Entitlement is “I deserve this just because I want it” and agency is “I know I can do this.” The combination of fear of disappointment, entitlement, and performance pressure is a recipe for hopelessness and self-doubt.
– Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection
Dr. Brown’s quote is quite revealing. I witnessed a dramatic shift from entitlement to agency in my recovery – and like everything, the shift is a process and not an event. But I was not a total slouch, born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. In fact, I had my first factory job when I was 16, and have been generally financially self-supporting my entire life – never unemployed for more than a couple of weeks between jobs. But, I was incredibly resentful of my state in life compared to others. I had a ready excuse to explain why my relative brilliance was not recognized by the world. I recollect well, after accumulating a whopping 0.7 GPA during my first try at college, telling my academic advisor I did not need his bourgeois education – I was going to make it on my own. All of which led me to a detox unit some ten years later. I have posted about some of this before.
But in recovery self-doubt has remained. I was about seven-years sober, finally earned BA and MA degrees and was awarded a full scholarship to a PhD program. I distinctly remember driving across the Indiana cornfields to register for classes and thinking “who am I trying to fool” and “what will happen when they find out.” As good as I could get on the agency thing at that time was convincing myself that I was going to give this my best shot, and also give myself permission to drop out after the first semester if I was clearly in over my head.
In less than five years I graduated, got my dream job, but again was incredibly concerned about being found out. Fast forward 20 years and I am now retiring from a different dream job. Over the years the “I know I can do this” has become a bigger part of my existence. Take writing. The “publish or perish” higher education mantra is impressed upon students along with the pecking order of prestigious publications. I have published well above average over the years, but not until the last five years have I felt I truly found my writing voice. My best writing is in my “professional blog” that would fill another four or five books but that is considered the lowest on prestige chart. But I find everything except my blog writing to actually be a rather tedious unenjoyable process. The only real exception to that has been my last edited volume. I believe this is the case because the last book is one that most expresses my values and interests.
So, I might add to Dr. Brown’s definition that “I know I can do this and I want to do this”
The process of finding and then living into true self has been the most exciting part of my life in recovery. My “bourgeois education” provided some equipment for that process, but, without question what I have received through the 12-steps and other related recovery is where I have learned how to use that equipment . . . and I am always pleased to know that the process is never done!