“Don’t try to be happy, just be happy because happiness doesn’t depend on others.”
Vishwas Chavan, Indian author, facilitator and life coach
“How many of you own a vehicle?” he asked and we all raised our hands.
“How many of you own a home?” he asked and most of us raised our hands.
“How many of you own your life?” he asked and we all looked at each other.
I was attending a self-esteem workshop and the topic was self-responsibility. The facilitator explained that we could be “owned” by our work, by our passions, by our need for validation and acceptance and even by our need to be liked. He told us if we wanted a life that was different, purposeful and rewarding, we would have to own it. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what the term meant. I had always felt that I was a responsible person, but self-responsible?
I always associate responsibility with obligation or duty. Even the word sounded burdensome to me. I had responsibilities at work. I had responsibilities at home. I felt I was being responsible when I did all those things others expected of me. But what responsibility did I have to myself? I had always been told that if I focused too much on myself, I was being selfish.
In the context of personal development, I now believe self-responsibility is acknowledging that we — through our thoughts, feelings and behaviour — are responsible for our life experience. If we’re ever to develop a healthy level of self-esteem and enjoy the life we desire and deserve, we must take responsibility for our choices, our behaviour and our happiness.
Since becoming self-responsible requires work, awareness and persistence, many people find it easier to close their eyes and stumble blindly through life. This form of avoidance can take the form of blaming others for our problems, ignoring or downplaying serious issues or waiting for someone to rescue us or something to happen that will make everything OK. Over the years, I’ve discovered a number of techniques that have helped to keep me on track. Though I can’t take credit for them, I do encourage their use. The first is a simple question: am I being fully self-responsible right now? Keep in mind, being self-responsible does not mean accountable for the welfare of everyone else around you. It means, “Are my thoughts, feelings and behaviour consistent with what I’m wanting to achieve in this moment?”
It’s easy to get comfortable with well-worn beliefs, values and perceptions. And even if they no longer serve us, we keep them around like an old pair of shoes. When I start to get off course, there’s a saying I will often repeat: if it’s to be, it’s up to me. And it’s up to you, wholly. If you need a partial list of what it means to be self-responsible, then repeat after me:
“I am responsible for my emotions so I don’t unload my anger, neediness or pain on others.”
“I am responsible for caring for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”
“I am responsible for managing my time, my resources and my personal finances.”
Self-responsibility is the key to personal freedom.
If you desire deep-level change, then look at the circumstances of your life and acknowledge the role you played and still play in making them real. It may help to think of the term self-responsibility as self-response-ability – essentially, the ability to respond rather than react in a kneejerk fashion to the experience of living.
On the topic of self-responsibility, American motivational speaker and writer, Denis Waitley declared, “A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.”
Quite simply, self-responsibility means taking responsibility for aspects of your life that are within your control. You are responsible for the choices in your life, the direction you choose to travel and the way you think and feel. And yes, self-responsibility can be incredibly challenging at times, but it’s worth it. It’s the only way to own your life and realize your true potential.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His most recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca