My thirty-fourth birthday is coming up in a couple of days. This morning I started putting together sort of a cliche blog post about the top ten things I’ve learned over the years, especially in my thirties so far. I started a list so I could put them in order of importance. Then I got to “take responsibility for your life.” I realized, that this is the single, most important point I could make. Suddenly the others just looked like page fillers and really just a bunch of sub-points. So I deleted them all and started over with this post.
This really is an all-encompassing point. If you don’t take responsibility for your own life then you will be negatively affected in all areas. But what does “take responsibility for your life” even really mean? I’m thinking on a deep, mental, and emotional level here. It might sound stressful, but I’m a firm believer that not taking responsibility for your life will leave you way more stressed. It causes you to feel like your life is out of control – because it is. Or that you aren’t living our purpose – because you probably aren’t.
Disclaimer: I am very passionate about this topic. some of my personal trainer type tough love might come out as I write this. If you want to know these are things I say to myself regularly, keep reading. This does not mean I believe I have it all together. I don’t have it all together. I repeat, I do not have it all together. The intensity you’ll probably feel in what I write is me giving us all a pep talk – myself included.
So here goes — what it means to take responsibility for your life:
You don’t play the blame game.
You don’t blame people, you don’t blame circumstances, you don’t blame God. Sure, there are plenty of things that we cannot control. There really are plenty of times when someone else is to blame or circumstances just suck. But please hear me. While that person might have had control over what happened to you, I guarantee they had not one single ounce of control over how you responded to it. I promise you that the control we do have is massively underestimated by those who have yet to discover it.
When you make that shift in your focus from victim to survivor (by the grace of God), you open up a whole new world of possibility in your mind. Instead of focusing on what someone did to you or how bad your circumstances are, try asking yourself what role you played in the situation or how you might be making it worse with your response. That brings me to my next point…
You practice self-reflection.
First let me say that I don’t think we should take responsibility for everything that happens to us because everything is our fault. The best way I can describe the type of responsibility I’m talking about is to say that you just own it. Whatever is created by you or handed to you. You don’t just fumble around with it and throw it back unresolved because it doesn’t look pretty and you don’t know what to do with it. You own it, acknowledge that, good or bad, your fault or not, this is what you’ve got to work with at the moment. Look at yourself and you say, “what role did I play in this?” If the answer is that you did play some part in creating this ugly circumstance or situation with a person in your life, then decide what you need to do to make it right.
It doesn’t matter if the other person wants to make their part right or not. This isn’t about them. It’s about you and how you own your crap. If it’s a circumstance, did you create it? If so, don’t waste time beating yourself up about it, set out to change it. And if you did not have any part in the issue or circumstance, it just happened to you, then it is even easier to get stuck in victim status. Very important: you have to separate your emotion from the facts. If you are struggling to do this, find someone who will give it to you straight. Do not allow yourself to live as a victim because, as harsh as it sounds, that is the same as laying down and dying right then and there. What happened to you does not define you. You are not a victim.
You do not take on responsibility for someone else’s decisions.
There’s a fine line between owning your part of every situation and taking on other people’s responsibility in the same situation. Make sure that you are not blaming yourself (just as important as not blaming others) entirely. I’m not saying to be sure and point out the other person’s fault. I’m saying that during your deep and honest self-reflection you need to be sure to understand, within yourself, if, when and why you are not entirely responsible. Otherwise your self reflection can turn into self loathing if you believe that everything is always your fault. You don’t need to point it out to the person, because it doesn’t matter to you if they acknowledge their fault or not. You are only concerned about the part you’re responsible for. And once again, this brings me to my next point…
You refuse to take things personally.
This might not sound like it has anything to do with taking responsibility for your life but it does. Taking things personally is like knocking over that first domino in a line of a thousand of them. That starts the dominoes slamming into every other aspect of your life. It’s just another form of blaming. “Why did you offend me?” Really, it was your decision to be offended. Again, your action = your responsibility.
When you start to understand yourself a little more, and you will if you’re doing that honest self-reflection regularly, then you will learn that people don’t typically do things for or against us. They do things for themselves and sometimes we just happen to be in the crossfire. Seems crappy, right? You’re still mad at them for not considering how their actions will affect you, right? Just remember that the same goes for you. Again, if you’re doing regular, honest self-reflection then you will likely see all the ways you have put yourself first or barely considered other people in your pursuit of what you want or think you need. If you have this under control now, just remember that you haven’t always been good at it. Learning not to take things personally really comes from learning that we are all so imperfect and in need of so much grace.
