Full disclosure: I coach Business Professionals for a living. It is fun and rewarding work. I love it, and I’m fortunate to be able to do this as my life’s work. This article came out of a recent conversation I had with a friend, about whether I ever get tired of helping people to develop solutions to their problems. The answer is, that no, I don’t ever get tired of helping my clients with their problems. That’s the fun part of my job, definitely, and it’s at the same time the most rewarding part of my work.
So, what does occasionally get to me? I am appalled by how many people I run into and see on the news who are clueless about why their life or their career is off the rails. You know the type, they’re in real trouble, and everyone can see that it’s due to the curious choices they have made, but they cannot see any connection between their dire situation, and the choices that preceded it. Here is the reality. Life is about choices. Every one of us is in charge of our own life. We’re in charge of our own destiny. Nobody else owns our future; WE own it. You will get the opportunity to make thousands of choices in your life. The quality of the decisions you make will determine how well your life will go. Let me say that again because it is that important. The quality of the decisions that you make will determine how well your life will go.
When we think like victims, we generally give ourselves a free pass from accepting responsibility for the choices we’ve made. We tell ourselves little lies that make us feel like we’re not responsible, but we know we are, deep down inside. They call that dissonance. Your brain knows that you messed up, but your emotions cover up and pretend that you’re the victim. Dissonance causes stress, which causes illness, which causes death. Don’t pretend. Don’t think like a victim. Don’t tell yourself that it wasn’t your fault that you didn’t prepare enough for your presentation, own up to it.
While my friend and I were having lunch, talking about helping people solve problems, the two people at the next table were loudly discussing how unfair it was that one of them lost their car. He had a wonderful time telling his colleague that it sucked that he had to take the bus to his job because he lost his car and his license. He went on and on in describing the inconvenience, and the pain that his situation was causing him. No doubt, losing your vehicle and losing your driver’s license would be a drag, and having to take the bus to work instead of driving would be a challenge at times. This gentleman painted himself as the victim in this situation, and his friend dutifully agreed and nodded his head repeatedly. It was only much later when they had left that I learned the rest of the story. My friend and I had tried our best not to eavesdrop on their conversation, but they were fairly vociferous in their dialogue, and we had no options other than to hear them, or to move to another location. Since we had ordered lunch, we stayed in our seats.
So, what was the rest of the story? My friend, tells me that he knows how the guy lost his car. It turns out that he was texting as he was driving, and drove directly into someone because he missed a stop sign, while he was busy texting and driving. I was stunned. The guy who went on and on about how he was a victim of circumstance, had caused his own problem, completely. He chose to text and drive, and that decision led to him destroying his car, destroying someone else’s car, and injuring the other parties. It further turns out that he had let his automobile insurance lapse and was speeding through a stop sign, at the time of the crash. Wow! What a difference a little context makes in this situation.
When we think like victims, we tell ourselves little lies, like I can’t control the events of my life. The truth is that most of us cannot control EVERYTHING in our lives, but what we tell ourselves instead is that we cannot control ANYTHING, so why bother? Thinking like a victim is the worst choice you can make, in my view. The great thing about being alive on this planet, and about being able to live in the United States, is that we CAN control many many events in our lives. You see, we CAN pay our automobile insurance. Furthermore, we CAN choose not to touch our Smartphones while we drive. We CAN drive attentively, and drive within the posted speed limits and observe traffic signs like stop signs.
When we choose to think like we own our choices, we give ourselves the chance to control most of the circumstances that result from our choices. We make a bold, confident choice to avoid the temptation to let circumstances define who we are, and what is going to happen to us. Taking ownership of your actions and behaviors sets you up for great success. Renewing your victim card and telling yourself that you lost your license and your car through no fault of your own, is not helpful, and it’s not going to set you up for anything but one disappointment after another. Life is not simple nor is it easy, and it is going to visit you with a bushel-full of trouble from time to time. You should expect that by now. And you should realize that how you respond in the moment of truth will either help you or harm you. Playing the victim card is never your best option or your best choice. Shred your victim card…
Hey, I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen to people. I realize that bad things do happen to good people from time to time. In fact, they probably happen more often than we would prefer. Still, more importantly, we must remind ourselves that when adversity comes along to a person, we define our character in how we choose to respond to that adversity. You can choose to be a victim, and do something stupid and easy, and your response will probably make things worse. Or, on the other hand, you can choose to be resilient, and mentally tough, and define your future by rising to the occasion and doing something difficult, but something that will move you forward positively. To me, playing the victim is gutless and a losing strategy. Any chance we have to control our destiny is better than leaving things to chance. I choose to control events whenever I can. I choose to keep my driver’s license by making my insurance payments, following the laws, setting my Smartphone down while I drive, and by keeping my eyes on the road. Those are choices. Smart choices. Positive choices.
The beautiful thing about a free society is that we are free to do as we please, so long as we obey the laws as passed by our government. The unfortunate reality is that for too many, that freedom is met with careless disregard for anyone other than our selfish selves. Life is an incredibly long series of choices. Choose to shred your victim card. Take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for the choices you make, and the results you deliver will become increasingly positive. Take ownership and choose to be a leader.
Michael is an award-winning business coach who works with medium-sized technology companies around the United States. He advises C-Suite Executives, their Leadership Teams, and their Emerging Leaders so that they can build a strong culture of executing positive change and results in the business, while having fun.
Michael offers a one-day boot camp on Behavioral Assessments and Emotional Intelligence Assessments. In these boot camps, you will learn how to draw out collaboration and have your team become the high-performance team that you know it can be. If you are looking to raise your self-awareness and social awareness for you and your team, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.