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Everything is my fault (sivers.org)
291 points by ncremins on Dec 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

This is not a good thing. In the context of the article it seems more like a defense mechanism than anything else. Yes, it's good to take responsibility and people don't do it as often as they should but to take on the mentality that everything is your fault is unhealthy. In this context it looks like it stems from a need to be powerful and in control all the time.

The truth is, we can only control efforts, not outcomes. Sometimes things aren't your fault, you are the victim and while believing its your fault may shield you from feeling bad about it, it ultimately sets you up for failure. When you believe everything is within your control you're in for a rude awakening because a lot of bad random shit will end up happening. Once enough bad things pile up and you're still thinking its your fault, those feelings you're trying avoid by pretending you're all powerful will begin to bubble up and then you think "not only is everything my fault, but no matter how much I learn I just can't get most things right. So now I'm in control and suck at it".

This is classic avoidance. A defense mechanism. A more healthy attitude would be to identify what is in your control as well as realize and admit the things that are out of your control and cope with them as they come. By all means, take responsibility and he in control of your life because lord know most people aren't but also remember that there's no shame in admitting some bullshit happened that was out of your control and subsequently feeling bad about it.

What happens if there's a natural disaster? It's your fault you didn't predict it and lived or worked in a certain place? What about a key figure in your business dying suddenly? Are you at fault for not keeping good enough watch? The example of someone being rude right in the article is a great one! Of course it isn't your fault if someone is rude (at least not always)! Sometimes people have shitty days or attitudes and it has nothing to do with you! Besides being a defense mechanism you could argue that this attitude may stem from egomania.

The mindset isn't simply about seeing yourself as the sole cause of all your problems, and going crazy there after.

That's the literal view of Derek's post, and it's completely naive one.

The opposite view is just as unhealthy - seeing yourself as the constant victim; it will equally get you nowhere. Civers is not a dumb enough guy to advocate either of these extremes.

It's about creating a mindset that enables you take to take more action in dealing with your own problems. Expanding your own view of your sphere of influence to its maximum potential.

TL;DR - the view isn't solely about anyone's fault, or some strategy of how to dole out blame; it's about maximising your own ability to make a difference.

I can agree with you, and the text supports your argument when he says:

"It's one of those base rules like “people mean well” that's more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all."

That part makes it seem alright but the way he talks about power and choosing this over forgiveness and the emphasis he places on having power as well as the importance he places on thinking of a situation in such a way that it avoids the realities of disappointment make it seem like its coming from an unhealthy place.

It's almost as if he's saying "I've found a way to avoid feeling bad about any negative thing that's out of my control" rather than what you're saying he means which would be something like "if you think of everything as being in your control then you'll find you actually do have more power over certain things than you think".

You can take either from this piece and I don't think it's naive at all to find an unhealthy attitude in this. It is very likely that he meant it in the way you say and that part I quoted backs that up. However, besides that one line, his tone and everything else he says in this piece comes off to me as someone training themselves to be avoidant in such a way that it can be construed as a virtue.

Yeah, I can see how he is taking a healthy worldview and stretching it to it's unnatural heights. I'm talking about a 'guy that stole 9000$' line. That example struck me as odd.

I've had my mother get mugged on her way to home (no money stolen, but some psychological trauma). Was there anything she could have done? Learn to defend herself? I doubt it. Sometimes things are still beyond our control.

Natural disasters aren't a great example, because we can and should prepare for them. As the saying goes, "earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do."

I lost my father as a kid because he crashed into a truck that broke down on a freeway in fog and had defective tail-lights. Maybe there is something he could have done, but what exactly could I have done? Mind you, I am not complaining at all, and I'd rather loose a cool guy than live with an asshole father. But I also saw people die of cancer, and not just the obvious "smoke, get lung cancer" kind. And I could go on.

I still agree with the blog post and loved it to bits. Simply because blaming others seems to be a default position for many (I know it often is for me), and it truly is a trap. Seeing it from another perspective is refreshing and vital. And it is always, always true (that it's our fault) when it comes to our inner state, to how we feel and think about what happens, and, last but never least, of how we treat others. Of that we are truly the masters -- but even there you could mention deception, (involuntary intake of) drugs or brain defects. So, it's not that simple.

Life can also be cruel and random and there is fuck all you can do about it other than suffer and/or die. Accepting that and still saying yes to life is kind of a superpower, too.

I think this goes to show that how much you have control over depends on who you are and what it is. The CEO of a company doesn't control everything but he has substantial control over the fate of the business. It's not helpful for him to dwell on things he can't control.

Traffic accidents are the sort of thing that, as a society, there is plenty that can be done to improve our chances that we're not doing yet. There are also a lot of things you can do as an individual to improve your changes (driving fast in fog is obviously a bad idea even though people do it all the time). But of course you can't control what other people do.

Natural disasters are a perfect example! You can plan and prepare all you like but in the end there are no guarantees that your planning and preparation will protect you. So if a natural disaster did happen and for the sake of argument you did everything within your power to prepare and did it perfectly yet still had something awful happen, is it your fault?

Consider too that natural disasters are not central to any number of locations. They can happen anywhere, any time, and come in any number of forms. You're not safe anywhere from them. That's why it's a perfect example. Because its something all people are prone to and that no amount of preparation can guarantee you safety from.

You are right that there is some randomness but they're not that random. There are warnings about hurricanes. Floods hit low-lying areas. Earthquake risk varies a lot based on region, soil structure, and so on. Some structures are relatively safe and others aren't.

