True confession: I like to weasel out of responsibility for my life and choices. And I’m pretty good at it—and at self-deception as well.
I kvetch about working too many hours or having too many things on the schedule. But I said “yes” for a myriad of good and lousy reasons. And then I’m tired and irritable. I grouse about looking like a chubby little hobbit but I ate the M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls staring at me from the bowl, saying, “Take me, I’m yours.”
It doesn’t work for me, frankly. This incident from Scott Peck’s life, recounted in The Road Less Traveled is mighty convicting. But he nails this whole matter of taking responsibility for one’s life:
Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid-in ways that can be quite subtle-the pain of assuming responsibility for our problems. For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely. At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training. In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation. Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they. They ordinarily saw patients only once a week. I often saw my patients two or three times a week. As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment. As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done. So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him. I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up. Did he think that was feasible? Or could he think of some other solution to the problem? Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once. When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”
I beamed, feeling understood. “Thank you,” I said. “What do you think should be done about it?”
To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”
This was hardly the response I expected. “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem. That’s why I came to see you. What do you think I ought to do about it?”
Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said. I have heard you, and I am agreeing why you. You do have a problem.”…[cursing] I said, “I know I have a problem. I knew that when I came in here. The question is, what am I going to do about it?”
“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen. Listen closely and I will say it again. I agree with you. You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. Your time. Not my time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem with your time. You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt that he had a severe character disorder. How else could he be so callous? Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic. If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?
But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time. If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility. It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequences of a choice that I had made. If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently. My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities. As it happened, I chose not to change my life style. But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished.
This is tough medicine. But we are responsible for our choices. You didn’t have to take that job. Go out with that person. Vote for Obama or Bush. Drink too many mixed drinks. Eat the M&M’s.
Life is so much easier when we live free. But freedom comes at the price of taking complete responsibility for all that is in our power.