It’s Not My Fault

“It’s not my fault!”

Anyone who’s spent even a small amount of time around kids – and, sadly, most adults – has heard those words used as a way of trying to shift blame to someone else. But the reason people try to shift fault has little to do with the actual blame for the event.

Instead, what they’re really trying to do is excuse themselves from the responsibility for taking action moving forward.

Don’t confuse fault with responsibility. The ability to understand the difference empowers you to move from a state of victim-hood to a state of victory in life.

Let me explain. Read the statements below and see if any of them resonate with you. Maybe you (or someone you know) have said something similar.

  • It’s not my fault that I’m overweight. My parents were overweight and it runs in the family.
  • It’s not my fault that I have anger issues. My dad physically abused me when I was a kid.
  • It’s not my fault that I lie a lot. I had to in order to survive growing up.
  • It’s not my fault that I lost my job. My company was mismanaged and went out of business.
  • It’s not my fault that I’m addicted to pain pills. I am in constant pain after the accident.
  • It’s not my fault that I …

All of these things may in fact be true. Many things that happen to you may not be your fault. It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where things happen to us that are outside of our control. Kids are abused and abandoned. They grow up in terrible environments with terrible parents. People are permanently injured in accidents that weren’t their fault. Lives are altered sometimes through no fault of your own.

But here’s the reality: just because something isn’t your fault, that doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.

  • You may be overweight and it may run in your family. But it’s your responsibility to manage it.
  • Through no fault of your own, you may have been abused by someone you trusted. But how you live from today forward is your responsibility.
  • You may have grown up in a world where you had to lie to survive. But it’s now your responsibility as an adult to live differently.
  • Your company may have collapsed through now fault of your own. But it’s now your responsibility to provide for yourself and your family.
  • The accident that injured you may not have been your fault. But it’s now your responsibility to seek treatment for your addiction.

I don’t know your personal story, but I do know my own story and the story of family and friends that I love. I know of very specific events in my life that weren’t necessarily my fault. But what I choose to do with them is 100% my responsibility.

There have been times in my life when I wanted to cry out, “It’s not my fault!” In those moments, what I really wanted to do was shift responsibility away from myself. You see, I knew that something wasn’t my fault and that I had to live with the consequences of another person’s choice – and that angered me.

Part of me wanted to be a victim because, as long as I was a victim, I didn’t have to do anything. I could pity myself. I could use my victim status to excuse just about anything. I knew, however, that victims are never happy. They never find joy. They never find peace. They are usually miserable people to be around. They find their identity in being a victim rather than in taking 100% responsibility for their lives and choosing to live differently.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. When I tell my clients to take 100% responsibility for their lives, I’m not telling them to accept blame for what others did to them in their past. You never excuse the misbehavior of others. What I want them to understand (and what I want you to understand) is that your life, from today forward, is 100% your responsibility. What you choose, what you believe, what you feel, what you do with your life, is your responsibility.

You can’t change the past. You can’t change what happened to you. You can’t change how you grew up. You can’t change the fact that you got laid off. You can, however, choose to live differently in spite of your past. It’s not easy but it is possible. People do it all the time.

So, fine, it may not be your fault – but that doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility. If fact, chances are good that it now is.

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  • I love this line: “just because something isn’t your fault, that doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility”

    How we feel about something is our own choice. It doesn’t always seem that way, but it is on us. Great post!

  • Thanks, John! I don’t think most people realize how much control they have over their thoughts and, therefore, their feelings. It really is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful in life.

  • You’re spot on Travis. As Napoleon Hill said, “we become what we think about”. If we play victim, we’ll find all types of reasons to blame and give up … we think we don’t have a choice or responsibility. But the reality is we do. If we choose our thoughts with purpose, we can turn our lives around. Yes, life and the people in our lives sometimes aren’t “fair”, but when we claim responsibility for our thoughts/reactions/lives, we can achieve amazing things. And that’s something no one can take from us.

    • Thanks, Don! It really does come down to our thought processes. It’s not easy, but it is a simple concept. 🙂

      • So true, if it was easy, everybody would do it, right?

  • Thanks for this great post!  At first blush I’m inclined to agree with you and this message, however, where I would disagree is the concept of responsibility and ability or control. 

    Taking responsibility and wanting to change a behavior is different from having the ability to do so.  Using your example of the individual who is overweight, if they don’t have access to and/or can’t afford healthy foods then the idea of responsibility leading to control falls apart.

    As a member of Gen X (and technically Gen Y as well, depending on who you ask) I am with you on the need to end the “it’s not my fault” cries, however, responsibility and control may not be that simple for
    everyone.

    • Thanks for the comment, Leslie!

      I definitely understand what you’re saying. However, the reason I would disagree with you on this is because there are poor people who are not overweight and who are not malnourished. While shopping at a grocery store such as Whole Foods may not be an option for some people, it’s not an excuse for remaining overweight. If it were, all poor people would be overweight.

      The truth is that they are making choices about what to eat, how much to eat, and how much they are (or are not) exercising. The reasons why they are could be any number of things: poor education, unhealthy eating habits passed down by parents, loneliness, etc. However, they don’t have to remain in that place. They can choose to live differently – even if they are poor.

