Is the Door Broken, or Am I?

There’s a storage closet at work that we use to keep old computers and other IT equipment. It’s right near an exterior door that requires a badge to enter; the door itself locks with a key. For as long as I’ve worked here, the lock is only sometimes effective. Sometimes it doesn’t latch, despite the lock being in the “locked” position.

We’ve had the maintenance guy come out a couple of times to try to fix it, he says it’s fixed, and then the next time I go down to use it, I test it, and again and again, it just won’t lock. 

I’ve stopped asking Dustin to fix it. I just figure I’ll try my best and if it doesn’t latch this time, oh, well. 

Yesterday, I had to toss an old computer and some keyboards in the closet, and when I was finished, I closed the door then gently pushed it. It opened again. Did not latch.

And I thought to myself, “Is it me? Am I doing it wrong? Does the key need to be in a specific position?” I thought this instead of thinking, “Is the door broken?”

I realized at that moment that this is the perfect example of what psychologists call “locus of control” (LOC). “Is it me?” is an internal locus of control; “is it the door?” identifies an external locus of control. At least I think so.  

Generally, folks with an internal locus of control attribute success or failure to their efforts or skills, where an external locus means that external factors are the reasons for succeeding or failing. Furthermore, people with internal LOC are often happier and more successful than those with external LOC, though that’s a generalization that doesn’t take other factors into account.

Now that I’m thinking about it, though… maybe I have it backward in this particular instance. Perhaps I’m attributing failure to myself: “I’ve done everything I can, and this door still won’t latch, so there’s nothing more I can do.” Put that way, it sounds like I’m blaming the door for the problem, right? It’s broken, and it’s beyond my abilities to fix. So the cause of the problem is external to me.

If I thought “is it the door?” then there’s still a chance I could fix it; I just haven’t found the solution yet. There’s more I could try. I haven’t reached the limits of my power or skills. That’s retaining an internal LOC. It’s persistence. It’s a can-do attitude. 

Now that I’ve given it some thought, I don’t know which is which. I’ve confused myself. But writing it all out has at least filled my word count for the day, right? 

The next question would be, if I do have an external LOC, can I change it to an internal one? Is that a thing that can happen? It would require a lot of mental energy and persistence. I believe I do have those things. Well, wait: is stubbornness the same thing as persistence? I’ve got stubbornness down pat, believe you me. I’ve got stubbornness in spades. Buckets and buckets of it. I only deploy it for special occasions, though, like arguing with my friends over stupid minor shit. I have been known to use it for my own benefit but it’s not 100% of the time. More’s the pity.

Now that I’m aware, though. I have a chance. Can’t fix something until you’ve diagnosed it. I can do it.

I can do it. I can do it. Me. I can. My skills and talents and energy is up to this task. Me.

(I’ll repeat this as necessary.)