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What matters most to you?

The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.  — Writer Joan Didion

You are 100 per cent responsible for everything. Everything and everywhere! And it means not only your personal screw-ups and your personal successes. It means if someone somewhere did something and you became aware of that – you are 100 per cent responsible for that.
 — Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len

We fixate on our concerns, and ourselves but, paradoxically, we don’t like to accept responsibility for our lives.

Even though there is an ocean of evidence, we persist in believing we’re victims, that we aren’t responsible for what happens to us. We have a great skill that we have polished with time — deceiving ourselves. 

We live our lives within the self-imposed limits of what we believe about ourselves. 

Even if we don’t admit it, when things appear the worst, we play a movie in our head where something or someone — the lottery, a rich uncle, a cosmic guru — will save us from whatever predicament we’re in.

Pleasant as that movie is, until we accept no one will save us, no one will take care of us, we can’t grow, and if we don’t grow, we fossilize, we live the same moment over and over again. 

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life,” said pugilistic philosopher Muhammad Ali.

We have to keep learning and one big lesson is to accept responsibility for our lives, for out thoughts, for our actions, and not keep making the same decisions and expecting a different result.

“When we feel victimized by the world, we look for something outside ourselves that will take away the hurt,” said Zen master Joko Beck. 

“It could be a person, it could be something we want, it could be some change in our job status, some recognition, perhaps. Since we don’t know where to look, and we hurt, we seek comfort somewhere.”

Thomas Edison said most people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work. 

That’s just as true for uncovering who we are as it was inventing the light bulb. Wishing for enlightenment, reading a book, going to a seminar or church isn’t enough. 

There are no shortcuts. We know growth requires investment and some effort and doesn’t come from someone else telling us what to do, and how to do it.

“There is no birth of consciousness without pain,” said psychologist Carl Jung.

The great sages advise to start here, in this moment, figure out who we are, which many ignore because that involves a lot of work — and pain. And we don’t like that. Maybe that’s why we refuse to take responsibility, preferring to blame other people, even the weather, our car, the cat, a bad hair day.

But even though we can’t figure out who we are and won’t accept responsibility for us, we’re quick to tell other people who they should be and how they should behave. 

“We are each creating our lives through our thoughts and feelings, and so you cannot hold yourself responsible for someone’s happiness,” it said on an old calendar. 

“It is impossible for you to be responsible for anybody else, because you cannot jump into someone else and think and feel for them. Focus on your joy, and be an inspiration to everyone around you.”

When we catch ourselves raging against the system, the traffic, the computer crashing on deadline, the universe, that’s the ideal time to step back and watch ourselves — to see ourselves as others see us — and ask: Is this who I am — angry, peevish, irritable, irresponsible, reactionary? 

That’s one of the big questions we don’t ask ourselves: Who do we want to be? Whatever form it takes, it starts with being responsible for just us — no one else. 

We’re responsible for our thoughts, emotions and actions. Every day we have thousands of thoughts — we switch every six to 10 seconds — make countless decisions and take numerous actions and we are responsible for every one.

And what’s more, we are responsible for the thoughts we don’t have, the actions and reactions.

We have, of course, a repertoire of excuses for the things we do that cause us problems, but we make the decision to switch lanes without looking, we decide to mouth off to the cop, and we decide not to pay the ticket, then cuss ICBC when we can’t get our licence renewed. 

We make the decision to be resentful, to chastise and condemn and wonder why we don’t get invited to go for a beer after work.

In spite of our advice to the cop, and to the neighbour about his noisy, obnoxious teenager, we can’t change anyone else. 

We can only change ourselves, but by doing that and living the life we have imagined, we become the model for how we want others to behave. We know from how our parents raised us and how we raised our kids, that preaching doesn’t work; being a living example does.

But first we have to figure out who we are, who we want to be and we can start by following the advice we give others. If we’re always calm, confident and serene in any situation, people will notice and if they don’t, it doesn’t matter because we live for ourselves. 

In the end what matters most is:

  • How well did you live?
  • How well did you love?
  • How well did  you learn to let go?


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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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