BLOGNAME: LOUDER THAN WORDSAn informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur
|But Taking Personal Responsibility Is Painful?|
By Paul Tomori
Saturday, August 08, 2009 at 23:16:14 (EDT)
Following my last blog entry, I started to think that my dear readers might begin to form an opinion of me that I consider myself to be just so superior for not having to suffer the common-man maladies of pyschological ineptitude.
I wrote suggesting that people needed to take back the power by viewing the world as mostly within their own personal 'internal locus of control'. I remarked that the successful people I know and have read about do not give much credence to the possibility that there are external forces guiding their lives.
In conversation, I have found lots of opposition to my viewpoint that one truly is the master of one's own destiny and that luck plays a bit role... and fate is essentially non-existent and that other 'higher forces', if they even exist, are either totally aloof or M.I.A.
Whenever I dig as to why people displace control of their own lives onto external forces, I invariably discover that for them, taking personal responsibility would just be too darn painful.
The unspoken belief is that "if I have to take more responsibility for my happiness, success, wealth, romantic progress, career, etc... then any failure in those areas will be THAT much more difficult to contend with.".
Ironically, by NOT taking the power in those areas though, people set themselves up for another popular psychological conclusion... the self-fulfilling prophecy. They "prophecize" that luck is the only way to happiness in love or business or health thereby excusing themselves from taking the requisite active role in reaching success... So, when they fail, their failure reinforces and validates their original position. Thus, "self-fulfilling" their own prophecies about how life works... their life in particular.
Let me illustrate how a recent event in my own life might have been viewed as bad luck to my own detriment.
Last week, I had a self-imposed due date for a programming project upon which a large financial payment was contingent. Leading up to delivering on my promise, I knew that I had not given myself adequate time to allow for distractions. Then the following happened.
- I got sick
- My new child didn't sleep when he was supposed to
- One of my company's servers crashed requiring me to be out of town unexpectedly for almost a day
- Another client who pays to have priority service exercised their demands on my time
- The programming required to deliver on my promise turned out to be much more difficult than I had expected
- Another project which was supposed to be completed the week before ran late
- I suffered from burnout
All of these factors could easily be attributed to an external cause. Doing so, would certainly have made me feel better about myself. After all, I could just claim "it wasn't MY fault that your software project wasn't done on time".
Let's face it, taking personal responsibility and ownership for something can be painful.
However, I believe the pain of taking responsibility is less (in the long run), than the pain of assigning responsibility and blame to some external locus of control.
Let's look at those 7 causes again
1. I got sick. One could say that I touched the button in the elevator after someone who was sick touched it. It was their fault that I got sick, right? Nope, it was my fault. I was running myself ragged last week. I set myself up for sickness. I own that stupidity.
2. My child didn't sleep right. Not my fault, right? Wrong. TOTALLY my fault. I have a new baby. Of course, his sleep patterns are going to be highly variable. What is predictable about a new baby? THEIR UNPREDICTABILITY OF COURSE!! What was I doing making a promise that under normal circumstances would be a herculean execution? How stupid was I for failing to take into account my parental responsibilities and how they would impact my work availability. This was not bad luck. This was bad planning on my part. Totally my fault.
3. The server crashed. Not my fault, right?! Just bad luck, right? NOT FROM MY PERSPECTIVE. In my internally based locus of control, I take responsibility for knowing that a server can crash at ANY TIME. We have many many systems. They all have moving parts. Some of them are getting old. In the middle of summer, the demands on the systems are HUGE. Again, I screwed up by not factoring in the fact that a server could die on me at any time. Fortunately, the system was not mission-critical. And fortunately, I have many backups. However, to maintain our redundancy, I HAD to go out of town to fix the problem. This took me away from my programming project. I own that responsibility.
4. The client who has priority service called on me. Well, this client pays a lot of bills. They call on me frequently to get things done at the drop of a hat. Was it bad luck that they called on me last week? NO!! It should have been expected by me ahead of time. I should have factored that very real possibility into my schedule. It was 100% my fault for not being cognizant of the likelihood they would call on me. After all, they are in high season right now and THIS is the time of year they are most likely to pull my card! Again, I assign responsibility here to ME and no one else.
