The Most Valuable Lesson I Ever Learned

Are you where you want to be in life right now? If you are, then you can probably stop reading this right now because you won’t get much out of it besides maybe entertainment. If you’re not where you want to be in life, then why aren’t you? What’s holding you back?

Most of us have been there, resenting other people or blaming our circumstances for our shortcomings. How has that worked out for you? As I’ve quoted before, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Who are you really hurting by resenting others? How far have you progressed by doing so? If you’re not in denial, then the answers to those questions should be “myself” and “nowhere,” respectively.

Try to remember a time when something happened to you that you blamed or resented someone or something for. Who or what was to blame? Was it your parents, your sibling, your significant other, your ex, your car, the weather, traffic, a thief, your job, or the government? As you recall this particular event, remember who you thought did this to you. Now, go back to moments earlier. What could you have possibly done differently that may have changed the outcome? Be honest with yourself.

My point is, every single circumstance you experienced in your life has been the result of a decision you made at some point. An exception may be when the doctor spanked you when you were only a minute or two old. That wasn’t your fault, but I digress. Anyway, there is a term for this concept, and it’s called personal responsibility.

Were you late for work this morning? Was it because of traffic? Perhaps you could have checked the traffic report on your smartphone. Maybe you could leave your house early enough to account for possible traffic jams. I had a manager who shared a useful rule of thumb, which is that you should always aim to be at least 15 minutes early, so if you’re late, you’ll arrive on time.

Your life is not determined by the conditions around you, the environment, or your circumstances; it is defined by how you interpret these things and how you respond to them.

I recently started reading the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and just in time for this blog post, I learned his first habit is to be proactive. In the book, Covey describes proactivity as meaning more than just taking initiative but also that we are all responsible for our own lives. Personal responsibility.

Covey then breaks the word responsibility into two parts—“response-ability”—which he describes as having the ability to choose your own response. Your life is not determined by the conditions around you, the environment, or your circumstances; it is defined by how you interpret these things and how you respond to them.

“I’m a victim of soicumstance!” says Curly of the Three Stooges. Don’t be a stooge.

I own an old car, a 1991 Honda Accord. It has been broken into numerous times and stolen from me not one, not two, but three times! The first time, I had just gotten home from performing with my band, parked my car on the street in front of my house, and I finally went to sleep around 2:30 in the morning. When I woke up that morning, my car was gone. The second time, I was hanging out with my girlfriend at my place, and my roommate knocks on my door around 8:00 in the evening and asks if I’m home because my car was not in the driveway. The third time, my car was stolen from the parking lot of my apartment complex overnight.

Why was my car stolen so many times? Why me? Why do people choose to victimize me by stealing my property all the time? Newsflash: thieves exist. The reason my car was stolen is because I did not take the necessary measures to keep it from being stolen. I failed to take initiative. I was not proactive. This does not justify the actions of the criminal, but the criminal is also not 100 percent responsible, especially in the third instance. I made the decision to park my car in the open. I made the decision not to put a club on my steering wheel. I made the decision to own a vehicle with a statistically-high probability to be stolen or broken into. What is whining about my victimhood or denouncing car thieves going to do for me? Not much. That thief is still a thief, and resentment sure does burn going down.

The longer you hold on to what could have been, the longer you inhibit yourself from what could be.

You can even apply the concept of personal responsibility to relationships. I’ve been seeing a meme circulating on social media lately that reads, “Did you know? Men who respect women are mostly single.” Then the men predictably go on to complain about how women mistreat men and about how “nice guys finish last,” an expression that I don’t buy. These guys do nothing but cast outward blame, which Stephen Covey calls environmental determinism. This is the belief that your circumstances are a result of your environment. Guess what, men: YOU are the problem! The tone of the meme is of a man who is bitter about being single. That in itself communicates neediness and low self-esteem. Women do want a nice guy, but that’s just the beginning. Being nice is a prerequisite. Do not confuse being nice with being an approval-seeking pleaser. By being this pleaser, you are demonstrating your lack of self-respect, and in turn, no woman will respect you. The difference between the nice guy who finishes last and the nice guy who finishes first is self-respect and assertiveness.

I have come to learn so much about relationships, it’s not even funny. I’ve had my heart broken, and I was sad, I was angry, I blamed others, and I said things that should not have been said, but it all comes back around to me. I am the reason these things happened to me, not anyone else. I am responsible for the conditions of my life based on the attitude, actions, and responses I chose to exercise.

So take responsibility for your own life. Happen to the world; don’t let it happen to you. To dwell on the past, to be angry, or to be hateful are to be paralyzed. Free yourself from the shackles of anger, resentment, and regret. A great friend taught me not to stress over that which I cannot control. The longer you hold on to what could have been, the longer you inhibit yourself from what could be. The sooner you accept responsibility for yourself, the sooner you can proceed and progress.

Author: Glenn Moon Jr.

Writer, musician, entrepreneur, martial artist, advocate of the Oxford comma.

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