Eight years ago, when I accepted the responsibility of launching a new company on behalf of the BMW Group in the US, I was excited, enthusiastic and gung-ho. Two weeks later I was frustrated, depressed and confused. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing these feelings directly as the result of a choice I was making over and over again.
The thing is, I was 100% confident that I had no choice in how things were going. My situation was out of my control, I was set up to fail and rudderless. Nothing could have been further from the truth, yet I was confident and steadfast in my opinion. I did NOT have any choice — I was going to fail.
When BMW originally approached me with the idea of starting a consultancy that specialized in training, coaching and HR Services, I thought it would be challenging, but relatively simple as I had swum in these oceans for my entire career. These topics are my jam; so how hard could this be? (Enter excited, enthusiastic, and gung-ho). I quickly realized my naivety and down-right stupidity; so, I chose to sink into my «noise.» (Enter frustration, depression, and confusion.)
The «noise» or inner critic or however you want to term it, is that little voice in your head that keeps you small. It tells you you’re too stupid or too old or too unhealthy or too inexperienced or too fill in your blank to do the thing you are trying to do or accomplish. It is loud, self-imposing and all too often we lean into the noise and believe it. Then ultimately, we quit, leave, or back out.
The power of choice
The interesting thing is the noise is actually there to keep you safe. You see, if you listen to the noise, then you don’t try. The noise is telling you you’re out of choices, so why bother. If you don’t try, then you won’t fail. And who wants to ever feel the pain of failure right? A pretty good system of safety and security when you think about it.
Enter the idea of the power of choice. Eight years ago, when I was flailing and afraid and inexperienced, I didn’t believe I had choices. I leaned into the noise and decided that I was in fact too stupid and ill-prepared to start a company from scratch; so, I made a choice. I chose to ‘not try,’ and to put all my energy into blaming everyone else for why our new business would never work. “You don’t understand, my boss gave me no tools, the US already has their own preferred vendors, no one wants what we have to sell, we’re too small of a fish in a huge pond, etc.” I swam around in the blame game until my fingers were pruney. I didn’t know it then, but I had made my first choice. The choice? To be a victim to the situation.
Because I didn’t know what to do, instead of trying anything, I spread around blame. This is a classic victim state, and to be a victim is truly a state of mind. It’s a choice, one of five choices you always have. They are . . .
-To accept it
-To change it
-To shift your perspective around it
-To leave it
-To remain a victim to it
The simplicity of the five choices; i.e., the awareness around crushing our painful roadblocks, overwhelmed me when I learned of them. Actually, it angered me, as I couldn’t believe the simplicity and that I didn’t learn it sooner. But the truth is, most of us are unaware we have choices when we’re ‘blocked’ because we’re focused on the consequence, not the choice. And it’s the desire for or the fear of the consequence that drives your choice.
I didn’t know it until months later, but during those first few months of launching the BMW company RPC (The Retail Performance Company), I cycled through each choice with complete unawareness.
Remain a victim
When I was living in the blame game and coming up with excuses for why our company had no chance of survival, I remained a victim to my situation. To be clear, this was a choice, and this choice is exhausting. I put many hours meeting with potential clients defending the company’s lack of success, without even giving it or me a chance. I was getting the world set up so when the company flopped, I wouldn’t be blamed and consider a failure. Really think about that; the amount of energy expended was immeasurable. While I have no regrets about this time in my life, I have considered what could have happened if I put energy into trying anything/something to move the business forward during those weeks, as opposed to putting energy into thinking of all the ways it could fail and subsequently putting up roadblocks. It’s the same thought I have when I go to the post office and wonder how different the employee behind the counter’s life would be if she would smile and choose to help me, instead of rolling her eyes because I filled out the wrong document to renew my daughter’s passport. She must be exhausted blaming all of her customer’s inadequacies. Imagine if she put her energy into a new choice.
Interestingly enough, the victim state can serve you; but only if you have the awareness that you’re in it. For example, when you’re starting a new exercise routine that involves using the new treadmill in your basement, yet you haven’t even put on one sneaker and you tell yourself you’re too tired or busy, you are in a victim state; the blame game. However, if you make a conscious decision to sit on the couch one night and eat bonbons and say out loud, “I’m going to enjoy the hell out of these bonbons tonight and exercise tomorrow,” with real intention, then actually work out the next day, this is being aware of your victim state which is actually serving you; because you’re enjoying it. The key is consciousness, mindfulness, and allowance. There is a difference.
