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There is a saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” I prefer, “Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow.” In relationships, you learn to discern the kinds of people who best support you and what you want to create.

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

Harry Truman

No matter what your role, you have an important mission and vision to fulfill at both work and home. You also have challenges to overcome. That’s why it is meaningful to ask yourself, “what kinds of people do I need and want to achieve my mission and overcome my challenges?” If you asked most people, “Do you want rebellious people in your life?” they’d say, “No, of course not!” However, if you asked them, “Do you want compliant people” many would say, “Yes!” I suggest there’s an even better answer.

In order to appreciate that better answer, it’s important to take a close look at personal responsibility and better understand what it is, what it looks and feels like and how it relates to the kinds of people you most need and want. We’ll examine the beliefs, attitudes, reactions or responses, and feelings and behaviors all associated with a lack of, or an abundance of, personal responsibility.

There are two possible states of being related to personal responsibility. One is called other- directed. A person is other-directed any moment he or she believes they don’t have power or inner authority, and conclude they “have to” or have “no choice.” This shows up whenever you or others feel they “should” or “ought to” do something. From this powerless mindset, they feel controlled by an outer authority, present or imagined. An example: people I know who won’t wear a seat belt, saying, “I’m not going to be controlled by the government.” Needless to say, the “government” isn’t even in their car!

While other-directed and believing they’re powerless, only two attitudes seem possible. One is “I have to comply” and if they do, their compliance is a resentful reaction to feeling forced. The other is to rebel and resist. Their stance is “No I won’t! You can’t make me!” They resist the authority. Both attitudes lead to suppressing feelings of responsibility for tasks, relationships and consequences. In the first, their behavior looks and feels like a victim. In the second, it feels like revenge.

Example: You’re a teenager and your mom says, “If you think you’re going out with your friends tonight, you clean up your room!” If you believed, “I have to, I have no choice,” chances are you resent- fully complied as you cleaned your room or rebelled and resisted doing it. If you cleaned it, how responsible were you for the task? Did you do an A or C job? How responsible were you for your relation- ship? Did you wonder, “Hmm, how did I get Mom so frustrated?” Your mood? Chances are you thought, “She’s an unreasonable tyrant!” If asked, “who’s causing your misery?” would you have said, “me?” If you rebel and resist, you’d choose to miss out on being with friends, and cut off your nose to spite your face (and Mom).

Many people suffer untold negative consequences from actions they take or tolerate from others while in an other-directed belief state. So what’s the solution?

Being self-directed. When a person remembers they have personal power, free will and choices, they then honor themselves and others. They consider, “What am I feeling and what do I want?” They can agree, disagree or create innovative options. They’re free to respond rather than react, take full responsibility for tasks, relationships, and consequences; they are accountable. Their beliefs, attitudes, feelings and behaviors align so they say what they mean and mean what they say. They’re free to look for and find how and where values intersect so solutions are from abundance rather than fear, scarcity and powerless- ness.

As that teenager confronted by Mom, if you were self-directed, you might say yes or no without blaming. You have options: “Can I clean my room when I get home? Can I hire someone to do it? Can I do it tomorrow, if I add another chore?” And, can you see “no” from someone self-directed is actually better than a resentfully compliant “yes” from anyone in the other-directed state?

As you consider what it really means to be personally responsible and accountable, can you see the costs you have paid and the gains you might experience if you make it a priority to help people remember and live from personal power guided by authentic, centered motivations?

Would you like to help create conditions in yourself, in your home and in your workplace so you are consistently able to surround yourself with the kinds of people you most need and want?

Published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in The Women’s Journal, Apr/May 2011

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