Stop whining – take ownership

I teach my kids about winners and whiners; that winners:

  1. are in charge of their own lives
  2. don’t blame others or God
  3. take responsibility for making good choices, having a good attitude and for good behavior

are you a whiner?At 10 years old or at 30, at home or at work, it’s all the same — we only thrive when we take ownership of everything in our life. In each moment we are interpreting events around us with the opportunity to take the high road of responsibility (and leadership) by stepping up to bat, or the low road of avoidance.

Sometimes these events are mighty transgressions: “I admit, the train wreck was my fault!”  But these big events are few and far between. More interesting are the tiny, constant, momentary decisions that sum to become our careers and lives. At the end of the game, we are clearly either leaders making things happen or whiners, the pawns of events and circumstances.

At the most basic level, this is what it means to take ownership – if I ask you for something as your boss, I want you to:

blaming others for mistakesWhat stops an otherwise talented person from taking ownership? Blame! Imagine this – you work all night long on a presentation, or perhaps weeks brokering a difficult agreement, only to have your ‘moment of victory’ viciously stolen when your foul-mouthed manager shoots down your idea.

Your reaction might include elements like:

  • That manager always wastes my time by letting me go down the wrong track, just so he can tear me apart at the end!
  • He’s attacking me personally!
  • His criticism is so rude!
  • I’m a competent, driven person, but he is negating and demotivating me!
  • He’s wrong!

blaming the companyNote that in each of these responses we have placed the cause of suffering outside of ourselves; i.e., we have placed the blame on someone else. But there is another option – we could take responsibility for each of these things with responses like these:

  • It was silly to get so far into this project without periodically checking with the stakeholders to see if I was on the right track!
  • I’m under attack and defenseless, how did I get myself into this poor position?
  • Why am I taking his criticism so personally?
  • What fundamental difference is making him think something so different from me, and who’s right?

In reviewing the two paths of response, blame or responsibility, note the following differences:

  1. Blame subverts the process of our own improvement.  As soon as we blame, we remove the need for ourselves to change; we place the requirement for work and improvement on the shoulders of someone else.
  2. Blame makes us victims of our environment, rather than masters of the universe.

the impossible projectStrength has nothing to do with doing things that are easy – real strength is being strong when you feel weak. Strength separates the wheat from the chaff. Like shooting free throws, getting better and better gets harder and harder. The 1% improvement is easy when you are young and foolish, and takes increasing concentration the better you get.

Blame is easy to recognize when obvious as in: “You moron! I can’t believe you did that! This is all your fault!”

It’s less obvious here: “I was late because Joe couldn’t finish on time.”  The path of responsibility: “I failed to plan well with my team.”

It’s even harder to see here: “I was late because the plane was delayed.” But, we can always take earlier flights, so try: “I need to allow a little more slack in my travel schedule.”

Instead of saying,  “Yupi hasn’t sent us the contract yet,” let’s try this: “We haven’t received the contract from Yupi yet.” See how the burden subtly changes between Yupi, (“those irresponsible jerks, when will they send it?”), to us… why are we failing to receive it, and what can we do to change that?

This is subtle: “I didn’t have enough time.” Here, we are actually blaming the universe for being herself, for creating a dimension of time that is not to our satisfaction. What a childish tantrum: it’s like blaming water for being liquid! Try this instead: “I didn’t schedule my time well enough to finish.”

An extremely subtle and advanced lesson – look within. Maybe you’ve heard the saying “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you.”  Often when accusing or blaming someone, we find we are talking about something we were actually committing ourselves. This law is as mysterious as the relationship between matter and gravity, but a guarantee: the closer you look, the more it turns out to be true. Heard long ago in our office:

“Apologies for the emotional outburst. … I also realized that it was a bit hypocritical to personally attack you for personally attacking others.”

When you begin to see that you control everything, you will begin to see that you control everything.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

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  • As a University student taking some difficult science courses, I find this incredibly relevant to my life. There have been times where I do not meet my personal expectations in terms of tests and it brings me down, but not like everyone else– I can’t let it do that. I have learned to become more resilient, even though I already knew I was. My strength stems from picking myself up when most people give up; having a goal and striving to meet it even if my way is unconventional. My strength is the result of trusting that it will work out the way it is supposed to eventually, and embracing the lessons that are produced from what may seem as an alternative pathway. I have to put in more work than my friends, and they even tend to always score slightly higher than me. I have learned that there is so much more than grades. Taking courses in the humanities alongside my sciences reinforces why I want to attend medical school someday. Yes the science is important, but the human interaction and empathy is just as important. My strength comes from expanding my horizons academically and professionally, and still letting them show me why I want to pursue medicine. I could let defeats knock me down or change my mind, but I don’t. I decide to take matters into my own hands by becoming more diligent with studying because I know that is how I will get to where I want to be someday!

  • This is a hard lesson to learn, yet a very important one. Learning this shows maturity and is looked highly upon in the workforce. I worked at a child’s thrift store at 17. It was a minimum wage, part-time job during the down time of summer. I was not an experienced worker, so working with others and serving the public was a new ordeal for me.

    Mistakes are easy to make; they can happen to anyone. Maybe the mistake stemmed from a bad day or even a simple misunderstanding, but it is never good, especially in the workforce, to not take responsibility for poor and misjudged actions. As I had stated earlier, I was new to working a job, which meant I was new to taking on larger responsibilities.

