It’s your fault.
That may be the most taboo phrase in the English language these days. In fact, if you’re reading this in your early or mid-twenties, it’s possible you’ve never even heard someone say those words to you. Our world is increasingly against the notion of personal responsibility. Everyone from helicopter soccer moms to hand-holding college professors to our elected government leaders is telling young Americans that someone else is to blame for their problems, mistakes, and shortcomings. Can’t pay your student loans? Clearly, the system is out to get you. Can’t get a good job in your field? It must be a problem with capitalism. Got a speeding ticket? The cops are corrupt. Oh, woe is me.
How about this: You can’t get a job because you aren’t a good, qualified candidate. You can’t pay your student loans because you’re too proud to wait tables. You got a speeding ticket because you drive too fast. I’ll say it again: it’s your fault.
Wherever you are personally, professionally, and financially, it’s on you. It’d be nice to be able to blame someone else or, heck, blame the entire American capitalist system, but that’s just passing the buck. The system isn’t the problem; you are! There is one—and only one—thing every problem you have has in common: you. You are where you are today because of your decisions, period. But don’t tune me out just yet. This is actually great news! This means you are the one with all the power. Not your boss, not your friends, not your competition, not your coworkers—you. And remember, you are the only one who can and should determine what success looks like for you. So if you’re sitting there unhappy with what you’ve got, you know you need to make some changes. But if you are happy with it, you may not need to make any changes at all.
Say you’ve got a small financial pie. You’re paying your bills, you have a place to live, you can afford to buy groceries, and you have a few bucks for entertainment every month. You aren’t making huge strides forward, but you aren’t going backward. You’re just getting by. Some people may be in that situation and feel miserable. They may be frustrated beyond belief, spending all their time thinking about what they don’t have and scheming how to grow their pie. Great! If that’s you, you know you have some work to do. Clearly, you aren’t happy with your financial situation and (hopefully) you’re ready to take responsibility for improving things. It may be time for a new job, a lot of overtime, a roommate to split the bills with, or some other action or decision that will help generate more income to grow your pie. You’re responsible for where you are, and you’re responsible for kicking it up a notch.
However, someone else may be in that exact situation with those same circumstances and feel perfectly happy and content. She may feel no need to change a thing. She could enjoy her job, even if it pays a modest salary. She might love the freedom of a set work schedule with no overtime and having her nights and weekends free. She may value time more than money and be unwilling to trade her precious free time for a higher income. Of course, this person won’t grow her financial pie as big as the person who actively wants to build more wealth, but who cares? She’s happy. She’s made a decision about what she values, and she’s tailored her life around that. Does that make this person less successful than the one who works sixty hours a week to get ahead professionally? It depends on how you define success. The person who values more money would say no. But if you define success in terms of happiness, freedom, and general satisfaction, then this young lady is enjoying incredible levels of success. Why should she change anything? There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a small pie or a big pie. The point is, I just want you to make that choice. Don’t settle for life’s default options.
People sometimes act like all they need to do in a bad or unfulfilling situation is to hold on, stay the course, and wait for things to get better on their own. These are the people who, like my over- weight friend, waste years talking about changing their lives later. Flash forward ten years, and most of the people are still exactly where they are today—unhappy and medicating themselves with wishful thinking. Why hasn’t their situation improved? Because they haven’t done anything to improve it. The second law of thermodynamics states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force of greater or equal mass. If your life is going in one direction, it’s going to keep going in that direction unless something or someone turns the wheel or hits the brakes. That “outside force” has to be you.
Failing to take responsibility for your own life and success leads directly to failure in all areas of life. You can count on it. If you take a passive approach to your life, you will not be successful. If you sit there and do nothing except think about what you wish you had, you’ll never have it. You will fail. It’s one of life’s few guarantees.
But—and this is a huge but—the inverse is also true. Remember, you are both the problem and the solution. If failing to take responsibility for your life leads to failure, what do you think leads to success? That’s right: Taking responsibility. Making an active change. Charting a new course. Setting your sights on where you want to go and being intentional about doing the things that will take you there. It won’t happen overnight, it’s not easy, and there will be days when you want to quit, but success happens on the way to your goal. You won’t be successful when you get to the destination; you’ll be successful the moment you start heading in that direction.
Excerpted from Who’s Eating Your Pie, by Erik Weir