      As an example of this, there is a former pro football player named Herschel Walker. He was poor growing up and was overweight as a kid. In his early teens, he decided he was done being the overweight kid. So he started eating as good as he could and started doing pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups and running (they couldn’t afford a gym membership). He never lifted weights until he got a scholarship to play college football. Instead, he did thousands of each body weight exercise every day.

      When asked about his being poor, he said, “I didn’t let that stop me.” At the end of the day, he took responsibility for his own life and how he would live. He was a teenager (it wasn’t his fault they were poor and he didn’t exactly buy his own groceries) but he decided that he could control the two primary variables: how much he ate and how much he exercised.

      It’s this attitude that I’m trying to inspire in people and I believe everyone has the ability to change moving forward – though it is admittedly easier for some, that’s still not a valid excuse. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

      • This is a great back-and-forth!  It’s the classic debate between personal responsibility and the built environment.  I love your post, and found it inspiring!  My only issue is where responsibility translates into control.

        To be clear, I am in no way generalizing that obesity is an issue affecting solely a certain demographic or income level.  It was using it as an example of a way in which someone may take responsibility for themselves (eg: I am overweight, I do not want to be any more, I can change this about myself), but if they don’t have a grocery store within walking distance and need to rely on corner stores as their primary food source, that the built environment may remove the aspect of direct control that person has.

        The same could apply to someone who realizes they have an anger issue and want to change it, but don’t have access to counselors or have friends and family that are supportive of them making a change.

        I suppose my thesis is that no man is an island.  If someone moves from “it’s not my fault” to “it’s my responsibility” they may have obstacles in their way to creating that change.  If the structures aren’t there to support that person in making that change then they are less likely to be able to control the outcome.

        With all that said, I truly did enjoy your post and think it is valuable and well worth the read, for anyone, whether they are contemplating change or need to a kick-start!

        • It is! I enjoy the dialogue – so thank you for commenting and engaging!

          I really do agree that no man (or woman) is an island. I think where we differ is that I don’t believe that there is anybody who can’t get the help they need if they really want to.

          And therein lies the true test – how badly does a person really want to change? Anyone who has a strong enough motivation can change regardless of the circumstances.

          No doubt, it will be substantially more difficult for some than for others. But I think we do a disservice to people when we make it too easy to excuse any behavior. We all need the help and support of others – and we can find that if we really want it. I guess I’m saying that if someone has the want to change, they will find the resources and the way to change. I don’t think the resources come first.

  • Kcampbell

    Travis you are dead on target with this. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks!!  The “It’s not my fault” tack also has an ugly twin sister, “That’s not fair!”

    • Thanks! And great point! The “it’s not fair” statement bothers me too.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post. I am much more responsible that I want to realize. Thx for the reminder!

    • Thanks, Rob! It’s definitely something we all struggle with at times.

  • Darne Ridgley

    It’s not my fault is something that was forced out of my vocabulary by the Navy.  If a ship runs aground in the middle of the night while the captain is asleep he will still lose his job.  There is no such thing as it’s not my fault.  Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in the Navy was to be accountable for my actions when the consequences were good, and when they are bad.  We all face obstacles and challenges and we all fall short, but it is taking responsibility for your actions and then doing what it takes to change the outcome that separates the good from the great.  
    I agree with John Morgan about the line “just because something isn’t your fault, that doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.”  The captain may not have set the course that ended up with the ship being run aground, but he is ultimately responsible for his actions and his entire crews actions.  
    Take a second and look at the average Naval Submarine with just over 100 people on board. Each boat operates in extremely dangerous conditions,lets face it it is a boat designed to sink. Each boat carries a huge weapons load rivaled by few other nations much less other ships. And each boat is powered by a complex steam system and nuclear reactor.  Thank about that and then realize 90% of the crew is less than 30 years old.  The man responsible  for the entire crew and boat is most likely less than 50 years old.  

    • Great story and analogy, Darne! You make a great point about the responsibility of the captain to the ship (even if he’s asleep at the time of an accident). He has to live with the consequences (good or bad) of other people’s choices on a daily basis.

      It’s his ability to understand this and the responsibility that he has that got him to that position in the first place. It’s why the military is one of the greatest institutions out there for teaching responsibility to others.

      I wish more people had that level of training. 🙂

  • So true! I have seen so many people do this myself included and it is a hole we all have to climb ourselves out of and fill it in with gratitude. It’s the hard things we conquer that molds us into who we are. It’s hard to say “I’m thankful for … whatever bad thing it may be…” but we can turn these instances into something great if we take responsibility for it and kick it and kick the bad habits/learned behaviors to the curb! Great post!

  • Thank you for this, Travis.

    I may not speak the words…but oh, mercy, do I ever think them at times. How futile such words are even in mere thought. It’s time for a bit of brainwashing I think. 😉

    Thank you, again!

  • Boy, you sure sparked a great debate with your topic.  I agree that a lot of people suffer from the “It’s Not My Fault” syndrome.  I believe that it is actually a symptom of a greater problem:  Being A Victim.  

    People have a choice in how they approach life:  1)  things happen to them; or 2)  they make things happen.  

    Being a member of camp #2 is a big responsibility.  It means that it is your fault that you are where you are, doing what you do.  Embracing this thought can be freeing, and frightening.

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