“Look what you made me do.”
Even if you haven’t said those words, you probably know the feeling. Your friend startles you and you drop something fragile. Your co-worker procrastinates and you miss a deadline. Your spouse does something infuriating and you get frustrated or angry. How do we escape the blame game?
I recently found myself in a situation that I hope never to repeat; the kind that makes your stomach turn and the spot between your lungs feel tight. After moving to a new city and starting a new job, I dove headfirst into my role;
I volunteered for more responsibility, took on projects, got handed extra work and leadership roles quickly. I hustled, worked hard, and worked my way up.
It all happened so quickly that the business didn’t really take the time to train me or lay out a contract, and I didn’t take the time to ask for what I needed either. The job didn’t work out in the end. That might seem unsurprising, but at the time we made the mutual decision for me to stop working there, it felt like a sudden shock to both parties. We weren’t seeing eye to eye, which makes total sense in retrospect.
The whole situation hurt. I felt guilty for not asking the right questions and saddened at breaking with a job I loved. The whole thing was aggravated when I found out that other people in the company resented me for my quick rise and had been gossiping behind my back.
Feeling slighted, isolated and sad, it felt so tempting—and even valid from my perspective—to accuse the company for setting me up to fail. Of course, I wasn’t doing things “your way,” because you never trained me on what that meant. If you didn’t want me to advance in my position, why give me more responsibility and control? All these blaming thoughts swirled through my mind, egged on by sadness and a bruised ego.
It seems juvenile to think of, but remember that grade school saying, “blame ends in me?”
Dumping blame on another person, company, situation or circumstance doesn’t actually lessen your own responsibility or fix anything. It temporarily feels good to vindicate your wounds, but by avoiding your own role in the outcome you also impede your own healing. Because you can’t learn, move on and grow if you dissociate from the situation.
This is not to say don’t work for understanding. This is not to say don’t create open dialogue. And this is not to say lay down and take the culpability for everything. The point is: by practicing emotional intelligence (see our earlier blog on EQ here) and taking accountability, you are giving yourself the opportunity to improve. Uplifting yourself is much more rewarding in the long run than spiraling down into a pattern of blaming other people or circumstances for what’s not going right in your life.
Years ago I fell in love with this quote by George Bernard Shaw:
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can't find them, make them.”
Every day since I left that job, I’ve worked to release resentment and grow personally. I could have taken the time to ask more questions, solidify terms and set myself up for long-term success. And yes, the company could have done their role better, too, but that is not something I can change. What I can control is how I move forward.
Overcoming hurts, resentments, and beating the blame game requires us to look within. Finding peace in yourself—and me finding peace in myself—asks us to take responsibility for our part.
The question I ask myself every day is: what one thing can I do to live with more integrity?
During some quiet moments in my day, whether it’s in yoga class or waiting at a stoplight, I consciously think of one way I can take more responsibility for my life. The big goal is to live in a way that I am proud of, even if no one is watching. The everyday steps toward my goal are sometimes tiny—write that text message I’ve been putting off; take out the trash instead of waiting for someone else to—and sometimes larger—write that uncomfortable e-mail to ask for clarification at work; reach out to a friend to clear up a disagreement.
Instead of laying blame—“look what you made me do!”—what if we could set such a good example, live with such integrity, that other people would say “look what you inspired me to do.”
For more ways to build emotional well being, interpersonal skills or communication skills, contact us at Heartmanity. If you're looking to successfully navigate workplace behavior as a leader, you may find "Emotional Intelligence in Leadership" helpful.
Enid Spitz is a writer and yoga instructor based in Charleston, SC. She previously lived in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, where she was a newspaper editor and researched yoga for traumatic brain Injury. Heartmanity combines Enid's passions for social well-being,