A while back, when I was a little kid and the world was new, I painted the walls and the carpet in my parent’s home with a marker. Lost in the fever of creation, it seemed like the grandest thing in the world and I could almost hear the ovating crowds cheering for my unsurpassed creativity. One hour later, I wished for the whole thing to magically disappear, thinking about how complicated painting and carpet cleaning will be. When it didn’t I started thinking of ways how to explain what happened to my parents. There was no one else to blame, and, I was honest to a fault. I didn’t work up the courage to tell them before they could witness my creation firsthand. As you can imagine, I got admonished, over and over again, but the worst offense in my parent’s eyes was not taking personal responsibility for my actions right away.
Breaking some of the minor rules is part of growing up. Spending more time at the playground than allowed or ditching homework for the favorite show is part of childhood. But so is learning how to take responsibility for our action, although it is a lengthy process that takes years in many cases.
Assuming responsibility means to accept the fact that you might be the cause for one or more outcomes, no matter if those outcomes are desirable or not. As with any kind of assumption, you have to analyze all the facts very carefully before drawing any kind of conclusion.
So, you might ask, why in the world should you do that?
Table Of Contents
Why Should You Assume Responsibility
There are several reasons why you should take full personal responsibility, or accountability, for your action:
- It puts you in control. You are not the only one, we all wish we had more control over our own lives. Assuming responsibility for something that you might’ve caused will force you to analyze each action and its consequences very closely, before taking that action. That will give you dramatically increased control over your own life.
- It helps you grow up. My parents ended up whitewashing my little work of art. Had I been the one responsible for cleaning it up, I might’ve thought twice before touching that marker.
- It breaks the bad habit of making empty excuses. I knew someone that used to swear that all the successful, rich people got to where they are now by using shady, dishonest tactics. It is obvious to me know that he was just making excuse for not trying to succeed himself.
- It combats procrastination. After you realize that your actions or your lack of action determine in big part how your life turns out, you are much more likely to put together a solid plan and start implementing it.
- It leads to better decisions. Hey, when you can’t blame the consequences of your half-baked ideas on someone else, you tend to leave those ideas in the oven until they are fully cooked. You know, with a golden crust and everything.
- It helps your career. Better decisions lead to better results. In a professional environment, that is worth a lot. If you are doing all the right things over and over again and they still do not advance your career, you might be working for the wrong company.
- It helps your personal life. You are responsible for improving your relationship with your loved one. You are responsible for giving your children a good upbringing. Once you understand these two facts, you will start looking for ways how you can take better actions when it comes to your family.
I could go on all day and find a lot more reasons why you should take accountability for your actions, but I think you get the idea.
Fault Versus Responsibility
There are situations where you are not at fault for the negative outcomes. Some examples are:
- a company hires you to fix their rapidly falling number of sales. Since you didn’t work for that company before, you are not at fault for their decreased profitability. However, if they hire you to fix that specific issue, it is 100% your responsibility
- your child scrapes her knee. It may not be your fault that she stumbled and fell, even though you were watching her, but it is your responsibility to give her a hug, clean the wound, apply some Neosporin and a Hello Kitty Band Aid
The takeaway is that there are plenty of unpleasant situations where you are not at fault for causing them, but you still need to step up and assume full responsibility.
When You Should NOT Assume Responsibility
Are there scenarios when assuming personal responsibility will hurt you? Definitely.
Legal Consequences Of Assuming Responsibility
I am not saying that you should lie. If you find yourself in a tight spot and you:
- get arrested
- find yourself in need of a lawyer
- have to deal with someone that is trying to extract a confession from you for court purposes,
make sure that you consult an attorney before admitting to anything. From dealing with unintended consequences to you making a false assumption that you are responsible for something that you are not, you are better off getting professional help.
Being Manipulated Into Assuming Responsibility
Making you feel guilty and faking the facts are two strategies of a master manipulator. You might also know these strategies as “shifting blame” or “throwing you under the bus”. This might happen to you at work and might seriously damage your career and your earning potential. Once again, I am not saying you should lie about anything, but do not take personal responsibility for someone else’s mistakes, either.
Business Responsibility & Its Benefits
As I said, taking on more business responsibility is a good way to advance your career. As opposed to the example above, you should take personal responsibility for things that are under your direct control. Here are some examples:
- realizing that you are the captain of your ship, in full control of your actions and how they affect your career and how much you earn
- taking on more tasks than you previously had; taking on more complex or more important tasks
When it comes to the second meaning, taking on more important tasks, make sure you do it gradually, if given a choice. Otherwise, you can easily fail or burn yourself out dealing with more or less unfamiliar work. Also, you should be definitely be compensated for your work. Unless you are an intern or volunteer, that means more money that will help you cover your basic needs and more.
Assume Responsibility For Your Personal Life
You cannot change some of the cards you’ve been dealt. Such as genetics or stuff that happens to you by accident. But you can definitely change the rest of it.
There are various stages in life that you can take responsibility for and start improving them:
- your physical appearance. Yes, I know that genetics play a role in it. But I’ve known people all across the spectrum, from thin to fat, short to tall, gorgeous to ugly that made themselves attractive and even sexy by their confident, pleasant behavior. That where the real beauty lies. Moreover, if you are thin, start eating; if you are overweight, motivate yourself to exercise and start a diet. You get the idea, there is always something that you can do to greatly improve your physical appearance
- finding a significant other. You attract people by the person that you are. If you lack self-esteem (do not fret, almost everyone has a self-esteem issue at one point or another in their life), you might attract a control freak. So, a good starting point is to stop trying to change the other person and start changing yourself (and ditch the &$^$** if they do not change themselves)
- maintaining a good relationship with your other half. The word “half” is very important in this context. You are at least 50% responsible for maintaining a good, loving relationship with your partner
- the relationship with your children. You are entirely responsible for the relationship between you and your children. Do not make any assumption about who they will grow up to be and get to know the person that they are. Patiently use the word “because” over and over and over again. You know, do that instead of raising your voice when you are explaining why they should or should not do a certain thing
- the environment you live in. Keep a clean house, whether you do it yourself or hire a cleaning company. Set boundaries and keep a your relationships clean as well; do not let yourself be manipulated. Surround yourself with people that support you and your ideas and not with those that ridicule you or belittle you.
How To Encourage Others To Take Responsibility
First, let me tell you one of my favorite dry, almost bland jokes:
“Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb? A: Just one, but the bulb needs to want to change itself first.”
The reason why I like it so much is that, at a crucial point of my life, it helped me realize that you cannot change or save anyone that does not want to change or save themselves. In the case of children, you can mold their thinking and encourage them to start seeing positive change opportunities, but, for adults, it is more complicated.
These are some ways how you can encourage someone else to assume more responsibility:
- by using both the carrot and the stick. Show them the benefits of becoming more responsible and the bad things that can happen if they don’t
- by example. Plainly point out how well it has worked for you
- by supervising and leading the way in the beginning. Because some people need a little shove
- by avoiding to give them projects or tasks that are doomed to failure. Make sure they have adequate resources and a sound plan before starting. Also, make sure that their own role in the undertaking is clearly defined
How Easy Or Hard Is It To Start Taking Responsibility
It is as easy or as hard as you make it. Let me tell you another one of my favorite sayings:
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Do not let the fear of being bad at something that’s worth doing prevent you from doing it. No one was born an expert at doing certain things and that includes assuming responsibility.
If your life was changed after you started to assume responsibility, please help others by sharing your story in the comments section.