Taking Responsibility for Our Choices
© 1999 Cynthia-Val Chapman

For as long as I can remember, going away to college was a given. Early on I dreamed of going to California—UCLA seemed a good bet—but I did little besides dream.

I was an honors student in high school, but that was a misnomer. For although I was in honors-level classes, I worked very hard throughout high school to get kicked out of honors classes. Why? Because all my friends were in regular classes, and they had, it seemed, all the fun.

I wasn’t successful at getting put out of honors classes. In fact, when I took the PSAT and later, the SAT, my scores hovered in the top five percent, earning me a spot as a National Merit semi-finalist. Our mailbox was flooded with scholarship offers from colleges across the country, even UCLA. I received so many offers that eventually we filled a steamer trunk with them.

Of all the colleges, I selected Northwestern and its world-class Medill School of Journalism. It was the only school I wanted to attend. Low, low second and third choices were Roosevelt University and the University of Illinois. I completed the application, requested an official transcript, sent in my application fee, and waited.

Then the bubble burst. All those years of trying to get kicked out of honors classes caught up with me. Northwestern accepted me, but Medill put me on the waiting list. My grades just weren’t strong enough to guarantee me a slot in their entering freshman class. They did not offer a scholarship.

By the time I got the news, it was May and most of my friends knew where they were going. The state colleges required the ACT, not the SAT, which was the only one I’d taken, so assured that I wasn’t going to a “state” school. I sunk into a funk.

June passed, then July, and still I didn’t know where I was going. Then my Mom reminded me that Florida A&M’s School of Business & Industry had sponsored a reception I attended for Chicago-area National Merit Semi-Finalists. Perhaps they would take me.

Desperate, I dug out the information about Florida A&M, completed the application, mailed it and the required fee. My mom got on the phone with FAMU’s Admissions Office and told them we could be there in a couple of weeks to enroll me. Mom and I took a side trip to Tallahassee during our August vacation in New Orleans to get me registered. So with two weeks before classes started, I was enrolled as an Accounting Major at Florida A&M. Not exactly my preference, but if that’s what it took to get in, okay.

The consequences of my choices almost kept me out of college. I chose to put friends over studying, to put having fun over doing my homework. And when it came time to apply for all those scholarship offers being a National Merit Semi-Finalist brought, my transcript made it clear that scholarship wasn’t my choice.

Are you making choices that don’t fit into your world? If so, here’s a suggestion.

Take a look at the results of your choice, and ask yourself “who was I accountable to when I made this choice? What was it that caused me to select that particular course of action? Did the results of my choice help me become more reliable? Dependable? Accountable?”

When we look at the meanings of the words, it helps to make clear how to take responsibility for our choices. And it helps us to see just how prevalent is the misinformed idea that someone else is responsible for our actions, and their consequences.

On campus, numerous choices await you. For example, you may have to choose a class such as English 101 offered at two different times—at 8 a.m. or 3 p.m.? Which choice will move you towards expressing your dependability?

Every choice we make carries a consequence. Even if you choose to make someone else’s choice your choice, the choice is your responsibility. Say, for example you’re at a party and Carl, who’s been drinking, offers you a ride. You have two choices. You can rationalize that it will be okay because “Carl can really hold his liquor and it’s too far to walk.” Or you can try to help Carl see that driving now might not be wise.

If Carl exercises his choice and decides to drive, the consequences are his to experience. If you choose not to accept the ride, at least your conscience is clear. Either way, both of you are making choices that will show up in your world.

Accepting responsibility for your choices is the real power in the power of choice.

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