You don’t make excuses.
Most of us make excuses on some level pretty regularly. Maybe it’s about exercise and taking care of our bodies, maybe it’s about not leaving a bad relationship, maybe it’s about why we don’t have time to have a relationship with God, maybe it’s about bad habits we try to justify. But we have to learn to quickly recognize when we’re making excuses and shut ourselves down right then and there. Even if our excuses are small, seemingly unimportant ones, when you do it all the time then those excuses add up to be problems of avoidance, denial, dread, and more. Someone who takes responsibility for their life knows when they are full of crap, calls themselves on it and pushes through with action against those excuses.
You don’t complain.
I complain and I get so frustrated with myself over it because I know it’s only hurting me and others. We all know we shouldn’t complain because we are so blessed and should be constantly grateful. But beyond that, as it’s related to taking responsibility for your life, it’s just a waste of time and it sets the standard for your thinking. If you are complaining then you certainly aren’t working to change it. If your mind is set on that negativity then it can’t be set on positive change. Simple as that.
You live intentionally. You know that every thing you do matters.
Every decision you make will have a consequence, either good or bad. You understand that your decisions also affect others, positively or negatively, you know that you have influence and you have an opportunity to glorify God through your actions. You have defined your purpose, what sets your soul on fire, or are actively trying to identify it. When you wake up in the morning you do it with that understanding that everything you do that day will either propel you forward, set you back, or leave you stagnant.
It’s not about constant progress, but constant learning. You know that your happiness is your responsibility. So you have priorities, you intentionally keep them first. You intentionally love people, look for the good in people, and in life in general. Most (most because none of us are perfect) of your decisions are intentionally analyzed and executed based on your priorities, values, goals, etc.
If you don’t like something, you change it.
Once you have started taking responsibility for your life you know that if something isn’t the way that it should be or that you want it to be, you are the only one who can change it. Blaming others and complaining are out of the question, right? So what’s left to do besides analyze the situation, figure out how to change it, and get to work. Do you want to change what you’re studying in college? Want a new job, a change of scenery, out of a bad relationship? What are you waiting for? Do you feel like people will judge you or be disappointed? Will it be too hard? How bad do you want it? Have you prayed about it and feel like it’s the right thing for your life? Don’t waste any more time, just do it.
Are these things sometimes way more complicated and difficult than I’m making them seem? Absolutely. But my gosh, we don’t have that much time here on this earth. The hard and basic truth is, you are wasting time if you want to make a move but you’re not doing it. So do it or don’t do it, but take responsibility for your decision either way. “If you don’t like where you are, move. You are a not a tree.”
When you fall down, you get back up.
Remember that I mentioned earlier that our control is massively underestimated by those who haven’t discovered it? Once you start being intentional with your actions, you will see that falling down is not the end and it’s not nearly as horrific as it seems. We might start blaming, complaining, and making excuses, but recovering from our fall becomes much more natural. Falling down starts to look like a chance to reroute. A pause when you can evaluate what went wrong and how you should proceed. Taking action becomes so normal for you that a fall is just a speed bump. It slows you down for a second but then you pick that speed right back up and start moving again toward your purpose. Is it always easy? No. But it’s like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets.
The point is…
In a nut shell, taking responsibility for your life is more of a solutions based approach to life. Instead of always trying to pass the buck, as they say, you are owning it. My motto and what people close to me hear all the time from me is, “it doesn’t matter what anyone else does, it only matters what you do.” It only matters what you do because that is all you can control. Anything else is a complete waste of time.
You stop having the “well she did this, that’s why I did this” kind of attitude or “this happened to me, so I gave up.” When your time comes to answer to God I promise you he isn’t going to ask you why Susie so-and-so did what she did that caused you to react the way you did. Nope, you make decisions based on your morals, your character, your values, your priorities, your ambitions, goals, dreams, and your plan – not based on Susie so-and-so.
You own your life because you understand that when someone or something else is always responsible, you are giving away your power over your own life. So in reflection of and celebration of the closing of my 33rd year on this planet, I just want to encourage you all to really own your lives. Cultivate a deep and personal relationship with Jesus, understand your worth through him, learn about who he says you are, understand and activate the power that you have through him.
Yes, God has his plans and they will come to pass, but he also says you have a part to play. Which means you have action to take. It means not being a victim, not being passive or becoming stagnant. It means owning your responsibility and intentionally pushing forward toward learning and pursuing his purpose for your life. Here’s to another year of growth for all of us! ♥