A River Worth riding: Lesson Eight
Understanding how to take responsibility for your life.

I pass a lot of people riding soapboxes down the river. Do you know about soapboxes? They’re the boxes people stand on to get your attention, so they can tell you everything that they think you ought to know.

One soapbox rider I passed felt that it was his duty to point out every terror on the river. So I wouldn’t be afraid of the unexpected, I guess. Another soapbox rider kept pointing out what I was doing wrong. So I could fix myself up, no doubt. Still another soapbox rider kept shouting about how nobody was doing anything about all the problems on the river. Judging by him, I guess he was right.

Soapbox riders are easy to spot. They hang around the shallows using language like: “I can’t,” “You should,” “If only,” “I had no choice,” “I’ve tried everything,” “He started it,” “I wish,” “I blame,” “Do something.” Soapbox riders often claim that the river is an uncaring place because the river doesn’t seem to care about everything they think they know.

I like to spot soapbox riders as soon as possible, so I can give them a wide berth. I don’t like how they waste my time with nonsense. Besides, I can’t really see why anyone would want to ride a soapbox. They make terrible boats. I mean, you can’t accomplish much standing on some stupid lid talking at people who don’t need your advice. Oh sure, soapbox riders are great at spotting problems and defending points of views, but the river needs more people who can discover solutions and embrace new points of views. I think the most annoying thing about soapbox riders is that even when they do make good points; they never use those points to get anything done. I have yet to see a soapbox rider accomplish anything worthwhile on the river.

You’ve probably heard the word proactive tossed around a lot these days. Many people think that proactive means to take initiative. But in reality, proactive means a lot more. Proactive means taking personal responsibility for your choices in life and taking personal responsibility for everything that you experience. Proactive means turning your back on the blame game and, finally, taking control of your life by taking control of your reactions to life.

Nobody can take away your freedom to choose your reactions unless you choose to let them. Life chooses what you go through. You choose how you go through it. The one thing life cannot take from you is your freedom to choose your responses to what life hands you. The last of your human freedoms will always be your freedom to choose your attitude in any given circumstance.

What does this all mean to you?

Well, how often do you hear yourself saying things like: “I can’t,” “If only,” “I must,” “There’s nothing I can do,” “I wish,” “She irritates me,” “Nobody told me,” “He started it”?

How often do you let your circumstances control your reactions, rather than using your actions to control your circumstances? If you respond to everything that happens to you with a sense of helplessness, then no wonder you feel helpless. Whenever you look outside yourself for the answers to your problems, you encounter a world beyond your control, and soon your life begins to loose control because no matter what techniques you try, you can change nothing substantial.

So many of us strive to improve our situations by trying to control things that are beyond our control. Ultimately, we end up frustrated. Or worse, we merely use what life has handed us as an excuse for doing nothing to change our circumstances. We think that the world out there has control over everything while we just sit helpless and blameless. Our birth, our upbringing and our environment have all determined our lives; and, poor us, nothing we can do will change those things.

If you think this way, you are not alone. Our entire society is heavily scripted in this kind of mentality. But be careful when you buy into this kind of scripting. The scripts that you play in your mind become true for you. Remember the power of belief. The more out-of-control you think your life is, the more out-of-control your life has become. By focusing on everything that is beyond your control, you never notice what you can control. Remember the power of focus.

We need to remember that the only thing that we control in life is our reaction to what life hands us. “Victim” is only an attitude. You can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to be a survivor. I quote from my brother, Donald Sager, who died in 1999 from cancer.

“…No one can really tell you for sure why cancer hits some people and not others. I have come to realize it is a little like Russian roulette. Everyone has a bullet, but it just happens to be a bit indiscriminate as to when it will come out of the chamber. In reality, we have a whole lot of bullets going off all of the time. It’s just that in most people the immune system is a great bulletproof vest. Cancer folks get that vest ripped right off. I am one of the lucky ones. I say lucky, and I truly mean it, because I am a very different person today than I was on that lovely day of diagnosis and would not want to go back for anything. Now don’t get me wrong. I am searching desperately for a new vest but so far the body armor has been out of stock. The fact that I got the big “C” however, and the journey I have made as a person both before diagnosis and after, has been down right amazing. It has made me who I am today and that, dear friends, is what I would not change for anything…”

Donald William Sager, Comedy of Cancer, 1999

Some might say my brother was a victim of cancer. I say that cancer was just one of the many crucibles of life that forged my brother into someone amazing. My brother chose his response to his illness. He controlled his attitude. He saw within his illness a chance to explore his own mortality and to pass on that understanding to those he loved. He chose to face death with curiosity and wonder, rather than fear and denial. And in so doing, he turned his last year on earth into a lesson of courage that I was privileged to share.

Reclaim your right to choose your response to everything that happens to you. Reclaim your right to control your attitude, your thoughts and your actions. Take personal responsibility for everything you say, or think, or do. Stop being limited by the habitual scripts of your cellular memory. The habits of cellular memory tend to make people far too comfortable with life as it is, and far too uncomfortable with facing the challenges of change. Learn to take personal responsibility for everything that happens to you.

What will taking personal responsibility do for you? Give you real power and control for the first time in your life, that’s all. Give you a sense of being captain of your own ship and in charge of your own journey for a start.

When you take personal responsibility, you will come to realize that you are not just your thoughts. You are the thinker of your thoughts. You are not just your actions. You are the one who chooses your actions. You are not just your emotions. You are the one who experiences and learns from your emotions. You are not just your responses. You are the creator of your responses. And when you begin to experience the sense of control that taking personal responsibility can give you, your attitude and self-esteem will soar. You will suddenly see possibilities where before you saw walls.

Techniques for incorporating the power of responsibility into your daily life are explained and examined further in our companion book A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life. Click here for ordering information.

 What’s the bottom line on responsibility?
The river will always be wet, so stop complaining and learn to pack a towel.
A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life
Copyright: Lynn Marie Sager 2005