I don’t usually yell at strangers.
But I broke that rule on a recent winter night in Chicago.
Here’s the scene: Nighttime. Slick roads from freezing rain. I’m bundled up head-to-toe, biking my way to the climbing gym for some exercise. I take this route 10 times a week. It has a nice bike lane.
About halfway to my destination, a car ahead of me stops in the bike lane. The next driver moved left to get around the parked car. I follow suit, since the parked car was blocking my lane.
The car in front of me veered right (without signaling) towards a side street. With all signs hinting at their right-hand-turn, I picked up my pace down the middle of the lane.
But I was wrong. The car wasn’t turning right.
I slam my breaks as hard as possible as the car swings wide left on a U-turn across the center of the road.
We’re on a direct collision course.
My bike slides perpendicular to it’s normal path as I skid on the icy roads. My back wheel catches a manhole cover and pops me off of my bike.
Miraculously, I land on my feet. Thankfully, the driver stopped just before entering my path.
I was lucky to be uninjured. But mostly I was terrified. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. My mind was overrun with angry thoughts.
This idiot almost ran me over! Doesn’t he understand vulnerable I am out here on my bike?!
So I yelled at this man I’d never met before, and delivered some hot-headed advice before pedaling off.
Digging Myself Deeper
For the next 15 minutes, my heart didn’t stop racing. I was fuming.
At the gym, I told a friend about my experience. Each blame-filled word dug me deeper into a pit of negativity and anger.
But then something unexpected happened.
As I told my story, my eyes opened to the reality of the situation. I woke up from my trance and became aware that my actions were stoking the flames of negativity inside me.
The focus of my story was blame:
- It was all the driver’s fault.
- He was so inconsiderate.
- He was unobservant.
But I was only telling half of the story. The driver wasn’t the only one who caused that dangerous situation to occur.
It was also my fault.
Although the driver did make an ill-advised turn without signaling, I became aware of my role in the event.
I knew the roads were icy, but I pedaled as quickly as I normally do.
I knew it was dark, but I didn’t give extra distance between me and other cars.
Taking a second to pause, I put myself in the shoes of the driver. Even though I have bike lights, I realized how easy it would be not to notice them in a split-second turn.
After recounting my tale, I came face-to-face with a critical choice:
- I could continue to see the situation through my 1-sided lens and blame the driver for everything.
- I could accept the reality of the scenario, and take ownership over my role in the danger I just experienced.
Needless to say, I chose the latter.
I took ownership because I didn’t want to forfeit the control I have over my life. I didn’t want to let other people’s careless actions bring me down.
Taking ownership for my role in the scary event that took place put me back in the driver’s seat of my life.
Moving forward, I knew that I had the opportunity to act differently. Taking ownership set me up to take steps to minimize the likelihood of this happening again.
Sit Down With Your Shortcomings
Pointing the finger of blame turns you into a bystander in your own life. Forfeiting your role in the situation resigns you to passivity.
The path of ownership does the opposite, giving you control.
But it’s difficult. Taking ownership forces you to acknowledge your influence when things go wrong. Even though your role changes, it’s almost always there.
Ownership forces you to confront your weaknesses, shortcomings, and flaws head-on. But we all have weaknesses, shortcomings, and flaws. And that’s okay!
What’s not okay is pretending they don’t exist.
A main goal of living mindfully is to see the world as it is. But when you avoid fears and weaknesses, you operate with an incomplete perspective that blames everything but yourself.
It’s easy to feel like a victim when something doesn’t go your way. (And sometimes you very well may be a victim in life. But that’s the exception.)
Know that there’s always a choice to how you respond to events in your life.
Ownership helps you grow by giving you a choice to take action. It all starts by accepting your current self completely, flaws and all.
Accepting these shortcomings doesn’t mean you’re resigned to them. Shaking hands with your weaknesses gives you the opportunity to improve.
I’m committed to owning up to my failures, shortcomings, and errors in judgement because I’m committed to cultivating awareness. I want to see the world as it is, not just how it’s comfortable for me to see it.
I challenge you to do the same!
Here are a few steps to get started:
- When you feel the impulse to blame someone or something, pause. Take couple deep breaths.
- Zoom out to cultivate objectivity:
What would an unbiased third party say about the situation?
How would you characterize your role in creating this situation?
- Accept reality for what it is. See the complete picture. This includes any mistakes you may have made.
- Put your ego aside, take ownership, and keep on moving.
The exercise is simple, but it’s difficult in practice.
Fortunately, like most skills, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It’s worth persevering through the discomfort.
Ownership fosters authenticity, builds productive awareness, and reinforces trust in your relationships.
Making honest mistakes isn’t bad, it just means you’re human.
But failing to own up for them? That’s deceitful at it’s worst, and ignorant at best.
It’s time to take ownership. Time to take control. Let’s do this.
(Header image by Fernando de la Fuente)