Consider your family for a moment. Do you have a partner and/or children? How about a dog, a cat, or maybe a pet hamster? Now, think about your job. Do you work in retail? Manage a team of executives? Teach at a primary school, perhaps? Whatever the case, I’m guessing you’re pretty awesome at taking on responsibilities when it comes to serving others but do you take responsibility for your life?
What is responsibility?
“Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response.” (Stephen Covey)
Do you believe you are where you are today, both physically and emotionally, because of events beyond your control? If so, I’d like to challenge you — not on whether such events actually happened (they no doubt did) and not on how they may have taken you off course (they no doubt have) but on whether they are actually responsible for the physical and emotional space you find yourself in right now.
I used to subscribe to the school of “I’d be fine, if only …”
The problem is, such thinking is redundant. Sh*t happens. We are but a drop in the bucket of our own environment. At any given time, we may decide a right-hand turn is in order, only to learn that roadworks dictate otherwise. Yes, such events are out of our control but that doesn’t mean we don’t have choices. We always have a choice when it comes to framing our circumstances and deciding what to do next.
If only thinking focuses 100% on the past, wallows in regret, and serves no purpose for the future. Is that where you want to be stuck? In the past where sh*t happened? If not, you need to shift your thinking.
This doesn’t mean ignoring what may have happened in the past. Rather, it means acknowledging it, and (when you’re good and ready), taking ownership of the responsibility you have towards yourself, if you want to move forward, that is.
I get that wallowing is natural and it certainly feels good — for a while. Eventually, though, it gets boring. When it does, it’s time to ditch if only and think, “OK, this happened. What next? How can I take responsibility for my life?” Here are five considerations:
1. Take responsibility for your life by putting your wellbeing first.
“The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.” (Lou Holtz)
I have a dog. A precious little schipoo. She is a grey, furry, 8-lb bundle of joy. One of the many reasons I chose to get her was the fact that I knew I’d need to walk her. Dogs deserve to be walked, right? And walking her would mean walking me.
What about us, though? Don’t we deserve to be walked, with or without a dog? Why was it that I felt my responsibility to another living being would get me outside, versus the responsibility I have to myself?
We owe it to ourselves to practice self-care and exercise self-love, yet we so often sabotage ourselves. Meanwhile, here we are, being exceptional caregivers to others (friends, children, spouses, even dogs) and often using this as one of the very reasons (excuses) for not putting our own wellbeing first. But here’s the thing: we can put ourselves first. We just have to ditch the if only thinking.
If only my kids were old enough to stay home alone, I could go to the gym… If only there weren’t chips in the house I would snack on fruit … If only we didn’t have such a huge mortgage I’d have money to invest in that course I want to take. Such thinking gets us nowhere.
A more helpful approach would be to think: The kids aren’t old enough … There are chips in the house… And I do have a big mortgage. So, what’s next? We, each and every one of us, are in the driver’s seat of our own life. We get to choose.
– Read: Taking Responsibility for Your Own Wellbeing by Christy Matta –
2. Take responsibility for your life by creating your own happiness.
“The reason people blame things on the previous generation is that there’s only one other choice.” (Doug Larson)
Let me tell you a story. A couple of years ago, something tragic happened to somebody very dear to me. It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t delve into the details, but trust me when I say, I fell apart. For days, I wallowed in sadness. It was a response I couldn’t be faulted for, given the situation.
While wallowing, I came across an article in The New York Times Magazine: One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die. The author, B.J. Miller, a doctor and triple amputee, reflected on his early years as a privileged, able-bodied suburban boy. Back then, “he saw unhappiness as an illegitimate intrusion into the carefree reality he was supposed to inhabit.”
I’d venture to say that this perspective isn’t uncommon and that most of us would tend to consider events such as sickness, divorce, assault and death justifiable barriers to happiness. But that’s not the part that really struck me. What opened up my heart and allowed the sun to shine in again was this:
“Don’t we all treat suffering as a disruption to existence, instead of an inevitable part of it?”
I read that sentence over and over again, digesting each phrase carefully. Making meaningful friends, pursuing a rewarding career, starting a family – we undertake all of these adventures with a view to finding happiness, right? Granted, the steps we have to take to get there (wherever there may be) aren’t necessarily easy but we keep moving towards that light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is joy.
But what happens when you can’t see the light?
Like when you lose a friend, or someone else gets the promotion, or your husband cheats on you? Are we really expected to make lemonade out of these lemons?
No. But we don’t need to curl up and give up. Such events aren’t intrusions into our lives. They are life. If we can accept them as inevitable, we can stop using them as reasons (excuses) to give up our pursuit of happiness.
– Read: Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Happiness by Raj Raghunathan –
3. Take responsibility for your life by pursuing personal growth.
“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.” (Norman Mailer)
Be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual in nature, personal growth empowers us to achieve our potential for inner peace, artistic expression, marital harmony, business success, or whatever else we seek, because wanting simply isn’t enough.
It is not enough to want inner peace. We need to assume responsibility for the emotional and spiritual growth that will help get us there. It is not enough to want business success. We need to assume responsibility for the intellectual (and perhaps also emotional) growth that will help us get there.
Sure, perhaps material wants can be achieved without personal growth (provided the bank account permits), but all other wants — happiness, health, prosperity — require cultivating. While you might be able to hire a therapist or coach to guide you, only you can do the real work required to ensure the outcome you aspire to. Where you are going in life has everything to do with how you are growing in life.
– View this collection of TED Talks on Personal Growth –
4. Take more responsibility for your life by prioritizing your needs.
“Make yourself a priority. At the end of the day, you’re your longest commitment.” (Unknown)
Putting your own needs first can be one of the hardest things to do, especially when you have a family that depends on you. For EVERYTHING.
Yes, we have infinite love to give, but some of that love must be reserved for ourselves. If it isn’t, chances are we’ll end up muscling through the responsibilities we have towards others and slowly but surely begin to begrudge them for their needs versus fulfilling them openheartedly. And that brings us back to “if only…”
If only there weren’t so many demands on your time, then you’d have time to put your needs first. The thing is, there are. It’s a fact. But here’s another fact: You have the ability to say, “Okay. This is my reality. It’s not leaving me any me-time. Something has to give.” What’s it going to be?
Will you organize a school carpool to free up some of your mornings? Will you opt for weekly still-life drawing classes instead of weekly episodes of The Bachelor? Will you hire a house cleaner, start saying ‘no’ to invitations you know will drain you, try to overcome your fear of asking for help?
– Read How to Stop Saying Yes When You Want to Say No by Chantalle Blikman –
5. Take responsibility for your life by accepting you may disappoint others.
It’s impossible to escape this one. There’s no pleasing everyone all of the time. In making the right choices for yourself, you will inevitably disappoint others. It can be as simple as declining someone’s dinner invitation because you feel you need to curl up by the fire instead, or as angst-ridden as leaving a dozen cousins off your guest list because you want to keep your wedding intimate.
– Read 5 Reasons it Might be Healthy to Disappoint Someone by Ashley Curiel –
You will disappoint, and you will be judged, but those who matter will get over it. And if they don’t, they are likely individuals who are standing in the way of you leading your most authentic, fulfilling life.
I should clarify, I’m not suggesting that you live your life without a thought for the feelings of others. Nobody gets ahead in this world by being a taker. I’m just inviting you to toughen up a little, just enough to treat others with kindness but not at the compromise of your wellbeing, your happiness, your personal growth, your needs, your life.
Your life is your responsibility. What kind of life do you choose to live?
Viv for today xo
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