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There are two ways to approach life:
- With an attitude of responsibility.
- With an attitude of excuses.
Responsibility and excuses have one thing in common: when you look for either one, you will always find what you’re looking for.
If you want to find someone to blame for your situation or external forces that are at fault, you will always find them. The same goes for places where you can take responsibility.
You can always find a way to take personal responsibility for everything.
This episode explores what it looks like to apply an attitude of responsibility to various scenarios of life such as clients, money, relationships, communication, and even citizenship.
What you will find with this approach is that there is no such thing as clients from hell. It’s your responsibility. The situation you’re in with money is because of choices you made. It’s your responsibility. The people you’re communicating with are not at fault for missing your message. It’s your responsibility.
It can be very challenging to approach life with an attitude of responsibility, but it is incredibly rewarding. You have full control over your life when you choose to take responsibility for everything.
You become a happier person, other people like you more, and you put off the victim mindset that is so prevalent in our culture.
You’ll never be bitter again. Taking responsibility is the most empowering thing you will ever do.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Taking responsibility is empowering, because you own your life.
- When working with clients, protect and take ownership over your process.
- Don’t expect the client to know what they are responsible for.
- Always be looking for ways to improve processes and do things better.
- Excuses lead to more excuses and responsibility leads to more responsibility.
- Communication is both the sending and receipt of a message.
- You are responsible for making sure someone hears your message.
- Learn more about the person with whom you’re communicating so you can shape your message in a way that helps them receive it.
- Take responsibility as a citizen by relinquishing entitlement.
- Take responsibility for your attitude, your outlook on life, and how you respond to things.
- You will only ever be as happy as you choose to be in this moment.
- People want to give responsibility to responsible people.
- When you take responsibility, you have full control over your life and you can become a happier person.
- 03:01 Sean: This is a way of approaching life by saying, “I’m going to take responsibility for things instead of making excuses for things.” It’s an attitude of responsibility vs. an attitude of excuses. The thing that responsibility and excuses have in common is, if you look for either one of them, you’ll find them every single time. It’s a matter of perspective. People can always have excuses. If you try and say, “Have you thought about taking responsibility in this situation?” They can always say, “No, it was because of this or that person.”
- 03:44 Ben: Some people stretch it a little bit, but they can even be really valid excuses. In that scenario, you’re still letting some outside force determine how you’re going to respond. I love this topic. I’m glad we’re talking about it today.
- 04:15 Sean: The downside is that there are sometimes valid excuses, but you’re more of a victim that way. You have less control over your life, you have less autonomy, and you feel less satisfied and happy because you feel like the world is out to get you. You’re a victim, and there’s no ownership or taking charge. If you’re not responsible for your life and your decisions, you’re helpless. You’re in this place where you think, “I’m here because of external forces and things that other people did.”
- 04:57 Ben: I don’t know that this is always something people do intentionally—not wanting to be the one responsible, the one who caused something unfavorable to happen. There are benefits to not being that person. The downside holds a lot more weight. If you weren’t responsible for causing a bad situation, as a kid for example, you don’t get punished. Also, you don’t put yourself into a situation where the relationship you have with your parents or the people taking care of you is compromised. You don’t want to be left out on your own and helpless. Over time, as that behavior becomes ingrained, it manifests as this toxic thing when you’re an adult that causes you to experience unhappiness and a feeling of lack of power, not having any control.
Taking responsibility is empowering, because you own your life.
Responsibility With Clients
- 06:34 Sean: This is a big topic and a theme on this show. We talk about clients a lot. There’s no such thing as clients from hell, because only a professional from hell would take on that kind of client. No one can be a client unless you take them on. You can say, “Well, they’ll just go to someone else.” That’s true, and if they take them on, it’s their responsibility. The professional is the person creating clients. It’s a two-sided thing. Someone can’t be a client on their own, so you are solely responsible for the people that you choose to work with.
- 07:15 You have to pick the people that are going to be a good fit for you, that have the right attitude, mindset, and perspective, and that ultimately falls on you.
- 07:27 Ben: I’m still dealing with some bad client choices. As a matter of taking responsibility, I can’t just say that I no longer agree with my previous methods, so I’m going to fire this person. I have to do what I promised to do with this client, even though, in retrospect, it was a bad choice.
- 07:56 Sean: You have responsibility over the process. You own the process, and the way you work is your responsibility. Protecting that process is also your responsibility. If other people are saying, “You need to work this way,” or, “This is the way we do things,” you can’t let them run you over. You have to say, “The way I can produce the results you came to me for, the results that you want, is by following this time-tested process that I always go through.”
You have to protect your process and take ownership over it.