But I think they're a good example of things that we can't always prepare for as individuals - it requires a group effort and that involves politics. There is a lot of resistance against, for example, attempts to stop rebuilding in known flood zones.

I would say that plane crashes are a good example. We can talk about the odds of being in a plane crash but they're not really random - there are always reasons. Also, there is a reason why commercial flights are considerably safer than driving. It's not because flying is inherently safer, but because as a society we put a lot of effort into making them that way.

Planning and preparing won't guarantee your survival, but it will sure do a lot to increase your odds. If person A spends hours meticulously testing his building's structural integrity and invests money to reinforce relevant safety mechanisms, while person B does not, is it person B's fault if their house falls down while person A's does not? No, it's not really, but they could have done more.

There aren't ANY guarantees in life (except maybe this one), but I think the point of the article is to try to show the benefits of an internal locus of control. There will probably be things in everyone's life that they have little power over, but that does not mean they are completely helpless. Rare is a situation where any action on someone's part has a 0% chance of changing the outcome.

I totally agree. It is important to take responsibility, but this is going to far.

Furthermore, this trivializes the situation of those that feel burdened by failure.

This is a great attitude because it moves the locus of control from outside of yourself ("I'm a helpless victim of everyone else") to inside ("this is my fault"), which is generally a more productive mindset since it puts you in control of your life. Obviously if you then translate that control into guilt, it breaks down badly, but I don't think that's what he's advocating.

You offered two possible attitudes: "nothing is my fault" and "everything is my fault", then stated that the second was a "generally more productive mindset". It doesn't matter, because the most productive mindset is this:

step 1 - Here is a problem. [goto 2]

step 2 - Do we need to assign blame at this moment? If yes [goto 3]. If no [goto 4]

step 3 - Assign blame [goto 4]

step 4 - Is this a problem I should be involved in solving? If yes [goto 5]. If no [goto 6]

step 5 - Help solve problem [goto 6]

step 6 - Problem does not exist. Do we need to assign blame at this moment? Go right ahead.

All of this should go without saying, since this is the essence of the engineering and hacker ethos, and we can therefore make the assumption that at a website called "Hacker News", everyone understands this intuitively. But if you look downthread, you will see that some people legitimately don't think like problem solvers yet.

Actually a pragmatic will see step 3 as unnecessary - you get to step 4 faster if you skip it, and assigning blame doesn't help solve the problem. After the problem is solved you have all the time in the world to think about the meta-things like assigning blames and congratulations.

I think that when speaking about small teams or individuals you are generally correct - it is generally faster to skip step 4, and always branch from step 3 to step 5. But like everything, there are edge cases: sometimes assigning blame actually does "help solve the problem". I would totally agree with your comment without question if you had written the first sentence like this:

FTFY>>>Step 3(assign blame) is unnecessary if and only if assigning blame doesn't help solve the problem. A pragmatic will realize this, and skip step 3 when it is unnecessary to assign blame at that point in the process- you get to the solution on step 5 faster.

Upon careful reading of your comment, I imagine that this is what you meant, but some people will read your version and imagine that you are saying that "assigning blame generally doesn't help solve the problem". It's the problem of [logical AND &&] vs the English construction [ , and ] which can mean the start of a new semi-related clause. Note that I did try to hint at this in my description of (step 2) - Do we need to assign blame "at this moment"?

Completely agree with your second sentence.

One specific edge case for small teams or for individuals - the process of assigning blame can reveal toxic team members (one of which could be you). Getting rid of a bad team member has the potential to speed things up radically.

In large organizations, assigning blame can often be done in parallel with fixing the problem. I would imagine that the benefit of the fix would generally outweigh the benefit of the blame. However there can be good reasons for management to demand that you offer up the scapegoat(as opposed to a sacrificial lamb) before your team gets permission to fix a problem. One of them is the small team edge case that I mentioned.

Wow, effective flowchart. I should try following this. Is this something you came up with?

I would be shocked if I was the first person to put this into a flowchart. There are some very reasonable people who claim that it is very rare that anyone ever really "comes up with" anything. One of these people put it into the old testament : Ecclesiastes 1:9 - "there is nothing new under the sun". That chapter is a good starting point in a rather detailed argument, and a fun debate.

Example: George Orwell's "5 Rules For Effective Writers". Did Orwell "come up with this" or was there "inspiration" from Hemingway's 5 tips for writers?

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

Another example, is Apple a design company? http://i.imgur.com/whMW7.jpg I bet you that Braun designers would happily take the credit for those very "inspired" Apple products. But I would also bet that the Braun people had some "inspiration" of their own, perhaps from a certain group of Greek folks... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio

I think this article has laid it out a bit easier for those that havent heard this concept before:


The title of the original article is link-baity and it worked; but the whole idea of locus-of-control is that it give people a perception that they have control over their lives and it has them take actions that are consistent with that, which generally gives better outcomes.

You're right about how feeling guilty is counterproductive. Personally I tend to feel guilty all the time so I have to do the opposite -- sometimes it's not really my fault/it's all in the head.

Like Buddhism, it's about balance. Too much of focusing on blaming either side is neither constructive and may not reflect actual reality which is what we're trying to understand. I find the trick to deal with this is to recognise that we can sometimes feel guilty/blame someone and get so engrossed into exploring the scenario we forget the big picture.

