Sunday, January 15, 2006

Responsibility….

The first two comments I received on yesterday’s post got me thinking about responsibility.

I written more than a little over the past year on taking responsibility for my actions and how I believe we are all responsible for the choices we make.

In those posts, I was primarily talking about our conscious choices, our decisions, and how regardless of the outcome we need to accept the responsibility for having made them. At the same time accepting the consequences, understanding that we got ourselves into this consequence, and with the right set of choices we’ll get through it.

Then there are our mistakes.

There was a time in my life where I felt that any mistake I made was a failure. That in failing I had not only let myself down, but (and get this) more importantly, I had let someone else down! That someone else in my case, was most often my Dad. I felt (and again I’m not sure it was a correct feeling) that he expected perfection from me. That anything less was unacceptable.

Those feelings governed my life for more years than I care to admit. In fact it wasn’t until after he’d died that I began to comprehend the degree to which I’d assimilated these feelings and was living my life accordingly. Everything I did, every chance I took, was in some strange way (unknown to me at the time, at least on a conscious level) an attempt to gain his approval, to have him be proud of me.

In some ways, it was a blessing. If I felt capable at something, I would through myself into it 110%, sparing no effort to see to it I would succeed. In other ways though, it was a curse. I was afraid to take chances in any direction where I felt less than certain I would shine. While the only example I can think of at the moment is basketball, I’m sure there were others.

I tried to play basketball while I was in grade school, tried out for and made the team, but I didn’t last very long. Not because I got ‘cut’, but because (as I remember it) I felt I didn’t play as well as the other guys, and so I ‘gave up’, ‘lost interest’ or whatever other term I used at the time to explain why I wasn’t going to play any more. You see, with my Dad being a former semi-professional player/coach, I knew (at least in my mind) there was no way I’d ever measure up to the things he’d achieved in his days on the court.

Looking back, I probably would have been better served had I enlisted his help, got him to coach me privately, and worked as hard as I could have, and just see where it ended up. Fear of making mistakes, of failure, though paralyzed me, and I don’t recall ever even contemplating that option.

I have no problem taking responsibility today, for my choices, my decisions, but it wasn’t always that way. The area I find I still have the most trouble with, is the ‘honest’ mistake though.

That event where you ‘think’ you’re doing the right thing, but like last week for me you send the wrong file. Maybe you put that new line of code in the wrong subroutine, skipped a ‘case’ in the test scenario because you were feeling time deadline pressures, or did any of a thousand other things, thinking at the time, it was the right thing to do.

Then, later, hours, days, sometimes even months years later, you discover you’d made a mistake. Each time this happens to me, the first thing I begin to feel is some sort of ‘disbelief’… like I’ve stepped into some alternative ‘plane’ where things are not making sense. You see, as a result of my history, I still try very hard NOT to make mistakes, which I could prevent by being diligent. I normally recheck everything twice, sometimes three times before it ever leaves my hands.

Like I’ve said though, this past week was a little humbling, I’ve had to realize, once again, that it doesn’t matter how hard you try, mistakes will still happen.

So, in coming to that realization, I’ve also decided, that like a decision or choice, a mistake I make, is my responsibility, regardless of intent, if my actions result in a ‘less than desired result’, it’s still mine to claim.

It might have been the way it was handled by my supervisor, after I’d stepped up, that made this an easier realization, I’m not sure. I do know it sure didn’t hurt the process.

Mistakes are just a part of life, of being human. They’re rarely the catastrophic event we (or at the very least I) tend to view them as initially. In fact, in virtually every case they’re usually a chance for learning. Learning how not to make that mistake again, and, to lessen the likelihood of anything similar happening either.

Maybe, just maybe there’s a chance I’m really beginning to understand Thomas Edison after all this time. In case you don’t know, one of my favorite quotes of all time is one from Edison.

When asked, after his 10,000th experiment to create a light bulb, how it felt to have failed 10,000 times, at anything, he responded simply:

“You don’t seem to understand, I’ve not failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb, I now know 10,000 ways NOT to build a light bulb.”

I’m a long way from ever attempting anything 10,000 times without success, in fact I have trouble even beginning to comprehend what kind of internal strength it would take to get to that level of perseverance. Especially when I think of the fact that virtually no one had electricity at the time, and that for years he gave away light bulbs to get folks to install electricity, and use the bulbs!!

