There are those who make things happen, those to whom things happen, and those who say, “What happened?”
by Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.
Published - 10/10/12 - 03:00 PM | 4380 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Which one are you? Most people are a combination of these, but sometimes one tendency dominates to the point of dysfunction.

The people who like to make things happen are outer-directed. They like to be in charge, when they see that something needs to be done they don’t wait for it to somehow get done, they go ahead and do it. They run organizations and head committees, they want to improve the world, the working conditions of the labor force, or see to it that the soda machine finally gets fixed. Outer-directed people speak up at meetings; their voices are heard and their opinions respected.

The downside to this way of interacting with the world is that they may become poor listeners, too sure of always knowing what’s best. They may steamroll over the opinions and ideas of the more soft-spoken and miss out on important information, expertise, or assistance. The tendency to take control of every situation means they are often overly busy and over-committed

If you are running around with back-to-back meetings and going to events with no time to reflect on why you are busier than your comfort dictates, you need to stop, take a break and decide if this is the direction you wish to take or if you are being driven by unconscious forces that propel you. The questions may be: “What am I running from?” “What am I avoiding?” and “Why do I always need to be in charge, to be center stage?”

The people to whom things happen are inner-directed, they are the thinkers, the writers, the quiet people who are happy to be on the sidelines, observing from the shadows, or fading into the woodwork. They have a rich inner life and are interested in self-exploration. They can take advantage of circumstances, but they rarely initiate change. In general they do not want to control anyone or anything.

The downside for people who don’t speak up is that their ideas don’t have a forum, and therefore they are lost as a resource for their communities and organizations. They may endure unhappiness or discomfort needlessly because they miss out on opportunities to improve their situations.

If you are inner-directed and happy with it — happy to take the time to read, walk, go to a movie, have friends you see, do some volunteer work — and that seems enough, so be it, continue as you are.

The people who ask, “What happened?” are undirected. They float through life without much of a purpose. They live in a grey area, not sure of who they are nor what they should be doing. It can be an uncomfortable feeling so they often try to escape into alcohol abuse or drug addiction. Some undirected people find direction in joining far-out political or religious sects with blind devotion to a charismatic leader — anything that directs their energies without any thoughts of their own. While it is useful sometimes to let go of control, if it extends beyond the normal stress-reduction of a vacation, it will keep them from growing into productive and happy members of society.

If you feel undirected with not enough to occupy your time, if you are bored, listless and spend a lot of time just ruminating, you need to make an effort to get yourself out of your chair, out of the house and into the community. There are places where people gather for all types of activities: conversation, music, lectures, sports, trips. Learn about volunteer opportunities. Be somewhere and do something with other people.

We all need the three ways of being at different times in our lives. We all begin life as undirected, then as adolescents we become inner-directed with identity seeking in the teen years, trying on the roles of leader, observer and follower along the way. As adults, we then choose a way of functioning that provides both satisfaction and comfort.

In our later years, we become more inner-directed, more reflective, quieter, happy to retire from the hurly burly of having to earn a living. Yet many who have been doers over a lifetime continue to re-invent themselves: learning new things, wrangling with new technology and contributing to their communities.

So identify whether you make things happen, let things happen, or ask about what happened and decide whether you are satisfied with your direction. If yes, congratulations for being happy with who you are. If no, you know there are other choices and so try them out — you may surprise yourself.

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