- 08:33 You also need to establish roles in the client-professional relationship. Don’t expect the client to know what they are responsible for. The client is responsible for defining the value of their project. They’re also responsible for providing any content or establishing the goals in the beginning. What do they want to accomplish? You are responsible for the execution. You’re the person who does the work. You don’t want to put that work on the client and make them have to take care of your job. If you don’t clearly define what they’re responsible for, they’re going to assume anything you don’t define.
- 09:15 If you don’t say, “This is your job, your responsibility, and this is my responsibility,” they will assume, and the assumption will expand to any area you haven’t covered. They’ll say, “Well, he/she’s not taking care of this, so I guess that’s my job,” and they’re going to impose themselves there. It’s not anything malicious, but it’s that you didn’t set any expectations. You didn’t define the roles, so they’re not going to say, “Should I take care of this?” They’ll think, “Oh, I guess I should be doing that,” and they don’t want to look foolish, so they’re just going to start doing it.
- 09:54 Ben: It’s similar to kids, in a way. Clients are like children when there isn’t a structure or boundary in place. Kids are tenacious about testing those things, but at the same time, they like to have boundaries. Without boundaries, they will search and try to find where the edges of those things are. They want to know that the edges and the boundaries are. If you don’t define those clearly as a parent, that’s where you get into real trouble with your kids. You have to work twice as hard to get back to having a solid boundary there.
- 10:41 With clients, if you enter into a relationship without having set those boundaries, it’s almost too late to try to reestablish those things. Wherever they’ve found the edge of something you haven’t defined, they’ll feel like, “I need to hold this up because this other person isn’t.”
- 11:03 Sean: Did you ever play the game Age of Empires?
- 11:05 Ben: No.
- 11:07 Sean: There was a little map in the corner, and the map was all black except for where your villagers were standing. The map illuminated around them, and as you spread out and moved your villagers, they would explore the map. As they explored, they were walking out into the blackness. Anything within eyesight would populate on the map. They’re filling in the gaps of the map. You don’t know where the enemies are or what the landscape is in the blackness, and that’s how the client feels. When you don’t set the boundaries and there’s no process or map laid out in front of them, they feel like they have to go explore.
Clients won’t ask you what the boundaries are because they don’t want to seem foolish, so you have to be clear with them.
- 12:10 Ben: When you are upfront and clear and you provide those boundaries, when you say, “This is how it is,” it puts the client at ease. There’s anxiety. Think about the experience of trying to walk around and navigate when you can’t see and you don’t know what to expect. You don’t want your client experiencing that anxiety and associating it with working with you. Establishing those boundaries is a great way to put them at ease.
- 13:00 Sean: I know that this is still hard for people. Some problem arises—the client doesn’t pay them, the client doesn’t give them the content in time, and the deadline is approaching and you don’t want to have to pull all-nighters and you’re frustrated. You want to say that the client is at fault. It’s their problem, because they didn’t communicate with you. They’re a bad communicator. They didn’t provide the content. They didn’t pay you on time. I have a bad client! They resist this idea that there are no clients from hell, because they see right in front of them evidence of their client doing bad things.
- 13:44 If we dig deeper and we approach this with an attitude of responsibility, you can always trace this back to something that you did—some decision you made, some choice, some action you performed or did not perform that resulted in this problem. That’s your goal. Come into this with an attitude like this. If the client didn’t provide the content, look back at the expectations you set or didn’t set. Let’s say that you did set the expectations. Did you also define what happens when they don’t provide the content by this time? Explain that that also means that the deadline or the delivery date is going to be pushed back an equal number of days that they have delayed. If it’s beyond seven days, or however many, you can say that they are in default. It all comes back to something you could do.
- 14:44 Ben: For those of you who are feeling like, “There’s got to be some exception to that. There has to be some situation where I did everything I can and the client didn’t follow through,” that’s putting your focus in the wrong place.
- 15:03 Sean: That’s the attitude of excuses. When you look for those, you will find them every time. You will always find the excuse that tells you why you’re not at fault, but if you have an attitude of responsibility, you will also always find where you were responsible and where you could have prevented this.
Always Be Auditing
- 15:24 Ben: Often, there are problems that you don’t foresee. When you first get into client work, you aren’t going to get it right. There are a lot of things that you can learn from this podcast and from other professionals that will help you get started on the right track, but you’re going to have to find your own way through those problems. Discovering a problem isn’t an end point, where you say, “That was a bad client. Hopefully, I don’t get a client like that again.” You’re relinquishing control in that situation. Instead, look at it as an opportunity. Now, you have a problem you can solve. You’ve found a hole, and you can patch it. Get creative about how to solve it so this problem doesn’t happen in the future.
- 16:18 Sean: Patch your problem and have a future focus (Related: e238 How to Learn and Grow From Mistakes). It’s about having an auditing mindset. Every project is not just the scope of this project, it’s the scope of the rest of your career. You’re in this ship that’s you’re professional career, and you have these issues that are leaks in this ship. You’re going to be using this ship for a long time, doing this work for a while, so you want to patch those holes. Don’t just say, “We’re just taking a one day trip. No big deal. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen on the next trip.” Think long term here.