5. The programming was more complex than expected. How could I have known it would be more complicated you might ask? It wasn't my fault, right?! WRONG AGAIN, WATSON!! It was 100% my fault. You see, I got a brief written specification when I quoted on the cost and timing, but I didn't look closely enough at the specification. I was in too much of a hurry! I glossed over the apparent complexities and underestimated what needed to be done. My bad, folks.
6. Another project was fighting for my time. It was supposed to have been completed the week before, but alas, it wasn't. Again, I should have factored this possibility into my time estimation for the new project. It's common for projects to take longer than expected. In fact, it's so common that it should almost be the norm and then deliverable dates should be more realistically arrived at. But, we always try to please the customer and this sometimes compels us to exercise poor judgement in predicting delivery dates. Fortunately for us, we either get the job done by calling on greater resources OR we over-deliver to make up for our lateness. Either way, the matter is in our control and we cannot blame any external person or force.
7. And, then I suffered from burnout. With all of the above happening, burnout was inevitable. I can't say it was unlucky to have no energy left when it came time to deliver the goods. I just have to say that that due to a large number of causes mostly within my control, I suffered from a lethargy that prevented me from getting to task.
So, you want to know what happened in the programming project?
I spent 2 or 3 hours a night for 6 nights last week sleepily typing in a bunch of total rubbish computer code. I knew as I was doing it that I was heading in the wrong direction, but I put aside good judgement and pushed on anyway trying to meet deadline. When it was done, I had a bloated poorly-functioning piece of junk that took me about 12 hours to produce. What a waste of time! I was disappointed in myself to be sure, but the next day, I took a long walk, had a long sleep, ate right for a change that week, relaxed with a friend for a couple of hours and then with newfound clarity, I deleted every bit of my 12 hours of useless work and in 2 hours wrote a simpler more elegant solution that works. The client loved it. I was just a little bit late and I made up for some lateness by over-delivering on what I had promised. The client was most appreciative of that and surprisingly understanding. Why? Because I took total ownership of the situation, admitted my poor judgement, made up for my lateness with some extra free services... and THEY appreciated that.
So, you see, I am far from feeling superior to anyone. I beat myself up pretty fiercely when I need to, don't I?
It's true, no one can beat me up more than I beat myself up. But at the same time, I can be very forgiving and accepting of my shortcomings and poor judgements. I know my intentions are always good. So the "beat-up" really just serves to be constructive and I don't end up hating myself or even feeling THAT much pain from taking full ownership and responsibility.
In fact, it is very therapeutic sometimes to just say:
I SCREWED UP!
ME! ME ALONE!
I WAS A BIG DUMMY.
It was temporary, but I WAS A BIG DUMMY!
Try it yourself. Repeat after me:
Me: "I am a big dummy sometimes"
You: (Paul is a big dummy sometimes!)
Hey! thats not what I meant for you to say!
Hehe. Ok. I think you get my drift. What is it at the end of the day that is so hard about taking personal responsibility? What is so darn tricky about letting the buck actually stop with you? You know your bad deeds or missteps don't define you, right? Just don't let them! Fix them!
And more importantly... wouldn't it be MORE painful... MORE anxiety-causing to assign responsibility of your mishaps to someone else or some other force? How does relinquishing control and responsibility possibly lead you to greater happiness? Feeling powerless cannot possibly provide long-term relief. So, don't go for that short-term panacea of casting blame on someone or something else. It's when we are feeling efficacious that we feel self-esteem. And, when we feel self-esteem, we feel empowered to pursue greater heights of success in every area of our lives.
Take back the power. Or, if you never took the power in the first place. TAKE THE POWER NOW! Like me, you might just prosper surprisingly well from it.
If some things just seem to "happen for a reason", then let the "reason" be YOUR reason, not someone else's.
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