Accountable Living: Facts, Truth, and Mirrors

accountability, excuses, blame

Whether we call it “working backward” or just truth-based examination of facts, responsible people get to the root of problems. Forthrightly. Honestly. Dare I say, courageously. For them, there are no fingers pointed at anyone or anything — only a good, long look in the mirror.

Real-Life Example: Mirrors Hurt and Instruct

Todd works with prison inmates and told me this story:

John, one of the inmates took two lives by driving drunk. He was sentenced to 50 years — so he’ll die in prison or be released as a very old man. Prior to his crime, he had no criminal record. He worked construction, and was in charge of several crews. The story …

This fella was married with two kids when he began an affair. Leaving his wife, he moved in with the woman and her young child.

One Saturday, he golfed in an industry-sponsored tournament where beer and wine were available. He drank. When the tourney ended, he knew he’d had too much, but needed to get to a party celebrating his girlfriend’s child’s birthday.

Traveling too fast on rain-slicked roads, his truck lost traction, left the pavement, and struck two people walking roadside. Tragically, both people died.

John, someone accepting full responsibility is not witnessed often inside a prison. Yet, as I’ve worked with this inmate, I’ve never heard him make excuses. He’s not blamed the tourney sponsors for providing liquor, his friends for egging him on to drink, the weather or traffic that day, the court that found him guilty, or his victims for not paying attention.

Neither has he ever complained about his sentence.

However, he has said this to me:

“I’m in prison because I cheated on my wife. If I had remained a faithful husband, I wouldn’t have been rushing to that party. I’m here because I went for the thrill of an affair.”

Truth and Facts Serve Us Well

Clearly, a dramatic and sad story that serves as a powerful example of working backward while focusing on facts to understand a result. Let’s apply this mindset to less-serious but still real-life situations —

I’m overweight not because of my body type, but because I have eaten poorly and engaged in little exercise.

My child is out of control not because of his/her nature, but because I have allowed it to happen. (More on accountable parenting)

I haven’t been promoted at work not because the boss dislikes me, but because I have yet to prove my value.

My marriage is struggling not because my spouse isn’t changing but because I am not changing.

I’m in trouble with the law not because my parents failed me or the system is unfair, but because of my choices and actions.

My business is struggling not because of government regulation or competition, but because I am not growing as an owner.

My department is functioning poorly not because of my staff, but because I am not a skilled manager of people. (subscribe to free management skills emails here)

The “No Excuses” Question To Ask

As practitioners of the QBQ! book, you know accountable people ask better questions. For the person mature enough—tough enough emotionally—to look hard at facts and tell themselves the truth, this is one question they never fail to ask:

“What did I do to get here?”

Now that is an outstanding question to pose every day. Amen?

What dilemma, situation, or problem will you apply this question to today? Comments welcome!


3 Responses

  1. John:

    Your note today on working backward, reminded me of a time when I worked in a division of our company that had engineering documentation products — huge printers, scanners, microfilm, and the software. All designed to manage product development. I was at our client, Bath Iron Works and they were building the Reagan and Truman aircraft carriers. They had an error-cause-removal process that included that every error should be investigated down five levels. The root cause was what they were seeking. Randy made an error? Why? He was not trained correctly? Why? The trainer did not have the correct documentation? Why? The person who created the documentation left the company? Why? etc. Down to the root cause. It occurs to me that individuals need to do the same process. “I screwed up.” Why? I did not get enough sleep the night before. Why? I wanted to stay late with friends on a weekday. Why?

    I thank you for all of the wisdom you have provided to me over the years, and I try to apply those principles on a daily basis. But sometimes I fail……. Now, why? I need to keep answering that question.

  2. Dear John,
    Thanks for this Accountable living message today, I needed it. While I strive to be the best and the most accountable person everyday, this pandemic has really gotten me down. I look forward to your messages and this one was right on target today.
    Thank you so much,
    Mary Teelin RN

  3. One of the better stories/readings I have seen on your site…and with a different twist. The man…instead of pointing fingers everywhere…sited a marriage that he ruined.

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