I recently attended a training called Becoming the Totally Responsible Person. While in my line of work we attend learning and development programs frequently, I actually believe that this one may have changed my life.

I’ve gone through my entire existence believing that I was in control of the people around me – the way they feel, the way they react, the mood they’re in, the attitude they have, the choices they make – and that it is my responsibility to make sure everything (see: everyone) is okay. What I didn’t realize, however, was that I was living that philosophy not out of abundance, but out of need. I needed to feel control (power, authority, autonomy – whatever you want to call it) in some way, form, or fashion because I was always giving mine away.

“It’s too cold to run today.”
“I wish I was a morning person – it’d be much easier for me to start the day.”
“Well, she didn’t give me any choice.”
“Doesn’t my boss know I know nothing about this? So of course the meeting didn’t go well!”
“What else was I supposed to do? He snapped at me – obviously I had to snap back.”

The sentences above are seemingly harmless, and many of us talk this way (to each other and ourselves – you all have a constant dialogue with yourselves like I do, right?) often. This is the thing, though: in these small instances, we slowly, subtly, unknowingly convince ourselves that our choices are not in our control. That idea subconsciously permeates our psyche, and we blindly go through the motions. Before long, we’ve fully bought into two lies:

  1. My environment controls me.
  2. I can and should control others.

Let’s talk about Lie #1. The truth here is that I always have a choice, and the choice doesn’t belong to anybody but me. The weather and my decision to run have nothing to do with one another – in order for the weather to influence me, I have to let it, and I often do. When I wake up in the morning, I actually get to choose my attitude; it may be hard, but I actually can make it happen.

I think what I’m saying is this: we always have a choice. We choose our attitudes, our behaviors, our decisions, and our actions – nobody else chooses them for us (even though most of us have been led to believe that we are, in fact, subject to those around us). The choice may not be easy, nor might it be clear, but there is always – always – more than one option.

On to Lie #2. When we realize the power of our choices and the importance of assuming responsibility over them, we also recognize that the attempt to manage others actually takes the choice away from them. This may look like correcting the work of a direct report rather than asking them to or not letting somebody suffer the consequences of their own actions or not letting somebody experience failure. In our often well-intentioned efforts to protect them, what we end up doing is removing the opportunity for them to grow and learn. As such, I am constantly reminding myself that other people get to be in control of their choices as well.

In the last three weeks since I’ve embraced this idea of being Totally Responsible (for myself, not others!), I have felt freer, more peaceful, and less burdened. As we like to say at L3: I own me; You own you. It is when we mutually know this and act accordingly that we are able to achieve amazing things together.

So I challenge you – my lovely, beautiful readers – to start to own your choices and let others own theirs today, too. It’s definitely scary and will (as far as I can tell) take a life of practice, but you won’t regret starting the journey.