Choices and How They Affect Lives

by Monica Ross

I want to go back to the topic of values for a second and something called personal responsibility and why taking personal responsibility is so important. We all make choices in life but sometimes we think that we end up where we are in life because of another person's actions. For example a person might say, if I had a boss who was more flexible and understanding then I wouldn’t have lost my job. Or if my sister didn’t always take the spotlight I would feel like I too had value for the things I’ve been able to accomplish in life. If we are forever giving up our agency to other people, blaming others as it were for our difficulties, it can create problems.

For one, when we do that we’re actually giving up our power. It's like saying our power is out there somewhere and owned by someone else and not within us.  If that truly were the case, how would be able to change the course of our lives at all?

In an earlier blog I talked about how sometimes people accept more responsibility for things than they need to perhaps in an attempt to exert control and influence, to regain power when feeling powerless. But I think there is also the opposite in life and that would be to accept no responsibility for anything at all. That might look something like this.

“If I didn’t have the parents I had I wouldn’t have ended up like this.”

“This is the way that I am, so what are you going to do about it?”

“I can’t achieve what I want to achieve in life because of the racism, sexism, and closed-mindedness in society.”

All of these statements lead to the conclusion therefore there’s nothing I can do about it. One could say that about practically anything.  To say that in a way, is to say that if my life isn't going the way that I want it to, it's not my fault.  I agree there may be some relief in thinking that way.

For one, the advantage would be well, if it's not my fault then there is nothing that I can do about it.  That is one sure fire way of maintaining the status quo.  In a way it becomes the excuse for the way that things are instead of the reason for why things are different.  In other words, to say the opposite which is that I actually do have control is to say that it is within my power to change.

Some other examples of not taking personal responsibility would be to tell oneself things like there is nothing that I can do about the fact that I live in a place that I don’t want to live, or there is nothing that I can do about my dependence on cigarettes, or there is nothing that I can do about my issues with weight, or there is nothing that I can do about the fact that I can’t seem to find the right job, or the right mate.

But in all of these examples, I’m pointing out matters of choice.   I can choose to move, I can chose to quit smoking, I can choose to eat differently, I can choose to find a different job, and I can choose to find the right partner.  And it’s not just about the choices we make in life but it’s even about how we choose to think and feel about the choices we make because that too is a choice. Mindblown.

Agreed, we may not choose the situation or circumstance we find ourselves in, we may not choose what others decide to throw at us in life, but at the end of the day we do choose how we respond to what's been dealt.

We may not have chosen to have lost a child or a spouse.  We might not have chosen to be born with a disability. We may not have chosen to suffer financial loss. We might not have chosen to be born a racial minority, or LGBTQ+, or chronically ill, or whatever whole host of other things that might cause us to feel at a disadvantage.  BUT, we do decide what to do about it and how we choose to live our lives.

What happens if we don’t do this?  What happens if we don’t take personal responsibility? We look to others for recognition, for approval. We might harbor anger over being handed a raw deal. We might feel depressed because we feel there is nothing that we ourselves can do to alter the course and direction of our lives.

We might get this feeling like we are waiting on someone or something else to change before our own circumstances change. We might feel powerless, afraid. The fear can be very disabling. A person can work themselves to a point in life where they might say I can’t function. I can’t function in life like this.

Okay, so how does a person recover? It’s about being open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things up to and including shifting one's perspective about life in general. It’s about overcoming fear and getting rid of the anxiety and unhealthy thinking patterns. It’s about setting boundaries. It’s about taking risks.

It’s about building trust and surrounding yourself with trustworthy people. It’s about working through our insecurities. It’s about asking for help when we need it. It’s about letting go of the need to be perfect, managing our time better, reducing our stress, connecting with a spiritual side, if that’s your thing.

It’s about setting goals and prioritizing activities. It’s about coming to place of believing deep down in the core of our being that we are in control of our lives.  We are in the driver’s seat. There is no one to blame but me.  We make choices every day about our lives. We are the captains of our souls.  Here's a poem by William Ernest Henley that speaks to this.


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.


And don't let anyone or anything cause you to believe otherwise, not even yourself in your darkest moments.  ~M