The Empowerment of Accountability

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

(Photo credit:  David Richardson accessed via Google images, 6.26.11)

I have been thinking a lot about the people in my life, primarily my daughter and son-in-law who – everyday – assume the monumental responsibilities associated with owning their own business, and providing physical, emotional and intellectual care for their 15 year-old son, who has cerebral palsy.  Both of these challenges require a commitment that is relentless and riddled with obstacles.  BUT, the rewards are the fuel that propels them onward.

These rewards are made possible through the simple act of being accountable for their own thoughts and actions.  To put it another way, they do not play the “victim” card when it comes to the circumstances in both their personal and professional lives.  On the rare occasion when a deadline has not been met or a client conveys dissatisfaction, they do not point the finger at others, and other things, and say, “It’s not our fault.”  Maybe the unmet deadline or unhappy client occurred because of technical problems or an oversight, but they go about identifying the problem and fixing it, rather than becoming defensive about the circumstances.  Because, no matter what the reasons behind their immediate dilemma, the bottom line is, it is up to them to turn things around.  They would rather use their time to create a solution rather than lament about the problem.  This accountability, or the assumption of responsibility for one’s actions, also applies to their business successes.  When their clients are delighted with the completion of a project, it is the result of my daughter and son-in-law’s efforts, not outside forces.

In addition, they do not play the “victim” card when it comes to their son.  Everyday encompasses both the routine and unexpected.  After visiting them (they live in another state), I always return home and tell my friends and colleagues that my daughter and son-in-law live a “different life from you and me.”  The things we take for granted, such as jumping in the car to run to Home Depot, requires an hour’s worth of preparation when they take their son.  Again, they could sit back and say, “Life’s not fair” and sulk about the circumstances.  Rather, they ensure that their son is included in everything – whether choosing the movie to watch that night or going on vacation (which means finding locales and places to stay that have accommodations for wheelchairs).  The rewards come in their son’s progress.  At 15, he is slowly learning to walk, can name all the U.S. Presidents since Hoover, and is working on learning President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day that will live in infamy” speech.  Their assuming responsibility for their son’s most minute needs also gives them the opportunity to assume responsibility for their son’s most minute successes.

People who either do not understand the connection between their actions and subsequent outcomes, or refuse to accept the connection astound me.  Two family members come immediately to mind.  The first periodically goes through long stretches of time where he does not call me because, as he says, I “challenge him.”  He is the perpetual victim who has drowned his life in alcohol.  He complains that he does not have money to do anything.  When I remind him that he has chosen this life, he recoils.  The same is true for the other family member.  She went for a long period of time of withdrawal from me for the same reason.  She didn’t like being “challenged.”  Although she is not an alcoholic, she is in a continual state of depression over the circumstances of her life (e.g. She quit her job without creating a financial plan to sustain her.).   Both of these family members could have created positive changes in their lives, but for some reason found the act of being accountable threatening.  Neither of them understood the power behind being the “captain of your own ship” and mapping your course.

These are two sides of the same coin of accountability.  Understanding the connection between your actions and the results in your life lifts you up and moves you forward.  The other side, that of denial of responsibility, leaves you stuck in an emotional and physical quagmire.  This means that the simple act of being asked, “Why are things the way they are?” can be a productive impetus to resolving problems, or a question that becomes offensive.  The former leaves you empowered, the latter leaves you powerless.

So, where are you in this scenario?  Chances are, you are somewhere in between.  You know your talents and probably accept your ability to use those talents for different levels of success.  For instance, if cars are your passion, you may use your talent to keep the family’s car out of the repair shop, or perhaps, you have rebuilt a classic car.  However, you may not have yet made the connection between other abilities and other actions.

Maybe you have thought about returning to school but have not done so because you don’t think you belong, or you think it’s too big of a challenge?  Maybe you have always wanted to, but are afraid?  If you accept the responsibility for your future – including all of the challenges that may be thrown at you – you will have empowered yourself to take control of your life.


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