If you read my last blog post, you’ll remember I’ve been reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life. At that point I’d only read to chapter 4, but now I’ve not only finished the whole book but reread a good chunk of it too!
So many wise words, but I was particularly struck by a theme that runs through the book and also has a chapter specifically devoted to it – facing responsibility.
An early quote in the chapter is:
“We are the sum total of the choices we have made. Not pleasant hearing for the person who wishes to place the responsibility for what he has become on someone else, or on that blanket alibi, circumstances beyond his control.”
I believe this is so true, and also one of the hardest, yet most liberating lessons I’ve learned so far.
For years I was caught in an unhappy ‘prison’ of my own making, believing myself to be a victim – misunderstood and unappreciated. I blamed my circumstances on others and on situations beyond my control. In doing so, I felt powerless, handing over all sense of control to something or someone outside myself.
I see now that this was my unconscious trying to protect myself from some difficult truths; some things about myself that were painful to face, so it felt easier and safer to look elsewhere to blame for my unhappiness and lack of success.
This, although unconscious, was a choice; I chose to give up my power and take no responsibility for myself, to feel powerless and out of control. By not taking responsibility for myself I lost my freedom.
The moment I saw what I had created for myself, my role within it, and how no-one but I can control how I wish to be, I unlocked the door of the cage that prevented my growth, happiness and success and stepped into another life.
Eleanor goes on to say “There are many men and women who are far happier when they have relinquished their freedom, when someone else guides them, makes their decisions for them, takes the responsibility for them and for their actions”.
I disagree – I believe we find it easier and safer to do so, but in the long run we will not be happier.
However, I wholly agree with her apparently paradoxical statement: “For freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility”.
This is so scary for many of us, especially those of us with an intense perfectionist inner critic whispering “but what if you make the wrong choice?” As Kierkegaard said “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”. But as Eleanor wisely goes on to claim “ There is no human growth without the acceptance of responsibility”, which is easy to see for our children, but harder to see for ourselves.
We face choices all the time, from the apparently trivial (what shall I eat for breakfast), to the bigger (what career do I want, what people will I choose to spend my time with) and harder (what do I believe and to what extent am I ready to live up or stand up for them, and am I prepared to admit when I make a wrong choice).
Even allowing others to make choices for us is a choice!
The choices I knowingly, or unknowingly make affect every aspect of my health, wealth, relationships and happiness – I am indeed the sum total of the choices I have made and will become the sum of the choices yet to make. So joyfully I embrace my freedom to choose, and the responsibility that comes along with it.