It is the same concern my sister brought up. I think the first step to making this work is to create an environment that does not treat a "fault" as a negative emotion but rather an opportunity to achieve progress via objectivity.

I've found this attitude very useful, especially in social and personal situations. My reaction to everything that doesn't go my way is to examine myself first - what did I do wrong, or what didn't I do, or what could I have done different.[1]

This normally yields useful insight, understanding, and actionable ideas. Blaming others or the situation normally does not.

At it's core, this is about accepting and embracing agency - you have the power to effect changes. I think that so many people in the modern world suffer from learned helplessness[1], where they think that the situation leaves them with no ability to impact events. This is false. Something went wrong? Try something else!

[1] Important Note: This is about things that I do, not things that I am. If you blame yourself innately, that's bad and leads to low self-confidence. It's not yourself, it's your actions - and actions are changeable. [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

Totally. Regardless of whose fault it actually is, you can almost always find something that you can do differently next time.

Something like this appeared in Good to Great. In a study of CEOs who lead their companies to significant improvement that lasted after the CEO stepped down, they found a common personality characteristic. The best CEOs constantly were watching for problems, took responsibility (aka fault) for everything that went wrong, credited everything good to others, and then anything that could not be credited to someone they said was luck.

This is a useful attitude. As news goes up the corporate ladder, it inevitably is colored in the most positive possible light. (http://www.davar.net/HUMOR/JOKES/SHIT.HTM is a funny, but true, take on this phenomena.) You need a constant vigilance for problems at the top to counteract it. And the common willingness to rest on your laurels and deflect blame elsewhere is not going to lead to that willingness.

Reminds me of Kevin Rose blaming Digg's failure on waking up one day to realize that everybody in his company was a B/C employee.


So he collectively blames all his staff for his failure? Nice, really nice.

No, that's missing the point. The quality of your staff is 100% your responsibility as a CEO; if you realize that everyone is B or C level, then you've failed as CEO.

No, it's not. It's a false rationalization of your (lack of?) ability as a CEO to motiviate the best performance out of your staff to write off all your staff as 'B' and 'C' players.

No, it's not your fault. And this is just a mechanism of deflection.

Step back from your solipsistic convictions for five minutes and realize that your rationalizations here only serve the purpose of avoiding forgiveness. You have decided that not only are you not a victim but in fact you and you alone are responsible for everything and therefore you don't ever need to forgive anyone. Moreover you have now implicitly made the rest of the world victims. Hm...

The real world is somewhere in the middle. Many people do excuse their own weaknesses by becoming the victim of everybody else's evil. It is important to recognize when you really are a contributing factor. Sometimes, you really are at fault.

On the other hand, I read this part and realized the OP had jumped the shark:

Someone was rude to me today? My fault. I could have lightened their mood beforehand.

It's your fault if you aren't psychic? It's your fault if others can't have common decency? No, at that point, you are looking for a way to say that you control the entire world. I completely agree with my parent's choice of wording: solipsism.

Spend time meditating and introspecting. Talk with objective third parties. It is important for you to learn when you screwed up and how to not screw up in the future.

But don't forget that people are agents unto themselves. Sometimes they do stupid, mean, and ignorant things. If you don't learn to forgive those actions, you will either carry a lot of guilt (How could I let my friend be mugged because I didn't catch an earlier flight home? It's my fault!) or a lot of anger (All muggers must die!). There is a peaceful middle ground that enables you to work on solving the systemic problems without idealizing away the smaller percentage of outright bad actors.

So, no, it's not your fault.

I think interpreting these posts in the literal manner that you and the grandparent are doing is a bit misleading. If you read what the OP wrote in the most literal manner, he sounds like a nutjob. You're right - there's no way to say that it's his fault that everything happens. What if a stranger had a bad day for his own reasons, and decided to use that as an excuse to be rude to the OP? Or someone broke into his house and stole something? There's plenty of scenarios where logically it cannot be his fault that something happened. ("Global warming! It's all my fault!")

But that's not what he means, and not really what he's writing about. The way I read this, he's proposing a shift in world view. People are difficult and unpredictable creatures, but, if I were smart enough, I would understand how they work. I could have been smart enough or empathetic enough to realize this stranger had a bad day, and say something nice to him to cheer him up. I could have been smart enough to get a better security system for my house. If I really cared about global warming, I could try to become a U.S. senator (or some other powerful politician) and try to change it.

By saying, "It's my fault", what the OP means is, "If I really cared about this, and was smart/strong/etc enough, I could have worked to fix/prevent this". This isn't about "[controlling] the entire world". It's about believing that you have control over your life, and about realizing that blaming others (whether in an angry or forgiving sense) is entirely useless in terms of practicality. If you blame others for anything, you're saying that there's nothing you could've done, and letting others determine your life.

I understand that in some regards, this is a bit silly. It's not my fault that someone had a bad day, and it's not my fault that I don't know them well enough to make them feel better. It's not my fault they were rude to me. But I'd rather pretend it's my fault and think about ways that I could handle the situation better in the future than just blame it on external forces and allow myself to repeat the same mistakes.

I used to feel and act exactly like Derek: let's just pretend everything is my fault because that's how I will learn to be better regardless of whether other people could have been better too.

What I've started noticing, though, is that after doing this for a couple of years, when it's become automatic, it gets difficult to differentiate between "for the sake of learning, let's assume this is my fault" and "this is actually my fault". And at that point, it's hard not to get depressed in the face of adversity... after all, it's all your fault.

