The Importance of Responsibility and Accountability

"I had no choice."

How often do you say that to someone? How often do you say it to yourself?

“I had no choice” is the ultimate cop-out. We use it to put our minds at ease and absolve ourselves of accountability to others and even to ourselves, We continue to do it even though we know it’s a lie.

I’ve dedicated a considerable amount of energy to purging the phrase from my vocabulary over the past year, and here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Instilling the principle that there’s always a choice—even in the event of inaction by indecision—has forced me to be more aware of my thoughts, how I process them and how I act on them.
  • Acknowledging that everything that happens to me is the result of decisions I’ve made highlighted how often I was surrendering control over events in my life and how much I was attributing to fate, “destiny” or inevitability. It can feel incredibly liberating but it never leads to happiness.
  • Taking responsibility for every action and outcome in my life has built an incredible amount of self-confidence and resilience. I will admit that at first it’s a very painstaking process and, unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily get easier as time goes on.
  • Life is not a series of random encounters. We always here that hindsight is 20-20 but the dots connect more clearly when keeping in mind the chain of decisions and events that lead up to any particular moment. This allows for proactive interventions when things aren't going according to plan.
  • Priorities have become much clearer now that I hold myself accountable for my decisions.

This all probably sounds very boring by now. The ultimate lesson and benefit that came out of this experiment is that I’m much happier.

A Thought Experiment

I’m not a psychologist but this is a process that has worked for me and I’m sharing with anyone willing to try.

We’ll use an example that I’ve been encountering with many of my peers recently:

You hate your job, your boss, or both, and you really want to quit.

The choices are: stay or leave.

You outline reasons to justify either as an appropriate action. You may opt to stay because you’re paying off a mortgage, car loans and raising kids all at the same time, so you simply can’t afford it. You may opt to leave because it’s way too much stress, your health is heading south, you never see your family and you don’t feel like you’re being fairly compensated.

Any of the above would be valid reasons to justify either action but I argue that determination of a right or wrong action isn’t in the outcome itself but in the reaction to the outcome of a decision. If you need to sell your car because you don’t have a job that’s okay. If you need to move back in with your parents that’s okay too. But don’t be upset because you made the decision to quit your job. My humble opinion is that we run into this problem either by not preparing sufficiently or not knowing how to handle the consequences of our decisions. I'd add that we put too much energy into thinking about the situation instead of figuring out how to get to the place we want to be. For me, this was the major breakthrough.

Forward Ever, Backward Never

Casting blame is much easier than accepting it, and situations can snowball into seemingly insurmountable challenges in the blink of an eye.

The unfortunate truth is that we tend to give up and give in at the threshold of discomfort—well before breaking point. The good news is it’s a behavior we can reverse and become juggernauts in the direction of our own lives.