Your Life Is the Sum of Your Choices

I signed up to run the Country Music Half Marathon in January. The big race was on Saturday, April 28th. But I didn’t run.

A Man with Two Choices - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #17906987

Photo courtesy of ©

With the launch of my new book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, and several other projects in the works, I just didn’t have the time to do the distance training I needed to do in order to participate. (I have kept up with my normal running routine; I just haven’t done the extended distance work.)

On Saturday, several friends asked me how the half marathon had gone, including Andy Traub. Here was my exchange with him on Twitter.

Exchange with Andy Traub

This situation made me realize again the importance of owning my choices.

We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived two-and-a-half years in Nazi concentration camps, made this case in his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

It’s easy to subscribe to this in theory, but what about your specific situation? Are you willing to own it?

For example:

  • Are you in a job you hate, living for the weekends?
  • Are you unemployed or can’t find a job?
  • Are you stuck in a bad marriage or going through a divorce?
  • Are you overweight, out of shape, or sick?
  • Are you lacking deep, meaningful friendships?

I am not asking these questions to shame you. I have gone through my share of setbacks and failures.

  • I have been fired (more than once).
  • I have gone through a business failure.
  • I have felt stuck in a job I hated.
  • I have gone through a protracted and expensive IRS audit.
  • I had to have emergency surgery when my gall bladder ruptured.
  • I have had a child in rebellion and on drugs.
  • I have had two daughters with chronic illnesses.
  • I have lost money on three out of four houses I’ve owned.

No, my life has not been a bed of roses. I’ll bet yours hasn’t either.

But blaming our circumstances or other people—even when they are partly or almost totally responsible—only makes us victims. It robs us of our freedom and keeps us stuck.

There is a better way. Change is possible. It can begin today.

You don’t have to stay stuck in the state you are in.

But first, you must own your specific situation and take responsibility for the choices that led to it. Only then can you begin to create a different future.

Question: What situation do you need to own? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Daren Sirbough

    Great post. I’ve heard it said that maturity doesn’t come from age, but from the acceptance of responsibility. 

  • Dale Melchin

    I seriously, love all of this article, however,  must confess, I’m a little jealous.  Whenever I write about a personal accountability, people are after me with pitch forks.  Maybe its my presentation.  As I’ve said before, thanks for all you do!

  • Kapil Sopory

    Michael, It is a fact that every one has faced various types of problems in life. However, a problem becomes a problem when we consider it as a problem. If we consider us as the ” Universal I” i.e., not the mortal body and realize that “I’m not the doer”, the pain of the problem will reduce though may not vanish completely. He plays the game of life and we have to feel (in true sense) that the so-called problem has come as His gift and an opportunity to teach us. If so, we would accept it boldly and express ” Let Him see what happens”, and then we would receive His guidance and “Light” to show  us the way forward. Afterall, His mortal body also suffered. Despite this, He was in peace always as He was not the body but something beyond that.
    Eventhough I cannot claim to have adopted this conviction cent per cent in my life, I am on the path and believe you me, have gained strength to bear shocks considering strongly ” This too shall pass away.” One thing more, I forget the past as much as possible and live in the present to the best of what He brings to me. That leads to ” Happy Thoughts” !


  • Joe

    What  does  mean own your situation?

    • Michael Hyatt

      It means to accept responsibility for it.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    True Mike! When I see where I am today, I realize that it is because of my decisions I have taken so far. Many successful people in life are good at taking accountability and owing up. Passing the buck is never to going to help us. 

  • Sally Ferguson

    I need to take ownership of a new lifestyle for our family, after the deaths of my Mom and my Gra’ma within a short span of time.  It has paralyzed me for too long!

  • lance cashion

    I make far too many promises to myself and others.  So, many that I cannot deliver on all of them.  Thus, sabotaging success.  I am better than I used to be.  But, I’m a work in progress.  I press on….

