Personal Accountability: A Key to Success and Happiness

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

In life, as in a career, the pursuit of success and happiness sometimes appears overwhelmingly insurmountable and often illusive. One reason for these feelings is the strong tendency to focus outward on external influences and events as the root cause of these challenges. While the key to achieving success and happiness at work and in life is a simple one, the process of consistently exhibiting it requires deliberate and focused effort.

"You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf." Jon-Kabat-Zinn

The first, and most important step toward success and happiness is the decision to take full responsibility for our actions and associated consequences. This is the essence of personal accountability. We must first recognize that any event or situation that we encounter is, in itself, beyond our control. But we must resist the tendency to focus our attention on that event. We must stop worrying about what is happening "to" us, and instead decide what our responses, actions and attitude will be, to achieve the result we desire. While the event is beyond our control, the outcome - as dictated by our response - is 100% of our making. 

Imagine a scenario where a competitive hurdler, running the track, came to the first hurdle and stopped in his tracks. The hurdle looked a little high and out of place to him. Unsure what to do, he starts complaining about the height of the hurdle, and its placement in his lane, and how he won't be able to run very fast if these hurdles aren't perfectly set. The other hurdlers are running, approaching and clearing their hurdles, as they continue their race. Meanwhile, our friend is still complaining and has now determined that he will lose this race because of the out of place hurdle, and of course, it's not his fault... just ask him, and he'll tell you exactly that.

Of course this sounds completely silly, but most of us often do something very similar, particularly in the work place.  No matter the event, it is ultimately our response that will dictate the outcome.  It is that response that embodies personal accountability.  Our commitment to three basic principles offer the best opportunity to tackle any challenge and achieve success and happiness.


  1. Focus inward on what can be controlled. 

  2. Commit to the outcome you desire, and the actions necessary to achieve them.

  3. Own your attitude and adapt your approach to solving the challenge.

See, I told you it was simple!  But it absolutely requires practice and diligence to ensure these principles serve your mission.  It requires a decision to engage them, not just in the simple situations, but more importantly in the face of our greatest adversities.  Adversity is an interesting thing.  It is one of the few things in life that gives us the opportunity to learn, grow and achieve in ways we never imagined possible.  Of course, it also creates the potential to think and act like a victim (like the hurdler), in which case we choose failure.

Life comes at you in waves.  Don't back away.  Don't let them push you into the sand.  Learn to surf and ride that wave.  As with anything we are learning to do well, we will make mistakes.  I encourage you to make those mistakes, as you are applying these principles and choosing personal accountability over victim mentality.  Accountable people don’t view mistakes as failures. Instead, we view them as teachable moments that will help make us more successful in life and in our careers. If you are a leader, help your team resist the urge to focus on external factors and, instead, teach them to use these principles for success and happiness in their careers and wherever life may take them.


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