The Cult of No Responsibility

I’ve been trying to write this post now for a good two weeks. This is probably draft number four or so so hopefully I’ve got it right this time. The tone of the article has changed over time from lecture hall to soapbox preacher and now I’ve finally settled on righteous indignation; I’m comfortable here and hopefully it serves to drive the point home. -Mike

First things first: let me start by telling you who I am NOT talking about. I am not talking about the homeless, the unfortunate, the downtrodden, the Girl Scouts, the Shriners, or the poor. I’m not saying that each of these are not worthy causes, or that they don’t do great things. They do. Who I am talking about, is you. Yes. you. All of you reading this, but you in particular. Don’t look behind you because there’s no one there. I’m talking to you so pay attention. I’m writing about this nasty little trend of “my life is not my fault”, aka the Cult of No Responsibility, that seems to be taking over our society. It’s time to quit being whiny wonders and start taking responsibility for both the good and the bad parts of your life. It can be overt or it can be insidious; it can be intentional or unknowing, but one way or another everyone out there (including you and me) have at some point tried to escape blame for something. I’m here to say stop. Stoppit right now.

It’s sometimes difficult to know when you’re one of these people. Quite often it takes a dramatic life event to shake your world view enough to make you realize what you’re doing. Mine happened in 2004; I ended up spending 10 days in jail because I was basically a dumbass. I went through life running from my problems instead of taking care of them and tried to hide. When everything finally caught up to me I had time to sit, figure out what I was doing wrong, and decide how to fix it. Ever since then my personal mantra has been that you can’t take credit for your successes without also taking credit for your failures. If I see the former without the latter I’m immediately on my guard in either a personal or professional setting. On the flip side of this, you can go too far and be paralyzed by the “it’s all my fault” syndrome. I’ve made a list here of the little rules that I’ve learned over the last six years so hopefully it helps someone out by posting it here too.

  • Nearly everything in your life is under your direct control. Events themselves may not be results of your direct choice, but 99% of the time you made a choice that put you on this path.
  • Understand that while your choices put you in a situation, your choices can also take you out of it too. Sure, your sucky life may be all your fault and you know it. But as you put yourself there you have to be the one to pull yourself out too.
  • Admit your mistakes. People will generally help you work through it and you’ll probably learn something new to boot. This generally only works once per person. Abuse it and you’ll lose what friends and family you have left.
  • If you DO make a mistake, don’t try to cover it up. It invariably backfires and you look worse than ever.
  • There is no such thing as luck. I have heard so many times how lucky I am. Let’s set the record straight: I was not born clutching a winning lottery ticket. I grew up strictly low-middle middle class. My dad often worked multiple jobs to provide for us, and my mom worked too as soon as we were old enough. My sisters and I worked around the house, had jobs as soon as we turned 16, and were expected to bring home good grades too. Everything I’m good at today, from my job expertise to my friend making ability to my fitness level I’ve had to work my ass off for. The only thing in life that I’ve EVER had without working for is my limited ability to draw.
  • There is no such thing as talent. There IS such a thing called inclination. Nature and nurture can combine together in weird ways to give someone a formative edge over someone else in niche xyz. The biggest thing that comprises that which is commonly referred to as talent is “time vested”. Also known as practice. Using my ability to draw I mentioned above, it’s nothing more than a trick of good hand / eye coordination, my brain acts like a photocopy machine. To this day I can’t sit down and draw things out of my head.
  • The expedient thing and the right thing are seldom the same thing.
  • You HAVE to try new things. Always. How else do you know what you’ll enjoy? I’m horrible at writing but I keep plugging away here because it’s cathartic, and I think I’m getting better. My website traffic is going up to, so that seems to be a good sign.

Further good reads on this topic:
How to be Resilient – Part 1 : The Art of Manliness
Bosting Your Resiliency – Part 2 : The Art of Manliness

So what brought all this on? It’s a long story at this point but I’ve discovered it’s not an uncommon phenomenon in the tech world. Whether your IT or IS (ie, computer guy or programmer), there is such a wealth of knowledge and specialization that it’s easy to be tempted to cover your mistakes. IT in general is a high pressure career vs the old days circa 2000; no longer gods, IT people are leashed to the MBAs of the world and can’t treat everyone as a “n00b”. There will always be someone better and/or cheaper than you, so at the end of the day it’s your people skills and respect that are the ONLY things that will save you (and your job).

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