Ten Big Mistakes #4: Blaming Others for Challenges

If you want to find scapegoats in your life, almost everyone can find a lot of them.

At the start of my financial journey, I blamed others for the challenges in my life.

Avoiding Blaming Others for Your Decisions

You are the Key to Solving Your Problems

I was born with legal blindness in my right eye, deafness in my left ear, and a nonfunctional thyroid. I spent much of my childhood with various sorts of surgeries, surgical recoveries, and illnesses, leading me to less cultural and social exposure than I might have otherwise had. I spent much of that illness time reading, so I skated through most of secondary school without learning any study habits, which made college rather challenging at times. I chose not to follow my dream career path in order to earn more money.

All of these things would be extremely easy to change into an excuse for not doing the best that I could do. For example: My childhood doctors exacerbated my health problems. My parents didn’t expose me to any sort of culture. My advisors in high school pointed me down a career path I should not have followed. My teachers didn’t teach me any study skills. My bosses created a work situation that I was unhappy with and ate up my time and energy so that I couldn’t follow my dreams or ideas.

Guess what? In every single case above, I was the key to solving the problem.

I spent an awful lot of time in my life blaming others for the fact that my good life wasn’t better than it already was. All that did was give me an easy excuse to not work my tail off to overcome the obstacles in front of me.

Take my medical conditions, for example. My lack of hearing in my left ear is the result of having a completely destroyed inner ear – there’s literally no bone structure in there. Sometimes, in social situations, I simply cannot hear people sitting on my left. For the longest time, I would dole out blame for that – it’s their fault for not talking louder, it’s my doctor’s fault for not diagnosing my ear problems.

All those excuses are is a crutch to excuse me from solving the problem myself.

What I’ve Learned to Do Differently

Today, if I want to participate in a conversation, I make a point to try to sit on the left side of that person. If I can’t hear what’s being said, I don’t blame the other person for speaking softly – I ask them to repeat it. If it’s in a noisy room, I apologize and simply say, “I’m sorry I can’t hear you. My hearing isn’t so good. Could we go over here where it’s quieter? I’m interested in hearing what you’re saying.” Guess what? Almost everyone I’ve ever met will happily accomodate these things.

Even more important, it’s not their responsibility to know that I can’t hear them. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I can hear them.

Let’s look at my teachers, for another example. In high school, I rarely had to put forth any effort at all. When I reached college and faced some of the more difficult classes, I was in trouble. I had no real idea how to study.

At that time, rather than simply saying, “I’ve got to learn how to study,” I would mostly just say things like, “No one ever taught me how to study.” I’d beg for grades and try to make an excuse out of my situation. Sometimes it would work – usually, it did not. I struggled mightily during my second and third years in college, permanently damaging my collegiate GPA. During my final years in college, especially my final one, I actually learned how to study and made dean’s list with a very difficult courseload. Yet, I still wanted to blame others for my poor GPA. It must have been the fault of my teachers.

Over and over again, my willingness to blame others for the challenges in my life delayed creating solutions to those problems. That blaming enabled me to keep on making the same mistakes as before and keep on repeating the actions that led to the things I was unhappy about to begin with.

What Can You Do to Avoid this Trap?

Here’s the real truth of the matter. No matter how unfair the situation, you are the solution. Using the cause of the problem as an excuse not to solve the problem doesn’t cut it. In fact, it usually just prolongs the problem and makes it worse.

Whenever things are not going the way you want in your life, ask yourself what you can do to make the situation better or change the context of the situation so that the problem isn’t as devastating. If you’re overweight, don’t blame the food companies and keep eating unhealthy stuff. Take action to toss out the unhealthy stuff and replace it with vegetables and fruits.

Whenever you hear yourself blaming someone or something else for a problem, stop. Blaming others for your problems is an incredibly pernicious habit. Yes, there are bad things in life. There are bad things in everyone’s life. The people that succeed are the people that don’t waste their time looking for someone or something to blame, but instead look to themselves for a solution to the problem.

