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NEWS | Sept. 4, 2013

Personal responsibility, serving our country during changing times

By Navy Capt. Timothy Sparks Joint Base Charleston deputy commander

When you hear the word "responsibility," what do you think of first? Many people think of the word BLAME, as in, "Whose responsibility is this?" in order to hold the "responsible one" accountable. It is true that if you are responsible for something you are also accountable for it. However, I'd like to instead suggest that you think of responsibility as seizing what's in front of you, exerting choice and taking control.

The real meaning of responsibility is the ability to respond. It's going out and creating what you want through personal choices. We hold our service members and government employees to high standards which require individual responsibility to those standards. Our military services face many challenges in the future. Many of these are completely unknown. Many things are going to change and for some, those changes will be dramatic. The ability to be ready mentally to accept and respond to these unknown changes will be key to the happiness and success of the persons affected by those changes.

You have ultimate control over your life. You have control over your friends, your love relationships and your career. As to those military standards, we want you responsible and in control of the situations associated with those standards, whether it's duty, honor, commitment or integrity, service, excellence. It is all about choices. You decide for yourself what's right and what's wrong, whether you should stay in this weekend or go out, whether to vote democrat or republican. You decide whom to see, what to wear, what to buy, and what to eat.

However, you have very little control over the government, international affairs, economic policy, the rise and fall of the stock market, Mother Nature, and your company direction. But, changes like these can often disrupt your life and force you to change your plans. Often there is very little you can do about it, and yet you are overwhelmingly affected by it. Taking personal responsibility means realizing you can't control certain things and to stop trying. You can sit around and wonder, "Oh my gosh, how is this going to affect me?

What if I'm next to go? How will I pay the bills?"

People stew and worry and literally make themselves sick.

The fundamental responsibility that each of us has is that we are completely, 100 percent responsible for how our lives turn out. This is tough! When we like how things are turning out, it is easy to say that we are responsible for our success. But when things aren't so good, we're so quick to point fingers at other people or place the blame on the Navy, Air Force or Army. It's really easy to do. But remember this, when you point your finger outside, you have just now accepted the victim status. Feeling victimized is normal for some people. Some people are perpetual victims of circumstance. Being the victim is simply avoiding responsibility. Avoiding responsibility removes the ability to control or respond to the problem. Feeling victimized just delays the inevitable. You will eventually make a choice, choose a course of action and take responsibility.

It is never circumstances that make you happy. If it were, then people with great circumstances would never be unhappy, and that's hardly the situation. Rich people can have more problems than most people. If circumstances were what made you happy, people with horrible circumstances would never feel happy, and that isn't true either. Look at individuals with disabilities -- some compete in Special Olympics and are happy. Other individuals with the same disabilities sit around and are miserable for their entire lives. Two people with the same circumstances are in two totally different states of mind. We have the ability to choose our attitudes given a certain set of circumstances, but we don't always practice or acknowledge this. Why? Because, it's scary.

Things will happen. They just will. You will get no warning and nobody will prepare you. And, that's frustrating. People will tell you to "reach for the stars -- you can achieve whatever you want!" But they don't mention that in the process, a comet might smack you upside the head. Few people talk about the possibility of outside circumstances adversely affecting your ambitions. And yet, how many of you can say that your ambitions and dreams have been left intact despite the events of the last couple years?

Serious change takes serious courage. It's so scary most of us don't even know how to approach it realistically. When people think of changing their lives, they often think in terms of huge, dramatic gestures. Ever dream of moving to the mountains and becoming a hermit? Extreme thinking like this can effectively destroy your ability to make constructive changes in your life. If you are a responsible, albeit burned-out, 39-year old professional with a spouse and two kids, you may occasionally have thoughts about heading for Hawaii, but it isn't likely that you're going to abandon your family, your career, your tennis partner, and your Dalmatian named Spot. The good news is that you don't have to head off to the islands with a paintbrush in hand in order to have a better life. You only have to accept what is and take personal responsibility for what you can change.

So don't try to change the uncontrollable, attempt to figure out what's going to happen, or try to control circumstances. Remember the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Ever think that you'd be happy if you had more money? Ever think that if you'd only find the perfect mate, you would be happy? Ever think that if your significant other or a family member would change somehow, then you'd be happy? Ever think that if you'd lose some weight, you'd be happy? Well, here's some big news for you. If you're not happy without a relationship, you're not going to be happy with one. If you're not happy without the money, you're not going to be happy with it. If you're not happy with the weight, you're not going to be happy without it. And that's good news -- it means you can stop waiting for your circumstances to change to make you happy. Accept what you cannot change, change the things you can, and take personal responsibility for making yourself happy.

Happiness is an attitude, not an occasion.