- 17:01 Instead of looking for excuses and ways to blame the client, say, “Where can I take responsibility, patch the holes, fix this problem, and keep it from happening in the future.” As the captain of this ship, your job is to audit. You’re constantly auditing.
Always be looking for ways to improve processes and do things better.
- 17:26 Be sure you’re making new mistakes every time, and you’re not repeating old mistakes and running into the same problems with clients again and again. If you’re making the same mistake more than once, that’s a bad sign. You’re not getting paid because you started working before you took payment. The rule you need is to get paid and then do the work. Step one, get paid. Step two, do the work. When it comes to sending deliverables, don’t send the deliverables until you get paid. Get paid, send the deliverables. Step one, get paid. Step two, send the deliverables. Don’t send the deliverables until you get the final payment. You will have no more late payments.
- 18:08 Ben: What if you have the deliverables ready, something you could send in an email, for example? You put their email address in, attach the files, you look in your bank account, and you haven’t received any money yet. Should you press the Send button?
- 18:34 Sean: You should not. I made a mistake a couple of years back where I wanted to blame the client. I said, “You have to pay me, and then I will send you the files.” They said, “Let’s go! Let’s do the project, great!” When it came to me sending the files, they didn’t seem to be in any big hurry and they didn’t pay me. I invoiced them, but they didn’t pay me. Eight days went by. Over a week. I didn’t hear anything from them, no messages, nothing. I thought, “What’s going on?” At this point, I and many others want to say, “This is a dumb client. Thanks a lot. I’m not in a great place because of you, and I hope I don’t work with anyone like you in the future.”
- 19:21 I had to reflect. I had the thought on a walk, the realization of what I didn’t do. I should have put in the contract terms that payments are due within, say, five business days of invoicing. What happens when they’re not paid within five business days? Fees are accrued. Say, one or two percent every week, something like that. You start to incentivize them. If they ever want the deliverables, they’re going to have to pay, and the longer they wait, the more they’re going to pay for them. That’s what I should have done.
- 20:05 Ben: I’ve been in a similar situation, where I’ve had them go beyond the date. They’ll pay the extra, but I can tell that it’s frustrating. I could say, “I see that your frustrated now, but you should have looked at the invoice and the contract.” I realized that what I really want is for them to feel like they had a great experience with me. Somebody can be in danger of paying a late fee or even pay a late fee and still have a great experience with you if you communicate with them.
- 20:50 I thought it through, and I said, “I’m going to set it up to where an automated message goes out within five days if I haven’t received anything yet reminding them that they have a few more days to pay before the invoice increases.” It was fun coming up with that solution, because now, not only am I more likely to get paid, but I’m more likely to be seen as a professional. They’re going to have a good experience with me, and it’s more likely that they’ll pay on time and not have to deal with the frustration of having to pay more. It’s good for everybody, and it’s a problem that I got to solve.
Go through your contract with your client.
- 21:44 Sean: Whether that’s in person, on a Skype call, or sharing your screen or something. Go through that and explain it in plain English, what it means for them. Pretend your younger brother is standing next to you asking, “What does this contract mean?” The way you explain it to him is how you want to explain it to the client, very plainly.
- 22:06 Ben: Sean, my lawyer helped me write the contract and there are some points in there that I don’t even understand. He just said that they need to be in there.
- 22:19 Sean: What would you do in that case, Ben?
- 22:21 Ben: I would sit down with the lawyer and say, “Please explain this to me, because I need to be able to explain this to my clients.”
Stop Blaming Others
- 22:38 Sean: Here’s the reality. You’re in the money situation you’re in right now, good or bad, because of choices you made. It’s not because of another person or the market. There are tons of other things you can blame. Like we said, they’re all legitimate, but it’s about perpective. It’s about which route you want to pursue and which angle you want to look at your situation with, because excuses lead to more excuses and responsibility leads to more responsibility.
- 23:13 Ben: What if I got into a car accident and I wasn’t at fault? They hit me, but they didn’t have insurance, so I had to go through my insurance. I still had to pay a deductible. That’s not my fault.
- 23:33 Sean: That sounds like the excuse angle. When I talk about this responsibility topic, people come in and say, “What about this extreme situation? What about if I get in a car wreck? What if the client came and tied me up and they stole the deliverables off of my hard drive?” I don’t entertain the extreme examples. I see everything as a challenge to say, “How can I look at this situation and take some form of responsibility? How can I improve myself and prevent this kind of thing from happening?” I treat it as a creative thought exercise.
- 24:34 Sometimes in life there are exceptions, but if you’re planning for them, then they’re not exceptions. It’s something that happens in the moment. You choose on your own whim to make an exception where you want to. What I don’t like to do is to plan for exceptions, because that’s making an excuse.