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  1. Nicole says:

    Ugh… I’m getting flash forwards to next semester.

    I’m glad you learned your lesson! 200+ new students to learn it next year. (I exaggerate… only a small fraction of the students blame and beg, but the ones that do take 80% of the prof’s time and cause 90% of the prof’s irritation.)

    Take note of this excellent advice, current and future students!

  2. sir jorge says:

    i understand what you’re personally saying, but there are some, and i do say they are rare, where it’s not “self” that is at fault

    there are legit cases

  3. Dorothy says:

    sir jorge, even if it’s someone else’s fault, you still are the solution. Gripe about it, or do something about it — your choice.

  4. Katie says:

    Of course, sometimes the solution will be holding the culprits responsible, or making sure they’re held responsible. That’s something individuals can and sometimes should take responsibility for too.

  5. Deb J says:

    I learned early on in my adult life that I could blame others or choose to do something about whatever a problem was. My brother chooses to blame my parents for things. I had the same upbringing and while my parents made mistakes they did the best they could. I can either wallow around and not change and blame them for it or I can decide to put it behind me and make a new path. I am disabled now. I can’t change it but I can choose to make the best of it that I can. Life is what we make of it with God’s help.

  6. marta says:

    @Katie: Exactly. I was going to point that out as well.

    I have been dealing with a challenge that is *not* my fault whatsoever, but I have taken the necessary actions to make sure the culprits won’t get away with it and won’t do it to other people — because I could. Other people caught in similar situations don’t have the resources I do, and it’d be unfair to blame them for inaction. So, yeah, I took action and I moved on, as much as possible.

    Anyway, with posts like this one, I am always tempted to say “Yes, BUT…”. Sure, do *your* best with the cards life dealt you. That’s not a bad advice per se. But one should avoid getting into the trap of thinking that, just because WE are managing, people who aren’t doing so well only have got themselves to blame. And that’s BS. I don’t care for dismissing other people’s legitimate struggles, especially when they don’t have the same advantages as, say, a straight white American male.

  7. tarynkay says:

    I used to work with juvenile delinquents. My clients would often complain about how unfair it was that they were in trouble, etc. I would always say, “Yes. You’re absolutely right. The system is broken, the cards are stacked against you. It is not fair. What are you going to do about it?” Then we could talk about what they could do to make things better. I have found that when you try and help people, it always works better when they come up with the solutions themselves and implement them. There is even a fancy term for it- client self-determination. Life is astronomically unfair. But that isn’t the point. The point is that you are the only person who can fix your life. Maybe you need help- find some. But if you don’t find any, don’t let that stop you. This isn’t about not seeking justice. Go forth and seek justice! But if you don’t get justice (and you probably won’t) don’t let that stop you. I would even go so far as to say, go ahead, figure out who did you wrong and forgive them so you can move on. Just don’t expect anyone to ask you for forgiveness. Blaming doesn’t fix anything, and that’s the point. This isn’t about blaming others for not dealing with their problems- cause that wouldn’t fix anything, right? If you feel you’ve been given some unfair advantages in life (and everyone reading this certainly has) help others. There is a never-ending need for this.

  8. Moneyedup says:

    It shows you are really mature when you are able to accept the fault for something and not blame others. Blaming others can get you into a lot of trouble, especially if it is over serious matters at work and there is evidence that leads an incident to you. So, own up and take responsibility. Make good choices!

  9. Systemizer says:

    I’m trying to imagine how it’s possible to experience bouts of depression without blaming anyone.

  10. Leah W. says:

    The people WHO succeed, not that succeed.

    Do you have a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style? I’m not trying to be snarky, but every writer really does need one. I discovered it in college, and it corrected many of my bad habits.

    Sincerely,

    Your friendly neighborhood journalism major

  11. Sandy L says:

    Blaming others for your crappy life is such a powerless position. I really hate when I see someone stuck in that mindset.

