There was a time when I believed that things happened to me. The universe, I believed, was actively working to thwart the efforts I made to build my business, to close a deal, to hire that person or to do something good. There was a time when I believed life was a movie and I was the star. To be clear, I believed that I was the star in everyone’s movie.
Here’s the (un)surprising truth; the world does not revolve around me. As much as I want it to and as much as that would justify my victimhood, it just doesn’t.
In one of the upcoming episodes of my podcast It’s Not Over, Ethan King told me that he chooses to believe that the universe is conspiring for him not against him.
THE UNIVERSE IS CONSPIRING FOR YOU
This perspective sent me down a mental rabbit hole that I think I may still be in but I want to try and unpack this idea.
The world is conspiring for you. What an incredible perspective to hold when things happen to you, around you, for you and with you. You break your arm and choose to believe that the universe is conspiring for you. You close a deal and you choose to believe that the universe is conspiring for you. Someone hits your parked car at the mall and you choose to believe that this did not happen to you but that the universe was conspiring for you. Sure, to some this may come across as delusional but I think this subtle shift in perception really counts.
I have only been reading the ancient stoic philosophers for a couple of years so I am by no means an expert, but Stoicism teaches a concept known as the dichotomy of control which ties in nicely with the belief that the universe is conspiring for you. It goes like this:
You have two choices every day in every situation:
You can choose to allocate your attention to things you can control OR
You can choose to allocate your attention to things you cannot control.
The first choice leaves you with agency and control.
The second choice leaves you with frustration and a distinct lack of control.
If you choose to focus your attention on the things you cannot control then how do you plan your next move? If you choose to obsess over your competitor’s actions then how is your strategy affected when you can’t, in fact, execute their strategy better than they can? If you choose to allocate your attention to the power outage and how much it cost your business and how could the energy company possibly do this to you then how do you bring yourself and your team out of this spiral of negativity.
One choice presents opportunity while the other presents you as a victim.
At one of my startups many years ago we had offices in the Cape Town city centre. It was a great old building and we had the top floor. That floor had a skylight and old roofing. One day we unlocked the doors in the morning and went up to our floor to find we had been robbed… through the skylight. We were on the second floor of this building which meant that the thieves had to scale the side of the building, break the skylight, take whatever they could carry and then make their way back up and out of the skylight. It was masterful and I remember being pretty impressed with their effort.
I was gutted. Our couch was ruined because they used it as a lift up to the light to help them leave. Our electronics were stolen as well as other items like cellphones, iPads, etc. It was unpleasant and it happened to us and I reacted like a victim because I was a victim. But I was leading a company and we had to move forward so we did. It wasn’t easy but I put on a brave face and sorted it all out.
Around the same time, I had to fire one of our software developers. He cost too much for the level of work he was doing. He basically lied to us in his interview and the hiring process and slipped through the cracks into a well-paying job that he couldn’t cope with.
So I fired him.
I could easily have allowed this to be a victim moment too but in relation to being robbed (actually a victim), I was given much-needed perspective. I had no control over being robbed but I had all the control over who I hired and I had hired badly.
I chose to see this particular firing situation as an opportunity. It was an opportunity to review our hiring process, to understand how he had tricked my CTO into believing he could code and to understand where we could improve as leaders and a business.
Every day you wake up and you get to decide if you want to be a victim or see opportunity in your business. I like to believe that I am an opportunity leader, not a victim leader, not anymore at least.
It’s easy to fall into victim leader territory because there is a lot out there that can harm you that you have no control over; COVID, economic recessions, being robbed, a corrupt government, where you were born, which family you were born into, etc, etc. The list is literally endless.
But each of these things can also be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to turn your business around and work from home like you’ve always dreamed of. An opportunity to scale back your business, work with your favourite clients and get rid of the staff you maybe shouldn’t have hired to begin with. An opportunity to move countries, find new people to call your family and build a life with.
There is always the choice to be an opportunity leader and not a victim leader.
Opportunity leaders see gaps in the market and close them with new products or services. Victim leaders wonder why they were never handed the opportunity that the other person clearly received. Opportunity leaders exercise their agency while victim leaders blame others for restricting their agency.
I want to see opportunity wherever I look even though it’s easier to blame other people for where I find myself.
I choose to allocate my attention to the things I can control and ignore the things that I can’t control.
Choose opportunity, not victimhood.
I have spent my career building businesses and one thing I’ve learned is that company culture creates change. If you want to build the kind of culture that creates change then book me for your next event or to speak to your team and leaders.