The Seduction of Helpless© (adapted from Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re “Supposed” to Be & Unleash Your True Leader)

Who wants to be helpless? Anyone? Anyone? Let’s try a different question: Are you living in a largely helpless state by virtue of your choices? If you’re like most people, you just offered an emphatic “NO” to both of these questions, but I’m going to challenge you. Are you ready for a test? Read the following statements and let yourself know if these are a part of your regular communication (even inside your head):

  • I’m too busy
  • I don’t have time
  • There’s too much on my plate
  • I’ll do that someday
  • I’ll get around to it
  • I’m overwhelmed

Here’s the harsh truth – each of these statements represents relinquishment of your choices and living in a state of helplessness. In case you haven’t already figured it out, you can’t work harder to become less busy (you have to change how you work), you can’t literally create time (you choose or reframe time) and someday doesn’t really exist (you create it today). What are you choosing?

I rarely meet people who consciously want to or are able to make no choices. Rather, they pick and choose which choices they want to take credit for, which are usually the ones where things work out well or in their favor. When things do not go their way, they ignore their choices and instead blame luck, fate or circumstances. Convenient, isn’t it? It does not make any sense to suggest that sometimes we have choices and sometimes we do not have choices. Perhaps the more accurate statement is that sometimes choices turn out the way that we hope, and sometimes they do not. I am not suggesting that having the ability to make choices assures that you will always have good outcomes. Many times things happen to you and around you despite your choices, but that in no way diminishes the fact of choice in your life. No matter what the outcome, you still have choices. Empowerment comes from owning your choices and taking responsibility for all outcomes, especially the ways that you respond to every outcome.

It is fascinating how easily we seek to rely on circumstances, fate and things outside of our control to explain when things do not turn out the way we hoped or (especially) when we do not honor our commitments (and thus are out of integrity). Driving and traffic is a great example. How often have you been late for a meeting and, when you arrive, you say, “I’m sorry I’m late—traffic was terrible”? Yet, except for the rarest of accidents, the real reasons that we are late are the choices that we made before we even got into the car.

Why was I late for the meeting? Yes, it was snowing, traffic was slow (even backed up in several places), and there was also a stalled car on the exit ramp that delayed me several minutes. I was late, however, because of all of the choices I made that created either absolute lateness or at least made it highly unlikely that I would be on time. For example, leaving with just enough time to make it on time IF everything is perfect or not allowing for weather or traffic. Those were MY choices.

This same scenario is played out over and over every day as millions of people blame circumstances and outside influences for what happens in their lives (including what does not happen), rarely considering all of the choices that lead to the undesirable outcomes (big or small). Why is blaming so seductive? Simple—because it lets you off the hook. It lets you avoid personal responsibility for anything that happens in your life that is not how you envisioned it or which is inconsistent with a promise or commitment that you made. Indeed, blaming (and playing the victim) is enticing because it allows you to claim that most things are not your fault. In short, many people pick blaming over choosing because it appears to be easier.

As crazy as it sometimes sounds, many people would rather say that they are stuck in a place, job, situation or relationship (“I don’t have a choice”) than take responsibility for where they are in their lives. This abdication of choice is not only crazy, but it totally eliminates any power you had to change your situation since when you are in a place because you think you have to be (you do not have a choice), then the only thing that will or can change your situation is a change in your fortunes or circumstances. Who really wants to be that aimless, adrift and out of control? Apparently, millions of people.

Still, I have discovered one reason for this abundance of seemingly irrational behavior:  being helpless and without (perceived) choices to change our circumstances allows us to stay stuck and avoid the real or imagined risks associated with working to change our circumstances. We are afraid (for many reasons) to work to create change, and as a result, staying stuck is less frightening than taking the risks associated with pursuing change through our choices.

Imagine a person who is feeling stuck in a job that does not suit them or, worse, subjects them to abuse and harassment almost daily. They may want to change their situation (or say that they want to change it), but if they accept responsibility for their situation, then they can no longer hide behind their own walls or old stories. In accepting responsibility, you lose the ability to blame and play the victim, and for some people the devil you know (being unhappy or even miserable) is better than taking the risk of trying to change and possibly failing in that attempt.

There are no guarantees about change or results in your life—sometimes things do not work out the way you hope, expect or dream, and when that happens many people want to be able to say that it was not their fault. This is faulty (or at least iffy) logic, but it feels safe to many people, and many times people choose safety over change. Once again, choice shows up as a reality in all of your decisions, including a failure or refusal to decide. In truth, choices are what make you who you are, and you always have the choice to do what is right—even when it is hard, scary and uncertain.

I KNOW that I will get lots of push-back on this article. How do I know that? Because people also tell me that they understand about choices, but it doesn’t apply in their particular situation. I have also been told that not everyone has the same choices, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have choices at all. I’m not suggesting that all choices are the same, but I am suggesting that we are all living with an abundance of choices. The question is what are we doing with them. Are we choosing the power of choice or the allure of helpless?

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