In the long run we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.
When you own your story you get to write the ending.
In my last blog I discussed the importance of vulnerability in the personal transformation process. In this entry I would like explore the concept of personal responsibility, how it facilitates our ongoing growth and development, and what we can do to enhance our sense of both responsibility and freedom.
In the Transformational Cycle, personal responsibility follows vulnerability and precedes forgiveness. It serves as the bridge between these two aspects of the transformational process by facilitating our “ownership” of the feedback necessary for self-awareness and personal growth. Personal responsibility means taking total (100%) responsibility and accountability for your decisions, your actions, and your life. My long time mentor and friend Dr. Dominic J. Monetta (Dom) taught me two important and interrelated lessons in life. First, you are totally responsible for yourself. Period. No excuses, no blame, just total accountability. Dom followed this principle with a second and equally powerful axiom: You always have enough time for your #1 priority. Dom often said that the concept of time management is flawed. He asserted that we do not have a time management problem; rather, we have a priority management crisis of epic proportions. Here’s a simple test: What do you find time for every day no matter what? I suspect that for many of us, no matter what we might want to assert, Facebook is a higher priority than exercise. As such, when I fail to exercise but succeed at updating my Facebook status it doesn’t mean that I need to manage my time more effectively. It means I need to better manage my priorities.
Taking personal responsibility reaffirms our human nature to achieve and excel. When we try and fail, a powerful learning opportunity is available to us if we take responsibility and are willing to accept our share of accountability and the blame that comes from owning our failures. There are many famous and incredibly successful people: Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney who all failed on numerous occasions. Each took personal responsibility and learned from his or her unique experience. In this learning they went on to redefine what was possible in their professional pursuits. Personal responsibility is more than psychologically healthy; it also impacts us at a macro or societal level. In fact, taking responsibility is actually the ‘price of admission’ for living in a free society. A recent Brookings Institution report stressed that if our country is to continue to grow and flourish, we must reinforce the notion of personal responsibility which has sadly eroded over the last few decades.
Taking responsibility does not mean that you believe you caused something bad to happen to you. Rather, it means that you take total responsibility for how you respond to the situation. You may have had bad or absent parents; but if you want to be more self-actualizing you must take responsibility for your life. You may not have been given the same opportunities as others, but you’re still responsible for the life you create. While personal responsibility does not mean that you caused something bad or tragic to happen to you, it does mean that you have decided to reclaim your one guaranteed freedom identified by Viktor Frankl – the ability to choose your attitude and response to any situation or set of circumstances, whether self-imposed or not.
While all of this may sound good, it is actually very difficult. There are numerous head-games we play, such as blaming others, being a victim, or making excuses. They help us avoid taking the blame for our mistakes. However, when we are willing to be totally responsible all of the time, tremendous benefits become available to support our personal growth and professional success. These benefits include experiencing fewer negative emotions, earning the respect and trust of others, feeling a great sense of freedom, and, perhaps most importantly, taking a huge step on our own unique path towards self-actualization.
Although this shift towards taking total responsibility is a process that takes time, here are some suggestions for reclaiming a sense of ownership for your life:
- Remember that you control your response to any situation – no one can make you feel anything.
- Accept yourself and your circumstances.
- Take responsibility for your mistakes without blaming anyone else.
- Care a little less about what others might think of you; their opinion of you is really none of your business!
- Forgive yourself and others, even if they haven’t apologized (which we will explore in the next blog).
Personal responsibility is crucial in the Transformational Cycle because it links our vulnerability with forgiveness. When we raise our hand for responsibility, we will at times have to shoulder the failures and blame that come with the territory. Dom also taught me that credit and blame smell the same. In other words, if you’re going to go for the glory, you’ve got to be willing to accept and take responsibility for failure. Remember, Babe Ruth wasn’t just the Homerun King; he also struck out more than anyone else. As Brene Brown points out in this blog’s opening quote, when we take personal responsibility and own our life, we get to write the ending. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of chapters to write between now and my conclusion. And no matter how my story ends, I plan to go down swinging.