- 24:59 Ben: When you focus on taking responsibility, when the exceptions do happen, you feel less like the victim that something happened to. You feel more empowered because you’re conditioning yourself. You’re practicing taking responsibility, so you’re already looking at it through a different lens. You’re thinking, “Okay, this happened. What can I do? How can I take responsibility for this? How can I prevent this in the future? How can I hustle now to make up for this loss?” Somebody may be responsible for their part, and they owe you something for that situation, but you can’t depend on that and think of it as the solution to what happens to you. That can be helpful, but don’t expect that. It’s an added bonus to what you’re capable of doing for yourself.
- 26:12 Sean: For the people who get this attitude of responsibility thing, it probably sounds like we’re beating a dead horse. So few people operate this way. I don’t feel like it’s possible to belabor the point. It’s a matter of how you approach things.
Choose to approach every situation in your life, business, and relationships with an attitude of responsibility.
- 26:46 I see it so much, and it’s just excuses. “The currency in my country, the exchange rate is this, so you should give me stuff for free.” I get messages like this. I’m not saying that the situation you’re in is fortunate, but it’s a reality. How do you choose to go about life and take responsibility? Everyone is looking for excuses and someone to blame. In a moment, we’ll talk about communication, citizenship, and being your own person, but everyone is looking for external forces to pin all of their problems on.
- 27:47 Ben: Because there are so few people who do take responsibility and think that way, it’s really easy to find affirming voices to your complaints. You post on Facebook about something that happened to you, and you’ll get a wall of comments of people saying, “Yeah, I would feel that way, too! You’re justified!” While they mean well and it feels well to have all those people agree with you, it’s causing you more harm.
- 28:28 Sean: It’s like, “Oh, look at this world I’m in because of what Gen X or Gen Y set up for me! Look at the market. Look at the job landscape. I have to drive this far. I’m only paid this much. I don’t get tips. They’re frustrated when I’m on Facebook all day during my job.” You think? They want you to work and they’re willing to pay you, and you’re not willing to do a certain job because you feel like it’s beneath you. You feel like you are owed something that you’re not. There is an attitude of entitlement and excuses that is so prevalent today. It informs so many people’s lives.
- 29:18 It results in them purchasing things they can’t afford because they feel like they deserve that, or they deserve a certain job. If they don’t get that, they want to blame everyone else. They want to pin all of their excuses on other people, and everyone is responsible but them. Everyone else in the world is responsible for the problems in their life, the shortcomings, the frustrations, and the economic hardships. You’re not going to get any traction that way. All you’re going to get is people reaffirming that everyone is out to get you. “It’s the government’s fault. It’s the Man’s fault. It’s the employer’s fault. It’s the market’s fault.” Everyone’s going to reaffirm that, and you have this big echo chamber, but no one is getting out of it. No no is getting any traction.
Responsibility With Money
- 30:18 Cory: Sean saw that I was stressed after work, and he asked me what was wrong. I told him it was about money and he asked me where all my money was going. I said, “I’ve got so many things to pay for, all these things that my money has to go toward.” He said, “Let’s break it down,” so we got this huge whiteboard and broke it down. He said, “It looks like you’re spending a lot of money at fast food restaurants and the movie theatre.” There were some big purchases, and he reminded me that I don’t need to be doing that.
Whether it’s about money or something else, set aside some time and break down your situation.
- 31:22 Sean: There are baseline, recurring things that you accept as a given, things that you don’t really think about. If you shine a light on it and say, “I expect to go to the movie theater every other week,” that seems silly, but you don’t think about it. It’s just a thing that you do, just like the $500 a month car lease for the fancy car you have is just a thing that you do. Everything else is based on those assumptions, the things you accept and don’t audit in your life. You think, “I can’t afford this or that. That’s great for you, but I can’t think that way because I don’t have the capacity to.” If you audit your situation, you may find areas you can free up.
- 32:19 Ben: One of my least favorite things to hear from someone who is having trouble with their money is, “I don’t know where it all goes.” I used to get my paycheck, put my money in the bank, and generally spend a little bit less than I had. If you asked me at the end of the month, “What are you spending your money on?” I could give you a vague idea at best.
- 32:50 Sean: That’s kind of the situation that Cory had, and we wrote everything down on the white board. I said, “Every time you swipe your credit card, open the Notes app on your iPhone and type out what it went to, what the amount was, and what the date was.” That forces you to realize how many times you use your credit card, and every time you add an expense, you go in your notes and you see everything else that you did. You see how quickly it adds up, and you see, “Wow, I’m adding my 12th expense in three days.” You’re more conscious of it.
