Ouch! I shrieked. My daughter had dug her teeth into my shoulder.
We were in Target. I was crouched down beside her. In front of us was a Nintendo Switch display. I was teaching her how to play Super Mario Odyssey. She got the hang of it pretty fast. For a two-year-old, I was impressed.
But her attention soon faded.
Below the display, she noticed an expensive-looking controller. She reached for it. I gently stopped her. “We’re not going to play with that right now,” I said. It was then that she sank her teeth into me like a shark attacking a seal. Well, maybe not that graphic. But it hurt. Well, maybe not hurt. But it certainly felt like something sharp was interacting with my shoulder.
Where blame lies
My kid’s a toddler. She doesn’t know how to express herself yet. We’ve all been there. But more than that, I didn’t see her actions as her fault. Rather, I saw them as mine. After all, how is she to know the social norms of our world? How is she to know the expectations and rules we all abide by?
That’s not on her to know. It’s on me to teach. It’s my responsibility and my shortcoming for not doing so.
Later that day, I talked with her. I empathized with her frustrations. And I suggested ways for her to do differently in the future. I treated her with respect, like an adult. Then we moved on. Will our conversation take? Hopefully. But if it doesn’t, it will continue to be my job to guide her until it does. Now, at some point, her actions will become her responsibility. But that day isn’t today.
It’s not her fault, it’s mine. It’s not my wife’s fault, it’s mine. And it’s not the world’s fault, it’s mine.
Life becomes easier the day you take responsibility
You’d think life would get harder by claiming all things as your responsibility. In my experience, it actually gets easier. Instead of living in a reality where everything is random and meaningless, you take control. You say, “Oh, that person flipped me off on the freeway? What could I have done to cause that reaction?”
You don’t spiral out and curse at the aggressor. You turn the focus on yourself and learn from it.
It’s not done from a place of weakness. Rather, it’s done from a place of strength. A place where you are so confident in your abilities, where you are so secure in who you are, that you welcome the problems you encounter. Because each problem gives you a chance to learn and each lesson you learn improves your life by that much more.
It’s the opposite of complaining. It’s owning your reality.
Your punch is my fault
There’s a line from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that goes something like: If someone punches me in the face, I don’t blame the person who punched me. I blame myself for not getting out of the way.
The default state for many is to place blame on the other person. If you don’t get the job, you blame your boss for being incompetent. If you don’t lose weight, you blame your trainer for not doing a good job. And if your relationship fails, you blame the other person for not seeing a good thing when it’s in front of them.
Yet when you blame others, you miss out on a valuable opportunity. An opportunity to learn and do better. I’m not saying you need to be a pushover. Rather, I’m saying that in any situation where things go awry, forget about the other person entirely.
Instead, say I am 100% at fault for this happening.
It’s empowering to take responsibility. But it can also be painful.
I was speaking with someone recently. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember his name. I should’ve though; we had interacted a handful of times before. Ultimately, I ended up asking him to reintroduce himself. It was embarrassing.
However, I didn’t blame him for not reminding me of his name automatically. Nor did I blame the others in the group for not stepping in when they noticed me struggling. I took full responsibility for my shortcoming. It was 100% my fault.
That said, doing so didn’t immediately remove the awkwardness of the slip.
Once you own the situation, you need to accept it. You need to be non-judgmental of it. More than that though, you need to learn to remove the negative feelings around that situation. Not to think – that was bad, that was humiliating, that was so uncomfortable – but to instead see it for what it was – one person talking to another person, asking them for their name.
Through acceptance, you can see the experience clearly for what it is. Then you can learn.
*Note: Acceptance and non-judgment are two areas I struggle with and have been actively working on. I’ve found books like Loving What Is by Byron Katie and even Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now, to be helpful in that regard.
Do better next time
In Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, the author explains the value of actively learning from mistakes. How, whenever something doesn’t go as planned, you should write down what happened (ie. the failure or shortcoming), what you learned from it, and how you can do things better next time.
Applying this idea, I have a Google Doc called Learn Log. When I blunder, I answer:
- What I ideally wanted to happen;
- What actually happened;
- Why I think it didn’t go as planned;
- What I will do differently next time.
I don’t always write it down, but I do take the time to mentally go through each step. It doesn’t take long, but it’s crucial in preventing mistakes from happening again. In doing that, you turn a shortcoming into an improvement.
Eventually, you begin to see your mistakes as opportunities to grow rather than moments to complain about.
Life becomes easier the moment you plead guilty to everything wrong in your life. When you stop blaming others and start blaming yourself. Not from a place of weakness, but from one of strength. For your reference once more, three steps to owning your life are:
- Take full responsibility for the situation,
- Accept it in a non-judgmental way,
- And decide what you will do differently next time.
Begin to apply those steps and watch how you transform from victim to victor.