    I had changed my debit card, meaning I had to inform my boss of the new change. I waited too long to give my new card information for my payment, and I was given two forms of payment. I received a check for the absence of the automatic electronic payment straight to my bank. Unbeknownst to me, the electronic payment had already gone through, which reopened my bank account. This meant I got payed twice for that pay roll. I found out weeks later when I had received an email from my old bank, stating I had sufficient funds remaining. My job did not notice the payment was given to me twice on accident. I tried to blame the bank, but I knew it was ultimately my fault.

    I then had to confront my boss of the incident and also repaid the extra payment I received. Though, this was a stressful situation, I took full responsibility for my poor action and was rewarded with my boss referring me as “responsible.” I took all blame, and the situation turned out fine and easier than it would have been if I would not have. This is a major lesson I learned and will carry it with me thoughout the rest of my adult life.

  • I can really relate to this article.in that I spent years feeling sorry for myself and being busy with the idea of myself as “the victim”. Overtime I came to realize that I need to own up to my life mistakes and decisions and live with them and accept them because all in all its my life, and I’m the one who needs to live it! A wise mentor of mine has a saying, “you see it, you own it”. meaning that if you spot a problem, don’t walk away from it, help to fix it. and I try to live my life by this now, and find much success!

  • This is such a great lesson because I think everyone, including me, has made this mistake. Although I have learned to own up to my mistakes and “stop whining”, it took me many years of working with colleagues and communicating with my bosses to finally learn that it’s best to admit that I did something wrong because of me, not anyone else. I found that it is easier to admit to my mistake, reconcile with my wrongdoings, and move on. Better to do that than to fester over whose fault it was or blame it “bad luck”.

    An example in my life was when I was working as a medical assistant. I had documented something poorly, as my supervisor had pointed out. Instead of saying “I was in a hurry” or “I didn’t have enough time to proofread” I realize that, yes, I made a mistake and will correct it. I also learned that it was much easier to admit the fact that I am human (no one’s perfect) and to be more careful next time even when I am feeling rushed because it’s mistakes like this that can be corrected easily by just being more cautious.

    With this in mind, this won’t be my last mistake nor will I ever cease to stop whining. But I know that I can always try to. It is important to strive to always work on oneself because who else will, if we don’t.

  • Taking control of your actions is key. Throughout my entire life I was taught that oI should always take responsibility for my actions no the consequences. I have learned that the consequence for not taking action for your responsibilities is worse than just accepting the facts.

  • I agree that taking responsibility is a difficult thing to do and I find myself blaming others for something thats my fault. I’m a high school senior and there’s a lot of pressure to apply for college, FAFSA, scholarships, and to do good in all of my classes. I procrasinate a lot so when I fall asleep in class, forget a book in my locker, or didn’t do my homework, I blame it on not getting enough sleep when I should be taking responsibilty and say”I should’ve allowed myself to go to bed earlier”. When I don’t do well on a test I either blame the teacher or justify my grade by seeing what other people got and if majority of the class didn’t do well then it’s not my fault when I should’ve studied more or ask more questions. I’m getting better at taking responsibility and accepting the outcome.

  • I would alway beat myself up for not getting a job that I wanted. On my school there is a startup called Campus Job which creates a market place for finding jobs. I would go on and apply to many jobs, however, none would contact me back. I felt bad I wanted to blame myself and everyone because I wasn’t good enough. But, I took ownership and I emailed one of the companies I liked and sent my resume and a cover letter to demonstrate my desire. They emailed me for an interview, which I took as great feedback and I continued to demonstrate I was great for their company. Eventually, they got back to me after weeks of screening and I got the job. In the end, it’s not over and just go out there and fight show them why you are fighting for a job at their company! This lesson made me feel so much better!

  • This article really opened my eyes because the idea of the “Blame game” at work or at any aspect of life is real. In day to day life we use the “Blame game” as a form of protection to one’s self not knowing it could continue to a worse situation. Being from the healthcare field I have encountered many different types of individuals who have been put in situations due to not taking the “fall” for themselves. This makes the group that the individual works with feel a mistrust or let down to where if they just owned up the situation would have just been different. You would think that in this type of environment this would occur due to what bigger jobs this group of individuals are involved in (caring for patients, life and death situations.) but are those whom are doing making it a challenge for those who do take ownerships for mistakes.

  • Accountability is something that I find to be paramount in any adults life, or at least I feel that it should be. I too teach my child that no matter the outcome, you take responsibility for your actions. This will in turn influence good decision making. The decisions you make will inevitably lead to results. You will have to stand by those results good or bad and therefore be prepared to handle failure and embarrassment or triumph and praise. Understanding followership, I know that my leadership will want me to know how to handle both failure and success. In doing so I must maintain accountability for the decisions that I made leading to this point. It is the only way an efficient business can prosper and move forward. In failure, you analyze your short comings and seek to prevent them from occurring again. In success, you show recognition for those who helped and then look to maintain consistency and strive for improvements. Either way, the future depends on you, and your accountability.

  • I enjoyed this particular lesson. I think that sometimes we allow our circumstances to bring us down, allowing ourselves to believe that this is it. We begin to feel sorry for ourselves and believe that we are our failures and shortcomings. This lesson is a reminder that we are responsible for ourselves, we must be accountable for the choices in our lives and choose to either get up and dust ourselves off after getting knocked down or stay down and waste away. We only get one life, we really should make it count!

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