We all have those moments in life when a single conversation profoundly changes us. One such experience emerged from a conversation with a friend after she told me that, “From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, you have a single most important responsibility: make yourself happy.” Although I fought this notion, suggesting that this would make me narcissistic, her consequent logic made sense.
Being responsible for our own happiness does not mean we are permitted to infringe upon other people’s happiness for the sake of our own. No, that’s not responsibility; that’s bullying. Responsibility also does not equate us complaining about our circumstances, without acting to change them. The latter–acceptance and action–is responsibility; the former–complaining and blaming–is victimization, or putting the responsibility for our circumstances on others, including a greater power. Sure, most of us have plenty of reasons to blame God, our parents, grandparents, siblings, former friends and lovers, and even that guy on the street for the way things are and how we feel. But that is not responsibility; that is giving in and giving up.
Giving in to the belief that we cannot change our circumstances, that it will always be as it always has, that it’s too late, and that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, strong enough, and so on. The moment we give in to these thoughts, we fall into an abyss of fear which only grows with time. We effectively relinquish the responsibility for our lives by putting everything in the hands of others. This is neither helpful nor fair, yet most of us do it. Why we do it…that’s for another time. More important, however, is the fact that giving in and giving up is not helpful to us, because we then become fearful of pursuing our dreams, of speaking up, of being ourselves, of living fully. We seek approval, we shrink in the face of criticism, and, most importantly, we fail in the single responsibility entrusted to us: to make ourselves happy.
Don’t get me wrong. I have partaken in this negativity many times in the past, as none of us is immune to it. The difference between those who pursue greatness–whatever that means to them–and those who remain on the ground is in the choices we make. Do we choose responsibility thus the acceptance of the situation and resolve to improve it or do we choose to give in to negativity and blame others for their lot. At one point, for some reason, in a wood where two roads diverged, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I chose responsibility for my happiness, and that has made all the difference.
Taking responsibility is not a one time thing; it is a daily occurrence. Each day, we are presented with situations, moods, and nay-sayers that test our resolve; it is our job to withstand the pressure. Between growing up in the war-torn Balkans to crossing the ocean only to find myself broke and lost, I have had many opportunities to throw in the towel and give in to the habit of blame and victimization. And I have had my fair share of it. Yet, I kept pushing ahead. I did so for three reasons: (1) If not me, then who? (2) If not now, then when? (3) Giving up and blaming the world is easy; fighting even when the fighting gets tough and persevering in the face of difficulty is what winners do. While I rarely felt like a winner early on, I badly wanted to be one and I wasn’t going to let the world get in the way. Especially not when I was lost, confused and felt broken.
And, guess what, it worked.
It worked because my attitude was (and continues to be) based on two premises: 1) I was willing to work hard, every single day, to take the responsibility for my life and my own pursuit of happiness. I gave myself a permission to be upset, complain, and resist whatever it felt right at the moment; but, in the end, I accepted that I was in charge. I understood that things won’t change unless I took action. The action may be minimal, but it’s action nevertheless. 2) I resolved to dream big and, in the words of Mr. Churchill, “never, never, ever give up.”
It turns out, persistence–in addition to responsibility–is a key ingredient for success. If you don’t believe me, ask others. Or, even better: try it yourself.
This post is a chapter from my book: Own It: A Practical Guide to Defying the Odds and Claiming Your Life, available on Amazon.