I've started blaming other people more – mind you, from a baseline of never doing so – and it has done wonders for my well-being and self-esteem.

So, yeah, it's a good trick, but do your very best to keep in mind it's only a trick.

Also, it's interesting to compare Sivers' heuristic with that of Martin Seligman ("Learned Optimism") who recommends that while you shouldn't necessarily avoid taking blame, you should try to compartmentalize it as much as possible and never assume your failings are due to some fundamental flaw in your character.

I think it comes down to "failure" vs. "feedback." I don't look at a negative encounter as a failure. It's just feedback.

I ask myself, in a non-judging way, "what could I have done differently?" Sometimes the answer is "nothing" - you just caught someone on a bad day. But sometimes there are some things I can change about my behavior. If so, I try to incorporate that and go forward.

Whatever happened has already happened. You can't go back and change it, so there's no point in ruminating on it. But you can change how you behave in the future, and that's what a lesson is for.

This was my reaction as well. My default behavior for years has been to assume everything as my fault. The big turn for me occurred a few months after my ex cheated and I ended the relationship. I kept thinking, "What did I do that made her want to cheat?" But that's a very misguided question. Her behavior was completely outside my control. Eventually I was able to simply accept that it wasn't my fault, and it significantly improved my emotional health.

I get that OP isn't being completely literal or universal. But there is a whole class of neurotic self-blamers out there that could stand to learn the opposite lesson: some things are not your fault.

I actually would have read it exactly like you did, if he hadn't included the examples. I was shaken by the girlfriend example. It is certainly possible it was all Derek's fault, but few relationships ever end solely because of one person alone and I think you limit what you can learn if you don't recognize that. How do you learn what we're negative reactions to your negative actions things you really did wrong) versus negative reactions to your positive actions (the things that, if you change, will turn you into a co-dependent person)?

However, the "rude to me" example put it over the edge. At that point, it really doesn't read as "really introspect and figure out what I did wrong". Instead, it reads as "literally everything is my fault". And nothing in the article softened that view.

Derek commented elsewhere he agrees with you, so I'm not here second-guessing how he feels. I do think, however, that somebody coming in and taking this as advice for how to live could wind up in a world of hurt.

I buy "A whole lot of the crap that happens to me is my fault (much more than I give credit to)", but "It's all my fault" is wrong and dangerous.

Andrew/π² - Right on. That's what I meant. Thanks much for explaining it better than I did.

Nothing is as black and white as being one's fault or not.

Sun Tzu figured out the sphere of influence over 2,000 years ago - you don't control the weather, but you can take an umbrella.

Interestingly enough, the things OP cites are indeed things he had at least a degree of control over before they came to the results he mentions.

I found the post refreshingly insightful.

You can still forgive anyone, including yourself (sometimes the hardest). I think the point of the exercise though is to concentrate on what you can do to fix it or prevent it from happening next time, not on wrongs done to you by others - real or imaginary, where you can not fix it and only thing you can do is feel bad about other people.

Let's get the $9000 example. If you were cheated out of $9000, you can stop at "this guy was a con artist" and just feel bad. Or you can say "I have to do these and these checks next time somebody asks me for $9000" - and then next con artist maybe won't get that lucky with you. Because you can't change how next guy behaves, but you can change how you behave.

Yep. A hell of a lot of commenters here seem to think the OP is simply about taking up an unhealthy mindset on your worldview of events.

But it's not about the initial worldview (i.e the title of the post), but how it enables you to view things, and act on them, in consequence.

Striving to take more action on the things you care about is practically never a bad things, and that's what Derek is wanting to achieve, not single-handedly shoulder the entire world's problems by claiming himself the sole contributor of all of its events.

What's your opinion based on? Because Derek's is documented over and over again. Most famously in the 7 Habits book. You can blame everyone else for your failures, or you can take responsibility and understand that you have influence.

It doesn't mean you can put everyone on yourself. However, it's the difference between saying you don't have a job because of the government, and you don't have a job because you spent no time improving your situation.

> You have decided that not only are you not a victim but in fact you and you alone are responsible for everything and therefore you don't ever need to forgive anyone.

The reality is, you are misrepresenting what is being said. Maybe it's just ignorance. But the lesson is simple: you can either blame other people on your problems (which will never be productive), or you can work and see what you can do to solve these problems (which will always be productive). If this means forgiving someone for a failure, that's what you do.

That is much different than blaming someone.

I believe this misses the point. We have significant influence over almost everything that happens to us. For example, when a deal goes sour both parties could most likely have prevented it. Important - this does mean we live in a hopelessly relativistic world, and leaves ample room for clear convictions about who did what wrong.

The point is that even if the other party acted a lot more 'wrong' than I did, it is still surprisingly often true that I could have completely prevented it. Furthermore, I am significantly more responsible for avoiding damage to me than someone else is. Once you realize that, an attitude of 'everything is my fault' naturally follows, and I applaud it.

EDIT: slightly shortened

In other words, fundamental attribution bias.


There are of course extremes though - it may be the case that you are not responsible for everything that goes on, but the CEO of a company is responsible for the culture, politics and other things the author mentions.

Derek, you need to move on and let the past be there, in the past. All the stuff you are writing about is about the same thing that happened years ago and we all know about it. It's time to move on, we want to know what's next.

Agreed! But most everything I write about will be in the past. I'm a slow learner.

I figure my current experiences are not very valuable to others. It's only valuable once I've learned something sharable from it, and that usually only happens in hindsight.

