Personal Responsibility and Showing Up


To be truly awesome, you have to go above and beyond the efforts of those around you, look for alternative solutions, and refuse to back down from the truth. There’s a whole article about it for those who are curious.

But it all starts with showing up. Or, as a friend of mine puts it:

“I’m sorry you feel bad about not meeting your goals– what I would suggest is that you begin meeting your goals, in order to feel better.”

Insight such as this is difficult for some people to accept. Just imagine the excuses you’d hear:

But that’s not fair! But I tried to do it and something else came up! But some things are out of our control!

You can probably think of other excuses – in fact, you’ve probably heard them many times over. Thankfully, for those of us who do take responsibility, there’s good news on two levels. The first good news is that we automatically stand out. In a world of buck-passers, those who decide to take responsibility are unusual. Yay. You get the yellow jersey by default. (You still have to win the race, but no one is surprised when you do.)

But on a deeper level, the bright side of taking responsibility is that you can own your own success. Sure, other people helped you get there, but you were the one who actually crossed the finish line. You showed up. You did it. If you have to own the struggle and failure, integral parts of any goal worth pursuing, surely you can also own some of the success.

Remember this: many people can help you achieve success, but no one else is RESPONSIBLE for your success.

It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments. Really.

When I think about people who rocked my world and redefined the course of my life at key points along the way, they fit into two general categories: those who took a chance on me when others wouldn’t, and those who turned me down or gently steered me elsewhere when something I wanted wasn’t right for me.

First up, I really appreciate the people who took a chance on me when others wouldn’t. Most of them are not on Twitter, they don’t have blogs, and they wouldn’t want a public shout-out. I know they are out there somewhere, probably taking other chances and helping other people. Good for them.

Because of what they did for me, I try to do the same for others wherever possible. Freely receive, freely give, right?

The second group – the people who declined my request for assistance, or who steered me elsewhere when something wasn’t right for me – goes a bit deeper. Without exception I was always initially disappointed in these encounters, but I was usually better off for them in the end.

In 2005 I applied to a graduate program in the U.K. Until the day I received the form letter thanking me for my application and offering regrets “due to many qualified applicants,” I was certain I’d get in. When I read the letter, I was crushed. I had scheduled my life around this opportunity, and then it was gone.

Surely this was a mistake! How had they misread my brilliant application?

I didn’t get in, I didn’t get waitlisted, and I never heard from them again. Thankfully, it wasn’t the final story. The final story involved spending a fourth year in Africa, strengthening many relationships there, working with the president of Liberia, moving to Seattle, setting up a new life in the Pacific Northwest, going to a graduate program that was better than the one I had hoped to go to earlier, traveling to all kinds of fun places, and eventually leading me to begin the career I have now.

I have no doubt that things would have been very different otherwise. It’s hard to say what exactly would have developed, but it’s fairly safe to say I wouldn’t be writing you now from Korean Air flight 017 (ICN-LAX) after two weeks of roaming the world. I like Korean Air just fine. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this adventure.

In retrospect I can also see that I was drifting a bit during the time of that application. I was doing good work, but my overall purpose wasn’t clear. I think I viewed a university year in the U.K. as a way to defer life for a while. Being turned down required me to let go of the idea that an external force (in this case, a university) would carry me along instead of me figuring out what I really wanted.

Sometimes people let you down because they suck. Sometimes you’re just not ready. Other times, they let you down to give you the chance to be great without their help. Being pushed out of the nest is a good thing. It forces you to readjust your expectations: “Oh, this person isn’t actually going to be responsible for me. I guess I’ll have to be responsible myself. I guess I’ll have to find a way to meet the goals in order to feel better.”


When we find ourselves stuck in a situation and unable to move forward, something has to change. It is unnecessary and potentially fatal to rely on others to create change for us. Who’s responsible for creating change? You are.

What’s your job? Show up and bring something unique. I’d wish you good luck, but luck isn’t up to you. Luck is like a winning lottery ticket – if it comes your way, might as well cash it in. In the meantime, better to focus on what you can really influence.

Instead of luck, take heart. Take courage. It all starts with showing up.


Image by Nosha

Thanks to Carolynn for the quote about meeting goals.

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  • Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    Showing up and/or accepting personal responsibility is the most essential step of reclaiming your financial life, as well. In fact, I’m nearly positive it’s really the first step in accomplishing anything you really desire.

    Our time is much better spent brainstorming solutions rather than pointing fingers. Even if there are certain aspects we can’t control, there is often so much more that we can.

    With the effect this current economy is having (both tangible or intangible), I think it’s even more essential for this message to be heard. Kudos to you for pushing it into the forefront!

  • The Barking Unicorn says:

    “Do, or do not. There is no try.” ~ Master Yoda.

  • Susan says:

    “I’m sorry you feel bad about not meeting your goals– what I would suggest is that you begin meeting your goals, in order to feel better.”

    I love it. Your friend rocks. I’d love to see a poster made with this quote… a portable ass-kicking.

  • Lori Hoeck says:

    Susan — love your portable ass-kicking description!

    I had a karate instructor once tell me, “When motivation to go to class is low, don’t think about how hard the class might be. Just get to the class door and things will take care of themselves from there.”

  • Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says:

    When I commit to something (like your guest post contest) then realize I can’t reach the goal for whatever reason (as I couldn’t with the contest for non-work commitments) I don’t feel bad about not meeting the goal because it’s no longer my goal.

    I’m not the sort to have regrets very much these days.


  • Hiro Boga says:

    A path is made by walking. Waiting until you feel impelled to walk makes for a haphazard path! 🙂

    Thanks for another great article.


  • Kristine says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with recovering from a major disappointment. I’ve had similar experiences where I spent weeks applying for those “life-changing” jobs that would have opened amazing new doors and then been absolutely heart-sick when I didn’t get them. I finally realized that taking another job–following a path defined by someone else–is not what will ultimately make me happy. The last job I applied for might have been a fabulous and enriching diversion that would have allowed me to use my skills in new ways, but it would have been a diversion nonetheless. It is hard to see these things when you’re in the midst of the disappointment, and it’s a comfort to know others suffer similar “set-backs” and come to see them as gifts in the end.

  • Brett Sanders says:

    What a fantastic post! Taking responsibility for ones-self is the beginnings of a truly successful and abundant life! Thank you, Chris.

  • Ratana says:

    This post reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” When you’re blazing a trail that diverges from the norm, there are so many different & unexpected obstacles & disappointments that may crowd your path. And there’s an inner voice (or maybe many outer voices) telling you to stick to the norm and do the expected thing. But it’s your focus, creativity, dedication and tenacity that will get you through. When I think of this as it applies to my own life, I know that diverging from the norm (and being persistent about making my own path!) has definitely made me a better person, as well as a better professional. Cheers to taking the road less traveled, Chris & company!

  • charlino says:

    This is a great post. Acts of God, excuses, and procrastination seem to prevent a lot of us from ‘showing up,’ and nothing gets done unless one shows up to do it.

  • Pat Wynne says:

    That’s a great perspective on life! After three disappointing marriages I finally decided I don’t need anyone else to look to, or feel responsible for anyone else. For some of us it takes time to sink in!!! (I’m 71)

  • natalie says:

    i love this message. it’s something i keep having to remind myself of.

    the thing i have a problem is figuring out what i want to do. i’m almost 30 and i have yet to find a career that appeals to me. i’m finding that my lack of focus defeats me again and again. i end up in jobs i don’t like and don’t pay enough because i am so desperate to just have an income or get away from the last disappointment of a job.

  • Finola Prescott says:

    You said it! Been reading, thinking and writing along these lines a lot in the past few weeks and making headway with actions in the same vein too.

    My last day on my old job of teaching Visual Arts I very reluctantly attended our staff ‘development’ day: What a great day that was! We did a condensed version of a workshop that opened you up to realizing how much power your own thoughts and actions had in taking advantage of anything that came your way – seemingly positive or negative, how you reacted and acted was by far the biggest determining factor in what you got out of it.

  • Kyler M says:

    Interesting stuff. I’ve always felt that the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to face is the beginning, and sometimes the end. The middle is all just easy yellow-jersey stuff.

    Applies to things big and small, this does. “I don’t want to look for a job.” Once you start looking, you don’t care about whether or not you wanted to do it while you weren’t doing it. “I don’t want to do the dishes.” Start scrubbing and it just happens.

    It’s like people and the dentist. The fear of what will happen is (almost) always worse than what actually does.

    One bone to pick though, if you’re conforming to non-conformity, doesn’t that actually make you a conformist? After all, being a black sheep is fine and all, but you don’t stand out if the rest of the…whatever a group of sheep is called. A pack of sheep? A pride of sheep? Maybe a murder of sheep? Well, whatever, you get it.

  • Hillary Boucher says:

    Great post.

    A perfect kick in the pants. Procrastination used to be a thorn in my foot, but not anymore. Firstly, because I live how I like and secondly, like Alex F., goals change and I’m not going to spend anytime feeling bad 😉

  • Akila says:

    Chris, I enjoyed this article because it echoes much of my husband’s and my own personal philosophy. Showing up is critical for everything we do — whether it is planning long-term travel and stepping outside our comfort zone to maintaining good relationships and succeeding in our careers. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Laura Ingalls Wilder: “Success actually becomes a habit through the determined overcoming of obstacles as we meet them one by one.” How can we expect to achieve if we don’t fight for our own achievement?

  • Rasheed Hooda says:

    Thanks for the timely enlightenment aka kick in the ass.


  • Andrew Parkes says:

    Great post. Another issue is showing up physically but not mentally (ie. mind is focused on something else probably less important.)

  • Mallory says:

    Wow! Great article and full of truisms! Taking responsibility is not often valued in our world! Luck or whatever can move you forward. Right now, I’m stuck creatively. I’m not sure what I am going to do about it, so I am coasting for now. We shall see!

  • Colin Wright says:

    Very well written! It blows me away sometimes how few people are willing to take responsibility for…well…just about anything. It’s always the fault of something or someone else; who am I to fight with ‘destiny?’

    More people taking responsibility for what happens to them will lead to much much happier population. How do we get people learning this gem from a young age, I wonder?

  • Nate says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m glad you wrote about it. Sometimes I find myself relying on others, when really I just need to take control and make something happen on my own. The next couple of weeks are going to be big for me, and it’s great to be encouraged by such awesome writing. Hope all is well with you.

  • Andi says:

    Thanks for the gentle reminder of not letting excuses interfere with life! I try my best not to let them and I’m going to fiercely continue to do so.

  • Tom says:

    Inspiring post. For the first twenty-two years of my life, I have submitted my life to excuses, procrastination, and general irresponsibility. After years of failure, regret and mild depression, I am finally trying to “show up” and face personal responsibility. It has not been easy.

  • Nathalie Molina says:

    Love it, I have been thinking about this for months. I read Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ (if you haven’t, you MUST!) and it slapped some well-needed sense into me about just showing up. While seemingly unrelated, she had a lot of similar references to ideas like Gladwell’s ‘hard work’ concepts in ‘the Outliers’…which I also happened to read on the plane to Ecuador around the same time. Fast forward to a few months later and I was in upstate New York meditating for most of June, and I had a bit of an epiphany and just sat down and started checking things off my to do list (the hard, conceptual stuff that I’d been waiting for ‘just the right moment’ to deal with). Incubation can be long, but finally hatching an idea is always a good thing.

  • Clint says:

    I’ve started to find that when I don’t give something my all, there’s usually a very good reason for it. For example, before I started my latest blog, I had one that I was proud of but it was hell getting up posts up on time. I realized that the subject matter was something I loved, but it was something I loved so much that I needed to go get a job doing it instead of blogging about it. And so that’s what I decided to do, and I’ve been much happier.

  • Karen says:

    So well written, Chris! I love this post. The idea of personal responsibility is something that I hold very dear… without it, it seems impossible to authentically achieve any of your goals. Like you said, excuses then end up defining you. But, that’s the easy way out… it’s always easier to blame someone of something else. Thanks for the inspiration today to not take the easy way. 🙂

  • Tom says:

    P.S. To be sure, I have accepted the challenges that lie ahead. I see a glimmer of hope in the future. I tell you, my life is not quite as gloomy as my previous post intimates. It’s getting better. However, my central problem is along the same lines as Natalie’s; I have not found my “calling” in life. I am searching for a potential career, but it seems like an impossible task. Sometimes I wish I could find the right pursuit with the snap of my fingers, but I realize now that it just doesn’t work like that. All I can do is keep pushing forward one day at a time and remain focused.

  • Etsuko says:


    Great post as always.