So, maybe the moral of this all is that we find a lot more ways NOT to do things, than we ever find to do them right. That finding the wrong way is just in integral portion of the search, for the right way. Without failure, without mistakes, it’s very likely there would be far less sweet, in the sweet smell of success.

What do you think? Do you accept your mistakes as part of the process, or are they hard to swallow? Do you swallow that ‘pill’ anyway, are you able to then let go and just chalk it up to experience?

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9 comments:

Jay said...

Those are beautiful words, but I have a hard time keeping up with something that I am not immediately good at.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Bill,

Mistakes ARE a part of the process. We are human, and humans make mistakes. I have learned to "swallow that bitter pill" and move on.

That was not easy for me. I would let my mistakes bother me long after they were over and done. But I have finally learned - - after TOO MANY years - - to accept the fact that I am human, I made a mistake, I did everything possible to make it right, learned from it - - and now it is time to get on with life.

Not an easy lesson to learn, but it can be done! I wish it hadn't taken me so long, but guess that is part of the Italian in me . . . :-)

Liz

Spirit Of Owl said...

It's odd, you know, but we really are some kind of kindred Bill!

I'm not kidding, all that you're saying has a really uncanny resonance for me. I've had to accelerate my processes somewhat to even have a hope of my very survival lately, and I still have an awfully long way to go, but I know that you're describing exactly where I want to be.

And I'm gonna say it again, uncanny! :o}

Ilene said...

If there was never a wrong way to do something, how would we ever know the right way? Are mistakes really mistakes or just life's way of helping us understand who we really are? I used to fret over doing something the "wrong" way, but I am thankful to have grown to understand how important it is to move on - take responsibility for my actions, be thankful for the experience - take the blessing from it and just move on. Leaving behind a 35 year marriage has helped me realize this - it wasn't a mistake just an experience that isn't right for me any more. It just frees me up to experience life more fully. Am I making sense?

Comfort Addict said...

Bill,

This is downright spooky! Within about an hour of each other, we wrote posts on the same general topic. We are indeed twin sons of different mothers.

I do accept responsibility for my mistakes but sometimes find myself soft-pedaling them. I do this almost by reflex and hate it when I do. Then again, in the corporate culture where I live, part of this is a survival instinct.

As a leader, I always try to establish a climate where mistakes are accepted. I sometimes get out front and try to protect the team members from the harsh finger pointers looking for their Lieutenant Calley. This is probably why I will never advance very far in management and why I think frequently about a career change.

Bill said...

Jay - Yep, me too, that's why I'm so impressed with those who simply persevere despite incredible odds.

Liz - I wish my learning hadn't taken so long, and that I had fully assimilated the lesson I've learned... then again, maybe that's the Irish in *me*?

Spirit - We do seem to be on similar journies, that's for sure! You've made big steps in just the short time we've known one another, I have no doubt at all you'll get exactly where you want to go!!

It's always nice to know I'm striking a chord with someone else Spirit, thanks!!

Bill said...

Ilene - There's no 'up' without 'down', or 'good' without 'bad'... so of course you're right, and I do understand what you're saying.

I know for me, ending a relationship (my first marriage) after being together for 22 years, was one of the most difficult decisons I've ever made. It was however, the right one, as my 'ex' later told me. She too ahd been unhappy, but didn't realize how unhappy, until we'd been apart a while.

The road is not always smooth, but, for me, it's made easier when I know I'm on the 'right' road.

CA - It is spooky... but then again, we've been sort of wrestling with similar life/work issues the past several months.

Sometimes, just knowing someone else is having these same types of issues, thoughts, is a good portion of why I write about them.

There does seem to be all to much effort expended in companies today finding that 'one person' to fix blame to, so the rest can act like they are untarnished... sad really.

I admire your management style, and would hope some of my former employees would say my style was similar.

deuxfuss said...

I make mistakes in front of a crowd. They can haunt me for days. No matter how well the rest of the show went, I keep remembering the gaff. Going back to it again and again like a tongue to a sore tooth.

Bill said...

deuxfuss - Welcome... your comment reminded me of how we used to compare onsite computer work to 'concert' performances. How *you* might know something is wrong, but you have to keep moving forward, not letting the audience know. The old "never let them see you sweat" mindset.

Like you, and a tongue to the sore tooth, after the fact though I still wrestle with what went wrong, why, etc... I'm far better at letting it all go today, but it does haunt me still.

Thanks for stopping in!