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I’m sure you are familiar with the cringing feeling you get when you make a mistake and must tell someone at work, especially if it’s your boss. You probably pause to see if there is anything you can do to either undo the mistake, cover it up somehow, or shift the blame.
The problem with ducking out on personal responsibility, whether it’s simply due to laziness or you’re completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of the mistake, it ultimately leads to a multitude of failures. You’re failing your team, you’re failing your own credibility, and you’re failing to take the opportunity to grow as a person.
If you are like many people, you may find it hard to accept that your own actions have led to your troubles. However, when you blame external circumstances or other people for your problems, you are giving up the control that you have to steer your life in your desired direction.
By having a sense of personal responsibility, you can reflect on the outcomes of your work and develop a strategy to avoid making future mistakes. Additionally, taking personal responsibility gives you an opportunity to build relationships that are based on trust.
Once I was able to become accountable in my own life, not only did I gain a sense of certainty and confidence in myself, I also gained clarity on what life should look like. I was able to set an example for other people to follow, while also showing people what kind of actions I expect from them in return. (Know the differences between accountability and responsibility.)
In this post, I am going to define personal responsibility and review 8 key ingredients to having this character trait that infiltrates into all areas of your life.
What is Personal Responsibility?
When you have a sense of personal responsibility, it means you are willing to accept and live by society’s established standards of individual behavior. When these expected standards aren’t met, someone with personal responsibility doesn’t seek others to blame, rather they’re able to maturely respond to the presented challenges themselves and take any blame for their actions.
More simply put, your life is full of choices, and what you do with them governs your whole reality. Being able to see that your decisions have a direct impact on your life’s events is what being able to accept personal responsibility is all about. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum of the simplicity of your life, you are able to see that you create both the good and the bad circumstances.
Let’s look at what it takes to stop making excuses and accept responsibility for yourself.
8 Qualities of Someone Who Has a Sense of Personal Responsibility
1. Strong Communication Skills
You can’t have personal responsibility if you're not aware of the things that you’re responsible for. Ask for clarity from your boss or a relevant person so you are well-aware of the things you should be doing and how you should be doing them. This applies to friends and co-workers as well. If expectations are unclear, it is critical to communicate so you won’t make a mistake due to assumptions. The truth is, vagueness leads to a lack of action.
Communication also involves seeking feedback. If something hasn’t gone according to plan, asking for feedback can give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and ensure you don’t repeat them.
If you feel that you were unsuccessful at a task, reflect on what you could have done differently to create a better outcome and communicate with others who can also provide you with insight. When you communicate with people about your mistakes, they’re much less likely to get angry, and typically more willing to work with you to fix the problem.
Another way to communicate that shows other people that you have personal responsibility is to ask questions that focus on your potential actions.
For example, “How can I help you solve this problem?” “How can I help get this project completed on time?” or “What do I need to do to become accustomed to this new business?” Asking these questions will show people that you want to be proactive in getting things accomplished.
2. Ability to Create Boundaries
It is important to not over-commit yourself when you’re aiming to gain a sense of personal responsibility. If you take on too much, you’ll eventually drop the ball on something and let someone down.
Carefully consider your workload before agreeing to another task or role. Will you be able to accomplish the additional work on top of what’s currently on your plate and do it to the best of your ability? If you tend to say yes to all of your boss’s requests because you want to be seen as a team player, even if the request is unrelated to your specific job, you will probably find yourself experiencing burnout as you’re overloaded with work.
It is hard to maintain personal responsibility when you take on more than you can handle, even if you think that it could pay off in the end with a promotion or raise. Having the ability to say no, or even just not right now can allow you to create the boundaries that are needed for you to be able to uphold your responsibilities and achieve all your goals.
In order to maintain personal responsibility in your career, taking on an overwhelming assignment that will detract from your core responsibilities will compromise your work performance, so it is best to decline and focus on the things that are already in front of you.
You will achieve more success in life when you’re fully honest with yourself and other people, which may require stepping away from your pride to admit when you’ve made a mistake.
In order to have a sense of humility, you have to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and have the self-control to only take on as much as you can handle. After all, a large part of being responsible involves following through any time you make a commitment.
You also have to have the personal restraint to be able to say no to tasks that are beyond your scope of knowledge, despite your eagerness to prove yourself. Part of having a sense of humility is recognizing that you don’t know everything, and you can reach out for help during times of uncertainty.
Being humble shows others that you are willing to learn and continue to improve yourself and grow your knowledge base. Instead of blaming other people or external factors, people who have humility take responsibility for themselves by advocating for their needs and owning their areas of weakness.
4. Ability to Control Impulses
It’s difficult to accept your own fault in creating your life’s negative outcomes, however, it’s easy to make poor decisions when you’re presented with a last-minute choice.
