Taking responsibility vs blaming yourself
As a person who feels Responsible for Everything, I am used to taking all the blame for a sour situation on myself. But taking responsibility can become a toxic trait if you fall into these patterns.
Does this sound familiar?
Project failed? Didn’t manage it right. My fault.
Friend upset? Could’ve been a better friend. My fault.
Investment tanked? Didn’t time it right. My fault.
Reflecting on what I could have done better or differently has helped me learn and grow to be who I am today. But I haven’t always been kind to myself in those reflections. When taking responsibility and self-examination becomes self-blame and punishment, you undermine yourself as well as the people around you.
When you’re hard on yourself, you tend to be hard on the people around you. Think of the 10x engineer who demolishes the folks they work with for “not being good enough.” Maybe this is how they talked to themselves or how a mentor talked to them. But what good is a 10x engineer if they alienate everyone on the team?
If you’re hard on yourself when receiving feedback, people can hesitate to give it to you. Folks can become shy about being honest with people who “take things too hard.” Getting critical feedback is crucial to growing and developing professionally, but people would rather not feel bad than ensure you keep your job by buying you a clue.
Beating yourself up for being imperfect in a new situation conditions you to fear opportunity. If you’re hard on yourself for “messing up” when doing something new, you’re less likely to try doing new things or taking on new opportunities because you, yes you, want to avoid the pain of berating your very own self! It is unreasonable to expect perfect execution from someone who has never done something, yet you might expect this from yourself.
If you alone claim responsibility and blame in every situation, you can shield others from valuable lessons earned by owning their own mistakes. Think of the person at the party apologizing for “letting” their friend get so drunk that he began acting inappropriately. If that person had to make amends and apologies for themself the following day, they might take action to change their behavior rather than blame others for it.
Being Responsible is a leadership skill. There are no good leaders who lack it. It’s best to always reflect on your behavior and outcomes, but:
Own what you can control: your actions and nothing more
When you learn a lesson, move on, don’t dwell there
You can’t control everything. And you are not some broken thing that becomes better by being punished relentlessly for missteps, mistakes, and the independent actions of others. We are all active agents in this world and share some responsibility for the outcomes of our shared actions. It is an act of egotism to assume responsibility for—and thus feign to control—everything.
My dog Kitty sometimes refused to let go of something (like a shoe) until I’d say, “Kitty, drop it!” Now, when hitting turbulence in a new endeavor or feeling friction in a relationship, I can feel myself Assuming the Responsiblity. But I also can hear myself saying, “drop it!” Just like Kitty, it helps to be reminded to let go.
In memory of Kitty, who was very good at reminding people to be kind to themselves… but had to be reminded herself from time to time to let go <3
Thanks for reading Wiggly Goose Club! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.