Do you take responsibility for your actions? All of them? Are you sure? How consistent are you with the things you believe and the things you do? They’re harder questions to answer than you might think. We’re all pretty good at finding ways to avoid responsibility when we want to. The thing is taking responsibility is the first step toward getting better and achieving success.
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Last week I shared some thoughts about how we make mistakes to get better and how failure leads to success. One thing I didn’t stress enough is that it all by taking responsibility for your actions, especially your mistakes. In fact you can’t learn anything from a mistake until you accept you made the mistake.
Blame the Other Guy
You probably agree with the above. Perhaps it seems fairly obvious and yet so many of us are quick to talk about what’s wrong and move the blame on someone else. Rarely is what’s wrong something to do with us.
For example the government seems to be at fault a lot. Somehow it’s never our fault for voting the everyone into office. I should amend that. It’s usually not the entire government’s fault. It’s only the fault of the party you don’t belong to. Don’t worry, your political party is perfect. It really is only the other party’s fault.
I also see this with people who join my small business forum. They ask why they don’t have customers and receive suggestions. Then they tell you why none of the recommended changes will work. They’ll defend to the end that they’re doing everything right even as they’re asking why nothing seems to be working.
They’ll argue against change of any kind because they haven’t accepted responsibility for their mistakes and so have nothing they feel needs correcting.
As obvious as it may be that we should accept responsibility for our mistakes, we don’t seem to be very good at it. It’s much easier to blame someone else.
As I did last week let me share my own experience with avoiding and then accepting responsibility.
Like a lot of people it’s easy for me to see what you did wrong and then tell you the right way to fix things and live your life better. What I find harder is applying the same right and wrong to myself. I think that’s true of many people. We can be inconsistent in what we believe and what we do.
For example it’s easy to believe in something like free speech. What’s not so easy to understand is that your belief means you have to grant that same freedom to everyone. Saying you believe in free speech while trying to prevent some from saying things you don’t like is inconsistent behavior.
Your belief in the principle means you have to grant that same freedom to others even if their thoughts and words are repulsive to you. If you don’t, you give up your right to complain when your free speech is taken away. You will have set the precedent that allowed your right to be taken from you.
When I started examining my actions and comparing them to the principles I believed in, I felt like a hypocrite. I could be quick to condemn anyone for not following my principles, even though I wasn’t following many of them myself.
I wasn’t applying the same standard to myself that I applied to others. Your principles and values can’t change from moment to moment for your convenience. They can’t change to favor what you want to do at a particular time. That’s not a value you hold. It’s a rationalization so you can can feel justified in everything you do. It’s you changing the rules so that whatever you do is right simply because it was you that did it.
I realized I needed more consistency between my beliefs and action. I was letting myself slide for convenience and it had to stop. I took a long, deep, and quite honestly, painful look at myself. I had to confront and break down the defense mechanisms that supported the inconsistencies.
Either the principles or the actions had to change. Mostly it was my actions that changed. I thought I wasn’t living up the ideal I set more than anything else. Here and there I revisited a principle I held strongly and upon examination gained new understanding and a different opinion. Mostly it was my actions that changed.
As a result I’m much more consistent now (though hardly perfect) in what I believe and what I do and it started because I took more responsibility for my thoughts and actions.
Working for the Man
Before I was working for myself. I bounced around from job to job a lot. I’ve never worked for anyone two years in a row. The longest I ever worked anywhere consecutively (other than my business) was 20 months. Ironically it’s the job I enjoyed least in my life, but that’s a story for another time.
When a job would end, usually due to me quitting, I could easily see all the reasons why my employers or coworkers were at fault. I could see how their actions made me quit, as ridiculous as that sounds.
A bit of introspection and it wasn’t hard to understand the only consistency across all those jobs that didn’t work was me. It’s hard to blame other people when you realize you’re the consistent thing across all the failings.
When I saw my failure as someone else’s responsibility, there was nothing for me to do differently and so I repeated my mistakes and found myself looking for work again. When I finally accepted that it must be my responsibility, even if I didn’t quite know what I’d done wrong, I was able to figure it out. It gave me permission to try different things and learn from them.
It didn’t happen quickly. I made plenty more mistakes after my realization. But having accepted the mistakes as mine I could begin to learn from them and improve the next time I tried.
It ultimately meant working for myself, but I never would have come to that point had I not accepted responsibility for my employment failures from the past. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.
Take Responsibility to Learn From Your Mistakes
One thing I’ve discovered since I began working for myself is that my favorite part of having my own business is the responsibility that comes with it.
I don’t mean responsibility in the sense of having more to do, but in the sense of my success or failure being in my control. The business succeeds or fails because of me. That’s what taking responsibility does. It gives you control over the situation.
That means you have to take responsibility for the bad as well as the good. It can’t be you when things work and someone else when they don’t. Take responsibility for every aspect of your business, your career, your life.
The first step in recognizing mistakes as yours so you can learn from them is taking responsibility. Own up to your mistakes and accept that you made them. It’s a big step toward positive change. You take responsibility by accepting the consequences and not passing them off on someone else.
No one wants to deal with negative consequences, but suffering those consequences makes you never want to suffer them again. It motivates you far more than avoiding the things you don’t want to face. Assuming you don’t want to suffer the same consequences again, you quickly learn and correct your error. Otherwise you deal with them again the next time you make the same mistake.
It’s easy to blame others when you fail or to blame the universe in general for causing your grief. It’s hard for us to admit our failures are nearly always of our own design. We develop self defensive mechanisms to keep us from accepting blame and ever acknowledging our culpability.
If you continue to do things the same way and keep ending up without success, you have to do something different. It starts by realizing the only consistent part of your failings was you and accepting it’s you that needs to change.
You’re the only consistent part of all the relationships you’ve been in from the romantic to the familiar. You’re the only consistent part of every job you’ve ever had. Face it, the only thing present in every one of your failures was you.
That doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably fail at the next thing you try. It just means if the same results keep happening, stop looking elsewhere and look to what you can do to achieve different results
You can’t blame others for your failings, when you’re the consistent piece of the puzzle. If you do, you’ll protect your psyche in the short term, but you’ll continue to make the same mistakes and continue to require your psyche to toss out more and more self defense mechanisms in the future.
Sure, it can be painful to accept your failure is a result of your own mistakes, but it’s the only way not to make those same mistakes again.
The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. By taking responsibility for your mistakes you allow yourself to correct them. By blaming someone else you correct nothing and inevitably do the same things which led to failure all of the previous times you tried.
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