A 38 year-old man was at his parents’ home for Sunday dinner. He mournfully turned the discussion to his many problems; “I’ve just left my third failed marriage, I can’t hold onto a job, I’m in debt up to my ears and will have to declare personal bankruptcy” he whimpered. “Where did you go wrong?”

When things go wrong, it’s easy to blame others. Blaming others for our difficulties is the easy way out. That’s why it’s so popular. Turn on any daytime talk show and you’ll find endless examples of people blaming everybody and everything for the way their lives have turned out.

But the happiest and most successful people — the leaders who get things done and get on with their lives — know that life is an endless series of choices, and take responsibility for these choices as well as the consequences of their actions. Leaders choose to control their destiny so fate and others don’t. They believe that choice more than chance determines their circumstances. Even in circumstances for which they’re not responsible, they still take responsibility for their actions.

Leaders recognize that they have control and choice over a number of key factors:

  • Choose Not to Lose — Whether we choose to focus on our problems or our possibilities is a key leadership issue. When we are faced with obstacles and failure, those who can overcome adversity and learn from their experiences, turning them into opportunities, are the ones who will be truly successful.
  • Perceived Reality — Most so-called “facts” are open to interpretation and are highly dependent upon what’s being read into them. We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. Too often, we let our problems trap us deep inside our own “reality rut.” As long as we’re stuck there, we can’t see out of the rut to the possibilities beyond.
  • Choosing Our Outlook — An optimist expects the best possible outcome and dwells on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. Pessimists stress the negative and take the gloomiest possible view. And while we may have been given a tendency toward optimism or pessimism at birth or from our upbringing, we decide what we want to be from today forward.
  • Choosing To Let Go of Deadly Emotions — Another milestone in our growth is when we accept responsibility for our emotions. It’s less painful to believe that anger, jealousy, or bitterness are somebody else’s fault or beyond our control. But that makes us prisoners of our emotions. We stew in our deadly emotions. For our own health and happiness, we must exercise our choice to let go. No matter how long we nurse a grudge, it won’t get better. We need to truly forgive and forget. Forgiveness is not for the other guy, it is for ourselves.
  • Choosing Our Thoughts — In his 19th century Journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life consists of what a man is thinking of all day.” If we continue to think like we’ve always thought, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always got. Our daily thought choices translate into our daily actions. Our actions accumulate to form our habits. Our habits form our character. Our character attracts our circumstances. Our circumstances determine our future… Taking responsibility for our choices starts with choosing our thoughts.

Leaders realize that life accumulates; the choices we make — good and bad — are like deposits in a bank account. Over the years we can build up a wealth of success and happiness or a deficit of despair and discouragement. It’s up to us. As with any active bank account, few of these choice accumulations are permanent. However, the longer we allow poor choices to accumulate, the more time and effort will be needed to shift that balance. Now is the time for action. There’s still time. If not now, when?