I have been thinking quite a bit lately about personal responsibility. It’s not a terribly fun phrase, quite frankly, because it requires so much of me. Personal responsibility means that I am responsible for how I react and respond to every situation I encounter. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own personal responsibility.”
Personal responsibility requires me to ask, “How can I improve the situation?” The other day, my organization’s newsletter went out with an error in it. One person wrote and organized the content, and three other people proofed her work. All four of us missed the error. Who is responsible for the error? Without personal responsibility, we all could simply point at the others and say it was their responsibility. Unfortunately, this action would not change anything about our newsletter. Instead, we must identify how each of us can improve the process so we don’t make a similar error.
Personal responsibility requires me to ask, “What can I do to contribute more?” When I was fairly young, I remember complaining to my dad that my teacher had given me a bad grade on a project. His response was to ask me if I had been “given” the grade or if I had “earned” the grade. He went on to ask me how well I thought I had demonstrated my understanding of the material, completed the project requirements and met the teacher’s expectations. It was hard to admit that I had earned that bad grade. Lack of personal responsibility allowed me to complain about the situation, but personal responsibility required me to ask, “What could I have done to complete the project better?”
Personal responsibility requires me to ask, “How can I better understand you?” Recently, I was coaching someone through some issues he was having at work. The person was frustrated with a new management structure and the changes that were taking place in the department. As we discussed the situation more, we discovered that the frustration stemmed from my friend not understanding the need for the changes. As he began to take more personal responsibility to ask more questions for clarification on the changes and to increase his understanding, his frustration dissipated and he even embraced the changes.
The lack of personal responsibility often results in our inability to reach our full potential, blaming others for our problems, or habitual criticism and frustration. Making the choice to reframe our thinking, ask good questions and take personal responsibility can improve our lives.
What will you do today to take personal responsibility for your life?