    When I read about your not getting into the program in U.K. and was actually “crushed”, I thought, Chris is just like the rest of us. But you went on to explain how it was for the better because of what you’ve decided to do after being turned down. Looking at how far you’ve traveled (literally and figuratively), it really was for the better.

    Where I come from (Japan), getting into a good school is a major concerns for high school students and parents (sometimes more so for the parents). It’s changing now slowly, but some people still take is so seriously as if their lives depend on it. Some still believe that whether they get accepted by this one university determines what kind of a job you can get, and how much money you make at that job, and whether you can live happily ever after. Obviously, if they think that way and if they didn’t make the cut, it’s a major disappointment and some can not get over it and hold a grudge for the rest of their lives. I am curious how you’d encourage those who didn’t make it, without sounding condescending or you are just trying to make them feel better.

    I was fortunate enough to get in a school of my choice, but that fact makes it even more difficult to connect with people who are in this “victim mindset” (they’d say, “you wouldn’t understand. You got in, you are different). How can we inspire them enough to shift their perspective? Based on the marketing principle, it would not be an effective thing to do, but I’d somehow like to inspire more people with that mindset to resonate with your post. It truly feels wonderful to be responsible for everything that happens in your life.


  • John says:

    Our successes, failures, and everything in between all factor in to who the person we are now. Getting rejected is good because now we have the chance to gain something better. I look back at the times I was pissed off for messing up with work, classes, or even a girl.

    Now I feel as if it was meant that way. I’m happy the way I am now and I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

    Thanks for this post.

  • Leila Anasazi says:

    The timing of this post makes me grin, it coming just two days after the deadline for entries for your guest-post writing contest.

    I am sure you will love the piece I sent for the contest, but if you don’t choose it to feature, I will remember that you have only nudged me onto a more appropriate path.

  • Cara Lopez Lee says:

    I agree with your insight. Life is not about “getting what I want,” but about “becoming who I am.” My most rewarding goals use my talents to become my best self & to benefit others. I take responsibility for my actions, but let go of the results. Whatever the results, opportunities are always wrapped inside.

  • Ouida Vincent says:

    This was a great post. It is always tough to accept responsibility at first. It really is, but accepting responsibility for where one is going in life is the key to moving forward and ultimate success. This is the age of the bailout in which so few people are willing to accept responsibility for their actions. Chris’ wrong thing wrong moment perspective is invaluable. I have had several of these in my life and have learned to be grateful after a fashion.

  • Bipin says:

    Truly amazing ! Great stuff chris, thanks for this article.

  • Jill MacGregor says:

    “Pray to God but row for shore.”
    Enjoyed your post and the above saying floated in front of me as I read. Asking for outside help makes sense in many situations but ultimately its all about our own efforts that shape our lives. We were created to be self reliant and find our own power.

  • Tom Jones says:

    Great article as always Chris. Taking personal responsibility, being true to your core beliefs and never quitting will always deliver positive results, eventually.

  • Ann Kurz says:

    Inspiring, indeed! Your post is uplifting for those of us who have had that door closed (more like slammed) in our faces, only to find that a window we hadn’t seen before is wide open! We always need to think about possibilities and choices, for we are truly shaped by them. Keep ’em coming, Chris!

  • dillon says:

    A swift kick in the pants. just read this today after making excuses for not showing up and delivering. Thanks Chris.

  • Laura - The Journal of Cultural Conversation says:

    Nice reminder, Chris. We are certainly responsible for creating our own life, despite the circumstances around us. Easy to forget – but messages like yours keep it top of mind. Thanks again!

  • michael says:

    I’ll second that “portable” ass-kicking. Plain, simple and to the point.

    Feeling bad about not getting to where you want to be? You should be!
    This is not said with a finger-pointing, you are a worthless loser attitude.
    It is a delightful, plain as the nose on your face fact.

    We feel bad when we do not live up to the expectations we have of ourselves. This is not something that is wrong with us. It is deeply right that we don’t feel good when we are letting ourselves down.

    Step by step, put yourself in front of what you want long enough, and eventually it will mow you down!

  • Brooke Thomas says:

    gorgeous- thanks Chris!

    “Oh, this person isn’t actually going to be responsible for me. I guess I’ll have to be responsible myself. I guess I’ll have to find a way to meet the goals in order to feel better.” is exactly how I felt about not getting Seth’s Alt MBA opportunity at the 11th hour. It turns out it was exactly what I needed to start showing up for myself.

