Personal Responsibility: Giving It CPR

Personal Responsibility: Giving It CPR

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Personal Responsibility

I thought the rules about finances didn’t pertain to me.  They were for “other people.”

I knew all about numbers.  I had been raised in a family where we were involved in my Dad’s businesses from early on.  At 13, I worked at his iron ore mine in the interior of Brazil.  I monitored and recorded how much ore was loaded in each railroad car before it left on its journey from Mariana, Minas Gerais, to the port and on to some foreign steel mill.

By then our family had already gone from “extremely comfortable” because of my father’s business successes … to dead broke because he took his eye off the ball and his local partner cleaned him out.  I already knew about scrubbing the bottles I gathered at a construction site in Alexandria, Virginia, in order to collect the 2-cent deposit.  (You see, the grocery store next door to the Rexall on the corner only accepted clean bottles.)  That was my allowance.  And I knew about my $5 Christmas money from my grandmother going towards paying for the fridge.

So I knew numbers.

Twenty years into my own career, with an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance under my belt, I found myself dead broke too.

Somehow, despite everything I knew about finance, I didn’t think I needed to follow the same rules I set out for my consulting clients.

I’ve talked elsewhere about how I lost everything.  And about how that triggered deep introspection and research to understand what had gone wrong.  (And how to “right” it.  Which I did.)

Today, after working with so many women whose upbringing and lack of financial education have kept them vulnerable, I’m very clear about a growing challenge facing our nation.  It’s something that has woven its way throughout my writings more and more this past year.  It’s something that has to be in place in order to successfully change one’s financial situation.

And that “something” is personal responsibility.

Time after time, I’d see that personal responsibility is the one differentiating factor between those women who succeed in turning their finances around and those who don’t.  Those who succeed do not consider themselves victims.  They do not assume they are “entitled” to things.  And they don’t make excuses for themselves.  Instead, they look honestly at their behaviors, determine those that are detrimental, “own” them, work to change them bit by bit, use every tool that’s handed them … and go on to thrive.

As we enter 2012, I realize that it’s no different for our country.

I see a country that is deep in debt, not “earning” enough (in tax revenues) and spending too much.  Not saving.  Not investing wisely.  I see a government that blames the situation on everything but itself, as if it were a victim.  I see a government that promotes entitlement, thereby diluting the personal responsibility of its players and its citizens even more.  I see a government that refuses to accept any blame and thrives on excuses.  And I see a government that is not going to play any role in the foreseeable future to change much of anything, regardless of what party plays what role.

So what are our options as individuals?

The mantle of personal responsibility has to settle on us.  We’ll have to get ourselves out of our own messes.  If the best aspects of “exceptionalism” that this country is known for are going to survive, and even thrive, it will be because as a people we choose to thrive.

By taking responsibility for our own debt, our own spending and our own investing for the future – by not counting on some government program to jumpstart the economy or supplement our income – we’ll take care of ourselves.  And, in the aggregate, we’ll move our country forward.

You’ve probably heard a phrase made famous by John F. Kennedy: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  Well, surprise, surprise, looks like it’s up to us to provide the water.

So … here’s to thriving in 2012 … because of who we are.


Let me know in the comments below if you agree …


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.

  • Chris

    what great comments and analogies.SO TRUE.It’s almost as though personal responsibility is a thing of the past-terrific article.

    • Anonymous

      Chris, it’s not a thing of the past … yet!  But it could sure use some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  And that’s what I’m promoting we each do.

  • As usual Sharon your insights cut through the mud and muck and shine on what we NEED to hear and think about. We are powerful and have what it takes…we just need to get our mindset out of the bucket of hoping and praying that “they” will do something to change things and realize “we” are where the change must begin. Thanks for sharing through your leadership and guidance! 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Ah, Denny, the seductive siren’s song … “they will do.”  I think it’s become pretty clear that we may be waiting a long time if we wait for “them” to jumpstart the economy, pay down the national debt, bring Social Security back to solvency AND create the potential for people to recapture the equity in their homes and in their 401(k)s.  Time for Plan B!