- 33:39 Ben: For people who don’t keep track of their expenses, there’s the potential cost of overspending or getting to the end of the month and no longer having the money to do something you really wanted to do. There’s another cost that a lot of people don’t think about. That’s the lack of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have control over your spending, that you’re not going to get to some point in the month where there’s a big question mark. Now, you’re afraid to look at your bank statement because of what it’s going to tell you. The anxiety you’re experiencing from that is costing you money, potentially, because it’s distracting you from the things you need to do. It’s also costing you fulfillment and joy.
Responsibility for Communication
- 34:44 Sean: This applies to clients, friends, family, and anyone you’re talking to. What does the attitude of responsibility look like when it comes to communication? The person communicating a message has responsibility over that message being communicated. Communication is both the sending and receipt of a message. If we’re broadcasting out there and no one is picking up our signal, that’s not communication. Communication is when I say something to you and you hear me. A lot of people project their message, and when the other person doesn’t hear them, they blame that person.
- 35:30 “No, you didn’t hear me right,” or, “You must have forgotten,” or, “I told you so,” or, “I already told you.” That is a form of blame on the other person. It’s an excuse for a failure to communicate. Communication is a responsibility of the communicator, so you have to ensure not only that the message you’re sending is what you want to say, but that the other person receives your message. There’s only one way to be sure that the other person receives your message, and it’s not when they smile.
- 36:06 It’s not when they’re looking at your eyes. It’s not when they nod. It’s not even when they say, “Okay, I heard you.” The only way you know is when they repeat it back. It seems silly. Sometimes people will say, “I heard you, I know.” When you look back and say, “I already told you,” and they say, “No, you didn’t,” you can’t be sure that they heard you unless they tell it back. You can’t know.
- 36:37 Ben: Some people are really good at mindless conversation. They’re focused on something else, and they’re capable of repeating something back to you that they ultimately don’t retain. I may be one of those people. If you’ve ever been in a conversation with one of those people, that may be really frustrating. Again, this is an exception, when you get someone to repeat what you said back to you and they still don’t get it. The question you should be asking yourself is, “What do I need to do as a communicator to make sure that they heard me and they remember?” Part of that may be going to that person and saying, “Last time we talked, I had you repeat this back to me, and you did, but I still feel like it was difficult for you to remember. I want to make that easier for you. I want to make sure that when I share something with you or I set an expectation, you fully understand it.”
Learn more about the person with whom you’re communicating so you can shape your message in a way that helps them receive it.
- 38:03 Sean: You’re implementing new processes. Frame it in their benefit. You can always find a benefit for them to effective communication. Obviously, you want them to hear your message, but what is the positive upside for them if they do hear and retain your message? Take that, and that is the reason you come to them with. Say, “I want this for you.” Let’s say I want to communicate with Cory and I say, “This is the thing we need to do with videos from now on,” and I have him repeat it back to make sure we’re on the same page. He doesn’t remember us talking about it. Most people—probably 95%—if you have them repeat it back, will remember it.
- 39:01 Most people are waiting to talk. You think you’re communicating, but they’re just waiting for your mouth to stop moving and then they say words back. We say that we had a conversation. If you get people to repeat things back, you’re already way ahead. If, in the small percent chance that they don’t remember even when they repeat it back, you implement a new process and frame it in their benefit. “Hey Cory, I communicated something and I had you repeat it back, and we needed to do this thing the new way. Since it wasn’t done the new way, we’re going to have to redo it. I don’t want you to have to do duplicate work anymore, so in the future, we should write it down on a piece of paper.”
- 39:43 Or, you could put it in a To Do app or add it to the calendar. Something like that. Add a reminder or check in at some point, but frame it in their benefit. “I don’t want you to have to do duplicate work. I don’t want you to feel unloved. I don’t want us to miss each other. I don’t want to miss our next scheduled call.”
- 40:04 Ben: When it comes to communicating with an employee, for example, part of you taking responsibility may look like after a certain number of times of the same thing happening and you implementing a process to make it work, part of your responsibility may be to set expectations about whether or not that person continues to work for you. That is still you taking responsibility, part of which is communicating what their responsibility is and what their expectations are.
Responsibility as a Citizen
- 41:12 I’ve heard this before, where people say that, on average, more obstacles come up than positive things for people in general. That’s why this negative bias exists. People expect bad things to happen, but when those bad things happen, they notice and point to those things. It’s this negative undertone that people experience. What’s missing in that equation is the fact that you are alive, that you were born. Wherever you live, if you’re still alive, you’ve had access to some resources up to this point. You’ve had people take care of you. Somebody raised you.
- 42:18 You could look at those things and say, “I was raised by someone who wasn’t very nice to me,” and you can find negative things, but there’s a lot of positivity just in the sense that you’ve made it this far. The playing field is pretty even. A lot of good things have happened to you. Think about the possibility of dying from disease or not having access to food. Of all of those possibilities, you’ve made it. You’ve survived. Life finds a way. That establishes a neutral baseline, maybe even to the point where you owe it to life to step up. Not only do as many good things happen as bad, but if you’re alive, growing, and any area of your life is increasing in some way, more positive things have to happen to you in order for that to be true.
