Thinking Like Cinderella – Or, Your Godmother Isn’t Coming

A victim waiting for a hero remains a victim.

Or, to rephrase the same principle: An ordinary person waiting to be transformed by an extraordinary event… remains ordinary.

Consider Cinderella.

Events moved her from a comfortable position (favorite daughter of a doting father) to an uncomfortable position (father dies, leaving her in the care of wicked stepmother and co.).

She remains in this new position, doing housework, fetching and carrying and slaving away, singing as she works, (and befriending the household vermin, depending on which version of the story you prefer), and does… nothing.

Oh, she works very hard, but it’s the same hard work every day. Actions → consequences; same actions → same consequences. In other words, Cinderella does as much to maintain the status quo as her persecutors.

And there’s no doubt that she would be there still, scrubbing the floors and singing to the soap bubbles, if events hadn’t intervened again, all but forcing her into Prince Charming’s arms.

(Even keeping in mind that Cinderella lived in a pre-industrial, pre-suffrage world, with limited economic opportunities for anybody, she could still have taken some kind of action. Presumably she knew how to read and write, since her father was a wealthy merchant. Didn’t any of the shopkeepers in town want a wife who could do sums? She could have run away and joined a convent, if nothing else.)

I love fairy tales, but they are fairy tales – and in our non-fairy world, it’s dangerous to think and act as though we expect our fairy godmother to come along at any moment and arrange our marriage….

… or our career change, or our education, or our makeover, or our happiness….

Any day can be a day that changes your life. I think it depends a lot less on circumstances than on how closely you’re paying attention.

I’ll share one day that changed my life, because I was paying attention.

I was unemployed (strike one), still living at home with my parents (strike two), and unhappy about it (strike three). My former employer had gone out of business, and I was looking (not very hard) for a job that would pay enough to either cover the gas for the commute (and it would be a long commute – my parents live a long way from everywhere) or enough for me to move out into my own apartment. I had no college degree and very little work experience, and it seemed nobody was hiring at the wage level I calculated I needed to move out or commute – or at least, they weren’t hiring people like me. (This was not long after the 2008 crash.)

To kill time while I waited for the magic job to appear, I enrolled in a class at the local junior college. (Forty-five minutes from home, one way, nothing but empty highway and lonely gas stations on the way. I told you this was the middle of nowhere.) I no longer remember what the class was.

The first night, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves to the class with our name and our goal or purpose for taking the course.

I have never heard any room of otherwise unrelated strangers sound so unanimous.

I’m waiting for a job opening.

I’m waiting for the economy to improve.

I’m waiting for a better….

I’m waiting until…

I’m waiting…

Normally this would be my cue to feel superior (always a lovely warm feeling). But as the introduction train made its way to me, I stood up and heard myself say “I’m waiting to get a good enough job so I can afford to move out.”

The instructor’s polite expression read somewhere between disgust and despair. She looked around the room of Cinderellas, and you could see her thinking: What am I supposed to do with this lot?

I did a lot of thinking on the drive home. (One of the great benefits of living in Nowhere, USA; you have lots of time to think while you drive.)

I didn’t know what I could do, but I decided that I would stop waiting. No more drifting along hoping vaguely for a fairy godmother or angel investor or lottery ticket to change the course of my life. I was going to do something.

(I had a job within three days; I moved out of my parents’ house a week after that. But that’s a different story.)

The only reason we know Cinderella – besides the nonsense with the glass slippers – is because her fairy godmother took matters into her own hands.

Cinderella was just waiting.

And she would have kept waiting forever if her fairy godmother had lost her address or her wand or her interest.

Waiting is easy. All you have to do is keep doing what you’ve always done. Sure, nothing will change, but you’ll never be surprised or disappointed. Dissatisfied, but not disappointed.

I love fairy tales, but I don’t live in one.

Neither do you.

Stop thinking like Cinderella. Stop waiting, and act.

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