    When you blame others for your life, you’re giving your power away. If you blame yourself for not doing something about your situation (even if you didn’t cause it) it puts the power back in your hands.

    I had someone who stole a lot of money from a family member. Yeah, it was his fault and it wasn’t our fault for being related to him. BUT, we did something about it. The locks were changed and he got taken to court.

    Hope is so important. How can you have any if you have the perception that everyone and everything is out to get you. These same people are often the ones that say “you’re so lucky and I’m not.”

  12. DivaJean says:

    I LOVE tarynkay’s response to those who pout and mope about things stacked against them.

    I intend to use this soon.

  13. Peter T says:

    Had I only had this insight 70 years ago, and acted upon it, life might have been a lot better -but then again, it might not !

    Never-the-less, a very powerful insight, – even now !

    Peter T

  14. opus says:

    An encouraging essay and great comments. Thanks, Trent. With a grown daughter in a “funk” the last several months, and a husband who has become seriously ill, I needed this.

  15. Johanna says:

    It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can talk – or even complain – about how the cards are stacked to make things more difficult for you, while at the same time working to build the best life you can with the cards you’ve got. The fact a person sometimes talks about her disadvantages, and about other people’s roles in creating and perpetuating them, does not meant that she’s spending 100% of her time sitting around and complaining.

    Whenever Trent writes about this topic, it sounds to me like what he really wants to say is “People who suffer from discrimination should shut up and take it, because I don’t want to hear about it.”

  16. AmyG says:

    Thanks for posting your story, Trent. I just shared it with my 17-year-old son who openly admits he’s prone to excuse making. He thought you made some good points and agrees it’s up to him to make lemons out of lemonade.

  17. Cortney says:

    I can appreciate this advice in some cases, and heaven knows I have met some serious excuse makers in my life, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere. If black people and women and Native Americans and differently abled people had said “it’s not anyone else’s fault but my own that I don’t have a job/education/access to opportunities/can’t vote” that wouldn’t have been very effective, because it truly wasn’t their fault that they couldn’t vote, or were attacked for their race, or were killed and had their land and heritage taken from them, etc.

    Sometimes, acknowledging that something isn’t fair is the first step to doing something about it and changing things. And sometimes telling people that “if you just TRY HARD ENOUGH, you’ll make it!” is naive and cruel in the face of real societal problems.

  18. Scott says:

    Sounds like we had the same childhood and only the medical issues differ in that I am a life long stutter…but have tried to NEVER be a victim. I have been a successful insurance agent (of all things for a stutterer) for 25 years and just obtained my realtors license. Nobody is responsible for my success or failure other than myself by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Great Article.

  19. Laura in Seattle says:

    “Whenever Trent writes about this topic, it sounds to me like what he really wants to say is “People who suffer from discrimination should shut up and take it, because I don’t want to hear about it.””

    Johanna – Wow, that’s quite a leap. I didn’t get that from this post at all. In fact, even if Trent is referring to discrimination, the answer is still the same. You are the solution. If you think you’re being discriminated against, you can sit around complaining about it to your friends (and have nothing change), or you can take action to change the situation. You can file a formal complaint. You can talk to a lawyer about filing a lawsuit. You can write, call or talk to local politicians and educate yourself about the state, local and national laws against discrimination. You can start a community group promoting unity and tolerance.

  20. Johanna says:

    @Laura: It’s not just this post – it’s this post in combination with many, many past posts.

    And I’ll say it again: It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can complain AND take action. In fact, what some people see as “complaining” may be a way of taking action, if it means educating others about your situation.

  21. marta says:

    @Laura:

    Johanna said it doesn’t have to be either/or. You can complain about your challenges to your friends AND, at the same time, take action.

    Aren’t people allowed to vent anymore?

    I can see where Johanna’s coming from in regards to her perception of Trent’s message — it’s a ongoing trend in posts covering this topic, and Trent can be a bit obtuse, “white male”-ish re: people with valid complaints about discrimination.

