Responsibility: The First Step in Learning
Who is responsible for what happens in your life? Do you believe you should take personal responsibility? Or do you feel as if that is outside of your control and there’s little or nothing you can do about it?
Psychologists say that some people possess an internal locus of control, where they rely primarily on themselves for the gains and losses in their lives. Others possess an external locus of control, where they blame others when something goes wrong. Which group is more successful? The group that takes personal responsibility. Which people are more content? The ones who take personal responsibility. Which people learn from their mistakes and keep growing and improving? The people who take responsibility.
Taking responsibility for your life is a choice. That doesn’t mean you believe you are in control of everything in your life. That’s not humanly possible. But you can take responsibility for yourself and every choice you have.
When you take responsibility for yourself, you take responsibility for your learning. The earlier you do this, the better the potential results. Professor and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist William Raspberry had good advice regarding the importance of taking responsibility and making right choices when we are young. He observed,
If you want to be thought of as a solid, reliable pillar of your community when you’re fifty, you can’t be an irresponsible, corner-cutting exploiter at twenty-five. . . . The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one. You determine your reputation by deciding who and what you are and by keeping that lofty vision of yourself in mind, even when you’re having a rip-roaring good time.
If you take responsibility when you’re young, you have a better chance of gaining wisdom as you get older. For some of us, it takes a long time. I sometimes feel that only after turning sixty-five did I begin to understand life. Now that I’m officially a senior citizen, I can say there are two things I know about my life. First, it has contained many surprises. My life didn’t turn out like I thought it would. Some things turned out better than I imagined, some things worse. No matter who you are, it’s impossible to know how your life will turn out.
Second, as long as I take responsibility for the things I can control in my life and try my best to learn from them, I can feel contented. Unfortunately, my personal challenge has been keeping myself from trying to control things outside my sphere of influence. Whenever I’ve overreached in that way and things have gone wrong, it has caused me to lose focus, waste energy, and feel discouraged. That has been a hard lesson for me.
If you can find the right balance where you take responsibility for the things you can control and let go of the things you cannot, you will accelerate your learning process. But even if you learn the lesson late, you can still benefit from it.
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