“Suffering is universal but victimhood is optional.” Dr. Edith Eva Eger
Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s book The Choice: Embrace the Possible is a rollercoaster of hope and despair. I found it both painfully raw and amazingly optimistic. Dr. Eger, a renowned clinical psychologist who helps trauma survivors around the world, is a Holocaust survivor herself.
The central tenet of her memoir is that our lives are defined by the choices we make. Sure, our lives are defined by external choices made for us: what family we are born into, in what geography, with what level of health, wealth and many other circumstances. We also define our lives by the big choices we make: whom we choose to share our lives with, the career path we take, where we live, whether or not we have children etc.
More so though, our lives (and our leadership) are defined by the seemingly tiny choices we make hundreds of times each day — to be a creator or victim in any given moment:
- Will I look for the good intention of my colleague or blame him?
- Will I get curious about a recent change in direction or feel hard done by?
- Will I reveal my thoughts in a meeting or stay silent?
- Will I feel my feelings or push them down?
We unconsciously become our own jailors when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind. Life and leadership can be so much richer and nuanced when we start to see ourselves as creators who have choices.
In our Conscious Leader Forums , we explore our choices all the time. To an outsider, this focus may seem like the “soft skills” of leadership. I can assure you, though, that what might seem soft can actually be the hardest, yet most freeing and delicious. I would argue that it is much easier to participate in a leadership program that focuses on concepts like vision, goal setting, revenue growth etc. Those are needed elements in running a successful business, to be sure. They just happen to be very “outer game” skills.
Strong business/leadership skills that run on an unconscious, victim mindset have a severe limitation.
Edith Eger didn’t choose to be sent to a death camp. She didn’t choose to lose her parents when she was still a child herself. She was truly victimized in unimaginable ways, yet, even while a prisoner of war, she found ways to liberate herself enough to stay alive during the war and eventually learned to thrive again.
She was within an inch of her life when actually “liberated”
from Auschwitz in 1945. Should you read her memoire, I won’t spoil her fascinating
life story. I will tell you though that at the age of 93, she ends all her
talks with a joyous ballet high kick. She keeps choosing a life of meaning, joy
and impact even when it is hard. In the
tiny moments of choice, we can too.
 Victimization and victimhood are very different. We are all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives through some calamity or abuse that comes from the outside. In contrast, victimhood comes from the inside. We become “victims” not because of what happens to us but rather because we develop a victim’s mind–a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive, and without healthy limits or boundaries.