I hate the word victim. To me, it evokes feelings of helplessness, weakness, passivity–of being life’s doormat. All of these things stand in antithesis to how I see myself. I consider myself someone who takes control of their life. Someone who takes responsibility and makes choices to change things that aren’t working instead of blaming someone else because it’s easier or convenient. That mentality has been one of my greatest strengths and from it, I have been awarded many gifts.
However, any strength taken to the extreme becomes a weakness and thus, this is also mine.
I knew intuitively that I was being set up for firing long before it happened. There was no indication of this based on my performance. I had no history of behavior issues or personality clashes. In fact, I earned promotions and accolades along the way. Even with my history, I could feel something bad was happening although I wouldn’t admit it. I wouldn’t admit it because I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing.
It all came to a head one Friday afternoon in March when my boss and I had a misunderstanding about a customer complaint. Customer complaints were normal from time to time and on a graded curve, I had relatively few. But in the months prior, small infractions (or perceived infractions) had been blown up to epic proportions so I knew this was not going to end well. His boss got involved and suddenly I was scheduled for a conference call with HR on Monday morning. That wine-soaked weekend was one of the longest and most anxiety-fraught of my life. I struggled mightily with the decision I had to make and I sought nearly everyone’s council. I had to make a decision that ran in counter to my character. I had to stand up and tell someone that I was a victim.
Before all this happened, I tried like mad to “fix” everything because that is what I believed was my responsibility. I kissed a little ass (which I hate), I said and wrote things I didn’t mean — things that betrayed who I believed myself to be. I did these things because I was the captain of my ship and only I could right it.
It took many months of soul-searching and self-flagellation before I finally realized the truth. I, Shannon Lell, was a victim of life’s circumstances. I was a victim of arrogant, ignorant authority figures. I was a victimized woman in a man’s business world. I was (allegedly) a victim of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. I. Was. A. Victim.
A part of me still shrivels typing that and this is why is also my weakness.
My need to not be life’s victim has led to my need to be in control of life. I get edgy when I don’t know the variables. I feel anxious when I am the mercy of life’s many switchbacks. When bad things happen, I blame myself. I arrogantly believe I can change every situation if I can just change me. This need for control, this ferocity of constant self-improvement has blinded me to one of life’s greatest realities and that is, we are never in control.
Sometimes things just happen and there is nothing we can do to change that. Sometimes, people treat us badly and it’s not up to us to change them, ignore them, OR kiss their ass. Sometimes, you will be a victim of life’s circumstances and it doesn’t mean you didn’t try hard enough, failed to do something, or wasn’t good enough.
And even though I went through all that, this position is where I find myself today, feeling like only I can right my life’s ship. My tendencies for control run deep. My anxieties about becoming the perfect master of my destiny are still causing me sleeplessness. If only I can find the missing variable, I can sail off on easy waters.
Although I am still learning this lesson, I will say that I am leagues ahead of where I was two years ago. My knee-jerk reaction is still to absorb the blame, change myself again and/or kiss a little butt to make it all better. But now I’m doing something else with my knees, and it involves less jerking and more standing.
With all that I have been through in this 34 year crucible of life, marriage and motherhood, I am more certain than ever that something else is in control. That control is the illusion of an insane mind and try as I might, there are some things I simply cannot fix on my own, nor was I meant to. That my only job is only to listen with an open heart and mind to what is happening in this moment, not yesterday, not tomorrow, just right now. It is a difficult one for me which is why I’m still learning it.
Of course I still strive to change what I can change, learn from my mistakes, work harder and be a better–no– the best person I can be. I still try not to let my life’s circumstances affect my ability to be happy or successful. I still run from the label of victim. But now I also know that bad things will always happen to good people for seemingly no reason and it doesn’t mean they deserve it or didn’t try hard enough or weren’t good enough. Now, I am more certain of who I am and what I want and no matter what happens, I will be okay– that it will always be okay. I suppose that’s called Faith.
I bought this the other day. I think it’s supposed to be a Christmas ornament but it hangs on a knob on my kitchen. It reminds me of the lightness of life–of the fragility in form and strength in function that is a simple feather. It reminds me of what I aspire to be which is, “…like a feather on the breath of God.” ~Saint Hildegard of Bingen