Embracing the Power of Personal Choice

Embracing the Power of Personal Choice
October 14, 2016 Brett A. Cenkus
personal power of choice

 

The Kennedy “Curse”

The Kennedys are American royalty. They have a long history of power and influence and have left an indelible mark on business politics in the U.S. They have also experienced more than their fair share of tragedy.

Joe Kennedy Sr. had nine children. Two were killed in plane crashes – Joe Kennedy Jr. while flying a mission in World War II and Kathleen Kennedy in a crash in France. Two were murdered – JFK and Robert Kennedy. Joe Sr.’s daughter, Rosemary, had diminished mental capacity, and the family arranged for her to undergo a lobotomy, leaving her incapacitated. Teddy Kennedy barely crawled out of the wreckage of a plane crash and just five years later drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. His companion died in the unfortunate accident.

Joe Sr.’s indirect descendants haven’t fared so well either. JFK Jr. died while flying his own plane, Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident, and David Kennedy died of a drug overdose. All this tragedy has prompted people to suggest there is a Kennedy Curse.

Life can be difficult. No question. There are crazy people in the world, and there are people who do bad things. And then there is just the random bad stuff that happens. As Tim Robbins’ character says in The Shawshank Redemption, “Bad luck, I guess. It floats around. It’s got to land on somebody. It was my turn, that’s all. I was in the path of the tornado. I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.”

However, I don’t think I believe in curses. Even if I did, I’d be hesitant to spend much time dwelling on them. Labeling something as a curse implies our actions are not contributing in any way whatsoever to the things that happen to us.

The Secret – Embracing Our Control Over Our Experiences

When it comes to tragedies, such as being shot down in battle or murdered while in political office, most people would say these occurrences are primarily, even entirely, the product of external forces. Still, I know some people that would say that even those types of events are the product of our own choosing, outcomes for which we should hold ourselves entirely responsible.

I recognize that holding JFK personally responsible for his own assassination may be a little much for you. Instead, let’s focus only on the more routine day-to-day events where our own attitudes and behaviors more clearly influence the outcome. The Law of Attraction is the philosophy that our positive and negative thoughts bring about positive and negative experiences in our lives. While first described in printed form in 1877, the Law of Attraction received a lot of attention in 2006 with the release of the documentary, The Secret.

We can argue if and to what extent our thoughts lead to real world outcomes, but there is no arguing that our actions and attitudes do. If you react negatively to your husband when he walks in the room, he is likely to reflect negativity back to you. This is why your bad mood in the morning is very likely to yield a bad day. Every person you encounter is likely to respond negatively to you, or at least more negatively than otherwise, because you are modeling negative behavior.

The Opposite of Empowerment – the Victim Mentality

Refusing to accept any responsibility for the tenor and course of our daily interactions is similar to a personality trait called the victim mentality. A person exhibits a victim mentality when they seek someone or something else to blame for the things that happen to them, rather than accepting personal responsibility. Sometimes they will ascribe negative intentions to other people, choosing to believe those other people want to harm them, despite having no support for this contention. People with a victim mentality are negative, disempowered and defensive.

The media often associates the victim mentality with social issues, such as racism and poverty. However, the victim mentality routinely shows up in our daily lives. There, it may be a little tougher to spot, although it is no less insidious, perhaps more so.

The great danger in the victim mindset is the dangerous slide that ensues. A victim quickly moves from dwelling on negative external events to believing that the only things that happen to them are negative. They discount the positive things that happen and choose to interpret events in the most unfavorable light. Eventually, the victim takes no responsibility whatsoever for their actions or behaviors. At some point, they may start to see things that didn’t even happen. Mark Twain once said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

The victim mindset is a seductive one. Self-pity feels good. It feels even better when your friends and family join the pity party and make you feel that everything is okay, that you’re okay and not to blame. But, those feelings are short-lived and only ankle deep. Further down and more long-term, pity parties work a number on the guest of honor.

Don’t think you ever play the victim card? I think you may. You exhibit a type of victim mentality when you reluctantly agree to watch a movie your wife wants to watch that doesn’t interest you at all and you think to yourself how much it stinks that you have to do watch the movie. Or, when your son invites some guys over to watch a game and they track mud through the living room. When you think to yourself how much you hate to have to clean up after your son and his friend, you are giving away your power and choosing to feel sorry for yourself.

Pushing Back Against the Victim Mindset

French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, argued passionately that humans have total free will. He contended that people are always, inevitably free. He viewed life as a series of choice points, and at each choice point, we choose. He believed that anytime someone says they could not help acting like they did, they are engaging in self-deception.

Sartre’s view of free will was extreme. He once said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” That level of responsibility may be daunting if you are prone to laying your responsibility at someone else’s doorstep. After succumbing to a victim mentality, it may be hard at first to fight back. The victim mindset quickly becomes an ingrained habit. It feels safe. Perversely, victims often grow to identify with the victim role and, at that point, it becomes the only way they know themselves. It is comfortable and everything else instills fear.

However, acknowledging our free will, embracing our power to choose and accepting the consequences is extremely empowering. Owning your choices is one of the most practically effective things you can do to increase your happiness The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that the single greatest contributor to happiness is the extent to which a person feels that their lives – their actions and habits – are self-chosen. Embracing our role in everything that happens to us and our ability to make different choices is a great source of personal power.

Embracing Personal Responsibility and our Power to Choose

You don’t have to do anything. Nothing. You don’t have to watch any movie, clean up mud, make dinner, drive your kids to soccer practice or go to work. Unless you are a prisoner of war or serving out a 30 to life sentence at San Quentin, every single thing you do in your life is a choice.

You may not love doing certain things, although if you take a look at all the things you have to do that you hate to do, I am certain you will agree that they are things you are willing to do in return for the payoffs they offer. Watching that movie makes your wife happy; cleaning up the mud makes you and everyone else in the house comfortable and clean.

Back to that movie with your wife or cleaning the house, these are situations you chose. You want to be married, you want to have children. Maybe at that exact moment, you feel like you don’t want to be married or don’t want to be raising kids. I’d argue you do because you are. There’s the door. You could always run away. The payoffs for doing certain things we do not love doing must be worth it or we would not do those things. That makes all of those actions choices.

Of course, there are external events. And, it’s normal that other people will impact you in some way. You don’t have to believe that JFK chose his assassination to recognize that you choose your response to the things that happen to you. You can choose how to interpret them. You can choose how to react to them. You can choose to be a victim or you can choose to keep your power by embracing your power to choose.

Brett is The Startup Shepherd™. He has 20+ years of experience in business law, entrepreneurship and finance. He spends most of his time on startups, joint ventures and mergers & acquisitions. Brett believes there are a lot of dumb questions, but we should ask them anyway, along with the challenging ones (and sometimes it's hard to know the difference). The real travesty is silence when you have something to say.

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