  • Sharon, great article. Surely taking personal responsibility is a key; however, just heard of a distant relative having the government pay for her and hubby’s education, books, $1600 rent, and they make their own car payments on 2 NEW 2011 cars.  Go figure!  They are already college educated.  Oh, 2 kids under 4.  I don’t get it.  How does the government get to pay for all?  I bet pell grant for the education, but still…

    • Anonymous

      Carol, it amazes me how some people are able to totally milk a system.  (I’ve come across some as well.)  That ability comes from what in my mind is one of the poorest mind sets:  that of “being entitled.”  It’s the other side of the coin of why the country’s in the mess it’s in …

  • Anonymous

    Sheree Diamond of had trouble posting a comment and sent me this via email:  “Hi Sharon,
    You have some great points in this article. I do agree that we all need to take
    full responsibility for our finances and also everything we create in our lives.
    I highly recommend watching a movie called “Thrive.” It will open your eyes to
    what’s really happening in our world with our government, the banks, energy and
    much more. You can view it on-line for only $5 or you can order a dvd. ”  Thanks, Sheree!

  • Judy Roberson

    You nailed it, Sharon.  As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  If we all took care of our own piece of the puzzle, the big picture would automatically right itself.  Taking responsibility for just our situation certainly feels more manageable than “fixing” the national economy, too!  🙂  Thanks for putting a different perspective on this!

    • Anonymous

      It really IS more manageable if we focus on our own knitting (as they say), Judy.  Bite-size pieces.  Small, steady steps.  Very doable.

  • Mgrillo17

    When in life we don’t feel like making any changes we tend to play the victim syndrome

    • Anonymous

      The frustrating thing, Marta, is that very few people call others out who are hiding behind the victim role.  Yet it’s probably the worst form of relinquishing responsibility …

  • Gailboating

    Thank you for your post.  Yes…I was the one who spent the money and I will be the one to make a NEW plan…to save, invest, spend my money wisely and ..


    thanks again

    • Anonymous

      Yup, I figure we know best how we got ourselves into our messes … so we should know best how to get ourselves out.  Congratulations on having that clarity!

  • As usual, Sharon, you are spot on!
    We, as individuals, must start looking to ourselves… and not government… for answers. America was built on innovation, not entitlement. Hopefully, your message will spread, and individuals will return to those roots of innovation and entrepreneurship before it’s too late.

    • Anonymous

      Mari Ann, if I didn’t believe that the spirit of self-determination still exists in enough of us … I’d be far more pessimistic.  That’s where that innovation and entrepreneurship comes from …

  • Sondra

    Well done Sharon. Personal accountability is key. Just on the phone having conversation with a 30-something about the very thing. About to email link to your article now.

    • Anonymous

      Nice to hear that you’re spreading the word to 30-somethings, Sondra.  I don’t find that we’ve gotten much better at teaching younger generations about finances and money.  And history is therefore destined to repeat itself … unless we intervene.

  • Sharon, you are so right on about personal responsibility.  I keep hoping and praying the government will also take responsibility for where the country is financially.  The governments mistakes have affected us (and many others) so much, it is difficult to not feel like a victim.  We are certainly being forced into a different direction.

    • Anonymous

      Pat, it’s easy to say, “Well, we’re the ones who voted the bums in …”  But there’s actually been a very subtle, but devastating, shift of power away from the people and the states, towards the Federal Government.  And it’s extremely difficult to reverse.  (Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything in our power, regardless.)  But it doesn’t look very promising in the near term, so the alternative is to not waste any time hoping, and count on yourself instead.

  • Love it Sharon! We have to take personal responsibility if we want to see changes. Thanks for the motivation and inspiration!  Happy New Year! 

