Personal Responsibility is the single most important tenet that I hope you leave my house ‘getting’. I was lucky to learn this very early and apply it in almost every single situation, every single day…for days, weeks, months, quarters, years, decades! It is such an important thing to have a firm grasp on.
Own your life! No one else does or will. Make decisions with a purpose. Do activities with a purpose. Move your life in the direction you want it to go. When things go well, be thankful and continue. When things go to hell, take responsibility for the mess you either created or have been dealt and move on.
The best story I ever read on this topic was in the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It was about someone complaining about the choices they made (in this case about working too much). The boss in the story told the employee to stop whining. No one was holding a gun to her head making her work harder/more than anyone else. Until reading this I had never thought about it that way. I guess I thought life was filled with all kinds of things you just had to do. I hadn’t determined that everything is a choice…everything! Live your life and own the choices you make. Own your life. The vast majority of the time the choices you make will shape exactly what your life will be.
This book also had a great premise that said ‘life is hard.’ That’s a huge part of personal responsibility. Life doesn’t guarantee us anything. Most of the time it is hard, unfair, or a struggle. Who cares! Just keep making good choices with the things that are within your control and carry on. People get sick, people die too soon, people lose jobs, people have crimes committed against them, people lose all their money, people do everything right and still get screwed! Life is hard! There is not a promise in place that says everything in your life will go the way you want it to. The vast majority of the time things will not go the way you want them to. It is easy to throw your hands up, renounce all personal responsibility, and start complaining and blaming all your problems on something or someone else. Do not do it! Suck it up! Learn from it. Was there something you could have done to prevent it? Move on with making the choices that will get your life back towards the direction you want it to be going. Own it…the good and the bad!
I promise if you go through life with this mindset you’ve already beaten a great majority of the folks out there! That’s why the book is called The Road Less Traveled…because most people choose the easy road. Living life owning the good and bad and being personally responsible is hard! It is the road less traveled for sure. But it is the right road if you want to be truly happy.
I’ll dwell on some examples of this tenet for a while because I want you to get this.
- A teenage kid goes to school all day, then goes to work all afternoon. He misses out on all kinds of fun stuff. He doesn’t get to hang out with his friends, or go places, or relax. He begins to feel sorry for himself and questions why he is doing it. No one else is…why am I?
- An adult works for a company for 10 years and then one day gets laid off in the middle of a horrible job market. With no job and no real prospects for finding one he quickly burns through his meager savings and is left penniless and fast approaching a tough time. Why did I work all those years? Why isn’t someone helping me? Shouldn’t the government or somebody be helping me?
- A husband and wife have been married for 20 years and have 4 children ages 15 to 6. Mom goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with cancer. She will undergo extensive treatment and still likely die leaving behind a family who loves her. Why would this happen? Is there not a miracle coming? It isn’t fair for this to happen to a loved one.
- A child goes to dance class since they could walk. Another child does as well. They grow up together and each learns the art of dance almost equally. Upon graduation from high school, one gets a full scholarship to a prominent art school. The road is paved for a career doing what she loves…dance. The other girl, equally as talented, got no scholarship. Her grades in school were also not stellar since she had dedicated so much time to dance. She winds up attending a local community college, dropping out because she was depressed, and working at a local restaurant as a waitress. She never danced again. Why had life dealt two deserving ladies such divergent paths?
- A guy goes to college and meets a buddy. They become best friends. He meets his future wife and they get married. A few years later he finds out that his wife and his best friend are in a relationship together. How could the two people that he trusted most have betrayed him so badly? He was devastated. He was depressed. His entire life had been turned upside down. He felt he was left with nothing.