- 43:37 Sean: When you take responsibility, you’re not going to see the negative things as these big, horrible things. When you’re looking for excuses, you find them, and everything looks like an excuse to you. When you’re looking for responsibility, you find areas where you can improve yourself, your processes, and your life. You take ownership. Seeing this big goal that you want to accomplish, everything in the way seems like this little hurdle, but it’s just a challenge. When you’re looking for excuses, everything looks like a roadblock, like this impassible wall. Objectively, the same things are happening to you.
- 44:18 It’s the same scenarios. When your perspective changes, you don’t see, “Oh, everything negative is happening to me.” You just see bumps in the road on the way to where you’re going. When it comes to citizenship, as a person of your country, to me, being responsible as a citizen means saying, “I own the responsibility for where I’m at right now and why I’m not somewhere else, why I haven’t achieved what I haven’t achieved.” This says, “I can take things into my own hands, and if I don’t like my situation, I can change it. I can make choices and sacrifices and work hard to get where I want to go,” contrary to the excuses mindset.
You take responsibility as a citizen when you relinquish any form of entitlement.
- 45:28 I’m not looking for excuses to say, “I’m not where I want to be because I didn’t get free college,” or, “I’m not where I want to be because I didn’t get some kind of a stipend.” It’s saying, “I own this. I own my life and my choices. I am responsible for where I am now, and I have full control over getting where I want to be. Nothing’s going to hold me back. Nothing is going to stop me. I’m not going to blame any external forces, my government, politicians, or the laws. I’m going to say that I have that choice. My life is something that I can choose to operate however I want, I can choose to make sacrifices wherever I want, and I can take ownership of that.”
- 46:26 Ben: With every one of these, I keep hearing the voices of the people saying, “What about this? What if you were born in a country where the government was really repressive and you were born into a family that was very poor, and you didn’t have access to any resources?” Forget college, you don’t even have access to a school. What about that? What if you have to walk three miles a day to get water for your family? A lot of people would look at that and say, “I can see how that would be really difficult and that person is justified in pointing to those excuses,” but that’s a pretty big exception. Also, there are people who have been in those situations who have overcome those things because they were focused, worked hard, and they found a way out of those situations or a way to make those situations better.
- 47:39 Some people fight for the dream or the goal that they have in spite of their circumstances, and they never realize that before they leave this earth. I would rather go out fighting, because there’s so much more fulfillment and purpose in that. Going back to the issue of legacy that we talked about a few episodes back, think about the world you’re leaving behind (Related: e243 Building a Lasting Legacy).
- 48:22 Even in bad circumstances, every breath is a gift. I think that I owe the fact that I’m alive, breathing, and my mental capacity to life. I owe it to do my best, to work toward something and try to make my situation and the situations of the people around me better.
- 48:54 Sean: If anything, the things that Ben is talking about give me context and perspective to realize that there are always people who have it worse than you. As bad as you think your situation might be and as many excuses as you think you have, there are people with way more excuses, people who have way less.
There are people who have way less than you and are happier and make fewer excuses than you do.
- 49:28 There are people in way worse situations who are ten times as happy as you, who don’t make excuses, who take ownership over their lives and take responsibility. To me, that’s a sobering thought. Who am I to make any kind of excuse when people who have less than me are making fewer excuses than I am? They have more reasons to make excuses and blame external forces that are totally valid, but they choose not to be the victim. They take ownership over their life and they say, “This is the situation I’m in. I can’t control where I am now. I am where I am, but I can always control my response to the world.”
- 50:19 It’s the time between something happening to you and you responding to it that makes the difference between reaction and responding. The less time there is between something happening to you and you doing something, it’s more likely that it’s going to be a reaction. Whereas, if you give yourself some time and space between the thing that happened to you and how you respond, you take more ownership over that and more responsibility that way.
- 50:53 Ben: The reaction can reflect a value of responsibility and ownership if that’s something that you practiced, if it’s such a deeply ingrained value that it becomes your automatic response. For some people, that’s not true. That’s something they have to build and develop. Regarding citizenship, we have certain laws in place. You have to get a license to do certain things. If you own a car, for example, you have to go get your emissions tests. That’s part of being responsible—the things that you own, that you’re responsible for, shouldn’t cost other citizens money. If you think about it that way, you can get really deep into environmental stewardship and those kinds of things.
- 52:13 As a dad of six kids, our carbon footprint is potentially pretty big. I didn’t think about this when we were setting out to have a family. Now, I’m starting to think about how we use more energy than the average family. Think about the things you purchase from the store. Where did that come from? Can you vouch for how sustainably that was done? Maybe you’re saving some money, buying something cheap, but somebody is paying for that.
