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Taking Responsibility

Every day I spend forty minutes, each way, commuting to and from Warwick School. Initially I viewed this commute negatively, as a waste of my time, time that would be better spent either at school or at home with my family. Both these things are still true, but I have come to enjoy the commute rather than merely tolerating it.

It is time for me to either think about the day ahead or reflect on the day just gone. It is also time that I now spend listening to audiobooks, things that I might not normally find the time to read. On finishing the last novel, I immediately went to find and download my next listen in readiness for the following day’s journey, only to find that I had used all my available credits.

I needed to find an alternative source of entertainment quickly and fortuitously I stumbled across something called the High-Performance Podcast. I am coming to this late, the current series is the fifth. Some of you may already be listeners. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the High-Performance Podcast is hosted by BT Sports current Premier League anchor Jake Humphrey and the leading organisational psychologist Damian Hughes. Each episode consists of an interview with a guest who has excelled in sport, music, business or entertainment and provides an intimate glimpse into their lives and asks them to reflect on the behaviours behind their achievements. Sir Clive Woodward, Toto Wolff and Billy Monger are among the guests featured in the episodes to which I have listened so far. All remarkable individuals but all with firsthand experiences, insights and lessons that can be applied to our daily lives. 

Last week I listened to a bite-size episode featuring the Dutch footballer Robin van Persie, who scored 144 goals for Manchester United and Arsenal. In the interview he recalls a conversation he had with his son who is a youth player at Feyenoord and dreams of becoming a professional footballer.

"I actually had this chat last week, funnily enough, seriously, with my son. So my son, uh, plays a final. He played against, um, Ajax under 14. He was on the bench. He didn't play. So, uh, in the car on the way back, it was like a bit moody, disappointed, complaining a little bit about, uh, others, about the coach, etc. And then I said, yeah. I said, but Shakeel, I said, you sound like a loser, you know. If you talk like this, in a way, it sounds like you lost. I said, you are blaming him, you are blaming her, you're blaming this, you’re blaming everything. I said, but I don’t hear one single thing about yourself. I said, winners, I said, they take control. And they blame themselves, and they look where they can improve. Yeah. And this is what you should be thinking about. So, I didn't tell him what you should think about. You should ask yourself the question, are you a loser or are you a winner? I said, for me, it doesn't matter. I said, because I'm your dad, the only job I have and your mum has, is when you're 20, that you are a good boy, that you're ready for life, you know. You can make your mistakes, you can do what you want. I love you for the same amount. It doesn't matter for me if you make it as a football player or not. I said, but you say that this, this is your passion. So, you should take control of your life and stop complaining, because it sounds like you're a loser. I said, I don't mind if you want to be loser, be a loser. I still love you as much. I said it doesn't matter for me. I said, but if you want to be a winner take control of your life and stop complaining about others. And then I watched him train the next morning. Uh, my wife said, where are you going? I said, well, I'm going to watch this session - uh, two days later actually, because they played on Saturday, and Monday morning. So, I’m there sitting, cold, hoodie on. I'm looking, and I see this tiger training, running, working. I was like, ah, okay, okay, he realised he has to take control of his life. He’s 13 now."

My partner shared this clip with me back when it originally featured on the podcast, at the time it resonated with a huge number of people and has been listened to and shared millions of times. Many of you have probably heard it before but in my opinion, it is worth hearing again, and if you haven’t heard it then please do take a few minutes to listen to it.

The reason it resonated with so many people is the powerful and empowering message it contains. A message relevant to every single person.

It is message about mindset, how we approach failure and success, and the importance of accountability and taking responsibility for outcomes. Responsibility is one of the values that form part of the Warwick Way. Responsibility is the state of being accountable for something, an acceptance of the role that our actions and choices have on the outcomes we experience.

What Robin van Persie is teaching his son is that successful people are those who take responsibility for the outcomes. That if we look to attribute our failure to external causes, things that are beyond our control, then we are less likely to accept the contribution of our actions and choices to that outcome, less likely to identify the changes that we can make that could contribute to a better outcome next time, and therefore less likely to improve.

Robin van Persie’s son was blaming others for his failure rather than acknowledging his own accountability and looking at what he could control and could do to contribute to a better outcome next time. If we are honest, I am sure we have all done exactly the same thing, I know I have!

When I first heard this story it made me sit up and think. It made me reflect on my response to setbacks, and it had the same impact on me again last week. We all endure setbacks, it is an inevitable part of life.  What is important is how we react to those setbacks. We can choose to attribute those failures to external factors, factors largely beyond our control, or we can acknowledge our accountability, take responsibility for the role that our choices and actions have played in the outcome and look at what we can change for the better to get a better outcome next time. 

Next time something doesn’t work out as you hoped please take responsibility for your role in the outcome. Rather than blaming others or things beyond your control look in the mirror and ask what can I do better next time?