Taking Responsibility for the Mess

How many people do you know that are unable to take responsibility for a mess they’ve made?

It doesn’t even have to be a “big” mess like a car wreck, or the loss of a major account, or an “F” in Statistics. I’m talking about someone who acts like “taking responsibility” is the same as confessing to having committed a heinous crime. Maybe you’re not even upset, you just want to get the situation worked out, but Mr. Can’t-be-wrong is so busy deflecting the blame the conversation goes nowhere.


Marshall Rosenberg does a great job of writing about the difference between a committing a punishable offense and having an unmet need in his book Non-Violent Communication. If we can’t take ownership of what is, we’re gonna be a victim of it. My taking ownership is a fact. It ups my control over the situation. Almost all of me is glad to take ownership, because if it’s my mess I can do something about it.


But what about the part of us that being responsible is evidence of defect? Nine and a half out of ten people have a long-practiced habit of beating themselves up for mistakes, problems, sadness, and less than perfect results. It was the way we tried to protect ourselves from losing the love of a parent or parents. Wait, that’s not accurate.


It wasn’t ever about losing the love of a parent. It was about not losing the hope of getting the love we craved.


Life Coaching is all about chipping away at everything that’s not the best me I can be and building the best life possible and living it the best I can. Let me tell you, on a good day, there’s absolutely no “settling for” here. It’s better than you can imagine. There’s the very real probability you can have many good days in a row. Really fantastic days.


We’ve got some unhelpful habits that we’ve got to change to be able to build and enjoy the life we can have. Two essential characteristics of authentic people building fantastic lives are (1) we take responsibility for what is – we’re aware,  agile, and able to focus on celebrating and making the experience better; and, (2) we’ve got a huge supply of empathy for everyone, including ourselves.


Ellyn Spragins’ mom, Joyce,  died in a plane crash. Joyce was sixty, Ellen was thirty-two. Just because Ellen was a successful professional woman with children of her own doesn’t mean that Ellen didn’t still want or need mothering herself from time to time. That’s when she missed her mother the most – not the holding and rocking kind of mothering, but the stories, the wisdom from one who knows you well, loves you unconditionally, and is on the solution side rather than part of the problem. Our mom’s are sometimes part of our problem, of course, but designing the life you want frequently includes having a relationship with parents that’s really good.


Photograh by Dwight Carter


What did Ellyn do to get her needs met? She asked over forty amazing women to teach her their life lessons. Women like Trisha Yearwood and Madeleine Albright, Maya Angelou and Olympia Dukakis. I’ll tell you some of their stories over the next couple of weeks. Women and men need to hear this. You can read along with me if you’d like in Ellyn’s book, What I Know Now.


My client’s aren’t as famous, but their stories are as meaningful to me as Ellyn’s “gang” was to her. I have permission to share some of those as well.


If you ever have the oportunity to hear philosopher David Hawkins, I urge you to do it. In a lecture series entitled “Be in the World, Not of the World.” David has a talk on gratitude. He talks about spreading joy and letting people who need to win an argument, win so they feel good. Great example of they can win and he loses nothing, but gains the pleasure of their being happy. He says something like this,

Gratitude allows us to experience life with a greater sense of freedom and joy. If somebody backs into your car in the parking lot, I’m most concerned with making the other person feel better. It’s just a nuisance, nothing to ruin your day or your life over. I find that making other people feel happy is in itself very gratifying. You can see that the person is all upset and very worried. They think that you’re gonna’ sue them, and God knows what else. So you reassure them that all’s well…and you can see the big sigh of relief. It’s like petting the dog and his tail wags. You feel happier, don’t you?

What can make you happier than to be surrounded by kitties that purr, dogs that wag their tails, and neighbors that are grateful that you live in their neighborhood, and people who forgive you rather than threaten to sue you, and you don’t mind if they win the argument.

I say to myself, “So you want to win the argument? Okay.” So let him win. So they go away feeling good. They won! Great.

You quickly learn that this type of life is extremely pleasant, and you’re surrounded by friendly loving people, and pleasantness and you feel good when you go to bed at night. So you get repaid right away. Your life now become gratifying.

You become a source of benevolence and a source of happiness. You are a relay station for angelic beings. You are a pathways to others. One passing thought from an Arch Angel is so powerful it can change your life forever.


Have a story of taking responsibility or offering empathy you’d like to tell or be listened to? Please contact me here.

This is the final piece of a trilogy. The first was about focusing on the solution not the problem. The second was about your attention following your tension.