This is a powerful choice and if you decide to make it, be mindful of the consequence. Far too often people make the choice to leave a situation when really, they’re running from, not to. There was a moment eight years ago where I decided yes, I’ll just leave. Great choice; I was actually euphoric when I thought of the consequence which was, no one will judge me because I had already laid all the groundwork for being the victim and blaming everyone else for the failure of a company (a company that wasn’t even an LLC yet). I went so far as to tell my boss in Munich that I think it would be better for the company that I left early in the game. In his wisdom, he rejected my rejection. He told me “No. Nice try. Go have a nice weekend and all will be well Monday.” He literally took my ‘choice’ away from me which made me have to seek out a new choice.
I didn’t see this coming. Eight years later, I thank him every day for being a smart leader. He recognized I was listening to my ‘noise’ and running away; typical fight, flight, or freeze behavior. If I had left it, I know I would have regretted it and while the choice would have been at least taking an action, I would forever have regretted the consequence.
We’ve all answered, “sure, I’m fine . . .” when asked about a situation we say we’re over, but really, we’re still thinking about or even brooding over it. Acceptance is when you truly have found forgiveness or have no emotions towards a situation or a person’s actions. When my boss took my choice of leaving it off the table, I almost immediately found myself in acceptance mode. “Well, I can’t leave, so I have to be a success.” (In my memory I said this out loud; I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.)
Shift your perspective around it
When you get cut off in traffic, is your typical response to curse, throw up a cute gesture and spend approximately three minutes post-experience feeling hot, sweaty, and frustrated? If so, you are of the 99% who react this way, it’s normal. Question is, how’s that working out for you? Down deep we know the person who cut you off didn’t intentionally do so; mainly because they have no clue who you are. It wasn’t personal, it just happened. Yet, we land up in the blame game (victim mode) because of the deep feelings around the situation. Now – let’s imagine getting cut off in traffic and this time after your blood pressure decreases from the scare, you consider the following; perhaps the person is late to a job interview and has been out of work for 10 months. Or, what if the person is an expectant father and just learned his wife is in labor. The point is, what if there is another perspective to consider? Considering a new perspective is the game changer to new positive action and even new choices. If we stop and consider another person’s perspective while communicating, we can avoid conflict or even get to acceptance or change in a healthier way.
When my boss removed my choice to leave it, yes, I accepted the situation with immediacy. Then, I shifted my perspective around it and began to see the opportunity at hand. That day, I reached out to a former colleague who was a CFO, and within a week I had secured my accounting partners and bank. While the steps were tiny, the shift in my choice allowed for a new feeling of optimism which sparked a new positive action.
That’s the magic process to own when looking to get unstuck – thoughts result in feelings that result in actions.
Have you ever politely asked your teenager to get out of bed by screaming, ‘Get out of bed!’ This tactic rarely works right? When pointing your finger at someone and telling them to do something, you’re focusing on the action. When we get a person to have a new thought around something, he/she will have a feeling to want to do it and take action on his/her own. With the teenager, instead of commanding an action, instead, if we share a new thought in the form of a question like, «Didn’t I hear you say there’s a new girl at school?», the teen will consider, think differently, feel strongly and act promptly – not because you told, but because you gave him/her something new to think about. This is the secret sauce.
And the real secret is, we can do this for ourselves. When we feel like we’re stuck, or something is happening to us or in a situation with no choice, we can stop and shift our own perspective; i.e. have a new thought around it. While not easy, I can say with confidence this is a game-changer and is the beginning to changing your situation for the better.
Often this choice feels the hardest because of the consequences. Making change takes effort and sometimes, courage. When I led an HR Performance Management team many years ago, I was challenged to get employees who were stuck to put in the effort to change it because sometimes the consequence was terrifying to them. Typically it was the consequence of standing out, failing, or being wrong. Truly, however, the consequence could just as easily be a success or positive validation. The employee’s fear was larger than their desire.
For me, the desire to succeed became larger than the fear of feeling embarrassed or losing money, or making a mistake. So, I took risks; I tried new products and when they didn’t work, I shifted my perspective and tried again. Note: this ‘success story’ did not happen overnight. The process of falling in and out of victim mode, shifting, accepting, changing, etc., happened repeatedly for years until I was able to truly own my state and rarely fall victim to a situation. The good news, however, with practice, the process of thoughts, feelings, action became a habit; the best leadership lesson ever learned or practiced.
Eight years ago, my roadblock was built on the feelings of being out of control and a fear of failure. When you hit yours, and at some point, in your entrepreneurial journey you will, you might hear yourself saying, “You don’t understand, I can’t do it because . . .fill in your blank.» If you hear that phrase, you’ve made a choice and most likely, you’re in a victim state. Acknowledge it, accept it, shift your perspective around it and then get busy changing it.
You can’t unknow any of what you’ve just learned. Neither can I. Now that I have this power, the power of choice, I have no excuses. Every time I hit a roadblock or feel stuck, I get to make a choice; to accept, shift, change, etc. Yet sometimes, I still choose victim – and when I do, I enjoy the hell out of my bonbons and then look out tomorrow, change is coming.