No Strings Attached: The Art of Being Responsible
Have you ever fallen into life's “it wasn’t me - I’m not responsible!” trap? I definitely have, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one. It just happens so easily and innocently: Maybe it was the paper you didn't pick up from the office floor as you walked past it (because you weren't the one who had dropped it). Maybe you missed dinner for the umpteenth time and, once again, blamed your boss. Maybe it's something else – but whatever it is, I have come to realize that making excuses keeps us small: our personal growth fails because we fail to take personal responsibility.
Why? And what's the way out? Wait a minute – is there a way out?
Yes, I believe there is.
A while ago, something went awry with a service provider I had chosen. Someone over there screwed up, and the incident left more than a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn't know who had done it or why. I only knew that it had happened and placed a dark shadow over my week, maybe even month. Or much longer. It was hard to tell at that moment.
How could someone have done this to me? I was upset. Not only about the event itself, which was beyond inconvenient, but also about the mere possibility that a fellow human being would act that way. My only hope was that it was done unwittingly. After all, I still wanted to believe in the goodness in us.
I blamed the organization. That was easier than aiming my anger at a nameless and faceless someone. And what if it wasn't a someone anyway, but a something?
As days passed my finger started pointing in two directions. Now I admonished the organization and myself. My mind had turned into Jekyll & Hyde: one half liberated me by putting blame elsewhere, the other imprisoned me by pushing a new, guilt-ridden version of events: I should have done more to prevent the situation. I thought I must have contributed to the incident by not being perfect enough. That stung. But not nearly as much as what was to come next.
Fast-forward another two or three days. Catching myself drifting into one of those “how could this have happened“ moments once again, I decided to close the case. I pulled the small folder from its drawer, retraced the event's steps one more time, and took final mental notes. And then it happened – I could hear the loud click in my head: I hadn't followed the instructions correctly. I had done something wrong. Within the blink of an eye, I had become the only one to blame for my predicament. No longer could I externalize any of the anger. My mind still tried like crazy for a few minutes to find a loophole, but there was none.
I burst into tears. My own misunderstanding had put me in a very uncomfortable place. I was responsible. How could I ever forgive myself?
My stomach hurt. My head was still reaching for some outside villain, and its attempts felt like grasping at air while falling from a cliff. This had to stop. Guiding my mind away from the outside world and into my heart, I had an epiphany.
And just like that, my body and mind were at peace. In that “aha” moment, I understood why taking personal responsibility for failure had been so hard: my ego simply loved the victim mentality. Better to be the one bad things happen to than the one causing them. Because the latter would mean being responsible. It would mean being at fault. And the ego never wants to be at fault.
In the throes of a victim mindset, we don't even realize that we're giving away our own birth-given power. We don't notice it because we believe that we never had any power to begin with. We don't even lead our own life, we lead a life that outer circumstances, things that were “done to us”, and the people involved, create for us. Instead of being upset about it and trying to get control over our lives back, we do the exact opposite: retreating even further. The result? More blame, more fear, more feelings of helplessness.
Seeing through the deception of the victim mentality felt wonderful. Suddenly it was clear to me that taking personal responsibility is not the same as being at fault. We can take personal responsibility at any moment, regardless of what we've done or not done before. It simply means that we recognize our innate power to shape a situation we're facing and thereby to actively shape – and maybe even heal – our life.
I finally understood that the part of my mind that wanted to liberate me by laying blame outside was actually sapping my energy and holding me captive. And the part that did blame me caused the same by immersing me in feelings of guilt and not being perfect enough. It was lose-lose all the way.
We all have our strings: they exist in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If we want to get closer to feeling whole, to feel free to lead our lives, then we need to become aware of the many strings a victim mentality can weave: those limiting beliefs that pretend to give us a tapestry of security and safety.
But how? Good question. And the answer will be different for each of us. Yet there's one thing we can do the next time we walk by that lonely piece of crumpled candy wrapper in our office or apartment building. Ask yourself: Why not? Why don't I (want to) pick up that wrapper?
Watch what pops into your head. Then ask why again. It could be the beginning of a great revelation. From unawareness will arise a sense that there's something holding you back. That's a big step forward. Then that sense will evolve into awareness, and awareness will transmute into knowing. That's how we can begin to liberate ourselves.
Will it be easy? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it worth it? Hell, yeah!