I, Tonya: Becoming a punch line

Olympic figure skating is under way. And, since Mirai Nagasu just became the first American woman to complete a triple axle in Olympic competition, I guess it is a good time to talk about the first American woman to complete the maneuver in any competition…

Tonya Harding.

I’m too young to remember exactly what happened to Tonya Harding—even though I have grown up hearing the names of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan used as verbs, nouns, and profoundly out of context—so instead, I will focus on the recent biopic in which she is portrayed by Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie.

I found it interesting how often in the movie Tonya says that things aren’t her fault—it’s not her fault she can’t afford to buy fancy outfits, it’s not her fault the judges don’t like her, it’s not her fault that her lace broke, it’s not her fault that one of her friends orchestrated a kneecapping of her main rival, etc. The argument can be made that she’s right. It really isn’t her fault that her family is of poor economic status or that she doesn’t embody the ideal the U.S. Figure Skating Association wants to project. The problem becomes when she dwells on the things that are out of her control instead of exercising the control that she does have. Instead of carefully assessing what is in her control and what is out of her control and acting accordingly, Tonya insists on believing that everything is beyond her control. Holding such a belief removes her own agency, and, in effect, makes it so everything really is out of her own hands.

I don’t mean to judge Tonya Harding. I’ve only seen the movie, and, from the movie, it seems she really did experience a lot of difficulty and was sometimes treated unfairly. But I do think we can learn from her how to not get caught up in everything that is not in our control. Here are three guidelines on how not to be like a Tonya of the movie:

1. Take control of what you can. Exercising control when possible will help you not to become overwhelmed. When you get in the habit of exercising the control you do have over your own situation, you will be more empowered to make better decisions and improve the circumstances that have been placed upon you.

2. Act deliberately in response to unexpected situations. When something feels like it is happening to you, it is important to consider your possible responses instead of acting on whatever first comes to your mind. It is also better to take a moment to pause and consider your responses before giving up entirely.

3. Mindfully reflect on how your own actions contribute to consequences. Recognizing how your actions lead to certain consequences will allow you to consider whether those actions were worth taking or whether you should act differently in the future.

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