You have done much better than many of us, allow us to decide if your current experiences are valuable or not... you have always been a source of motivation to a lot of people, keep the positive attitude.

Thank you for this. I can't believe anyone would applaud this mindset. For some reason we seem to applaud extremist views here and don't stop to think about how practical or unhealthy they are. There's a small minority of the population that has found success in being extreme in some way but we are not those people. We want to be though. We want to be the Steve Jobs or the Elon Musk or the Richard Stallman that has these eccentricities, these rare and extreme personality traits, these strongly held views and model ourselves after them all the while thinking "if he can do it, so can I" and duping ourselves into believing these things are okay. That we'll be the lucky ones who are able to pull it off. And when someone with a little star power like TBray says something like this we want to jump all over it because we believe that this will help us make it to the top and be like them.

But it won't. These people have some great advice and knowledge to share and I, like the rest of us, are more than willing to take it in and implement it but an article like this is dangerous and not good advice. But it's hard to recognize that when it comes from someone prominent because if they're so successful and they think like that then logic dictates that if we do it too we'll have an advantage, right? Not always. Each of us perceives the world differently and we gt by in our own unique way. I guarantee that if any one of us normals became prominent figured and successful in startup culture then there'd be stories and legends of some obscure thing we do that made us successful. I'd also be willing to bet we write about some of those things and people would cling to every word, applaud it, and think to themselves "I've gotta try that!" whether it was a good idea or not. It's not that anyone is trying to give bad advice, it's just that we don't know it.

You can find a more balanced/nuanced approach in David Foster Wallace's This is Water:


There's no other way to put this, so I'm just going to come out and say it: you're not only flat out wrong, you've got the truth backwards.

Forgiving people implies that said person has done something to wrong you. Thus, you're still placing the blame on other people. Research has shown that blaming others is ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.

The best approach: forgive yourself. Accept that you've done something wrong (even if you didn't realize it at the time), figure out what you could have done to prevent it, and then get over it. Life's too short to play the blame game, even with yourself.

"Everything is my fault" is entrepreneurs' wishful thinking so that they can believe they can fix whatever situation they're in. However, not everything is under their control, no matter how hard they try to believe.

You don't control the weather, the people in the streets, the companies sending you checks, the currency exchange rates, etc.

This is correct, logically speaking. But acting as if you control outcomes gives you the maximal chance for affecting what you CAN control.

Quite so, but most people can control more than they give themselves credit for. Think again before you give up on some things.

You can effectively control the weather you get by moving to another city/country. The companies sending you checks are 100% in your control - it's your career choice.

Not sure why you'd want to control the people in the streets - sounds a wee bit tyrannical :-)

Actually, most of what we understand by "politics" is exactly that - people banding together to control other people - on the streets or sometimes even in the privacy of their homes (like drug laws, occupational licenses, etc.) It may sound tyrannical but it is not only natural - it is one of the most common things out there.

We can't control everything, but we can control or reactions. I believe that is what Derek is trying to get across, even if he didn't quite state that outright.

I'm reading Quality Software Management Volume 1 Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg. Page 111' 7.3 It's not the event that counts, it's your reaction to the event... Whenever there is a [i]human decision point[/i] in the system, it's not the event that determines the next event, but someone's reaction to the event.

Taking responsibility for most every occurrence in one's life is a common theme in successful people.


No need to get carried away though...

Agreed. It was like reading a part of the 7 Habits book.

Taking the blame sure beats blaming others (see tragic case of Philip Greenspun's ArsDigita http://rura.org/blog/category/businesscompaniesarsdigita/ )

Having said that, and realizing this is a motivational piece "It's my fault" is a complex statement (combining loaded notions of Self & Fault), and some interpretations allows (you or others) to sweep real issues under the carpet.

When sh*t happens the real thing to do is to admit that there was a failure instead of denying it and have a frank conversation about it with the parties involved instead of blaming others. (Note: sometimes the same person may take both parts of this conversation.) Sometimes it helps to separate Responsibility from Accountability, and assessing "fault" usually is counter-productive in this regard. In contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation movement in South Africa is a prominent example of coming to peace without placing blame. There, they separate concerns which gives room to people to more easily admit their mistakes.

So do you want to know the real reason I cut those chapters?...I this...I that...I something else...(I could list another 20 of these, but you get the idea.)

Lots of good stuff here, but I never found the reason I would most hope for: No one gives a shit.

In business, we all see it every day: who did this, who did that, who said what, who was right, who was wrong, who is hurt, who is angry, blah, blah, blah. The gossip part of our brain wants to hear more, but the business side doesn't; it just sounds like a whole bunch of played out drama.

Better to just shut and move on. Glad you did. Just not sure I'm glad why you did it.

I agree implicitly. I've seen all kinds of drama play out, and at the end of the day, it never really matters. I've learned to just tune it out. It's best just to accept that you approached the situation the best you could, and figure out where to go next.

So true, but then again bland story without the emotional content makes for … bland story.

I shouldn't have been wearing such sexy clothes or walking alone in the park at night. It's my fault.

It's one of those base rules like “people mean well” that's more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.

This quote from his essay makes it clear that he isn't a dogmatic adherent to this principle. Instead, it's a productive default way of approaching a situation.

He's not saying to let everyone out of jail. But you knew that.

Exactly. This attitude is a double-edged sword. There is a time for assuming responsibility, even for things that you didn't do directly (that is a huge part of the CEO's job) but extending it too far can be disastrous.

