It’s Your Decision: Victim or Actor?

Think Shift

When I moved to Oregon from Hawai‘i, I made myself a commitment to visit my family at least twice a year - once for my family’s summer reunion and once for the holidays. Recently, I began researching flights for the summer reunion dates. Looking at the prices that appeared in the search results, I was taken aback. I found myself rationalizing reasons not to go: I’ve already made two trips with my family this year. The specific date range I wanted fell during peak season, so prices were at their highest. I wouldn’t have been able to visit for much longer than a week anyways. I’ve already taken a lot of time off this year. It would be nice to stay home for a change and not be busy, considering my other commitments for the summer.

Those justifications, in my opinion, were all good reasons not to book my travel. I then explored other times to visit family, and at a more affordable price. The earliest I could realistically book my trip would be mid-October. By then, I might as well wait to visit until the holidays.

Each of those reasons had a common theme. You might hear it around your office.

It’s not my fault. I don't have enough time. I’m too busy. I have too many meetings. I’m late because I got caught up in my last meeting. I want to address this work habit or try this new method, but I can’t do it right now.

Sound familiar? They all embrace the language of a victim, not an actor.

Victims feel like they have no control over their environment or the actions of others.

Victims blame their circumstances and don’t take responsibility for their actions. From a victim’s perspective, if someone were to ask me why I didn’t go to Hawai‘i this summer, I would say, “By the time my family closed on the reunion dates, I was too busy with work to look up flight options. Now it’s three months before the reunion and my flights are almost twice as expensive as they could have been! They should have chosen a date sooner or this wouldn’t have happened.”

In business and as leaders, you prioritize and commit to decisions and tasks every day. As a victim, you could approach them thinking that you’re short on time, you don’t trust the people you’re working with to accomplish it, you feel pressured because it’s for one of your biggest clients and your decision has a significant or negative impact on others.

Those reasons are all understandable – we all know that things happen outside our control. However, you made choices that led you to your current state as well. Learn from those choices or take actions to change your situation.

Actors accept that although they might not be able to control their circumstances, they can always control their response to them.

Actors understand their freedom to react to their environment and others’ actions. They consider the options and their implications, and choose how to respond to their circumstances. As an actor, I would respond to the previous question with, “I chose not to go to my reunion this year because I didn’t push my family to decide on reunion dates sooner. Now, I don’t want to spend the money or move things around to make the time to go.”

In your day-to-day, try deflating some of the stress driven by your challenging decisions or tasks. As an actor, you are responsible for the actions you took that contributed to your circumstances today. Understanding those past actions, consider what you can do moving forward. You can choose to commit to a new deadline, delegate or train someone else to help, or choose to move other to-do list items back to open up more time. You can choose to candidly and clearly communicate your standards and goals, as well as hold your colleagues accountable to their commitments to you. You can impress one of your biggest clients. You can make a decision that aligns with your organization’s core purpose and goals for your employees.

Breaking through a victim mentality in the spur of the moment is easier said than done.

If you have difficulty seeing the actions you can take to alter the state of your challenge, talk through it with someone else. Removed from your immediate situation, that person can listen and provide an outside perspective. Discuss the choices you made that contributed to your situation. Identify victim language, then possible actions to respond to them.

Shifting from a victim mentality to that of an actor can transform your anxiety into productive drive.

As an actor who has accepted the obvious setbacks of my situation and the decisions I made that contributed to it, I’m choosing to enjoy much-needed time with my family in Hawai‘i anyways.

What decisions and actions can you take to address your challenges?

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