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When Greek and Roman playwrights introduced complex problems into their plays that the characters they had created were too flawed to solve, they resorted to deus ex machina, that is, the god of the machine. Using a crane, they lowered a “god” onto the stage who, unencumbered by the realities of life, sorted everything out. The situation and the characters were magically “saved.”

Ah, would that real life worked that way. Unfortunately, when we poor mortals face a challenge or have a problem, we must rely on our own wits. If we’re smart we seek advice and help, but no magic solution is going to fall from the sky to save us. The solution must be of our own making.

Understanding that concept, taking control and being accountable for our actions and our lives is the most positive step a person can take toward fulfillment, happiness, and success. Accepting personal responsibility is what transforms children into adults.

Being accountable in your professional life is also transformative. It is the key to personal effectiveness in the workplace. A person who accepts personal responsibility is no longer a victim of circumstances waiting for those circumstances to magically change, but an enterprising person who is shaping his own future. The responsible person sees the problems that inevitably occur while working on any project as challenges to be met rather than excuses to explain failure. For them a lack of resources sparks creative solutions instead of stopping progress in its tracks.

Taking responsibility means being proactive. In his Harvard Business Review blog post, Take Ownership of Your Actions by Taking Responsibility, John Coleman says, “One of the most common momentum killers I’ve seen in my professional life is our propensity to wait for someone else to act, take initiative, assume blame, or take charge. But very often, no help comes.”

There are countless ways to take responsibility for your professional future.

  • Take an active rather than a passive role in meetings and workgroups by contributing your ideas, asking questions, and offering honest opinions.
  • Make decisions. Do a reasonable amount of research, study options, and then make an informed decision. Remember, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
  • Take initiative. If you see something that isn’t being done, do it. Improve processes, streamlining any repetitive tasks that are your responsibility by creating a spreadsheet, macro, template, or checklist. If you know of a project that you’d like to work on, don’t wait to be invited. Ask to be included and be prepared to point out what you can contribute to its success. Volunteer.
  • Ask your boss for more responsibility. Consider your skills and what you enjoy doing, then offer to help a co-worker or take on additional tasks that interest you and are within your skill set.
  • Admit your mistakes. If you want to receive credit for what you contribute, you also must take credit for negative outcomes that are your responsibility. Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn by assessing what went wrong and how it could have been avoided or done better. Ask “what if.”
  • Become an expert in some aspect of your field by reading, following developments, or taking a class. Become a power user of software that is essential to your workplace and offer help to anyone who needs it.

Taking personal responsibility for your actions in your professional life is liberating. You will realize that you have the power to shape your role in your workplace and the future of your career. Don’t wait for the god of the machine to appear from above to propel you forward. No one is coming, you must take matters into your own hands.

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