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A Meditation on Personal Accountability

A big part of the inspiration for this blog was this vague idea I had of personal accountability. It’s a phrase that I’ve struggled with in so many areas of my life. It’s so easy to say, it just rolls off the tongue. It’s like promising yourself you’ll only watch 1 more episode of Breaking Bad, or that this weekend you won’t drink. Then you wake up at 3am on Sunday, with an 16 empty cans of beer and hazy memories of Walter White. It happens, I know.

When I first started writing this post, I had a vague notion of my own personal accountability from hiring a personal coach and deep introspection about my life and career and how I was spending my time. From late January through mid-October of 2014 I was on the road, leaving on Monday mornings very early and coming home Thursday nights around midnight, or suffering the red-eye and rolling in around 7am the next day from different consulting projects.

It hit me all so suddenly. I had been working a pretty typical office job when I got an opportunity to try my hand at consulting with a very large, very well known firm. I jumped at the chance to expand my knowledge, work with smart people and to make more money. I thought I was being responsible to myself (new challenges, awesome clients!), to my family (more money!), and to my career (fancy firm!).The warning sign came even before I started during the interview process. I asked innocently about travel expectations and was told to expect 100% travel. I am sure I looked shocked, and was told not to worry, it likely it wouldn’t be that bad. For a year or so that was true – day trips here and there, with the occasional week for a large project.

Then in late January of 2014, I got a call about a large project that would have an indefinite end (likely 2 years I was told) and that they wanted me to lead the effort. I was excited at first, thinking that this was my opportunity to shine on a new project. The project was nuts, I’d get in around 11 am on Monday mornings and not leave until late on Thursday nights most of the time.

If you haven’t done this before, the best way for me to explain it is that you work all the time. Even when you aren’t working, you are working. You go into this “work bubble” where you are in a new city, with new people working on a high pressure project. You wake up and hopefully work out, eat breakfast and get to work. 10-15 hour days are the norm. At first, it’s exciting. You are intellectually challenged, clients have high expectations and you are building your team. Then it suddenly gets boring. And for me, I started to get depressed. I’d have a 2 minute call with my family or get some texts with funny photos while running between meetings or out to dinner with the client, or the team. I was completely disconnected from the day to day flow of my family and my life. I was lost at work and it sucked.

When that project ended, I was asked to help “save” a project in a city even further away (4 hour+ flight each way) and that this project would only be 6 weeks or so. I agreed against my better judgement and ended up in an even crazier environment, even further away from home. I was becoming unglued inside my head and more depressed with every flight.

When it ended, in late 2014, I literally felt like I had been punched in the gut. The wind was out of me and I was unable and unwilling to fully be present in my personal or professional life. It was a pretty dark time to be honest. I think I hid it pretty well from everyone around me, except for my wife. I am absolutely sure she knew there was something wrong.

So what’s this got to do with personal accountability you ask? Everything.

I wanted this post to be about how I found my priorities and was able to become the person I want to become – but I can’t. I’ve wrestled over this post for weeks, almost a month and am honestly, stuck.

I’m stuck because I can’t seem to find the words to describe what’s in my head. When I think about personal accountability, I sometimes think that it is selfish to put myself first – and then I spin around and think that only by putting myself first can I find the right path. Whether that has to do with my career and providing for my family, or sex, relationships, travel or even food, it’s all connected. It’s rapdily becoming a game of “this or that”, a series of choices that feel increasing selfish, or the opposite – of being a martyr.

So what do I mean by “personal accountability” exactly?

As I struggled with this question, I’m finding that is about being true to yourself, finding your true path and then running down it with abandon.

It’s about focusing on your passion, your ideas and your truth, and then believing that the universe will help you figure it out as you go.

It’s not about the money, or the great clients or anything external. When you take personal accountability for yourself first, it’s anything but selfish. In fact, it’s probably the most generous thing you can do in your entire life – if you aren’t being personally accountable, then being on the right path is a game of luck. Like rolling dice.

