At a conference during the time between sessions, someone remarked that The Responsibility Process changed their life. I read the book and went through the class, and it changed my perspective as well.
Responsibility is a funny word and tends to get used differently in different settings. At work, it tends to get used as a synonym with your role or task. In your personal life, it often refers to things you might look over or protect. Through my exploration, I’ll offer my slightly varied answer:
Personal responsibility is the acknowledgment of the choices you made and their consequences.
That might make people squirm a little, but it is as uncomfortable as it is empowering. Once we acknowledge that we actively made a choice, we can also see countless other choices. That realization that we chose one of many is remarkable in that we know that next time we can choose differently.
Even if what I wrote above about personal responsibility makes sense, you probably have a situation right now that feels like you don’t have a choice.
Except you do.
There’s a whole lot to be said about what we give our power to. Make no mistake that even if you feel powerless and that you can’t make a choice, that in itself is a choice.
When we feel boxed in by people or circumstances or guilt, we tend to feel like we have no choice, and therefore all the bad consequences aren’t our fault. Taking personal responsibility is about acknowledging that. The choice was made, and the consequences happened.
It turns out that each of us finds ourselves boxed in at different points. What I find myself feeling limited by is a little different than others, but it always happens. Part of the idea of personal responsibility is becoming aware of that sensation, remembering that I am making a choice, and deciding to choose differently or not.
I work as a consultant. That fundamentally means I get paid as long as my clients find me valuable. Many consultants struggle with the differences between valuable and happy.
A new project was coming up, and it was getting pretty messy pretty quickly. Lots of people were showing up wanting to take part in it and leave their mark on it. Commitments to stakeholders and external people were firming up, and deadlines were established.
I took a look at the situation and made it clear that this was a disaster ready to happen. I provided options to turn the situation around a little, but the group maintained their original plans.
I had a choice:
- Go along with it because it’d keep my client happy and I made my case, so it is not my fault
- Walk away because failing the best that I can isn’t what I’m here to do
I chose the second one. This caused quite the uproar, and I had a number of hard conversations. Though frustrated, my client saw what I did as valuable and demonstrated the future organization they want to have. I didn’t let myself get caged in by the situation or other people or fear losing my job. I made a choice I thought was right, and I was ready for the consequences.
All this talk about responsibility and feeling caged in has a point. Think about the life you want to live. Think about that version of yourself you dream of being. I’d be willing to bet they aren’t the kind of person who allows themselves to get caged in day-after-day.
They probably make choices with integrity. When you take personal responsibility, that is possible.
Where I’m going with this is that developing that sense of responsibility has personally moved me from inching along in life to running towards the life I want. So how might taking a little more personal responsibility help you?
A Small Note
Many people suffer real trauma, abuse, and psychological issues. If you are one of those people, please seek professional help. My articles are for people navigating their careers and nothing more.