The Lost Art of Taking Personal Responsibility

For decades, I've written extensively about discipline, accountability, focusing on what you can control, and taking personal responsibility rather than blaming. These are principles I have personally embraced and applied in my life to prevail through tough times.

In the early 80's I worked in my parents’ restaurant business that failed. It was in the midst of 20+% interest rates, 10% inflation, and unemployment as high as today. I held three jobs to make ends meet, selling products door-to-door for two companies, and in the evenings delivering tortillas to restaurants for 50 cents per case. It wasn’t the work that I wanted or was qualified for, but it was the work that was available, and I felt lucky to have it.

While living with my wife and daughter in the ugliest trailer, in the least desirable part of town, I changed careers and began to sell cars. In seven years I advanced from salesperson at a dealership in Texas, to the number two man in a successful $300,000,000 dealership group in California. When I declined the pay cut offered me by new owners I was forced out. Despite this misfortune, I chose not to whine, sue, or pitch a tent and “occupy” the dealership in protest. Instead I founded LearnToLead which, by God’s grace, prospers to this day.

As I pursued my aspiration to write, six dozen publishers rejected my ideas for Selling Above the Crowd and No-Nonsense Leadership. Consequently, I exerted the effort to self-publish, distribute, and publicize both books. Their success attracted into my corner Wiley, the world’s largest business publisher with whom I’ve now published ten books. My publishing experience reaffirmed my belief that if something is important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

I don’t share this history to impress you, but to impress upon you that I’ve been broke, at the bottom, and the chief architect behind numerous failed ideas and ventures. But upon hitting the wall I chose to bounce, not splatter. Like many of you, when things got tough I didn’t opt to whine my way out, wish my way out, wait my way out, or demand someone bail me out. Rather, I took personal responsibility for my life and worked my way out.

There exists today a dangerous trend that must be blunted—a burgeoning blame game and pity party spreading across continents that vilifies success, demonizes the financially successful, and endeavors to penalize prosperity. This assault has become a convenient and clever diversion for society’s malcontents to shift anger, frustration, and responsibility away from their personal failings, and thrust it upon those who have made productive life choices, or who have found ways to convert stumbling blocks into stepping stones and succeed. Here’s a glimpse at the forces that are fanning the flame:

Millions are hurting financially in America. But for many, the pain is prolonged by their refusal to accept personal responsibility for poor decisions that have caused or augmented their struggles. Worse, politicians, unions, and the media encourage and enable their “I am helpless” mindset by assuring them that they are blameless in their mediocrity, and that the country’s most financially successful citizens and companies are the culprits. Protestors are “occupying” cities throughout the world, demanding substantial transfers of wealth to help turn their languid lives around.

The fact that things have reached this state should come as no surprise. Most people forty years and older would agree that the trend towards blaming more, entitlement, and undisciplined lifestyles has accelerated in recent decades. Not coincidentally, so has the national poverty rate. But, as convenient as it is to assail others or outside conditions for one’s lack of economic progress, nothing impacts the quality of one’s life more than his or her inside decisions. Those who don’t take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions, and instead blame others for misfortune, surrender control over their own destiny. This folly perpetuates their misery.

While you’re not likely to read this in most headlines, many people suffer primarily because they’ve made poor life choices that created or compounded their financial hardship: the decision not to work hard or at all; not to self-educate oneself; not to live within one’s means, not to save money, as well as choosing to engage in habits like smoking, drinking, illegal drugs, gambling and a variety of other vices that deplete their limited resources and impair their soul. In reality, if society’s malcontents and protestors could kick the person most responsible for their woes they’d be unable to sit down for weeks. The sad result of this failure to take responsibility is an inability to progress from their current state, because they refuse to acknowledge their role in creating, or prolonging,  it in the first place.

Following are five tenets that help you recommit to the lost art of taking personal responsibility. They are truths that place you on a path to rise above the masses that go through life assuming the position, thinking, talking, and walking like victims. Please share with those you know who are suffering from any of todays’ fashionable “it’s not my fault” fantasies. These include entitled family members and mediocre employees who went into retirement years ago but remain on your payroll, expecting to be rewarded for showing up versus stepping up.