    • Anonymous

      Happy to be your motivation and inspiration, Jennifer.  But, honestly?  With you, it’s like I’m giving a slight push to a cart that’s already rolling in the right direction.  😉

  • Sharon,
    Personal responsibility is something that no one wants, but it is so necessary if we are to do any recovery. It would also be appropriate for each of us to take personal responsibility for our vote. Maybe that’s a good place to start. And let’s learn about our candidates too while we are at it. If everyone knows about Lady GAGA, couldn’t just a bit of that effort be put into learning about who is running for what?
    Just a thought.

    • Anonymous

      Michele, you’re right, it IS critical to know our candidates.  But we don’t always have an exciting choice, since many of the most capable people aren’t willing to put up with the nonsense and personal attacks it entails … and others don’t have ready access to the massive amounts of money needed to get elected today unless they sell their souls in the process.  What’s even more frightening is that all too many people don’t even know what the ISSUES are, much less how the candidates truly stand on them.

    • Joseann Freyer-Lindner

       I know it’s an old thread, but anyway: Lady Gaga for president, how is that?… ;-), just joking. But I wanted to comment on the fact that “nobody wants personal responsibility”. Me neither, until I realized that I mistake responsibility with blame and guilt. Responsibility actually only means “the ability to respond” and this is why I think Sharon’s blog is so valuable. She increases our ability to respond in money issues. I think, really, it’s not that people don’t want to respond, they often just have no bright idea what to do and then it is easier to hide from it and push it away.

      • SharonODay

        Love the way you think, Joseann!  You are right in that “blame and guilt” are the reaction to responsibility when you allow it to be greater than you.  But as soon as you take your power back and realize that responsibility can also mean trustworthiness (trusted to do the right thing, for yourself as well as for others), the word is suddenly a celebration rather than a hindrance.  Brava!

  • Sharon, this is a very good analysis of the situation.  Let me take one piece of it and comment.  What so many people don’t realize is that debt is a many faceted sword.  Not only does it cause all the usual problems, but because you have to make more (or spend less) to pay it off, it causes your tax burden to be so much more of your disposable income (after debt payments).  In a country where the government is so irresponsible and hungry for tax revenues, this is a bad position to be in.  It makes it so much more difficult to plan versus just reacting to each foolish fix the government tries to enact to fix the problem.  Thanks for sharing.  I hope your readers take you good advice during 2012 and take charge of their own financial destiny!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for pointing that out, Robert.  It goes back to my article “Talking About Debt: Good, Bad or Ugly” ( where today all debt is ugly … for so many reasons.  You just reinforced my point!

  • Excellent Sharon! It was people taking personal responsibility that built our exceptional nation and surely that is what is needed to move forward.  There is no government that will take care of you as well as you will take care of yourself.  People who are able to take care of themselves are also more generous than governments when it comes to helping those who can not help themselves.

    • Anonymous

      Yay, she gets it!  Perfectly stated, Vicky, not a word to spare!

  • Cat

    Taking charge and being responsible for yourself, your finances and your future is the most important thing you can do for yourself. No one else can look out for your interests like you can. And there is no knight in shining armor to come rescue us.

    • Anonymous

      Love the clarity, Cat!  And developing your “finance muscles” is the same as developing those needed in your racing.  Incrementally greater strength as a result of regular practice.  No difference.

  • Love the point how we have to own up to our own detrimental behaviours, then work to improve them and not repeat them. Great encouragement, love your article.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Elvie.  Sure makes more sense to figure out what’s not working … and fix it!  We all know pretty much what’s tripping us up …

  • DianeDP

    Sharon, you are so right about taking personal responsibility! I am
    burnishing my sword! I am taking on those who wallow in passive
    aggressive! I am grateful that you can inspire me to see that we CAN do

    • Anonymous

      Diane, I keep harping on personal responsibility because so few people do.  It’s much easier to promote fantasy and complacency.  Unfortunately, this is one case where ignorance ISN’T bliss!  😉  

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