Circumstances and Choices


One morning last week I found myself running slightly late for work. Crossing the street towards the subway station, I saw on the digital sign that my train would come in one and five minutes. Desperate to not be any more late than I already was, I rushed across the street and hurried down the stairs, breathing a sigh of relief as I got to the turnstile right when the train pulled into the station. “I’ve made it,” I thought. But, tapping my phone on the scanner, it refused to take my payment and let me through. Frantically, I moved to the next turnstile and unlocked my phone, finally making it through to the platform. But it was too late. The train doors closed, and it left the station.

“The stupid turnstile made me late,” I thought to myself as I walked down the platform to wait for the next train. 

Then I caught myself: “No, the turnstile didn’t make me late. I made myself late.” 


The Two Circles 


One of our Servant Leadership tools is the Two Circles: there’s the Victim Circle and the Circle of Choice. The Victim Circle, which is where I was on my way to work last week, is where you view yourself as a helpless agent in a world that controls you. Feeling like your circumstances and other people dictate how your life plays out, you live in a reactive state controlled by your emotions. 

In the Circle of Choice, or Freedom Circle, you recognize what you have agency over: 1. Your choices, 2. Your perspective, and 3. Whom you trust. You don’t wait for external circumstances to dictate your feelings but enact what changes you can make yourself. By taking responsibility for your own choices you can stop waiting for the next thing to try and make you happy. 

It is easy to see how we can be in the Victim Circle when life circumstances are less than ideal. But what about if life is going well? Let’s take the example about being late for work and flip it on its head: 

Having left home early enough to stop by my favorite coffee shop on the way to work, I discovered it’s time to get to use my free drink on my punch card! Descending the stairs into the subway, a train pulled into the station moments after I got to the platform. Delighted to have a seat on the train this morning, I listened to my favorite band as we raced through the underground tunnels ahead of schedule. I arrived at the office with a spring in my step and greeted my colleagues with a smile. 

Now, am I saying that you shouldn’t be happy about good circumstances? No, you absolutely should celebrate when things go well in life. But there is a difference between reacting and responding to external factors. Those in the Victim Circle react and allow their emotions, positive or negative, to shape their decisions. Those in the Circle of Choice recognize their emotions, but they don’t make decisions solely based on them. 

Let’s say that after running late to work I was snippy with my colleague when she asked me about my morning and let my commute affect my work for the rest of the day. That would be reacting in the Victim Circle, not taking agency over my ability to control my perspective. In the Circle of Choice, I can feel the initial frustration over missing the train, but then choose my actions and perspective and continue to have a positive attitude despite the morning upset. 


Listen – Investigate – Decide – Dismiss


How do we change our perspective and not live based on emotions, though? The acronym LIDD is a helpful one to think about here. 

LIDD stands for Listen, Investigate, Decide, and Dismiss. 

Listen: Your emotions are telling you to take action, and you should pay attention to what they say. 

Investigate: But before you do what they’re prompting you to, examine why you’re feeling this emotion. Is it because of a wrong perspective that needs changing? Is it an injustice that needs addressing, or perhaps a clash of your values with someone else’s? 

Decide: Once you know why the emotion has arisen, you have the opportunity to choose an action that will help you get There by asking “what is the best action to help me fulfill my role as an effective servant leader?” 

Dismiss: Once you’ve chosen an action, you can thank your emotions for doing their job and dismiss them instead of continuing to dwell on the feeling.

It is important to note that this tactic is not suggesting you “put a lid” on your emotions and bury them. Rather, you can recognize your emotions but then dig deeper to see why they came up. 

Emotions are not good or bad in and of themselves. Even “negative” emotions like anger or sadness are helpful indicators that can lead to needed conflict mediation or moments of truth. We should listen to our emotions but not live based on them. 

It’s nice when circumstances go our way, but part of living in the Circle of Choice is understanding that it won’t always be that way and practicing cultivating a healthy perspective. The secret to a truly joy-filled life is the ability to choose to see what you can control even when it feels like life is controlling you.


Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.