  • Crobey78

    I have a friend who is consistently a victim. It is in his DNA, stretching back through his family tree. What has been frustrating lately is his shift in blame. For years he blamed everyone else, but now he has turned his ire on God. His faith has been abandoned because he found something else to blame. 

    I would love to get him to read this, but I feel like it might be pretty transparent. Thanks for your thoughts. 

  • deairby

    Very interesting that you released this post the same day I wrote this one:

    • Michael Hyatt

      Really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kent Julian

    Thanks for sharing so authentically, Michael. It’s one of the reasons I follow you.

  • Kent Julian

    Just another thought…

    I heard Ken Davis (I know he’s a buddy of yours) once say, “What you believe in is evidenced by what you do, not just by what you say.” 

    I try to use that line a lot in my own life!

  • Shallog2004

    You know what? This was God sent. Some girlfriends and I were just speaking on how tired we were of feeling dejected, rejected, etc (mind you, we’re in our 20s) this was encouragement to try to be more proactive of what life hands–and not simply reactive.

  • Chad Stutzman

    Great post and so true.  We always have a choice in how we respond.  Our natural tendency is to respond in unhealthy ways like blaming, getting defensive or procrastinating.  Taking personal responsibility changes you and your situation, but it can be hard to do consistently.

  • Nina Nesdoly

    Thanks so much for the honesty in this post Michael, about the struggles you have gone through in your life. This post was actually exactly what I needed right now, regarding some problems I’ve been having with jobs. Thank you.
    I can’t help but make a suggestion for your routine runs though: Do you do any interval or zone 3 training? Because it is possible to build up enough cardiovascular endurance to run a marathon without actually doing any distance running :)

  • STurner2

    Great examples and clarity on the need to “own” our choices. I wonder if any “Occupiers” have read this and what their comments might be? You draw fantastic responses as well.

    Your question did cause me a pause to ponder and I did identify a area where I need to take ownership. It involves someone else and best left unstated. I am wondering what ownership will look like and how it will play out. Hmm.

  • Cindie

    I have had to own the fact that I have enabled an adult daughter to take advantage of us because I loved her and wanted her to be able to avoid pain in her life (of her own doing) and was trying to protect her children. I do want the best for her and her children but until she can be honest with herself and look at the things she is placing first in her life …her life will never be what God desires for her and her family.
    It has been a long road and addictions are horrible, but I have made the choice to surrender her at the Cross and to pray and to trust that God is in control and He loves her and always keeps His promises.
    Thank you for this post today…

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  • Aaron G Myers

    I found today’s post such an encourgement.  The funny thing is that the most encouraging parts were reading the linked articles about some of the failures(?) you’ve had (being fired, etc).  Our family are in the process of relocating back to the states after four years in Turkey.  Our plan is to continue our work (I’m a language coach who helps Ms with language learning) from afar.  I have tremendous vision for the work, but still struggle to see how my fledgling business will take off in time to pay all the bills once we return.  Our coming to Turkey was a Noah moment (will we obey).  Our return is more of an Abraham moment (go to the land I will show you. . . really?)  I’ve been fretting for weeks with the load of wondering if we will make it.  You post helps me realize in some small way, that whether we make it or not really doesn’t matter.  I’m putting in the work, I’m doing the best I can and I’m acting on the vision I’ve been given.  I can live with that and if it all falls apart and we end up living in a “van down by the river” I think I have faith enough to know that it will be okay.  Anyway, thanks for reminding me of few of these things today and reminding me that failure (in the world’s eyes) is rarely fatal.

  • John

    I did not chose to become mentally ill with bipolar disorder. While I see some merit in this article, I find it simplistic unless you believe people choose mental illness and other problems like that. 