  1. Becoming precedes getting. Until you become more than you are in areas like attitude, discipline, character, work ethic, and knowledge, you are unlikely to get much more than you’ve got. When you do get more (usually because it is given to you) without becoming more, you rarely get to keep it for long and won’t have the skill to replace it once it’s gone.
  2. Attitude is a choice. While you cannot usually choose what happens to you, you have the power to choose your response to it. The quality of your response will greatly determine the quality of your life. No one and nothing can assault your attitude without your consent.
  3. Discipline is a choice. No one is born disciplined or not. Discipline is developed when you get clear about what you want, decide to pay the price necessary to get it, and resolve to give up what hinders your quest. If you’re undisciplined it’s not genetic, it’s because you’ve chosen to go through life seeking prizes without paying prices.
  4. Growth is a choice. Personal growth isn’t automatic, and it doesn’t come naturally with age. Personal growth must be intentional. In other words, you must choose to read the books, to attend the seminars, to learn and assimilate success principles, to study the lives of life’s giants and decide how you can apply what made them successful in your own life. If you’re not growing, it’s because you have made the decision to not pursue growth.
  5. Character is a choice. Your character is determined by the moral qualities you’ve decided to embrace and live out in your life. If you lack strong character, you can’t blame mom and dad, the government, economy, or your teachers. Ultimately, you get to choose what’s important to you, and what’s not. Your character will develop—or not—in accordance with those convictions.

Here’s what economic protestors and their critical kinsmen in life’s various arenas must understand: Needy people can’t expect to advance by demanding more of what someone else has earned. Rather, they must advance through education, perspiration & determination. I don’t know anyone who has risen from rags to riches by complaining, protesting, or clamoring for the government to pick the pockets of those more successful than they and use the proceeds to subsidize their own inadequacy or complacency. While a humane society must support those who can’t help themselves, it owes absolutely nothing to those who won’t help themselves.

A recent television program featured a contemporary study in personal absolution: a healthy, articulate, unemployed man who assailed “the system” because it had “failed him” and made it “impossible” to find work. In fact, he has quit looking for a job and now lives his life on the sideline cheer-leading the blame game. It is impossible to know how many of the unemployed persist in their parasitic assault on national resources not because they cannot find work, but because they don’t like the work they find. This particular man remains idle despite the fact that 150 million other Americans have found jobs including the physically and mentally challenged, blind, deaf, and mute. In fact, six million Americans work two jobs or more. It would benefit the temporarily unemployed to understand the difference between the system failing them, and making poor decisions that cause them to fail themselves. This particular gentleman has chosen to regress from loser to quitter: a loser being someone who comes up short and tries again, while a quitter simply gives up. 

President Theodore Roosevelt had encouraging words for those who roll up their sleeves to make things happen, rather than critique, complain, demand, or quit. It’s fitting to conclude this piece on personal responsibility with his famous acclaim for the man in the arena:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Note: I recently filmed a four minute video on this topic: “Whining is no Substitute for Working!” Click here to view: http://budurl.com/l4tv .

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Comments are closed for this blog post

Comment by Dave Anderson on January 5, 2012 at 5:49am

Thank you Jmac! There is little hope for those who live in denial, because they'll never be able to change what they fail to acknowledge.

Comment by Jason McIntosh "Jmac" on January 5, 2012 at 3:53am

The truth is very inspirational...

I am inspired by truth, your truth, and the truth of others...

What motivates me is different... Others lack of truth... Their own personal deception!

Their lies to themself should be the motivational truth for others... Not to be like them!

Truth will set you free! If others would seek your inspiring wisdom then they would be properly motivated!

Great stuff! Thank you!

Comment by Dave Anderson on December 30, 2011 at 6:54pm

Alan,

Thanks much for your support and encouragement. Wishing you your best year ever in 2012!

 

Comment by Al Mosher on December 30, 2011 at 4:52pm

"While a humane society must support those who can’t help themselves, it owes absolutely nothing to those who won’t help themselves."  - Amen!

Another tremendous post, Dave. Your words never fail to educate, illuminate and inspire. Thanks for all the help you have given me in 2011 and best wishes for a happy, prosperous and blessed New Year, although I know wishes have very little to do with it. It is all about planning and effort and you have those skills down pat.

Comment by Dave Anderson on December 30, 2011 at 12:31pm

Thanks Bobby! Have your best year ever!

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