As a citizen, if I’m getting a deal and taking the easy way, someone is paying for that somewhere—that’s me not taking responsibility.
- 53:15 I have the capability to produce enough value to cover the costs of everything that I own and then some. My quest for personal responsibility as a citizen is a complex deal. Think about a household—the groceries, the laundry detergent you use, and the clothes that you purchase. It’s not easy, but I can’t tell you how much fulfillment and control you feel when you start asking the question, “How can I be more responsible for these things? How can I take on the full responsibility so that this isn’t costing somebody somewhere something?”
- 54:07 Sean: When you start to think this way, you start to recognize that people, especially politicians, will pander to the masses that like to look for excuses. Most people don’t want to take responsibility for things, so they’re looking for anything they can get, anything they feel entitled to or that is owed to them, anything they can get for free, anything that reaffirms any external biases that they have. Other people have done this to me! When you reaffirm those feelings, you’re going to reach a ton of people, because a lot of people don’t like to take responsibility. In the beginning, it’s uncomfortable.
- 54:52 In the end, it’s empowering, because you forge your own path and you own your life. You’ll start to recognize it and see it in a lot of places.
Responsibility as a Person
- 55:12 You are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your attitude, your outlook on life, and how you respond to things. You will only ever be as happy as you are right now, in this moment. All you ever have is now. We’re humans, so we like to think of this thing called time. It helps us wrap our minds around the passage of time—things that have happened and things that will happen, but the future is not a tangible thing. We think of it as a tangible thing. We see this timeline, like the video I was talking about. Think of a video on YouTube. The whole video is there, sitting on a server.
- 56:21 You’re in the middle of it, you’re playing this movie, and the rest of it is in front of you. We are on the cutting edge of time and what is happening right now. The future hasn’t actually happened yet. The past is also not a tangible thing—it’s things that are no longer in the now. All you have is now. In five years, where you will be and what you will be experiencing will be the new now for you.
You only ever have control over the now and your happiness level in this moment.
- 57:05 It’s not going to be as a result of quitting your job. It’s not going to improve when you get a better house. It’s not going to improve when you find a significant other. It’s not going to improve when you’re engaged to that person, when you finally get married. It’s not going to be improved when you have a kid or when that kid leaves the house. It’s not going to be improved when you’re a grandparent. It’s not going to be improved when you get a yacht, boat, house, car, the new microphone, or the new Macbook.
- 57:38 It’s not going to be improved. You may experience a brief surge of dopamine, but your happiness level will not change. It’s only however happy you choose to be right now in this moment, regardless of the external forces, the things that are happening to you. That’s the choice aspect of it. Take responsibility over yourself as a person and the level of happiness you choose for yourself right now, knowing it will not change when external things happen. You’re also responsible over the way you respond to things that happen to you and the attitude that you have.
- 58:19 Ben: We have this different way that we’re trying to talk about feelings in our house. When somebody does something to somebody else, instead of saying, “You made me feel,” or, “When it hit me, it made me feel,” we’re using a slight change in language. “When you hit me, I felt,” or, “When you speak to me this way, I feel.” It’s a shift in language that takes responsibility and ownership of the feelings. It’s acknowledging what happened, but it also acknowledges that the feelings are happening in me. They didn’t originate somewhere else.
- 59:07 As long as I’m the one feeling these things, I’m in control. I can work through these feelings, and I can practice that. I can get really good at working through my feelings. Otherwise, when I’m always thinking, “When something happens to me, it makes me feel a certain way,” I’m always going to want to avoid that thing.
- 59:31 Sean: You’re blaming this thing that happened, so you avoid the thing.
- 59:37 Ben: Avoiding somebody hitting you is a good thing to do. What if it’s something that makes you feel uncomfortable? I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. I don’t know how to work through that feeling, so I’m going to avoid that. If you avoid things that make you feel uncomfortable, you’re going to be very limited in what you can accomplish. In order to accomplish great things, you’ve got to be uncomfortable sometimes. It’s a little shift in the way you talk about those things. Sometimes, that little shift is all it takes to reprogram the way you think about it.
Benefits of Taking Responsibility
- 1:00:14 Sean: Taking responsibility over the different situations in your life means that you have full control over your life. When you look for excuses or blame, the problem with blaming is that you put all of your stock in other people or external forces. That’s great when you don’t want to take responsibility and you want to say that it’s someone else’s fault, but when you do want to take responsibility, you’re helpless. It’s other people’s fault, so you’re beholden to them and to these external forces.
When you take responsibility, you have full control over your life and you can become a happier person.
- 1:00:54 Other people will like you because you’re never blaming them, but you’re also not negative. You’re not making excuses. When you take responsibility, you’ll find that people will be drawn to you. They will like you!