Well honestly I'm a fairly big and imposing guy but there are places in the city I wouldn't go late at night by myself. "Fault" is a complex set of things, and while if I was mugged wandering the Fens at night the moral culpability would lie with the muggers, but there are a lot of people who made decisions that were neccesary-but-not-sufficient for that to occur. And it's always worth looking at the part of the causal network that ran through your decisions in such a case, and thinking about whether you could change the way you make decisions such that the world will be a better place. In this example, I would have know that going to these places late at night was dangerous and could probably have reasonably avoided it, so I think feeling stupid in that case would be pretty justified. But if it was someone else, I'd probably confine myself to laying blame on the morally culpable.

For a woman assaulted while they were wearing sexy clothes, well, is there much evidence that you're actually in more danger when you do that? Even if a woman makes herself some iota safer by dressing down, wouldn't that make things an iota worse for every other woman out there who might want to decide differently.

Just because you can prevent a failure by making different choices doesn't necessarily mean that you should. I might be able to protect myself from betrayal by never trusting anyone, from hear-break by never loving, but that doesn't make either of those the right decision.

I'm pretty certain he isn't suggesting that. The context he is largely talking about is running a business where you are in charge. Not a woman talking a walk through the park one night...

This is way better than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still playing the victim, and they’re still wrong, but you’re charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

That's NOT forgiving. That's playing the victim, them being wrong and charitably pardoning their horrible deeds mumbojumbo. "And then they bitterly stabbed each other again..."

Forgiving means deciding to let go of what has happened; letting go as in not letting what has happened influence your future life and decisions, and forgiving starts from yourself. The act of forgiveness is to free yourself from the past events. It goes like first realizing that past is past, you can't change it and nobody else can change it either, and that ultimately the suffering seeps not from what had happened but from the way how you still take it, and eventually realizing that generally you're just so much better off not thinking about it anymore, regardless of if you win or lose the corresponding power struggle inside of your head.

When you've already removed yourself from any emotional entanglements it's basically a no-op to forgive someone else because at that point you no longer care about what s/he has done. It's good to forgive others to encourage them to let it go but it's not necessarily for your own recovery.

I personally take a proactive view of my environment, but Derek's post is lacking moderation.

From the description of Battered Person Syndrome [1]:

    - The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
    - The abused has an inability to place the responsibility
      for the violence elsewhere.
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battered_person_syndrome

I honestly think Derek's article slips into sarcasm at the midpoint and nobody is picking up on that:

Someone was rude to me today? My fault. I could have lightened their mood beforehand.

At least when I read this, the message I got is that it's easy to blame yourself when overthinking failures, but in reality it takes two to tango.

Your girlfriend dumped you out of the blue? Where was her communication? That guy that stole $9,000? He's still a thief. Those are things out of your control.

Yep. You're right. It was supposed to be a light-hearted and fun point, delivered with a smile. I guess that didn't come across. My fault, again. :-)

Sivers offers something of a response in the article:

>The guy that stole $9000 from me? My fault. I should have verified his claims.

which could also take the form of:

>My domestic partner abuses me physically? My fault. I shouldn't have entered a relationship with this abusive person, and should have removed myself from the relationship before it escalated to physical violence.

In this manner, you would acknowledge the role that the abusive partner played in the violence, but also acknowledge the steps that you could have taken to prevent being the target of violence.

Wish I'd paid more attention to Social Psychology. You've just taken your interpretation and projected it back at OP, without taking pause to consider his intent or, if unsure, asking first.

"I’ve playfully decided to apply this “EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT” rule to the rest of my life."

There is a name for this, which is "martyr complex": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr_complex

I personally have a lot of guilt and beat myself quite a bit, but I also realize constantly being the martyr and assuming I have control means my ego is as big as it is when I always blame others.

While blame can be placed and responsibility can be taken, that is a trap. It happens to be a trap that most of the country is in. It is Bush's fault. It is Obama's fault. Sound familiar? Instead we should be saying "How can we work together to make things better?" Sometimes feelings run too deep to switch into a Kanban philosophy where life is a constant process of potential and realized amelioration. We don't have to be liberals, conservatives, or martyrs to do that.

That said, Derek, I think realizing the leader should take responsibility is a great lesson for all. It is a step towards enlightenment.

For those who note that this is not literally true, here's the weaker version that's both true and useful:

'What could I have done to make the situation better?'

Almost all situations are influenceable.

I wouldn't phrase it as "fault", but if you put it as "I have a part to play in every outcome in which I'm involved", it just seems kind of obvious.

This seems like something directly out of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and it plays into what Dr. John Dewey referred to as human's basic desire to be important. Any time a person takes responsibility for someone else's actions, they feel a sense of power over that person. Whether this is good or bad depends on how they intend to use that power. In this case, it's being used in a way that affects a positive outcome for both the author and the people around him. In other cases, this increased sense of power can lead people to believe they have power over others which can lead to corruption (you know, 'absolute power corrupts absolutely').

In general, this seems like something that should be done in moderation. A willingness to accept responsibility for some things and be proud that you aren't blaming someone for an outcome you created is healthy. At the same time, feeling as if you have the power to affect everything is not healthy. Some things are just outside of your control.

"Its all my fault but I'm not going to beat myself up about it" is probably a slightly better mindset.

If you have a propensity to blame life and everything else in it for your woes then this is a great mindset.

