For decades, I’ve written extensively about discipline, accountability, focusing on what you can control, and taking personal responsibility rather than succumbing to blame. These are principles I’ve personally embraced, and applied in my life to work through tough times.
In the early ‘80s I worked in my parents’ restaurant business that failed. It was in the midst of 20-plus% interest rates, 10% inflation and unemployment as high as today. I held three jobs to make ends meet, selling insurance door-to-door for two companies, and in the evenings delivering tortillas to restaurants for 50 cents per case. This 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 of a dealership in Texas, to the number two man in an ultra-successful $300,000,000 dealership group in California. When I declined the pay cut offered to me by the 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, or wait my way out. I took personal responsibility for my life and worked my way out.
This article’s purpose is to confront a dangerous trend—a burgeoning blame game and pity party spreading across continents that vilifies success, attacks the successful and endeavors to penalize prosperity. This assault has become a convenient and clever diversion for society’s malcontents and protestors 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 overcome stumbling blocks and turn them into stepping stones. Here’s a glimpse of a gust that’s fanning the flame:
Millions are hurting financially in America. 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 productive citizens and companies are the culprits. Cities throughout the world are being “occupied” by protestors, blaming and making demands that the high income earners and corporations do “their fair share” to turn their lives around.
Most people 40 years and older would agree that the trend toward 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 blame 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. Anyone blaming others for their misfortunes surrenders the personal power over their own destiny and hands its reins to someone else, a folly that further perpetuates their misery.
While you won’t hear this on the news, many suffering people have made an abundance of poor life choices to create or compound 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. If the world’s malcontents and protestors could kick the person most responsible for their woes they’d be unable to sit down for weeks. Sadly, many strugglers will not progress from their lack because they refuse to acknowledge their role in creating or prolonging it.
Following are five tenets that help you recommit to the lost art of taking personal responsibility, and place you on a path to rise above the masses that go through life assuming the position, thinking, talking and walking like victims. Please copy and share with those you know and care about who are suffering from any number of todays’ fashionable “it’s not my fault” fantasies. This includes 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 because you were born that way, 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 no longer pursue growth.
5. Character is a choice. Character is the combination of moral qualities you’ve decided to embrace in your life. If you lack strong character, you can’t blame mom and dad, the government 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 or 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 an increasingly common portrayal of 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 work and now lives his life on the sidelines cheer-leading the blame game. There is no way to know how many of the unemployed persist in their parasitic assault on our country’s 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 work including the physically challenged, blind, deaf and mute. In fact, six million Americans work two jobs or more. It would benefit him to understand the difference between the system failing him, and he making the decision that caused him to fail himself. He’s made the sad regression from loser to quitter. A loser is someone who comes up short and tries again. A quitter simply gives up.
President Theodore Roosevelt had words of encouragement 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!” It’s been posted in a variety of locations. If you’d like to view it, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you the link where it is currently playing.