On Taking Responsibility


I turned twenty eight last week and as always find myself reflecting on the lessons of the past year. One part that stands out is the story I shared a few months ago, about my experience with “Me Too.” Since sharing my experiences in a more public way, I’ve been left with a residual sense of unease, like I needed to look deeper; like the story was incomplete. Instead of pushing the unease aside, I’ve consciously chosen to get curious about it and understand its source.

When I am being radically honest with myself, I realize the source of my uneasiness is because I only shared the first part of my story: how I was a victim of my circumstances, how I was lured to LA under the false pretenses that a connected man in the industry would help my modeling career. I shared the part about how I allowed a man be in the driver's seat of my life and how I put myself in the passenger seat. The thing was, not only had I let this man get into the driver’s seat, I handed him the keys; I allowed myself to become a victim, and therefore played a role in my own silence and struggle.

In this post, I will share the second part of my story: How I intentionally took responsibility for my own life, got back into the driver’s seat, and found a sense of freedom and empowerment on the other side. If there’s one thing that "MeToo" has made clear to me, there are thousands of other young women out there who have been in a similar circumstance. That’s why I feel so called to write about this. It is my deepest hope  that my journey and what I’ve learned will support and inspire countless other women.  

Before I go any further, I want to first clarify what I mean by responsibility. I recently read a book by Sadhguru, a revered Indian teacher and yogi, who founded the Isha Foundation, a non-profit that offers yoga programs around the world. In his book,“Inner Engineering,” Sadhguru speaks about responsibility and the way he defines the word resonates with me deeply. He writes:

“Responsibility does not mean taking on the burden of the world. It does not mean accepting blame for things you have done or not done. It does not mean living in a state of perpetual guilt. Responsibility simply means your ability to respond. If you decide, “I am responsible,” you will have the ability to respond. If you decide, “I am not responsible,” you will not have the ability to respond. All it requires is for you to realize that you are responsible for all that you are and all that you are not, all that may happen to you and all that may not happen to you.”

To me, responsibility is fully acknowledging that I have the capacity to respond to my life in a way that is both proactive and empowering, as opposed to just being a victim of my circumstances. It’s my ability to consciously pause, take a step back and chart the course of my own life, so that I can learn and grow into my best self. I believe this is the single most important lesson I have ever learned.

This lesson took me a while to grasp. For six months after my very difficult experience in LA, I completely shut down. The victimhood that I felt began to permeate throughout my life. I retreated into the safety of my parents home and felt overcome by fear, confusion, and anxiety. I felt so incredibly lonely and wouldn’t talk to anyone about what happened to me. I disconnected from life and was hijacked by my own paralyzing thoughts.

While this situation shook me to my core, it also began to wake me up in really powerful ways to take responsibility for my own life. I realized that unless I began to take responsibility, I would continue to let life happen to me; I would continue to be in the passenger seat of my own life. Over the next year, I began making small shifts that pulled me out of my state of victimhood.  

Here is how I began to take responsibility for my own life:

  1. Processing my own story/experience: I started going to therapy weekly, unpacking what happened and talking through the inner workings of my mind. By getting radically honest with myself - what was my role in my sexual exploitation? - I had to face the truth that I didn’t have the self awareness to say no. I didn’t know my boundaries; I opted to play the victim and allowed someone else to drive the direction of my life.

  2. Learning about myself, and inquiring: “Who am I, really?” In my early twenties, I realized that before I could know “what I want to do” I had to understand “who I was.” Instead of focusing my energy on professional work or relationships, I became obsessed with learning about all the layers of my being; working from the inside out, so that I could make decisions that aligned with my values and truth. One particularly impactful way I started to discover who I was in different contexts was traveling the world, which helped me develop the capacity to find my center when I didn’t recognize anything in my outer world.

  3. Asking for help: Sometimes taking responsibility required asking for help and acknowledging that I didn’t have to do it alone. In the first half of my twenties, I worked with a life coach, leaned on loved ones, completed a yoga teacher training, and attended transformational programs, like Quarter Life Calling.

So, what has been the result? I decided that I would never play victim again. I would never wake up in an strange apartment in the middle of an unfamiliar city, far away from home, without knowing how the hell I had gotten there. I understood that if I could choose to become a victim,  I could also choose to NOT become a victim.

Marianne Williamson writes: “Our fear is not that we are inadequate, our fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” It’s way easier to play victim, to blame and say, “I didn’t do it. It was all him. I was the victim.” When I played victim, I didn’t have to face myself. Yes it’s true, our social and gender structures often do not work in women’s favor, but at what point are we just playing the blame game? It’s easier to place blame on a man, society, or something outside of ourselves; but how can we take responsibility for the sake of reclaiming our power and freedom?

How is this all related to the “Me Too” movement? The start of this conversation has been about accepting the truth and building awareness around the issues of sexual exploitation of women in our country. The question now is, what kind of change are we after? We’re beginning to change our outer structures as witnessed by many well known public figures being fired and ostracized for their abusive behavior. But I wonder: are we really changing our inner structures? We’ve been looking to the outside to solve this, but the truth is that change comes from within. Taking responsibility for our own lives and the things that happen to us puts US in the driver's seat, no one else. Now is the time for young women to be proactive, rather than reactive, and become empowered drivers of their own lives before they ever experience the opposite.

I consider myself incredibly lucky that something worse didn’t happen to me. I know horrific and much worse things happen every minute, of every day; we must NEVER tolerate these actions. AND, we must never relinquish our capacity to respond in powerful, life-affirming ways. Sadhguru writes, “If terrible things have happened to you, you ought to have grown wise. If the worst possible events have befallen you, you should be the wisest of the lot. But instead of growing wise most people become wounded. ” What if our greatest suffering was actually our greatest opportunity for growth?

I believe that taking responsibility is the key to unlocking our freedom. We have the choice and ability to create our own reality by choosing how to respond to our outer circumstances.  My longing is that as women, we no longer allow ourselves to be victims of our circumstances, but become conscious creators of them. The choice is ours: do we want to be victims of our lives or the leaders of them?

Talia GutinComment