Risk To Take In Life:
I first heard the term self-efficacy when Linda, an elderly guest at my home in Nevada City, described her unwavering confidence in her future. I found her outlook puzzling since she’d spent the better part of the prior year in a rehab hospital due to a random accident.
Linda was hiking when a speeding bicyclist came around a blind bend, lost control of his bike, and ran her down. The rider was bruised and scratched but otherwise in one piece. Linda, however, suffered a concussion, cracked ribs, deep bruising, and a broken leg.
Her injuries were painful, the medical bills were extensive, and the recovery took nearly a year out of what would otherwise have been a delightful retirement.
Given the unpredictability of events like Linda had experienced, how could she be certain her future would be manageable? Even positive?
Linda explained that self-efficacy simply meant knowing that life occasionally threw some wicked curve balls yet staying up to bat. Whatever happened to her, she would have control over what she would think, what actions she would take, and how she would feel about the situation.
My curiosity about the term led me to discover that it was coined by Albert Bandura, a Stanford social psychologist who was ranked among the top four psychologists of the twentieth century.
I couldn’t help but contrast the concept of self-efficacy with learned helplessness, a term that needs no explanation.
Learned Helplessness/ Risk to take in life
The victim mentality may have reached epidemic levels in our society. Over one hundred million lawsuits are filed in state courts each year and another four hundred thousand in federal courts.
Moreover, political discourse seems to have devolved into complaints about which group is more victimized.
I’m not suggesting that all lawsuits are frivolous or that victims should be dismissed out of hand. What I am suggesting, though, is that no joy or satisfaction comes from giving power to external circumstances or to others.
Blaming your boss for your miserable job, your parents for your dysfunctional childhood, or your spouse for your unhappy marriage doesn’t change anything. In fact, casting blame does the opposite—it freezes one’s negative circumstances in place.
Playwright and author Lillian Hellman wrote, “It’s a sad day when you find out that it’s not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself that kept things from you.”
Courage? No! Just Self-Efficacy/Risk to take in life
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me how courageous I was to move to France and start all over at age eighty, I could treat you to a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant.
Each time, I feel compelled to set the record straight. I’m not courageous. The truth is simply that like my friend Linda, I could take the risk because I had confidence that I could handle whatever life threw me.
For example, even though I’m terrible at languages, I’m studying French so I can communicate in my new home. Although my limited language skills make conversation difficult, I’ll somehow make new friends. Even if I miss some of my favorite foods, I’ll learn to enjoy new ones. Despite having more modest living arrangements than before, I thoroughly enjoy the comforts of home I do have.
Of course, I won’t always succeed in any or all of these arenas. I certainly don’t know what the fates have in store for me. I do know, however, that I will have (as I have had in the past) painful, uncomfortable, and worrisome times along with happy, joyous ones.
Yet like Linda, I live my days with the overarching conviction—this sense of self-efficacy—that one way or another, I’ll cope with whatever comes my way.