People make poor decisions in the moment all the time to appease their impulses, even though these decisions may have obvious destructive consequences. If given the time to really think about the decision, one may choose the more responsible option, however, without giving it much thought, it is easy to make bad decisions.
For example, what are you going to do if you’re at a birthday party and you’re offered a nice, fresh piece of birthday cake? While we all know that splurging every now and then in moderation is alright, we also know that if you eat junk food, it will have adverse effects on your health.
In this case, you need to be able to control your impulses, as making these wrong decisions often leads to poor results. Accepting that your faulty behavior is in your control takes courage, but it is essential in the pursuit of personal responsibility. This leads me to my next point…
It can be scary to accept your failures, but creating a sense of internal dishonesty can lead to irritation. However, if you are able to build the courage that you need to accept your failures, you will be demonstrating personal responsibility.
For example, if a coworker accuses you of making a bad decision with a client that they have seen in the past, you may react by telling them they don’t understand the circumstances or by saying, “It’s fine, I know what I’m doing”.
However, as you’re saying these things, you know your co-worker has a point and you are repeating a mistake, and therefore you react with a sense of fear that comes out as anger.
To start building courage, you first need to identify what it is that you are afraid of. If you keep defending your mistakes at work, it may mean that you are afraid of being perceived as a failure.
Engaging with your fear and exploring the possible causes of it will help you build courage. Fear is a product of the unknown, and if you are able to accept the unknown, fear will have less of an impact on you.
Regardless of the struggles that you face, you must continue moving forward toward having a sense of personal responsibility. Even if making a small error feels like a giant failure, you have to recognize the opportunity for personal growth and development.
If you become complacent in your unfulfilling job or lackluster relationship, you aren’t giving yourself the chance to make mistakes that you can then learn from. While you may be able to admit that you can’t find a more satisfying job, if you sit around without taking any significant action to try, then you’ll pity yourself and develop a sense of self-hatred.
You have to take consistent action to maintain a sense of personal responsibility. For example, are you struggling to lose weight, but you maintain your sedentary lifestyle along with a questionable diet? If so, rather than sitting around and waiting for results that will never come, you have to be persistent in your actions to lose weight by changing your routine.
Or, are you concerned about your job or your professional future? Then you have to be the one to do the work to widen your job prospects or expand your skillset. You have to initiate the change.
Layout your goals and the necessary tasks to accomplish those goals that will help you conquer the problem at hand. Once you have clear goals to resolve your problem, you will be equipped with the tools you need to take responsibility for your life and make the necessary improvements.
7. Be Your Authentic Self
When you have personal responsibility, you don’t react to the things around you; you simply act. Your actions come from your true self, as you are self-directed, self-motivated, self-disciplined, and you know right from wrong.
A big part of this is being able to believe what you think is right over what other people say. You have to trust your own judgment and not rely on others to make those judgments for you.
To be responsible for yourself means that you will do what’s expected of you, even when no one is around to know. This does not just mean doing the things that someone else subjectively expects you to do, it means doing the things that you should expect of yourself.
Your tasks belong only to you, and while people may help you, they won’t do them for you. Having personal responsibility to complete your tasks allows you to earn your place in this world.
While it’s easy to blame others and act helpless, and it’s intimidating to take risks and stand up for the things that you believe are right, doing so will ensure that you are not staying on the sidelines when it comes to your own life. If you recognize that the choices you make lead to negative consequences, you will feel empowered knowing that you can make better choices moving forward.
Being your authentic self also means not making excuses. Be honest with yourself and others about your wants and needs. It's better to be genuine at all times than to have to make an excuse and back out of something, especially if it is at the last minute.
8. Be Organized
If you have a sense of personal responsibility, you are able to keep your life organized by using whatever avenue works best for you, whether that’s planners, calendars, apps, or something else. You stay organized so you can keep yourself on track and on top of your goals and responsibilities.
You have to track your personal obligations just as you would your professional ones so you never miss something and to ensure you’re following through on your promises.
In that same vein, if you have personal responsibility, you don’t put things off until the last minute because you know doing so won’t result in your best work. One thing to keep in mind about not procrastinating on tasks is to consider completing your hardest or most dreaded task on your to-do list first. This will make the rest of your list feel more simple and it will make it easier to have personal responsibility.
A Final Take on Personal Responsibility
Personal accountability is a character trait that we often admire in others. We like being around people who don’t make excuses, are able to take responsibility for their actions, and not blame others for their mistakes.
To maintain your likeability at work and in your personal life, it is important to accept personal responsibility for your failures and not blame them on external factors. Instead, take ownership for any shortcomings that you may have and work with others to come up with a solution to the problem.
While it is easy to be aware of these characteristics of someone who has personal responsibility, it can be more difficult to put them into practice.
However, I challenge you to make a conscious effort to practice these 8 key ingredients to having personal responsibility. You may soon see that the results are immediate, effective, and long-lasting, which can benefit you in both your professional and your personal life.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.