These are a few examples. There are hundreds, thousands, maybe millions scattered along the way. Some will be big life-changing events many others small but these will shape and mold bigger things. I can’t explain why things happen the way they do. No one can. Who knows why things happen the way they do. Life is hard! Plan and expect that. If it winds up not being hard and everything looks like it is paved with gold…brace yourself! It will likely change. I don’t say any of this with pessimism. I’m an optimistic, hopeful person. Part of the reason I can be that way is that I am personally responsible! I know that when life deals me lemons (and it will) I’ll make me some lemonade. I sit and count my blessings when things are going well and give thanks and appreciation for what I’ve been given. I also continue to do everything I can to keep my life moving in the direction I want it to go. If things are good, I try to keep that going and shore things up so that if things get bad I’ll be ready. If things are bad, I keep doing the things that should make them good again. That is easier said than done. I don’t get it right all the time. Sometimes I’m lazy and sometimes I lose hope. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. But I always come back to the tenet of personal responsibility and start doing the things that are going to get me back where I want to be.
In my own life many times I didn’t know what I wanted or what would make me happy. Sometimes I wandered directionlessly. Other times I was on a freaking mission that no one would stop me from accomplishing. At all times I knew where I wanted to be in the future and tried to focus my energy and activities on things that would get me there. Most of the time that worked. Along the way, my short-term direction changed as life dealt me whatever it did. Sometimes my long-term direction would change as life dealt me whatever it did (good or bad). I made choices about things that were within my control to move my life in the direction I wanted it to go.
I also live my life under the related concept that no one gives a darn about me more than me. I love my family, friends, coworkers as much as the next person. I’m sure they all love me too. But in the end, no one cares for you as much as you. This is important to remember in the context of personal responsibility. You shouldn’t wait around hoping and expecting that someone is going to solve your problems. Then when they don’t you puff up, get all mad, and start complaining about it. You will hear people complain and shift personal responsibility all the time. Don’t do it. I feel sorry for folks like this. They have no hope. They’ve lost the ability to do anything to fix their situation.
- “The price of gas is outrageous. When is the government going to get that under control”.
- “I can’t afford health insurance. It is too expensive because I have a heart condition and three kids which makes it even worse”.
- “I would have gone to college but my Dad was an alcoholic and he never saved any money so I can’t go”.
- “I can’t live on a budget. I don’t make enough money. With the price of rent and having to drive to work I can’t afford anything else”.
- “I never get to go on vacation anywhere. You get to because you married a doctor so you get to do whatever you want to whenever you want to because you don’t have to work ever”.
- “I prayed every night for mommy to get better but she still died. There is no God. Life is not fair”.
- “I worked harder than anyone at my job but they laid me off anyway and left Tim just because he is black. He didn’t work as hard as me. I gave them 12 good years of my career…for what”.
- “I would have done better in school but my teachers all sucked! If they had taught me something I wouldn’t be stuck in this crappy job”!
- “I don’t know why Mom and Dad are going on vacation so much. They are spending all their money. That is just wasteful. Don’t they want to leave me anything”?!?!
Of course, some of this is wrong for reasons other than just personal responsibility. Can you hear it? You will. Out of the mouth of almost every single person around you. Almost all the time. When you do…cross these folks off your friend list and go hang out with people that are personally responsible. Harsh…true…but I feel that strongly about it. If you can’t eliminate them from your life then just be prepared to console them…a lot. Most of the time these folks don’t want to change they just want to complain about what could have been. That’s fine. Support them as best you can and love the person, not the behavior. Whatever you do, don’t join in. I’ve never seen a situation yet that I couldn’t work towards a better place. Focus your energy on that. Others might not join you but that is fine. The road is ‘less traveled’ so everyone won’t be coming with you. Prepare to be lonely at times.
One of the only major conflicts I’ve run across with this mentality is at church. Any study of The Bible says we are to turn our life over to God and use our life to support and glorify his name. Amen! I agree. That doesn’t mean you just roll over and wait. I’ve always figured God gave me talents and knowledge and since I study his word, I figure he trust me to use all of the above wisely. As I’ve lived and had success (and failure) I think I’ve done a decent job of making sure my direction matches a direction the Lord would approve of. I hear different people interpret this in different ways but this has been the balance I’ve struck between getting on with a God-led life and waiting for a burning bush or some other miraculous sign telling me what to do. I think the good Lord gave me this life to make the most of it and make good decisions along the way. I intend to keep us both happy. I intend to be a good steward of the life and talents he’s given me.
So remember own your life and your decisions…ALWAYS!
Love you so much!
[originally published 4/2/2012]