It’s the end of the semester at Evil Day Job number 2 (college instructor) and I’m currently plagued by my usual mix of relief and irritation.
See, there is this malaise that seems to afflict a certain segment of my students at this point in the semester—the idea that regardless of their performance, they are owed a certain grade just because.
Usually this is from students who are supposed to graduate and find out they didn’t pass my class. Leaving aside the gross sense of entitlement—a whole other soapbox topic for me—there is one feature that all of these students share in common: external locus of control.
:puts on lecturer hat:
Locus of control is this concept in personality psychology that refers to the extent to which people believe they have control over the stuff that happens to them. If you’re interested in further reading, Julian B. Rotter is the guy who developed the initial idea.
Locus of control can be either internal—the person believes they have control over their life—or external—the stuff that happens to them is caused by outside sources (aka, the environment, a higher power like God, or other people).
To go back to my students as an example, say they did poorly on an exam. The student with an internal locus of control would think that he didn’t study hard enough. The student with an external locus of control thinks the questions were too hard and I am an unhelpful, unreasonable instructor because I actually believe in standards for education that don’t involve spoon feeding.
One guess which side of the fence I fall on.
I have very little patience with people who harbor an external locus of control. Why? Because they are passive observers to their own lives.
Since they consistently see the things that happen to them as outside their control, they often do nothing to affect the outcome. And then they justify the bad stuff by saying it was someone else’s fault. This drives me completely insane.
In the writing world this translates to saying an editor or agent is too picky. A book reviewer wouldn’t know a good book if it reared up and bit her. That critique group just doesn’t understand your vision. Every failure along the publishing trail is attributed to somebody else.
While it is true that publishing involves a lot more steps at which other people can influence our success than many other professions, this kind of external locus thinking is absolutely counterproductive and isn’t going to do you any favors along your journey.
The successful people of the world tend to have a highly internal locus of control.
They take responsibility for their lives and what happens in it. They are active participants in their lives. If something doesn’t work for them, instead of immediately assuming something was wrong with the other guy, internally focused writers look to see what they did wrong, what they can improve.
These are the writers who get a rejection letter and (probably after some therapeutic chocolate and possibly a brief cry) look to see what they can get out of the criticism to improve their book. These are the writers who devour craft books like chips and salsa at their favorite Mexican restaurant. These are the writers who read everything they can get their hands on and analyze it to see what makes it good or bad. These are the writers who attend workshops on how to perfect that query, how to nail that pitch. These are the writers who never stop learning, never stop working to better themselves and their skills, because they recognize that their ultimate success rests largely with them.
So next time something doesn’t work for you along your publishing journey, don’t just sit passively by and blame it on somebody else. Take a good hard look and see what you can learn from the experience. Be active in the outcome of your own life and take some responsibility.
It’s like Aida says to Radames in Aida (“Enchantment Passing Through”):