A lot more of your life is under your control than you think. This attitude of "Its my fault" will let you discover a lot of those things.

Quick, someone grab his wallet while he's still convinced he's a superhero.

This touches on an important way of looking at life but the wording (and some of the examples) are throwing people off the scent of the good advice.

It's not that everything is my fault, it's that how my life goes is my responsibility. Born poor? That sucks, but what are you going to do about it? Even if you could find someone to blame for it, what good would it do? What possible effect could it have to find someone to point a finger at? If the answer is "no effect what so ever" then you're better off just taking responsibility for your situation and trying to do something about it.

In contrast, I have friends/family members who, no matter what experience based advice I might offer, have someone or something to blame for why they won't be able to take it and why they'll have to just remain miserable. And their situation doesn't change (maybe changing it really is outside of their power, but if so they certainly don't articulate this well). So I just don't see an advantage of their strategy.

No, it's not my fault if e.g. my country suddenly slaps a ridiculous tax on new businesses making my venture a negative value proposition over night. But I can still have some response other than just pointing my finger.

This attitude works well in social situations where you have some advantage (parent, boss) or are roughly on equal footing. It works less well in non-social settings (the natural disaster example other people are giving) or if you are at a serious disadvantage. For the example he starts with, where he was an embittered boss who felt screwed over, he is absolutely right: "Forgiving" others requires you to first blame them. Blaming them when you had the power over them is petty and asinine. Embracing your own power is far healthier, more effective and feels tons better. And it leads to future outcomes where you stop and wonder what you could do differently to not set your people up for failure.

Though I think it is a tad unfortunate that some remarks here are taking it too literally when it was clearly intended as lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek.

Sorry, I did not like this one.

I respect Derek Sivers a lot, for a lot of things. But I honestly think, this one lacks the punch of some of his other (earlier) writings. For example, he was at his insightful best in 'ideas are just a multiplier of execution'. When I read that, I was blown away, "what clarity!" I thought. And it seemed like a genuine outpouring of a Doer.

But this one is ambivalence at its peak. Sort of Chicken-soupish. It lacks the balance, and is a bit extremist. Any very unlike the writings of a stoical mind (And please-please, I am not pulling any punches at all. I hold Derek Sivers, in high esteem. But even gurus, need some candid feedback at times), which I am sure he is, most of the times.

I have been doing roughly this for a few years now. It isn't always possible to achieve, but it is incredibly effective if you can get beyond thinking about who is at fault, who is guilty, who has wronged you.

Looking at my own behavior, it is almost always possible to find something I could have done differently that would have avoided an undesirable outcome. Over time this has improved my intuition of whether certain actions are better avoided, even if doing them is theoretically something that should be just fine.

Concrete example: you could complain about getting hit by a car yesterday, or you might re-examine what was so important that you decided that driving two hours a day was a good idea.

I share this point of view. If I've learned something after watching Mortal Kombat movie a dozen times is that every man is responsible for his own destiny. We usually blame other people for bad things that happens to us because is more confortable than assuming that even after many years on this planet we still make a lot of mistakes.

To accept the obvious truth is really liberating. It takes away all bad feelings you had for people involved on situations where you've felt the victim. And it also makes you see that if you're responsible for your mistakes, you're also responsible for your success. There's no luck, it's your responsability to make things right.

The article only recommends accepting blame for things that you are involved in. I would go a bit further than the article and accept the blame for things that had nothing to do with me.

Choose the moments to accept the blame carefully, like when no one else will accept it. In my experience, the consequences have never been bad and most people kind-of know you're taking one for the team and respect it. It defuses issues quickly and everyone can get on with fixing the problem.

I think this is what some Americans might refer to as being a stand-up guy. The only thing that surprises me is that this is news to anyone.

Nothing is really anybody's fault. People only do abusive things because somebody else previously did something abusive to them. This is not likely provable, it's just a belief I have. Of course victims still need to express their anger and abusers need to be held accountable, but it's also important to ask, "How can I not be an abuser or a victim in the future?"

Of course a complete apology feels good, it provides absolution. It will feel even better if forgiveness is tendered by the employees. But to reiterate the real challenge is not getting into situations like this in the future.

> People only do abusive things because somebody else previously did something abusive to them. This is not likely provable, it's just a belief I have.

I used to think the way you did, and then I discovered sociopathy was real. There are people who quite like hurting others, and there's no point in appealing to their empathy because they don't have any.

The best that can be done with these people is to give them incentives to cooperate.

If one accidentally ends up with one of these as an employee or a boss, one could fairly blame them... unless one also takes responsibility for sociopathy-detection.

I know that there are sociopaths and psychopaths, I just don't believe that they're purely genetic conditions, but rather ones that develop due to being the victim of abuse. There may be genetic predisposition, I wouldn't be surprised. I also don't believe they're fundamentally incurable conditions. I'm not saying that blaming or getting angry at an abusive boss makes no sense, but rather that going forward the best thing to do is either resolve the conflict or run away from it gracefully.

The only drawback i personally see is in fact that, when you realize that "everything is your fault" ie, that you can influence things, people around you to obtain the desired result, is in fact manipulation.

And I don't like manipulating people. Yes, it's a lot easier. yes, leaders do that non-stop. But personally I can't get around to doing that.

Also, if everyone was doing it, we'd probably play a much higher level of "manipulation game" and feel fake about everything we do.