I used to think that accolades and money were what I needed, external validation of my skills, intellect and abilities. But I see now that I was very wrong about that – that external feedback can serve a useful purpose in some cases, but ultimately, taking personal accountability is about cutting through all that noise, and taking control of your life and your decisions.

The trick for me, is the structures, relationships and expectations have been built over the years with my family, my wife, my children and even with myself. I recently told a friend that I did not want to end up on my “death bed” regretting not visiting China, or Asia, or wandering around a strange city looking for weird places to eat lunch. Or making weird friends, or having crazy adventures. But I’m not that guy, not really. In reality, I’m a middle aged white guy who has commitments, promises and bills to pay.

So in lieu of a time machine, not that I’d really want one anyway, the question is what next. How does a middle aged white guy with a mortgage, a high pressure job, a wife and children find the kind of personal accountability I’ve been writing about? I don’t know. And that’s why writing this has been such a struggle.

I said to a friend the other day, I feel like I should just man up, deal with my decisions and the path I’m on and be grateful for what I already have – and I didn’t disagree completely. But honestly, I keep thinking about that old man, in bed looking back at his life and thinking, there are things I need to experience, places to explore, food to eat, people to meet and that if the life I’ve built to get me here can’t get me there well, then maybe personal accountability may also mean blowing up some things or risk that endless regret. Which is worse. It gets pretty tricky, pretty quickly.

This post took entirely too long to write (about a month) and may prove to be just a rambling mess. I thought blog posts were supposed to have good advice, or short lists of things to do to overcome challenges. I guess this blog is different that way.

Do you struggle with these issues? Let me know.

2 thoughts to “A Meditation on Personal Accountability”

  1. Thanks for your posts, I started reading and couldn’t stop!

    I’m in the same spot of knowing something is terribly off, feeling every day is a race, lost even before I begin and a change is beyond necessary. But, I’m also middle aged with loads of personal and financial responsibilities.

    In my 20’s, 30′ & to mid 40’s I was an adrenaline junkie, played hard, and had a motto ‘Live a life full of living’ & ‘Live with no regrets’.

    Then, I changed jobs; made 3 times more money, but over the course of these last 11 years I’ve lost myself and all of my previous energy/enthusiasm.

    This year my sales have dropped by 50%, so I’m definitely having issues justifying my time/effort vs income; then again this may be a side effect of my exhaustion, lack of energy and interest!

    My insight is that I’m too scared to make a change, any change, to do what I know is best for my mental health and happiness.

    I tell myself, death is the worst thing that can happen and I shouldn’t die by changing my life.

    However, fear of failure is a tremendous barrier for me; meaning failing at what I do next, failing to take care of those that depend on me, failing to pay all my bills and be responsible, yada, yada, yada…. where does this fear comes from? Money has the power to instill lots of fears.

    Can meditation help overcome fear? Or, accept the never ending daily grind and keep on keeping on?

    Keep up the good writings, just reading someone else’s writing about similar thoughts I’ve had helps to correlate or see them in a different light; plus I get to read I’m not the only one.

    1. Hi Nancy – and thank you for the lovely comment. Wow. Being scared to make changes is common from what I can see by looking around me. I found the strength to jump off the cliff into the void a year ago when I started to really hit rock bottom. I believe meditation can help because it will allow yourself to be quiet, and stop talking to yourself. For me, it’s started to allow me to make this incredible body/mind connection, something I never thought about, but that I”m now seeing is very important and very powerful.

      When you feel scared, listen to your body – where do you FEEL it. For me, I feel most emotions in my head, very specifically around the top of my temples. I can recreate that feeling simply by sparking an emotion or feeling like being nervous. What’s interesting, is once you focus on the actual, physical body sensation, and just keep your awareness and focus there, something magical starts to happen. I can’t explain it other than to say it’s a sweeping feeling of relief.

      You are most certainly NOT the only one, you are not alone, not even close. Good luck 🙂

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