How to tame your ‘victim voice’

November 23, 2018

We all experience moments of failure. One of my most spectacular failures occurred some years ago when I was working on a training contract with Farmers Home Administration. Training has always been a passion of mine, so I eagerly joined a team of seven. Our job was to train office personnel on how to use their new filing and record-keeping system.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I was a red-hot trainer. We were all teaching the same collection of programs, but the buzz was coming from my room. Soon, various officials from FEMA and the Department of Agriculture starting showing up to see the programs we were delivering—and they were all being sent to my sessions.

The programs I delivered were so successful, an addendum was made to my company’s contract to fly me to a studio in Ohio to be filmed. I was on fire, and I made sure my company knew it. As the rest of the team toiled away working on various RFPs, I made sure everyone in earshot heard me decree, “I’m not your writer; I’m your trainer. And I’m damn good at it!” No one disagreed. No one forgot either because I would not let them. I was indispensable, the star of the company’s contract…until that contract was completed.

Once the contract ended, our task as a team was a simple one: respond to and win more contracts. This required a lot of time and effort, and the team began writing up a storm. Within a month, and with no victories in sight, the team grew weary and concerned. I was not all that concerned because I was the team’s superstar. Not only that, but my wife was due to deliver our first child within a week. Life was good.

A week later I was called into the boss’s office and walked in without a care in the world. My boss, my boss’s boss, and the head of personnel were all sitting quietly around a table. I was so unaware; I honestly thought they brought me in for an award. When the topic of layoffs came up, I assumed they wanted my opinion on who should be let go. A few short minutes later, I found out that I was the person being laid off. Bewildered, I stammered to ask why; after all, I was hot and in demand! The answer came in four words: “We’re looking for writers.”

Stunned, I backpedaled and tried to reassure the group that I could write, but no one was buying it, including me. I had done too good of a job convincing everyone that I was an amazing trainer but not much of a writer, and now it cost me my job.

I would love to tell you how brave I was as I left the office, but that would not be true. I was a brand new father, I was out of work, and I was angry. I wanted to blame everyone I came in contact with for my misfortune. I felt like a victim because I certainly was not going to blame myself for the events that occurred. Victims never do.

The victim in me wanted to keep reminding myself of how unfair everything was, and how nothing was my fault. Thankfully, I only listened to this annoying voice for a short period. I used the couple of weeks the company gave me to find work to do three things. First, I used the time to be with my wife and new child. Second, I sharpened up my résumé and began looking for a new job. Third, I signed up for a writing course at a local college. From time to time, I think back on this time of career transition, and what makes me feel the proudest is how I refused to allow my ‘victim voice’ to overpower me.

is your victim voice overpowering you?

Want to know if your victim voice is derailing your efforts? Ask yourself this question every time you feel something unfair has happened to you: “If I could do this again, what would I do differently?” If the answer is ‘nothing’, then you are a victim. If the answer is anything besides ‘nothing’, you are well on your way to defeating the victim mindset, learning from the situation you find yourself in, and, even better than that, acquiring wisdom.

Learning to take responsibility was not the only lesson I learned from that moment in my life. I took it upon myself to address my weaknesses. Why in the world would anyone want to announce his or her shortcomings and then refuse to do anything about them?

good is the enemy of great

In business, we often operate in one of two areas. The first area is that place where everything feels natural and effortless. When we work in this area, we feel confident and are celebrated by others for our expertise and accomplishments. These are the talents that make us good at what we do.

The other area represents our weaknesses. It is the part of our job that does ‘not’ feel natural or effortless. We do not feel confident, and we try to avoid using these skills. But when we avoid what does not come naturally, we undermine ourselves. Our already-weak skillsets get worse. This avoidance makes us one-dimensional and vulnerable. “Vulnerable to what?” you might ask. To change.

If you want to be good at anything, by all means, continue to shine in the light of your natural and celebrated skills. But as Voltaire once said, “Good is the enemy of great.” If you want to be great, identify your areas of weakness and work twice as hard to develop them. If writing is a weakness, enroll in an adult education program. If you find you avoid public speaking at all costs, join Toastmasters. If selling is something you hate to do, read one of my books and give me a call! While you are improving your weaknesses, be prepared to encounter some frustration that will surely summon those voices in your head that plead with you to return to your more natural ways. Continue to work hard; a whole new level of success awaits.

the road to wisdom

Years ago, while flying back to the East Coast on a redeye—somewhere between wake and sleep—I was struck with my own definition of wisdom.

Wisdom consists of three things: success, failure, and a conscious knowledge of the lessons learned from each.

If all you have experienced in life is failure, my heart goes out to you. I can only hope your time is coming. If all you have experienced in life is success, I would consider you to be a blessed human being, but I would not necessarily call you a wise person. But if you have experienced both failure and success, and you can articulate the lessons from both, you are on the road to wisdom.

I am not ashamed of the failure I have written about. I would only be ashamed if I remained a victim, learned nothing from the experience, and did nothing about it. I took that writing class, and I worked hard. I learned to write and I have not stopped. My sixth book, Why People Don’t Believe You, was published this October. Three of my books have become business bestsellers and have been translated into over a dozen languages. Clients have flown me over 2.5 million miles in the air to talk about them. Not bad for a kid who had to be let go because he could not write.