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Personal Responsibility is Sexy

Everyone talks about self love and finding one’s true calling.

We talk a lot about external factors that affect our careers.

We talk about diversity issues and glass ceilings.

Don’t get me wrong. Those things most definitely exist.

And I have been affected by them as well.

But that’s another story for another time.

With all the focus on external factors affecting our careers, we rarely talk about looking inward in an effort to become a better member of a team.

I mean, when was the last time you thought about your role in your own problems at work?

Maria’s Career

I met Maria about 7 years ago.

We get together for drinks every month, even if it’s at each other’s homes.

She is a manager at a fairly large company and she loves her job.

Last year her direct report announced his retirement.

She KNEW she was meant for this position.

Without missing a beat, she excitedly applied to be his replacement.

Being a director would represent a tremendous growth opportunity, a great boost in salary and a sense of having arrived.

As the daughter of Peruvian immigrants, this was another opportunity for her to fulfill her family’s American Dream.

She was the first college graduate in her family.

She was the first person in her family to work in a white collar position.

And now, she was finally going to continue moving up the ladder in a career she adored.

Her excitement was so great that she shared the opportunity with her entire family.

Maria possesses all of the credentials, education and a proven track record of getting results.

Being a hard worker, she was always first in the office and last out on her team.

The promotion was a done deal.

An email changes everything

When she read an email announcing that her colleague, Mark got the promotion, she was dumbfounded.

How could this happen?

She was also furious.

How dare they?

She KNEW she was the most qualified candidate for that position.

Her mind immediately went over all of the reasons why she was passed over.

She was certain that they didn’t want to give a woman the position.

She also surmised that their diversity initiatives must be a total front.

Why else would they pass over a highly qualified Latina for a top position?

She checked every single box.

Unfortunately, neither of those narratives were true.

They had a VP who was a Latina and several women in leadership roles.

But Maria couldn’t see past her anger and disappointment.

A real friendship

She called me that very night to get together for drinks.

Mainly, she wanted someone she could vent with.

Unfortunately for Maria, I wasn’t the friend she wanted that night.

Instead, I was the friend she needed.

I didn’t sit there and toast to her horrible bosses and terrible company.

I did share how sorry I was that she didn’t get the promotion,

Then I asked her very pointed questions about her relationships at work.

I challenged her to look inward and write down anything negative about herself that would affect her working relationships.

It’s the exact opposite of what we get told to do lately.

We usually get asked to write down all of the good things about ourselves to lift our self esteem.

Yes, I’m a fan of patting yourself on the back when deserved.

However, I am NOT a fan of the adult version of the participation trophy.

You do NOT get a sticker for showing up on time every day.

You do NOT get a kudos for doing your job well and working hard.

If you disagree with me, you are entitled to that difference of opinion.

If you want to discover why I choose to think this way, read on.

Now let’s go over how this frame of thinking affected Maria’s view.

What she neglected to take into consideration was her own role in the decision.

She forgot that her affinity for gossip was a well known fact about her character.

She forgot that a few of the people she maligned through the years happened to be key decision makers.

Lastly, she forgot that the turnover rate for her team was three times that of any other group in the company due to her management style.

It was brutal for her to face these facts.

Because, they were absolutely FACTS that spoke to her character as it pertained to her job.

The hard questions

Now put yourself in the position of the person doing the hiring.

Whomever you choose will reflect directly in you, your reputation and your career.

Would you choose someone who is proven to create an atmosphere of gossip and dissent?

Would you stake your name and reputation on someone who’s leadership style includes the 3X turnover rate?

Would you hire her for a position that oversees multiple groups within the organization?

Maria was mad at me for a couple of weeks.

She wouldn’t return my calls, and I thought our friendship was pretty much over.

I truly hoped it was stronger than this, but I understood how painful that level of self reflection could be.

It’s you, not me

Some folks never quite get it, and they continue to blame external factors for things that go wrong in their lives.

That’s why every single politician operates on a platform of fear and victim-hood.

They make every speech about how the “other” side has taken this or that from you and how they will “help” you solve all your problems.

Once she had some time to reflect, Maria mustered the humility to speak to a few colleagues.

They gave her feedback to support the painful conclusions she spoke about with me.

A few weeks later she called me to apologize for getting mad at me.

She realized that she had work to do.

Great news!

When she she shared with me what her colleagues revealed about her, I excitedly responded with, “that is excellent news!”

Of course she was shocked that I would say something so obviously dumb.

That was, until I gave her my reason.

If the external factors that she assumed were the reasons for her missing an opportunity to grow in her career turned out to be the culprit, she was screwed.

You can’t control what you don’t control.

It was 100% her fault.

That meant she was also 100% in control.

She was no longer at the mercy of external factors she had concoted.

She was no longer the victim.

She had power.

Maria could now work on fixing the issues that led to this negative outcome.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people, Carole Burnett.

What should Maria Do?

Did this mean she could change minds and hearts at her current company?


She could also move on to another company, bringing the lessons for growth that she gained at this one.

Whatever route she chose, there was work involved.

But she had options.

There was also tons of hope.

THAT is why I am a big fan of personal responsibility.

That is why personal responsibility is sexy.

Your turn

I challenge you to sit down and think about a problem you are experiencing.

Write down everything you can think of that you have contributed to make it happen.

Will this mean it’s 100% your fault?

Not at all.

But the things you HAVE contributed are yours and yours alone.

They are your power.

They are also your ticket to a better outcome.

They are the promise of better opportunities.

Sexy indeed.

6 Responses

  1. This is a great story.
    I wish more people would think like this, because too many try to find someone to blame for everything.

  2. Unfortunately these days people want to play the blame game and are not introspective. I’m also one to believe in timing. I once applied for a job just after my divorce that I really, really wanted. I did not get the job and I was really disappointed until a few months later when I was in another job that I realized the timing for the first job was terrible as it required travel and I was a single mother.

  3. It’s far better to take responsibility for your actions than to pass the buck. I’ve worked with so many people who simply can’t own up to anything. Yes, it’s horrible to know you’ve done something wrong/made a mistake, but you get far more respect by standing up and saying so, rather than hiding it or blaming someone else.

  4. Self reflection is definitely necessary & in this case, she needed to have a deeper look at herself… but many times minorities get looked over simply b/c theyre minorities…. regardless of how great they’re doing at the job.

  5. One of life’s most important lessons for sure and the sooner we learn it, the better. Most of the “problems” we face in life are our own doing. This is a great story and love the way you presented it!

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