Archive for November, 2014
When I was ten, in my first day home from surgery to lengthen both of my Achilles tendons, I learned that I wasn’t going to be able to be a victim. I was trying to retrieve underwear from my top dresser drawer when I tumbled backward. Pain erupted from my ankles when I stepped back, and in desperation, I pulled the drawer back with me, emptying its contents on the floor.
I sat there stunned, trying to figure out how to fix the situation, when my dad came into the room. He looked at the mess, and before turning to leave, told me that I was going to need to figure it out myself and that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. I know it sounds harsh, but many of life’s lessons aren’t suited for the Hallmark Channel.
I thought about that scene this week, when watching and reading about the misguided destruction in response to a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the unfortunate shooting of a robbery suspect. In Ferguson, Missouri and other points, people took to the streets to protest not so much the grand jury’s decision, but the injustice they perceived it to represent. They were goaded into this behavior by leaders who have made victimhood an industry and by media who sought to sensationalize a story and create a narrative which they know plays well these days – victimhood.
When you tell people, as the President of the United States did, that it’s acceptable to be frustrated and assume the role of a victim, it should come as no surprise that people act like frustrated victims. That’s a dangerous precedent, and it’s becoming more prevalent and more destructive to the American Dream.
Victims lose hope and feel shame. They are mistrusting and suspicious. They feel that they can’t escape a dismal fate, and when that false message is reinforced by leaders and many in the media, they lose all hope of empowerment.
The opposite of victimhood is empowerment – the ability to have an effect on your plight. You don’t have empowerment by throwing a brick through a convenience store window. That just feeds the narrative of the victim lashing out at his oppressor. You have empowerment when you hold yourself and those you influence to higher standards. Pointing fingers and casting blame aren’t acts of empowerment; self-realization and self-improvement are.
It all starts with honest self-assessment. We have to face who we are – both the positives and the negatives – and we have to assess our situation – do we deserve better and are we willing to do everything we can to make it better, regardless of what anyone else tells us is possible?
I sat on the edge of my bed and cried that Sunday morning. It wasn’t fair that I was cursed with a disease that made strangers stop and stare, that made me the last chosen for basketball games during PE, that made me suffer through excruciating medical procedures and physical therapy. It wasn’t fair that my own dad wasn’t going to help me.
It wasn’t fair, but it was my plight, and I faced a choice. I could be passive and negative, and accept whatever was given to me or I could approach the world with an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, but that I would give myself a chance, if I just tried.
Imagine if President Obama pushed that same attitude and spoke of personal responsibility and effort as much as he did of distributing a “fair share.” Imagine if Al Sharpton attacked fatherlessness with the same ferocity as he attacked voter identification legislation. Imagine if the media showed thriving inner-city schools as much as they showed burning buildings.
Imagine empowerment overtaking victimhood.
Many of us will never reach our full potential because we’re afraid to change. We stay in jobs that are going nowhere, and in relationships that are unfulfilling. We continue habits that we know jeopardize our health and happiness. We wall off personal development with excuses. We spurn opportunities to grow. All because we’re afraid to change.
Change evokes anxiety. Routine is comforting. It’s why you are you more relaxed at home in your recliner than trying to make a connecting flight on a snowy day. You might hate your job, but you know where to park and when to leave to beat traffic. That girlfriend who doesn’t like your friends, family or hobbies? At least you don’t have to worry about finding a date on a Saturday night.
Fear of change can paralyze us, and we’re not always in the optimal spot when it does.
As the owner of a recruiting company, I see fear of change almost daily. Our mission is to find highly qualified talent for our clients, which means that highly qualified talent has to change jobs. Employment surveys tell us that most people are considering a professional change, but that very few follow through, and our experience confirms this. Fear of change often stands in the way of a career transition.
Our initial contact with a prospective candidate is designed to allow us to understand his motivations, i.e. How happy is he with his role, his work/life balance, his boss, his income, his career path? Does he daydream of something better, and if so, what does that look like? If he is perfectly content or won’t admit that he isn’t, the conversation ends there, but it rarely does. Most people are looking for something better. Actually moving toward something better is not as easy.
Many candidates discover a new tolerance of their job and their employer in the latter stages of accepting a new position. All of the pain we uncovered in the initial conversation begins to seem manageable, especially when compared to the POTENTIAL pain of change.
All too often, we focus on potential negatives, rather than potential positives. We then compare a rosy version of our current status to potential negatives, rather than potential positives of a change. When evaluating a new job, instead of the promise of career advancement, we focus on the fear that maybe we won’t like the new boss. Instead of dreaming about where the career move could put us in five years, we create nightmare scenarios of job loss. Maybe our career path is stalled, but our current job has predictability and stability. Isn’t it possible that the new job could have all of this?
You have to have faith to make a change. Most times, we don’t need, and won’t have the precision of a bridge-builder or brain surgeon when contemplating change. We have to accept risk and a certain lack of information with most change. Most change doesn’t come with guarantees.
You have to have courage to make a change. I still remember my first time on the high diving board at the pool when I was a kid. It was a lot higher and scarier than I thought it would be, and I was extremely tempted to back down, even though I knew my friends would taunt me mercilessly. I jumped, because I told myself that I would jump – that jumping was something I wanted to do and yearned to do. I didn’t want to let fear take that excitement from me.
You have to have commitment to make a change. Many experience regret right after making a change. Most experience a temptation to go back. I see this at my gym at the beginning of every year. January starts with an influx of new members, because deciding to add exercise to your daily routine is fairly easy. Getting to the gym is easy too, at least at the beginning, so the gym is still fairly full in February. By March, however, mostly only the gym regulars remain. It takes commitment to overcome the urge to give up, while you struggle with the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of change.
The end of the year is a great time to consider change. In a few short weeks, we’ll be given a new year to make the changes we’ve always thought about. Are you ready to make this the year of positive change?
For a unique perspective on change, view a video of a Jim Carrey graduation speech.
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” – Jim Carrey – http://www.mobiledia.com/news/199433.html