- 1:01:08 Ben: When you demonstrate that you can take responsibility, they will give responsibility to you. They will say, “You know what? You seem to be really good with responsibility. I would rather you be responsible for this than me.” Sometimes, that’s a bad thing. There are certain things you may not want to choose to take responsibility for, that aren’t a part of your job or your focus, but every once in a while someone may offer to make you responsible for something that becomes a jump in your career or a big client that you haven’t worked with before.
- 1:01:57 It allows you to get into this new level. That’s the power of responsibility. People recognize when you take responsibility. The people who have responsibility to give away to someone else want to relinquish it to someone who has proven that they can handle responsibility.
- 1:02:20 Sean: Maybe you want more responsibility in your life. People are thinking, “I don’t know… more responsibility…” but if you really think about it, in your job, in life, with the clients you want, wouldn’t you want more responsibility? Every form of advance in your career, your life, and the money that you make is an increase in responsibility. If you want more money in life, you want more responsibility. That’s a fact. It comes with the package. When you approach everything with a mindset of excuses, you’re anchoring yourself down to the bottom.
- 1:03:05 Responsibility is something that can increase, and like Ben said, people want to give responsibility to responsible people. I’m never going to give responsibility to someone who does nothing but make excuses, because guess what happens when something goes wrong? They’re going to make excuses. That’s no good. Two more benefits of responsibility are that you’re not a victim and you’re not going to be bitter. Being bitter sucks.
- 1:03:43 Ben: Think about the things you have taken responsibility for, maybe as a professional with clients. Something happens, you make a mistake, and you do the same thing over again that you already told yourself you wouldn’t do. You think about it so much differently when it’s something you’ve already taken responsibility for. You think, “Oh, man. I know better than that.” We go to bitterness when we feel like our identity was threatened. When we don’t take responsibility when something was our fault, and it continues to be our fault, we don’t want that to say something about who we are. We don’t want to deal with it, and bitterness sets in. Even if you make the same mistake again, do so as the person who’s responsible. It’s not fun, but it feels better than not being responsible.
- 1:04:57 Sean: It can feel uncomfortable to be responsible or to take responsibility in the beginning, but the degree to which that is uncomfortable doesn’t even compare to the degree to which you feel empowered in your life. Nothing compares. To me, it’s totally worth it.
- 1:05:22 Ben: We made a really good case for this, but I also want to be careful that we’re not villainizing people who don’t take responsibility. As we’ve said, this is the way that a majority of people think. It’s not one of those things where you flip a switch, and suddenly, whatever situation you’re in, you’re asking yourself how you can seek responsibility. Many of us came up in a culture, even very mildly, where our identity was tied to things we did or didn’t do. To protect that, we try to pass the blame and point at other circumstances or other forces. If we’re responsible, that can also mean that that relationship is in trouble.
- 1:06:19 If that relationship is in trouble, maybe we’re not going to be taken care of. Our needs won’t be met. There’s this deep-rooted sense of trying to protect our identity, and that’s just something that’s part of the culture. In more severe cases, you might have come from a home where the way you were punished, the consequences you received, and the way your parents related to you supported this idea. It might be something that’s very hard-wired. You’re not going to be able to flip a switch. If you want to take more responsibility, you have to practice that.
- 1:07:11 There are going to be things that you miss, opportunities you see to take responsibility, and it’s going to feel really hard and scary. You might shrink away from it. There may be other times when you’re successful and you get to experience that. The practice of it over time is going to make it easier to take responsibility and it’s going to change the way you look at the different situations you’re in so it’s easier to see your opportunities to take responsibility.
We are all willing to take varying levels of responsibility in the different areas of our lives.
- 1:07:45 Sean: Everyone has different, compartmentalized areas of their lives. If you look to all of those situations and find the one where you voluntarily take the most responsibility, look at that situation. Let me give you an example. In your job, you’re a manager or something, so you take responsibility. You go in, you take ownership of your domain, and when an employee makes a mistake, you know that you’re responsible for that to the higher-ups. You’re also responsible because you didn’t prevent it, set the right expectations, or explain the consequences. You own that place, and people respect you.
- 1:08:50 Then you come home, and your spouse is frustrated about something. Maybe you haven’t spent enough time with them or communication was bad. You left things the wrong way this morning, before you went to work. You had a really solid day at work and things went well, because you took responsibility there, but you come home and you say, “I was tired. I was grumpy. I didn’t get good sleep. I had a hard day at work.” You come up with excuses for why you didn’t communicate with them, spend time with them, or why you were cross. You’ll find that you take varying responsibility in different areas of your life.
- 1:09:37 Maybe you take responsibility in your work and your love life, but when it comes to your citizenship, all you do is watch the news and complain about the politicians and how your life is terrible, it’s too hard to run a business, and all these things. If you look to the place where you’ve taken the most responsibility, you’ll see the greatest results in that area. Siphon some of that energy into the other areas of your life.