Leadership is important, even (and especially) if it is about how you demonstrate taking responsibility for your life. Regardless of the circumstances of how you lost your job, or the choices that you may feel you had to make that resulted in your current predicament, playing the victim is a tempting but fruitless exercise that will only alienate those you need most to get back on your feet.
When I worked at DreamWorks Animation, I used to take CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg around to some of the colleges and universities in our outreach program to talk to the students. Jeffrey is a refreshingly candid speaker. During one Q&A session in a large auditorium, a student way in the back of the hall called out a question: “Why did you start DreamWorks?” And Jeffrey shot back: “Because I got fired at Disney!”
You could have heard a pin drop. I’m sure every one of those kids was thinking, “Uh-oh, that question struck a nerve.” But Jeffrey knew exactly what he was doing. He paused to milk the moment, then continued, “And I have news for you. Getting fired is not fatal.” You could hear the collective sound of five hundred kids starting to breathe again as Jeffrey explained how he turned his very public firing from one of the top jobs in Hollywood into a springboard that he, Steven Spielberg, and David Geffen used to launch their studio, DreamWorks.
At the time of his firing, Jeffrey may have been angry and disappointed that Michael Eisner, a man for whom he had worked for almost ten years, had turned on him. But he never for one moment made himself into a victim.
When your career takes a painful turn—whether you are stuck in a job where you don’t feel valued, dismissed from a job you love, or caught in the undertow when a company is reorganized or goes bankrupt—playing the victim gets you nowhere. Of course, processing a loss takes time. But the productive course of action is to move as quickly as possible from protesting the loss and blaming yourself or others to turning the situation to your advantage. The question to ask yourself is, “If this is not about my being a victim, then what is it about?”
Try the No More Victims exercise: take a situation where you have felt victimized and develop an objective, strategic approach to making it work in your favor. The worksheet below will walk you through the steps.
What is that particularly difficult episode in your past, one where you feel like you were completely taken advantage of, maligned, singled out, and otherwise treated unfairly? With the advantage of hindsight, and being as completely honest with yourself as possible, is there any way you could possibly reframe the situation to perhaps understand why the situation was not really about you? What could have been the viewpoint(s) of the others involved with the situation? What were some of the extenuating circumstances? What was the overall context?
By looking at the situation from different perspectives, are there any lessons to be learned? Did you put your trust in people you shouldn’t have? Did you ignore negative signs and developments around you? Did you act out of fear, envy or anger?
As part of the overall reconciliation process in the Boomer Reinvention methodology, this Strategy is one part of you being able to put your past firmly behind you, and not let it cloud your present, or cast a shadow on your future.