    • Mary Gurney

       John, I always think there are circumstances beyond our control.  It is my reactions to those circumstances that I need to take responsibility for.  Having  helped patients with mental health disorders when I practiced as a pharmacist I know that this was not something they chose to have happen to them.  My patients helped me to see that there were times that they cognitively could not take responsibility for their actions — such as when one of my patients went completely off on me and my staff yelling and cursing.  I was surprised and stunned at first and then quickly realized that his actions and outbursts were a result of his illness.  The result was that my staff and I allowed him to go off on us and continued to care for and about him.  We filled his prescriptions, made sure we talked with him about them and made sure he was okay to leave the pharmacy.  He was one of my best life teachers and I am grateful that I got to be his pharmacist for several years.  

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  • Wanda W. Brewer

    While I was not in control of the abuse done to me as a child, I did make my own decisions as an adult.  I did blame others for my disappointments and undesirable circumstances keeping me running on my hampster wheel going nowhere FAST!  What I was really seeking was acknowledgement for the pain I endured, restitution for my murdered childhood, an explanation and an apology.  When I finally realized that really was not going to heal all the wounds, I decided to make my story my power for the good of others and that began by owning my actions.  Now I hold in my own hands, the responsibility of every decision I make and it is by far much lighter on my shoulders than the weight of pointing my finger at others. 

  • Shannon Milholland

    Mike, I’m a bit behind on my reading and just reading this post today. I just registered yesterday to run my first marathon – the St Jude in December. I want to own my life, my choices and fulfilling a long-held dream of completing a marathon is a part of that. Thanks for the inspiration! (even though you didn’t run!)

  • Dick

    After reading all of the comments to this post, I am reminded of a sermon that was written by Frederick Buechner, titled “Adolescence & the Stewardship of Pain”.  It is published in his book: Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons.  You can read the sermon if you go to  Hopefully it will challenge you as it has challenged me.

  • JamesPrescott77

    This is absolutely spot on. I have so often blamed my problems on someone else, or said that because the bad things in my life that have been out of my control  - losing a mother, parents divorce – were out of my control, that therefore any good things or success should also be given to me.

    What I have learned is that we must take ownership of our lives, take responsibility for our choices – if we do not, our life will happen to us, not the other way round. 

    Great post Michael, thanks for reminding us of this.

  • Kerstin Rachfahl

    In Germany we have a really good bestselling book: Die Entscheidung liegt bei Dir von Reinhard K. Sprenger perhaps translated best: The Choices are yours (found only the book Trust in the english version from him).
    Because in your blog post you forget an important point. Each choice has its price and you have to decide if this price is worth the choice.

  • Mary Gurney

    A topic and posts I needed to be reminded of.  I am trying to own the fact that I recently (1 month ago) wasn’t granted promotion or tenure at the university I teach at (one that has a high focus on teaching) — though I have one more year on my tenure clock to apply for both.   The day I submitted my dossier I prayed about the final product and God’s plans for me.  I told God I was letting go and placing the decision in his hands.  I was supported by my department chair, had good letters of recommendation, and excelled in two of the three areas evaluated on (service and teaching).  I was basically told that I didn’t have a track record as an independent researcher, hadn’t published enough in peer review journals and hadn’t applied for enough competitive grants.  When I went back and reviewed my annual evaluations, this was not an area that was identified as needing improvement.  I have also had 3 department chairs during since I began this position. 

    After receiving the news and feeling devastated  — one of my immediate thoughts was — okay God, I know you have a plan for me — I just don’t know what it is right now.  So for the next few days, I tried very hard not to blame my current and previous chairs, the system, and myself.  I put together a plan and met with my chair.  I am known for getting  emotional under stressful situations and during this meeting I kept my cool and went through the draft of the plan I developed.  I met with several colleagues whose opinions I value and asked for advice.  I have sought out advice of other colleagues within and outside of my institution. 

    Yet, even with doing all of these things — I am feeling like I go between taking responsibility for my past, current and future actions — and wanting to blame others for not providing me with the support and/or information I needed to have over the past few years — that whole one step forward and two steps backward kind of thing. 