  22. Johanna says:

    And another thing: To say “no one else is to blame for my problems” is to say “I’m not to blame for anyone else’s problems,” which is (1) not necessarily true and (2) not productive. In the context of discrimination, it means putting the entire burden of ending discrimination on the people who are suffering from it, which I don’t think is the best solution, since people who are discriminated against have less power, by definition, than people who are not.

    White people can be a part of the solution to racism, and men can be a part of the solution to sexism. That doesn’t necesarily have to mean joining a “community group for unity and tolerance.” But it should mean acknowledging and examining whatever priveleges they/we enjoy, and listening to other people when they talk about what life is like for them.

  23. Katie says:

    But it should mean acknowledging and examining whatever priveleges they/we enjoy, and listening to other people when they talk about what life is like for them.

    Indeed, and if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of that learning will be done when they’re “complaining” about how other people are responsible for their problems. Dismissing that as “blaming others” is often just a way to continue to ignore our own complicity in creating other people’s problems.

  24. Johanna says:

    Privileges, not priveleges. Necessarily, not necesarily. Good thing that typos don’t embarrass me anymore.

  25. Kate says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority here … it really doesn’t matter that much who or what caused the problem. What matters to me is what’s being done to fix it. If complaining is what it takes to get the fixing process started, fine. If complaining is done INSTEAD of getting anything done, not fine.

  26. Johanna says:

    @Kate: “If complaining is what it takes to get the fixing process started, fine. If complaining is done INSTEAD of getting anything done, not fine.”

    Do you mean for that to apply just to you, or to everyone? Because: Why is it any of your business what someone else does about the problems in her own life? What entitles you to judge whether her response is “fine” or “not fine”?

  27. Laura in Seattle says:

    “Why is it any of your business what someone else does about the problems in her own life? What entitles you to judge whether her response is “fine” or “not fine”?”

    This is the best thing I have ever seen written in these forums. Johanna, thank you.

    This is exactly the reason I get so annoyed when I see people griping about the posts on this blog. Comment trolls, why is it any of your business what Trent does about the problems in his own life? What entitles you to judge whether his response is “fine” or “not fine”?

    And before you say “well, it’s on the Internet for other people to see and comment on and that makes it my business” I will answer to that – do you read and comment on everything that everyone everywhere posts on the Internet? Is the entire World Wide Web your business? Because if it is, you have a lot of reading to catch up on.

  28. mshell says:

    Right on with Marta and Johanna. While everyone should take responsibility for solving their own problems, we need to check our privilege (as whites, or males, or straight people, etc). It may not be our direct fault that institutionalized racism/sexism/heterosexism/etc favors us, but that doesn’t mean we get to sit back and blame other people for not solving their own problems. We need to understand that marginalized groups often face situations much more difficult that we have. Helping them out and speaking out about systemic inequality is the best way to combat it. “Complaining” as you call it might just be attempts to educate others about systemic inequality, and I think it needs to continue.

    here’s one bit of info on systemic sexism that I think women have the right to complain about:
    “If working women earned the same as men (those who work the same number of hours; have the same education, age, and union status; and live in the same region of the country), their annual family incomes would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half.”–taken from infoplease on “wage gap”

  29. Nicole says:

    I still think the the message to learn how to study, do your homework, and not whine for grades is a good one. You only get as much out of a class as you put into it.

  30. Daniel says:

    Trent, this is the post, the idea that I can and must be the solution, I have waited for someone to literally shove down my throat for a very long time.
    I have let a lot of people, especially myself, down for not taking responsibility for my actions. My “excuse” has gotten way too handy.
    Thank you for the wake-up.

  31. deRuiter says:

    “courseload” is not a word and a pass through spell check would have alerted the writer to that fact. I’m upset about discrimination. The fact that brilliant White men and Asian men are discriminated against for admission to medical school and law school in favor of others who do not have such fine academic records or high intelligence IS upsetting. The schools have a quota of skin colors which must be admitted, and these favored people do not have to be as bright and educated as the White and Asian men who deserve the spaces because of academic excellence. This is institutionalized racism. All I can do is discrimaintate in favor of hiring only White and Asian male doctors and lawyers to be sure of getting the best and the brightest. Life isn’t fair.