  • emily-sarah says:

    I love this. For several years I’ve had in my mind that if I ever win some big award I will include the line, “This is for all the people who believed in me. And all those who didn’t.” 🙂 But seriously, you’re right that we’re shaped by everything, and sometimes the deepest disappointments provide the biggest life-changing direction change. As I’ve written before: Life presents us with challenges (and sometimes nasty problems), but each of us has one life on this earth. We can’t meander through life believing that someone else is responsible for us, our happiness, our fulfillment, our “success.” We must live life in the first person position of “I”—not in an entitled, selfish way of always looking inward, not caring about others, but in assuming responsibility…and in understanding that we humans are all interconnected, no matter how we may attempt to separate or compartmentalize. How can you—your talents, your passions, your company—help others while you’re embracing and enjoying life? Thanks for reminding us of another great lesson to put into practice always.

  • Ryan Eliason says:

    Great post. We can either have excuses or we can have results. It’s our choice. We don’t get to have both.

    I like to take it up a notch…. In additional to being “responsible”, I think it’s good to be “unreasonable”. Reasonable people rarely accomplish anything truly amazing. All the people we admire throughout history were unreasonable.

  • jen says:

    i really needed to hear all this.

  • Mark essel says:

    You’ve outdone yourself with this post, well thought, finely communicated and a compelling honest story from your past. Looking forward to what you put your energies into after you’ve completed your nation hopping journey.

  • Jose says:

    I just stumbled upon this article and it is excellent. I am 46 single male and woke up one day and said to myself, “My life needs an overhaul!” I was not happy with most of my life so I decided that I will tackle everything that bother me one of a time. I am aware it will take time to do so but I will. This article gave more motivation and what it comes down to is that, yes, we are responsible for our lives period.

  • Joe_mx says:

    I am responsable. I am, its my life, my goals, my success, my time. Thanks Chris for the reminder, i really needed this.

    Mental note to myself: Read Chris blog every monday morning….


  • Forest says:

    Very good.

  • Lauren says:

    “Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.” Lawrence Block

    This post could not have been more appropriate for me at exactly this time. I have been spending the past 4 hours absolutely devastated by a conversation in which it became clear that I had grossly overestimated my perceived value to my current employer. A large part of the devastation is because on a certain level I know that I have stopped taking responsibility and showing up – because I am no longer fulfilled by what I am doing. I have always exceeded everyone’s expectations and never bothered to set my own. Realizing that climbing the ladder because everyone thinks I should is not a good enough reason any more.

  • Paul Sabaj says:

    I love the quote about how many people can help you achieve success,but no one else is responsible for your success. I want to post that at my son’s school. I’m so glad I came across the site and now I must work my way through all the old posts. I also love the great comments and the wisdom from all who contribute.

  • Bruce says:

    Much of what you have written here applies to me. After being on the academic career track for several years, I called it quits at the Master’s level (got two of them). And now I’m trying to find a way to support myself and the whole entrepreneur option is looking more and more promising especially as the job hunt has gone nowhere productive in several months. I’m putting together some savings to buy at least two of the Unconventional Guides which I hope will shine some light on the ideas I have.

    Thanks again for writing and inspiring me, Chris.

  • juds123 says:

    Cant help but grin after going through another “life guide” you wrote. I always strive to compete with myself and become a better version. Thanks for that energy blast! 🙂

  • Joe Breunig says:

    A marveous article; the clarity of its truth is shinier than platinum and gold; one point that I can add to this conversation is this:

    Taking personal responsibility and showing up can cost you – severely.

    For nearly 30 years, I’ve been a member/professional of the I.T. (Information Technology) Community, writing and mantaining software on the ‘mainframe platform’. When it comes to software, there is little room for ‘gray areas’; typically, the results are right or wrong. Wrong tends to occur frequently – not because the programmer necessarily screwed up, but because the business rules behind the software changed as a result of ‘the naturally dynamic nature of business’.

    I went against the errant wish of my supervisor; I instructed a co-worker to rewrite a computer program in its entirety (because the core logic was flawed). There was no other solution to get the proper results. Because I did what was right, I saved the company $160,000 in 1 year & was terminated as my reward.

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    birkin bag replica price Personal Responsibility and Showing Up : The Art of Non-Conformity

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