I wouldn't call it "fault" as so much as it is "responsibility". Of course, he's looking at it from the negative, but otherwise the initial success and growth of his company was to his own credit. Owning up to what you have control over is freeing, yet burdensome. One also has to realize that one does not have control over everything, and when others take away from what one has done, forgiveness is still a necessary process do undergo.

It's impossible to live like that! Taking responsibility of ones actions - sure, but taking the blame even for random events is useless. Why does it matter whose fault it was, as long as you can learn from it? You don't need to feel guilty in order to spot the errors. It looks like making me feel worse about myself without any good reason. Guilt is a powerful mechanism and abusing it like that might lead bad consequences.

Life in general is not one of polar opposites. It's not victim or martyr, it's something in between. He needs to get some balance in his life.

The power in this article is not in accepting responsibility in general, but in accepting that a degree of self-interested rationality governs the actions of all people, including those on your team whose efforts run counter to yours, undermine you, or betray you, and that as a person with authority, you are responsible for the environment in which this rationality will play out.

This reminds me of the idea that leaders share the credit when things go right & take the blame when things go wrong. I've personally found it to be a far more productive way to live. Instead of looking to blame others, I try to look at myself and ask what I could have done better. It focuses my attention on the one person I have the greatest power to change... me.

This attitude is as bad as “nobody's fault”. It portraits the same thing, but differently.

The truth is that is everybody's fault when a bad thing happens. A more in depth view can be found at http://lucianmarin.com/archive/everybody-fault — I don't want write it twice, so sorry for the link.

I'm not an expert on psychology, but just skimming Kahneman's book will tell you that focusing on negatives will be detrimental to your mental health and long-term performance. Flogging yourself may ease your pain but is not that different from teenagers cutting their body to occupy themselves with pain instead of facing the problems.

This might be good advice for business relationships, but it is terrible advice for your personal life.

Take a look at the happiest couple you know. They aren't happy because they are perfect for each other and always have the same opinion, but rather because they are forgiving of each other's faults.

No, not everything is your fault.

A short amount of therapy has taught me that I was always searching myself to blame for everything. This is inherent to very insecure people.

I felt very much happier when I realized that some things really are not my fault.

As with almost everything, you have to find a right balance for this.

A lot of times you and your behavior are the only variables you have to work with. Something might actually be mostly due to someone else, but you can't control that someone else very well, so changing yourself is better to work on even if it would have less result.

A wonderful book that is similar in concept to this post is "Leadership and Self-Deception". I think the first part of the book: "Self-deception and the Box" is what Derek is describing here and he's working on getting out of the box.

"Only when one recognizes the fault as a fault can one be without fault" I say don't blame yourself or anybody else because it's a negative approach. Learn what you can, embrace it and move on.

This is my philosophy as a sysadmin: Everything is my fault, and the direct result of my ignorance. If you believe this, then the solution to all sysadmin problems becomes obvious.

Why can't the fault lie in several places? This just shifts one easy answer to another easy answer. Proper root cause analysis is better than 'everything is my fault'.

This is slippery. It does read coherent, but blaming oneself for everything is an excellent fodder for depression. BTDT.

While it is generally a good idea to be open to the idea of taking responsibility rather than fobbing it off on someone else... I can't say I agree in this case.

You had terrible, awful expectations. You expected your employees to be dedicated to the benefit of your clients rather than themselves? This is capitalism. People have jobs because those jobs provide THEM a benefit. Especially today, where you as an employer make ABSURD margins of profit off of everything your employees do (as worker productivity is astronomically high thanks to computers and such - just ask yourself how productive your company would be if you banned any technology produced after 1980. Couldn't survive, could you? Yet, companies did. And they paid their employees the same average wages you are paying now. You're just getting far more benefit.)

Pick up a book on capitalism. It's likely not what you think it is. It is not workers making as little as possible sacrificing everything for corporate praying that one day they'll win the lottery and become CEO. That's not capitalism. Capitalism is based on free exchange to mutual benefit of both parties. Your clients use your business because it benefits them. You tend to your clients because it benefits you. Win-win. Your employees work for you exclusively and only because it provides them substantial benefit, and you provide them that benefit because you make profit off of them. Win-win.

Expecting a worker to be dedicated to your company above their own interests is disgusting. You would not in a thousand years consider cutting your projected profits in order to improve their salaries, so there is no reason whatever for them to display any loyalty to you. Workers do not exist to work. They are human beings who exist to seek their own enjoyment, and if you as an employer fail to provide adequate pay/benefits/etc they will leave you to fail on your own. That is how it should be.

There is an escape. If you really do want to build an organization with invested, loyal coworkers, you can. The first step is to read a book on capitalism. Understand what a persons compensation is supposed to be based upon. It is not supposed to be based upon market average rates. It is supposed to be based upon the value of the work being done. If one employee earns a million dollars for the organization, that employee deserves most of it. If you want people to be invested, you have to actually make it in their best interests to do so. Right now, it is explicitly AGAINST their interests to be productive for you. It can't help them, and can only cost them. You'll cap them out at what they can make based on 'market rates'. And the chance of them rising to senior management is an invitation to self destruction with no payoff.

Employees are not going to be dedicated to the poisonous cesspit modern business has become. Just not going to happen. It's not your fault, and it's not theirs. And you cannot fix it while maintaining the kind of absurd growth figures and profit margins that modern businesses are taught to expect.

What crap

Isn't this just another version of the blame game? Why must anyone be blamed? These are experiences. Live and learn.

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