. For example, if one's laptop batteries were very low, the word "critbatts" might be invoked. So when we found ourselves standing outside of the VIP area of the X Games in LA, and Todd said, "Dude, let's just smash it", I knew exactly what he was talking about: the Gaijin Smash.
The Gaijin Smash is a term used to describe a certain way of operating as a foreigner in Japan. The Japanese are extremely polite and sometimes nervous around foreigners (Gaijin), so as a foreigner you tend to get your way. I think the phrase came about from some guy smashing his way through the subway barriers without paying, and not being stopped. Todd and I mostly used it to ride our hilarious fold-up bikes like maniacs.
Anyway, back to the X-Games. Thanks to my brother and his good friend Chase Hawk, Todd and I had passes to this year's event in LA. But our passes were weird: they were only meant to give us access to the skate park section of the course, because Chase was only riding the park. But we also had friends competing in the street course, so we found ourselves standing outside the entrance to the VIP area of the street course, wanting to watch them.
I want to thank the assholes, bullies, teachers who turned a blind eye, kids who stole my clothes from my gym locker, everyone who thought I was a lesbian (I believe the term dyke was popular at that time), called me a whore, cunt, slut (seriously, I was a virgin until my 20's), and anyone else who made my teenage years a living hell. This includes the friends who did nothing to stop it, the family who didn't believe it, and the councilor who told me to deal with it.
Thank you for being the catalyst that propelled me to personal, financial, educational, and emotional success. It was your generosity and attention that fueled much of my art, writing, photography, friendships, and life choices.
You'll never know just how much it means to me that you hated yourselves enough to care.