Monday, September 20, 2010

Driver's Ed - An Exercise

From On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician
by Catherine MacCoun, p. 135

"I've recently discovered a quick way back to the driver's seat when I fall into passenger mentality.  Maybe it will work for you, too.

A year ago I found myself embarking on an enterprise that scared me.  I wasn't at all sure whether I really ought to be doing this thing, and my desires were equally murky.  "Destiny," though, was acting very sure of itself, maneuvering me through an uncanny series of coincidences into what "they" had planned for me.  (Who "they" might be was undefined, as it so often is in passenger thinking.)

While describing my predicament in a letter to a friend, I found myself listing the events leading up to it in chronological order.  The narrative was in passive voice, i.e., sentences that describe what is being done without naming the doer.  Since good writers frown on passive voice, and I like to think of myself as a good writer, I thought I'd better correct this.  Then I got the bright idea of recasting each of the sentences with myself as the doer.  I described the entire sequence of events as if I were the mastermind behind each and every step.  'First I arranged to be out of work.  Then I arranged to own more taxes than I had funds to pay. Then I prompted so-and-so to phone me with a job offer...' Ten steps later, the sequence concluded with, 'And that's how I tricked myself into doing exactly what I want to do.'

I suspect it's no coincidence that, immediately after I had edited my way into driver mentality, circumstances changed for the better.  The doubtful enterprise took off, and I felt a lot more confident about my decision.  You might want to try this technique the next time you're feeling jerked around by fate, destiny, karma, or whatever else you happen to call your passenger vehicle."


  1. That's a good re-frame because it accepts responsibility and shows we are at cause. We can't come into our unique power without that acceptance.

  2. When I tried this exercise, I used bullet points beginning with "I" in the first part: I lost my job. I bought a house. I this, I that. I don't think I'm starting out in passive voice; I'm not quite sure what passive voice is (despite your note)!

    In that respect, it would appear that I'm already taking responsibility for my circumstances; however, the way I've worded it, it sounds like I'm blaming myself or finding fault. Like I did it "wrong" or didn't mean to do it.

    Your examples of being in the Driver's Seat ("I arranged to owe more taxes than I had funds to pay") describe it as if you meant to do that. I think I understand how to do the second part (Driver's Seat), but not the first (true Passive Voice).

    Would you be so kind as to include an example paragraph similar to what you sent to your friend to help me understand how to write it? Or is the bullet-pointed "I" good enough? I'm concerned that I might not be able to separate myself from the tendency to blame, using my version.

    Thanks for the insights.

  3. Hi, JB...First let me say, "Thank you," for your comment and questions! I also wanted to tell you that I didn’t create this exercise….This is a quote from an alchemy book I’m reading right now. The exercise resonated with me, I think because it’s both powerful and playful. :-) A few things came to mind when I read your questions - I thought of those lists of resume action you know what I mean? You can even Google "resume action words" and you'll find lists of powerful words that you might use to shift the energy of your sentences. OK…I actually just Googled it…. Here is a short list of some words you might consider using…these are words that might add more “oomph” to your “life resume”:


    I also wondered if you might have someone in your life you trust who could help you rewrite your sentences (just like someone who might advise you on ways to rewrite a resume to make it stronger).

    For me, the point of the exercise is to shift me from “this-happened-to-me” mode, to “I-was-part-of-the-creation-of-this” mode. It shifts the energy for me.