Have you ever noticed the excuses we make for the failures we experience? I have, man was it an eye opener! When I finally became aware of the excuses I was making for not achieving something positive, my life took a dramatic turn for the good. I have to admit, I still catch myself making excuses, but the difference is that I am aware of it. Awareness can be curative in itself and in my case for becoming aware of the excuses I make allows me to change my thought process and get back on track making failure a feedback process in learning. I live by a presupposition that says; failure is feedback! This belief is a belief that allows me to grow and I can tell you if you apply it you will be amazed at the results you get.
Existentialism is a concept that basically says we are responsible for all we experience in life, good or bad. I want to make sure you understand I am not saying you should become an existentialist; like all philosophies, it has its downfall. I always try to follow an eclectic approach in my practice as a psychologist and coach and in my personal life as well. However, in the case of our own successes and failures we can apply an existential approach and get some great answers to our own personal and professional development.
Lets assume a worse case scenario. A word of warning; please keep an open mind when you read this example so you can understand exactly what I am really saying. Lets take the example of rape. There is no doubt rape is a horrible experience that no one should ever have to go through and the person who is guilty of rape should be punished severely. The first point here to really understand is that our justice system does not prosecute for you, it prosecutes for the state! Many of us think that the punishment is for the victim, but it is not. It is for the people and the protection of all people. Those who believe the punishment is for the victim will leave the experience of justice with a real sour taste. Many believed that the justice given by the courts would make everything OK and make the experience less painful. The truth is that until the victim realizes the rape is their own responsibility, (notice I did not say fault), will be the ones who come away with an experience of growth and meaning.
Lets take the example of the person who started MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. Her child was killed by a drunk driver and I'm certain we all can understand how horrible that must have been. In fact, we almost can say we would not blame her if the experience put her into a great depression that would bring her nothing but pain and anguish the rest of her life. However, this grieving mother did something that allowed her to grieve, but also allowed her to grow from the experience. When she went through the justice system she eventually realized that the process of justice would not bring her son back. What did she do, she became an advocate on behalf of her son against drunk driving which is why we see drunk driving laws as they are today in the united states. What she realized is that the experience within herself was her own responsibility. How she framed the experience in her own mind was what made the difference. Instead of thinking how horrible the situation was she began to look at the experience as an opportunity. Because she was able to see the experience in a more positive light she was able to make the experience meaningful which allowed her to make the most of a tragic event. in short, She took responsibility for the experience and what the experience was going to mean to her.
The same can be said for the rape victim. Those who suffer the most and who lose the zest for life and love all together are those that stay the victim. They do not take responsibility for the rape and the experience it brings them. The truth is that their is nothing anyone can do for them except enable them to continue down the destructive path of, "the victim." Those who realize that they are responsible for the experience and how they will deal with it are the ones who take the experience and do something healthy with it. In fact, I believe that those who recognize the power of taking responsibility are those who are most successful! The sad truth is that most can never look past the pain they are experiencing and that pain and their frame of mind become generative and feed off one another. This leads down a path of self-distruction!
Taking responsibility does not mean going it alone through a horrible experience. When an addict finally asks for help they are taking responsibility. When a victim of a crime asks for help to better deal with the after math of their experience they are taking responsibility. In fact, I feel that asking for help is the most powerful responsible choice one can make in meeting any challenge. Many think that asking for help is asking someone else to take on some of the responsibilities of their challenges. This is far from the truth, those who are responsible enough to ask for help realize they don't have all the answers and also understand that finding others who do is the most productive avenue they can take. Asking others to help who have dealt with similar challenges we face can speed the process of growth. We can model their actions and eliminate the mistakes they made along the way which makes the process much faster, less painful, and less frustrating.
Taking responsibility begins with eliminating excuses for our current situations. We are who we are because of the choices we made, not the choices others make. Remember, we have a choice in how we respond to any experience good or bad. The more we exercise our choice muscle the more control we have over our own life. This idea can be applied to the goals we set for ourselves. When we realize that tomorrow is directly created by our choice today we take back control. We are no longer the ponds in other peoples life. Those who suffer and who do not take responsibility for the experiences they face have no control of what the future has in store for them. Again we can also see how this can be applied to general personal development. When we realize the power of personal choice we began to live a truly free and empowering life, one that brings joy and meaning. Began today, create your own experiences, by eliminate excuses, and learn from the failures and experiences of life!
John P. DeMann, Ph.D., CPEC, ISSA.