Yesterday I overheard my husband having a conversation with his assistant at work. Here’s the general gist. Max asks assistant to complete task. Assistant fails. Max calls assistant on failure. Assistant lies. Max calls assistant on lie. Assistant lies again and shortly thereafter gets busted, causing him great embarrassment. And that’s what got me thinking about the importance of being accountable.
Being accountable is something I rank high in importance.
Whether fear, immaturity or plain stupidity lay behind his assistant’s dishonesty, he’d made a foolish move. If the company can’t count on him to do what they’re paying him for, or at the very least, accept responsibility when he fails to deliver, how are they supposed to trust him? If there’s no trust, where’s the relationship heading? Nowhere good. And that pertains to all of us and all of our relationships — in the workplace and in our personal lives.
What consumes me, though, isn’t the impact that a lack of accountability can have on our relationships with others. It’s the impact it can have on ourselves.
For me, accountability ranks high primarily for selfish reasons: I can’t move forward peacefully without it.
No need to get out the violins, but over the years I’ve incurred my fair share of emotional blows. Haven’t we all? As human beings, we have the ability to be cruel, or just plain thoughtless. Either way, we’re capable of causing great suffering to one another. That said, when we fall victim to suffering inflicted by others, when we’re not looking at our role in the story, there’s no end to the suffering. At least, that’s what I’ve learned from personal experience.
In 2008, my ex-husband dropped a bomb on me.
He told me that in our 10 years of marriage, he had never felt like himself when he was in my company, and he couldn’t see that ever changing. A day or two later, I discovered that he’d made multiple phone calls to another woman in the weeks prior to his confession. Within a couple of months, we got divorced and he was officially in a relationship with the other woman. In our decade together, we had tried therapy several times. During none of our sessions did he ever suggest he was anything other than happy. How was I to have known?
The demise of our marriage was incredibly painful, to state the obvious. I still have flashbacks of the evening I sat in my car on a quiet suburban street and screamed so loudly that I literally woke up without a voice the next day. For months or perhaps a few years following — I honestly can’t recall — I was the walking wounded, inflicted by the suffering he had caused me and unable to imagine living without that pain.
At some point, though, I owned up to myself about something I wasn’t proud of. While I had loved him, I had often felt embarrassed about how he conducted himself socially, and there were times I felt I had to call him on it. For example, when he asked a client of mine how much he made a year, I couldn’t not tell him how inappropriate that was. Still, I married him, didn’t I? I did it knowing full well that there were parts of him I didn’t accept. So really, how could he possibly have lived with me without feeling that he needed to be a different self from the self he felt born to be? Without condoning his behaviour, I saw my role for what it was. From then on, I began to heal.
But what if you have no role in the story? How can you possibly be accountable?
I believe you can always — and I mean always — be accountable. Granted, in some situations you may not be responsible for the events that unfold, but you can always be accountable for how you choose (yes, choose) to respond. If your employer fires you without cause, if your partner cheats on you, and yes, even if somebody you love deeply dies — you ultimately get to decide how to move forward. To be clear, I’m not saying dust off your pain, pull up your socks and carry on without grieving what has befallen you. Pain takes time to process. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. But when you’re tired of living with the pain, when you believe there’s nothing left to process, remember, you have 100% control of one thing and one thing only, and that’s yourself. Be true.