Humans seem naturally wired to ask a single question all of the time: “Is it me?” When we go through a hard time, we automatically start searching for what we did to deserve it. When someone passes away, we think, “Is this because I didn’t sweep off their porch in 1987?” When someone treats us poorly, we think, “Gosh, what did I do to that person?”
To quote Sean from Good Will Hunting, played by Robin Williams, “It’s NOT your fault.”
This may not always be true, but it’s a much better place to start from versus, “What did I do wrong?” Sean wasn’t telling Will that Will’s bad behavior wasn’t his fault. Will had to own that. But the things he was running from – out of his control. His worth as a person was not defined in how other people treated, and mal-treated, him.
Taking the blame without thinking is destructive
Let me tell you a story. Some of you may have heard this before.
Ten years ago at this time, I had a Masters in Library Science under my belt and I was working on my MA in History. My plan to become a reference librarian, specializing in the humanities, was buzzing along without a hitch. Everyone had told me during my time earning my MLS that librarianship was the hottest profession in the United States. If you added another advanced degree, job offers would literally avalanche upon your head. That sounded pretty good.
The Winter before I finished my Master’s thesis, I started applying for jobs at universities. I knew that the likelihood of applying for 1 job and getting it was kind of slim, so I gave myself plenty of cushion. There were not many responses, and the responses I got said things like, “Your resume looks great, but we hired someone who has been here for 25 years.” Or, “We interviewed ten people and you were number eleven on our list.”
Naturally, I assumed that there must be something wrong with me. After all, I had done everything right. Other people I knew had gotten jobs. I had been told it would be SO easy to get a job in my field, and all I was meeting was a brick wall. My confidence plummeted because I was so sure it was all about me.
One day something amazing happened though. I came upon a group blog on Livejournal (those were the days) for Librarians, and a person had written an article about how his Library School professors had lied to him. “I had been told there were all of these jobs, and I’m not getting any offers at all,” he smoked through the screen.
I decided to do some research and lo and behold, I found out that the predictions about librarianship being a hot profession had been before the 9/11 world. A lot of people were due to retire, so the assumption was that all of those retirees would leave tons of job openings. After 9/11 though, Homeland Security took a lot of the money that used to go to schools, universities, and libraries. There was no longer money to replace people one-for-one. Instead, people, as I had seen reflected in my rejection letters, were being asked to do multiple jobs because they knew the place they were working.
It had not been my fault. I had wasted SO much time beating myself up and carrying a burden that didn’t exist.
This goes for Social Media, too
I encounter a lot of people who are learning to blog or who are learning Twitter who say, “I don’t know. This just isn’t working. I can’t get anyone to comment, I can’t get anyone to talk to me. I must be doing something wrong.”
It’s not your fault. Start there.
If you are doing things right – meaning you’re not being a turd, you’re not spamming people, and you’re doing things other than a hard sell, it’s not your fault. Social Media is a tough beast to tackle. You don’t hear that a lot. It’s really easy to think you’re doing something wrong. You’re not.
Weigh the situation and go from there
This is not a permission slip to stop taking responsibility for things that ARE your fault. We all make mistakes and we need to own those. But we also have to accept that some things are out of our control. Some things are not about us at all. That’s a tough one, right? If you lost your job during the last two years, you may feel like it was all your fault, but instead, it just could be the whole workings of the world economy were set up against you.
Taking the blame without thought is swallowing poison
Blaming yourself for things outside your control can be so destructive. Hearken back to Good Will Hunting, if you’ve seen it. Think about people who damage themselves or others when something bad happens. Think about the heavy weight of carrying self-blame and self-doubt.
Think about what is weighing you down right now. Is it heavier because you are blaming yourself for it? Do you NEED to take the blame for it?
It’s not your fault. Try that on. And cut yourself a break.
Image by Oksana Tunska. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Oksanuna