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.
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