When You Stop Playing the Victim – by Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“Above all, be the heroine in your life, not the victim” – Nora Ephron

When you think everyone is against you, maybe you’re the problem.

You’re not getting along in your workplace. Things always seem to be going against you. You wall yourself off and shut your door, making sure no one can critique what you’re doing. It’s none of their business anyway. Every time someone makes a remark about a work problem, you assume it’s directed at you. You feel that office bullying behavior is becoming routine, and is being ignored by your boss. When you mention that someone did or said something you didn’t like, your boss responds with “Who cares? Or, So What?” You feel defeated and unappreciated. You’ve been with the company for over 20 years and wonder why this is happening to you. You’ve made personal sacrifices for this job. You’ve worked late hours. You’ve given it your all and now tolerating this environment seems to be your compensation.

You have to wonder what is going on because now, it’s really stressing you out. You have migraines and stomach aches, and you’re on heart medication too. You can’t sleep because what happens in the office shadows you home and haunts every aspect of your life. There seems to be no relief, and your anger and depression sink in deeper every day.

There is just so much you can control in a bad situation like this, especially if you don’t have the boss’s ear. It’s very lonely coming into work each day. This scenario is not much different from many clients I’ve worked with over the years, and behavior I’ve witnessed in my corporate career. The one answer that seems to help people more than anything else is to look inside themselves. Sometimes people need support from a professional to develop self-awareness and some people decide to pull it off on their own. But in either case, there are five concepts that consistently help people move on from unfortunate circumstances without having to quit or end up getting fired, regardless of the office politics. These are the five ways I help people when they ask me what they’ll get for their money. They are so simple, yet most people need some guidance to achieve these solutions.

  1. Clarify your Vision

Visioning is important because it puts you into your future self. If I asked you, “Imagine what it would be like for you if you didn’t care what happens in the office?” This question takes you to that place in your mind that eliminates the burden of what people think or say. You’ll describet what your office is like and make it become real by moving your mindset further into a future you can control. Your thinking becomes more future oriented, and you move away from “problem talk” into “change talk”. Maybe we discuss your options; to stay where you are, or to go. You decide which course you want to travel; you define where you want to be in the next 3, 5 or 10 years and how you’re going to get there. And then ask yourself, what will be different when you reach that goal? Use your imagination to envision that goal.

  • Strategize Actions – Create the Change You Want

You know you need to take action to create the future that you envision, but you feel stalled. So, what are the steps you need to take to get there? What is most important for you to achieve now? What are you willing to do or change in order to achieve this goal? What are three measurable activities you can commit to in the next 30 days to get the outcomes you expect, in order to move you closer to your goal? People have to be willing to commit to specific, measurable actions in order to create any change. Thinking alone won’t make change happen only your actions will demonstrate your desire to transform yourself. When you realistically map out your steps to change, you gain perspective on what you have to do to make your vision a reality.

  • Upgrade your Skills

You know that skills are important, and you may think that you already have all the skills you need. If that were true, you wouldn’t be looking for change. Why are improving or increasing your skills important? According to recent research, upgrading your skills doubles your chances of success in your industry. It demonstrates that you have a curious mind and are willing to grow. If you’re ready to enter a new field, you will need new or upgraded skills to show you understand the latest approaches to the industry’s problems and the current ways to solve them. You can’t let your skills get stale. A new skill also helps you become more creative because you can now apply it’s uses in so many ways. If you learn Microsoft Office or Outlook for instance, you’ll learn applications that are essential for any work-related task. What if you don’t know how to attach documents or graphics to an email? Your abilities will soon be in doubt.

  • Master your Physical Environment

Is your work area a mess? Or is it so Spartan, you lack the proper tools to get work done? Do you have a desk? Are you working from home? Is your work area conducive to being productive? Where is your “quiet zone”?  Is it possible to collaborate in your physical environment? Does your computer work smoothly, or are you always rebooting? Is it a pleasant place to work, or is your “desk” really an old ironing board?  Research shows that human comforts, including temperature, ventilation, and lighting, improve workers performance. According to that same study, only one in four workers are in “optimal” work environments, which causes most workers a big physical and psychological push in order to be effective and innovative, as well as more productive. Clean up your space. Organize your files. Have adequate light, climate control, and seating. Keep your essential tools close by and store the rest. And most importantly, work in the same space every day. It helps keep your routine intact, as well as your mental and physical health.

