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Matt Wilcox

Musing

Dec 15th 2013

The power of responsibility

Owning your role in life is a good thing, whether for the good stuff or the bad.

Responsibility, when talking about your own actions, is a good thing – and I'd recommend trying to take it whenever you can. Especially when something has gone wrong.

We all know someone who thinks they're never at fault; they claim that everything that goes wrong for them is the result of someone else's interference or ineptitude. That it's not them; it's the software, or the client, or the supplier, or the weather… Anything but themselves. And while those things could certainly be a factor of failure, even the major factor, we all know it's not the only thing that's gone wrong.

Own your role in things that haven't gone as well as you'd hoped. If you don't, you will never improve your chances of doing better next time. Even if you did everything right; own your role in the problem – there must have been some way to have acted differently to produce a better outcome. Find it. Learn from it. You are the one factor in everything you do that you have full control over. Ok, so your computer blew up and you couldn't meet the deadline; fine – legitimate as a problem. But if you'd got those files backed up in the cloud you'd have been up and running again as soon as you could borrow someone else's machine. Or you could have paid attention to the noisy fan and had it looked at, it obviously wasn't right. There's always something you could've done to lessen the impact or chances of any problem.

As long as you take positive action to avoid the chance of a bad thing happening again, all is good. You can't do that if you've blamed something external and not admitted to yourself how you could've done something to avoid a problem or improve an outcome.

At the same time; only take responsibility for stuff you can control. It is not your fault if a power cut has caused you to miss a deadline. It's unreasonable to expect otherwise, so don't beat yourself up about things which are unexpected and out of your control. But take responsibility for your part anyway: did you let the client know about the problem as soon as you could? That might have helped mitigate disappointment & helped the client avoid some follow-on problems. Could you have taken your work home and finished it there? Etc.

Being good at what you do isn't just about your skills in the specific field in which you work. It's about being able to adapt, improve, and overcome. You only do that if you acknowledge your role in the world you experience, and take responsibility for it.

I find that by taking responsibility I get a greater feeling of accomplishment when things go well. I also believe other people find you more dependable and trustworthy the more you can be seen to have accepted responsibility and covered your bases. You appear to be more competent; because you can be seen to be being communicative, resourceful, and responsible. In the world of business those are highly valued attributes any employer, board of directors, shareholder, or client would want to see from you. It's also the same in the world outside of business. Everyone likes people who are reliable, and reliability tends to come from people who are personally responsible.