  32. Johanna says:

    @Nicole: I think that the blame for grade-grubbing should be split about equally between the grade-grubbing students themselves and the instructors who let them get away with it. When students who whine for higher grades are given higher grades, other students will feel that they have to whine too, just to keep up.

    @deRuiter: Funny how in spite of all of that “racism,” white men still constitute the vast majority of people in positions of power of any kind.

  33. kristine says:

    Johanna,

    You would be shocked at how some schools, for non-core subjects, let their teachers know, verbally hushed, of course, that nothing but an A or B is acceptable, as these subjects “don’t matter”, and they want to keep the averages higher. A non-tenured teacher has to comply, or risk losing their job, at a time when no other jobs are available. (Good argument for tenure.) I teach a specialty area, and it is rampant in even the very best schools, as per the other specialty teachers I talk to at gatherings. The kids know that no matter what, the worst they can get is a B, even with rude disruptive behavior and cuts, which makes the classes incredibly hard to discipline. In very wealthy districts, sometimes the school admin is afraid of parental litigation, so they roll over like a marble on a skewed tile floor. It is not always up to the teacher, and with their own families to feed- it is not worth fighting the admin, and the parent, even the child, at risk to livelihood, and getting a blacklist reputation as uncooperative, to go all out to give that C. (D? Don’t even think about it!) I am not saying it is right, but it is understandable.

  34. mshell says:

    DeRuiter definitely has an inaccurate view of admissions and hiring practices. If you look at ANY psychological study on workplace bias based on sexism and race, you will see that white or asian males are indeed not discriminated against, but favored. It’s females, blacks, hispanics and latinos that are discriminated against, even for the same education level, work level, and ability. Often incompetent white and Asian men are hired because people perceive them as more competent than women or minorities when they aren’t always.

  35. Johanna says:

    @kristine: In a case like that, I’d split the blame up further, and give a share to the administration and a share to the parents.

    But I was thinking more about the case of a college-leve science class, where 10 students make the same mistake on an exam problem (not unusual in a large class) and are given the same amount of partial credit. One student complains to the professor that he deserves 7 points on the problem instead of 5, or whatever. If the professor gives in and gives him the extra points, but doesn’t give any extra points to the other 9 students, that’s not fair to the students who didn’t complain. And it pushes more and more students to whine for extra points. That’s where I’m coming from here.

  36. Todd says:

    Woah, this thread went far away from what I felt the point of the article was.

    The point of this post, like all of Trent’s posts, is to motivate people to improve their lives. Period. Full stop. “Hey, you! Get off your duff and do something!” says Trent. Amen.

    If you are starting to tear it apart and say, “Well, what if I want to vent?” and “What about discrimination?” etc., then you are over-reaching the scope of this post. Sure, Trent is writing from a particular point of view, but that’s not a reason to tear the whole thing down.

    If you were motivated by the post, great. If not, so be it.

    P.S. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by not consulting my copy of Elements of Style or running this through spell check before posting.

  37. Seth says:

    Wow. All these comments. The reality is “you are the owner of your thoughts and no one – i repeat – no one can EVER change that or force you to change that. Now if you are the owner of your thoughts then you clearly are the owner of your reality — which means you and only you create it. You are in control — get it? You ALWAYS have a choice…always !! The point of power is NOW.

  38. money babe says:

    I can totally relate to this post. I am currently late in my submissions and I blame my bad internet connection with that. I was out of DSL for 3 whole days that’s why I got stuck. I applied for my own plan but guess what the 3G signal was not available in our house I consumed my time looking for places with the best signal. Ok I’ll stop now. I blamed these things but I never blamed me for finding another solution. Thanks man. Thank you so much for making me realise my mistakes. I’ve heard those words many times before but your post is just so timely.

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