  • Master your Inner Game – Look to Maslow for Guidance

Your inner game takes us back to considering mindset when you want to make change happen. Take a self-inventory and ask, am I in a good place to challenge myself? Mindset change is possible; however, you are in control of it. Here’s what my recommendations are to my clients. Let’s use Maslow’s model of the hierarchy of needs to demonstrate how it’s done. First, we need to make sure our basic needs are met. Besides food, water, shelter, and one of the basic needs of humans – rest. We start with how much rest you get. Are you eating correctly; are you sleeping? Your inner game will never improve no matter how you push if these basics are not met. The next level is security and safety, also considered by Maslow as a basic need. Are you confident that your workspace is safe? How secure do you think you are in your position? At home?  Humans need those assurances in order to take on any new challenges. You can’t work and be looking over your shoulder with worry all day. No one can concentrate under those circumstances. Maslow’s next level is “psychological needs”. These needs consist mainly of your relationships. “Belongingness and Love” and “Esteem Needs”, the need to feel close and intimate with others and have the respect of people you know personally and professionally. Being close with family members and surrounded by trusted friends is the way humans feel loved and appreciated, which promotes those warm and fuzzy feelings of self-esteem. When you advance in your vocation or advocation, you may become a notable leader or a stand-out volunteer. Maybe you publish some of your findings or observations or win an award for your accomplishments. Your inner game moves along nicely when you are in the “Esteem” mode. At the top of the hierarchy of needs is Self-Fulfillment, self-actualization where your full potential as a human being is unleashed. When you are in this state, nothing can stop you. You are truly transformed; the future you described is now a reality.

After accomplishing these five steps, there is no doubt about your future. What you’ve developed is now known as “Presence”. You have a special aura of success around you. Now, you couldn’t care less about office gossip or the bullies. You deal with them. You don’t have to whine to your boss, he knows you’re good and he’s not going to allow unacceptable behavior to get in your way. People automatically come to you for help. You walk into work without resentment, without fear, and with full confidence that you are going to do a fantastic job. If you have a failure, you’ll recoup with grace and ease. It’s just amazing how things have changed. It’s almost as if a miracle has happened. And all along, that miracle was inside of you. You just didn’t know it yet. In the words of Albert Camus, “To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others.”

Connect with Mary:

Mary T. O’Sullivan

Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years of experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to higher levels of performance, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. 

Mary has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Quinnipiac University. In addition, she is also an International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, a Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional and has a Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, from the University of Texas at Dallas. 

In her leadership and executive coaching, she focuses on improving the executive behaviors that slow down performance and lead to growth, such as soft skills, communication, micro-bias awareness, etc. She has successfully helped other professionals, such as attorneys, surgeons, pharmacists, and university professors, make career decisions to lead to success in their chosen careers.  In addition, small business owners have sought Mary’s services to bring their companies into greater alignment, working on their culture, vision, mission, values and goals as well as organizational structure. Mary’s executive coaching has been mainly with large organizations among them: Toray Plastics America, Hasbro, Raytheon Company, Lockheed Martin, CVS Healthcare, Sensata Technologies, Citizen’s Bank, Ameriprise, BD Medical Devices, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, (Newport, R.I.), General Dynamics, University of Rhode Island, Community College of Rhode Island, etc.

Mary has facilitated numerous workshops on various topics in leadership such as, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry, effective communication, leading in adversity, etc. She has also written extensively on similar topics.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from the Society of Human Resources Development. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified Emotional Intelligence assessor and practitioner.

In addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education with Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, State University of New York at Oswego and Syracuse University.  She is also a member Beta Gamma Sigma and the International Honor Society.

Mary dedicates herself to coaching good leaders to get even better through positive approaches to behavior change for performance improvement.