    Another issue for me is that part of me doesn’t necessarily value tenure as a form of validation — though that is hard to articulate in a university community where so many do value tenure as a form of validation and it is an expectation if you have a PhD.  The other part of me thinks I should value what it takes to be tenured because I have a PhD.   So, right now, I am plugging along trying to figure out what I truly believe. 

    So reading the post and the responses have reminded me that I need to make hanging out with God and the word a priority and to listen to what God has to say because he does have a plan for me and I need to trust in that.

    • Jason

      Mary wrote:  “Another issue for me is that part of me doesn’t necessarily value tenure as a form of validation — though that is hard to articulate in a university community where so many do value tenure as a form of validation and it is an expectation if you have a PhD.”

      I don’t know your situation, I don’t have many answers, and I’ve never been a teacher or a professor, but I can say one thing:  if I was in the same place; if I had undertaken so much hard work, accomplished so much at that university and still felt that tenure was the only way I would be taken seriously by that establishment, I would want to leave and never come back, because–from my perspective–they don’t seem to value you.  If you weren’t at that university, would the powers-that-be care or remember you at all?

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  • Mike Hansen

    I need to own feelings. I am an introverted thinker and feelings with emotions while very much present, aren’t often dealt with constructively. So I need to own how I deal with feelings and emotions in ways to help me and others. I can choose my reactions to feelings that arise-indeed I can also choose how I feel.

  • Shazzajq

    I am owning my anxiety eating responces where coping with stress is concerned apart from the fact that most of my stress has been caused by the unwise choices of others. I have chosen to appreciate the choices I now have made and others I made previously that  got me out of the messes that personally involved me. This has made it easier to enjoy my life right now apart from what others are doing. If I wait for my peace to only come when certain family members have straightened out their lives  as well then I am missing out on enjoying the hard won peace I can have because I have already made the right decisions that enable me to do so.

  • Barrykahan

    Really enjoyed this. I keep a saying in my wallet. I don’t remember where I found it..” Excuses, no matter how valid, never lead to achievement.” Seems to fit here. Thanks for your great insight on so many of your posts .

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love that, Barry. Thanks.

  • Revkevmckee

    Speaking of being unbusy ~ there is a great section in Eugene’s Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor called “the unbusy pastor.”  It is really worth reading as he give two reason for business, vanity, and laziness (quoting C.S. Lewis). Check it out, or ask me and I’ll send you it you via an eversion of the book.  

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  • Brian Ahearn

    Excellent post and personal example. Frankl’s book is one of the most impacting I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reza Ali

    I get what you’re saying Michael. Last year I ran in almost 20 different events. I’m participating in lesser number of running events this year. There are times when I use the excuse of too much work but the reality is that I find myself less committed to participating in running events. I just have to own it, take responsibility and correct it. I don’t have to hide behind excuses.

    Thanks for the great article…

  • Terri Henry

    I actually found this blog post on Pinterest!
      Your post and personal example made me think how Satan really knows our
    weaknesses and how to get us down when we compare our lives to others.  Often
    we only see the surface of most people’s lives not realizing that many have had
    setbacks just as tough as our own.  Your transparency and humility spoke
    volumes to me.  One of the lessons that I
    have learned from talking to teens and young adults at TheHopeLine is that they
    appreciate this same transparency.  Many feel so worthless about the
    choices they have made that they feel like they can never overcome them. By
    sharing my own setbacks and failures it helps them to understand that all is not
    lost and that they too can overcome their setbacks by taking responsibility
    of their choices. 

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  • Joel Johanson

    I want to own my own hospital. Currently I am working in the government hospital but I feel unsatisfied with my job. How can  I get the money to start my own hospital where I think I will be working happily and with satisfaction?

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  • Jason

    I can’t agree entirely with this article.  Life is not always the sum of our choices.  Yes, some of our life is determined by choices we make, but that’s not always true.  External factors and forces govern our life, too.  

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