Some years ago, I received a free ticket to attend a sold-out talk by a pretty famous 'wellness' guy, *James. This dude was widely considered to be an expert in all things fitness, wellness, and health. He was coming to talk about success and mindset, the aim being to inspire and motivate the audience to do more and achieve more of whatever their version of success was. This guy was IT: Vegan, university-educated, tanned, super-fit, square-jawed, literal flowing golden hair, with a huge social media following and wealth brought about by his books, talks and tours.
This guy talked a lot about the process to becoming the 'alpha male' that he was, about how he made the money he did, how he motivated and pushed himself. He also talked about how he began on this path to wellness and wealth. As a teen he'd gotten into trouble, gotten a girl pregnant, borrowed money from friends to buy a car and crashed it, and commenced on a 10-15 year tour of self-destruction. As he described, he boozed and took out his inner misery on everyone from waitresses to friends, he cheated on multiple girlfriends, had affair after affair in his marriage, refused to listen to therapists or counsellors despite his wife's pleas until one day, after she'd left, a friend had introduced him to meditation.
The story continued on about how this successful, healthily-glowing man in front of us had healed his mindset to become one of a boss, of a success, a yogi, a wellness guru. More than one 'spiritual' woman (and others) in the audience were swooning, I mean, after all, who of us on a spiritual or empathic path hasn't at some stage dated or befriended or been related to some version of *James, and hoped that they too would find success and growth?
What I was interested in though, was another part of his story. And later on, another audience member raised his hand and asked, kinda-jokingly, if *James had ever gone back and apologised to all those girlfriends, his ex-wife or his parents.
James laughed at this and immediately said he hadn't "but he wished them well" and that he thought "they were happy for him and were just happy he was happy".
Say what now?
And this was the crux of what was really bothering me in this talk.
Why had the emotional labour, the stress, the fear or panic or anxiety or trauma or spiritual pain that these (mostly women, but this isn't gender-specific) partners and friends had experienced, been dismissed as just 'part of HIS journey'? The ones who had been cheated on or verbally abused and lost their self-esteem because of it, the ones who had performed poorly at work because they were driving around town searching for him all night, the ones who had been lied to or let down or made to witness drug rages or stoned incoherence or frightening behaviour? They were just supposed to... be happy for him that HE was rich and happy? Thassit? His lesson was to be successful (with help), and their lesson was to... attempt to be successful also while being stepped on, hurt and taken for granted? What kinda fuckuppery is this?
We were supposed to praise this guy for being successful, one who could face a room of people but not his exes or old friends to say sorry? This guy who talked about committing to a five year financial plan but couldn't commit to seeing his child once a week? The guy who talked about pushing past mental limits in yoga, but couldn't mentally put himself in the shoes of the people who had never been acknowledged for their care? This guy who talked about leaving a 'legacy for young men' but had no idea or care of the legacy of his worst behaviour on the people around him? This guy who preached compassion for animals but took the consumption of other people's time, effort, money and love for granted? The guy who talked about a 'massive collective human spiritual awakening', but had left so many wounded souls behind in his wake?
Why do we normalise the work that our partners or children or friends put in, when we're struggling or being self-destructive, as just 'collateral' in the process?
It's not about 'blaming' James* or wanting to go back in the past or not wanting him to be successful or happy. He, like most people, deserves happiness. Where it rankles is that HIS actions had damaged other people's journey to THEIR happiness and success, and he has power to repair that deficit.
It's about how fundamentally wrong it is, that we - especially in the spiritual or wellness realm - DON'T see accountability as a vital part of our healing and growth.
To be straight: Accountability and blame are not the same things. Asking for accountability is NOT 'playing the victim'.
Accountability is a vitally important spiritual and emotional process that allows us to take joint ownership of a problem, and allows us to take an active part in the repairing of it.
When native communities ask Governments to be held accountable for genocides and racism, they're not asking for 'special treatment' or a 'free ride'. What they're looking for is actively - together - carrying the joint burden of repairing the damage because it's not physically possible alone. The system (or person) in power, is the one who can set the record straight.
And when we ask for accountability from people who have caused us hurt or pain while in their own suffering, this isn't 'making things worse' or 'blaming them' or again, 'being the victim'. It's acknowledging that that person has power. Both to harm, and also to heal.
It doesn't mean you need to self-flagellate or sink into self-loathing because you've fucked up (because we all have). And in fact, I think that's WHY we avoid accountability in our 'personal development' process - because we only see it as punishment and feeling bad. It's easy to be 'accountable' to our fitness coach or our work boss because, if we do well, we come out of THOSE situations feeling fit or successful right?
It's much harder to be accountable to people who have given us their time, their energy, their care, their beds, their effort along the way. It's much more difficult to quantify emotional or spiritual labour, and that's why we don't understand it or value it enough.
And this is what was so obvious in seemingly successful *James, that no amount of green juice or yoga or passive income or followers could fix: every single one of his purported beliefs about spiritually and success were undermined by his inability to be accountable. By the end of the talk even the most swoony were having second thoughts. I say this not in judgement - again, who hasn't known, or been, someone like this? Where you've been everything from a nurse to a coach to a creative muse, quietly healing and nursing your own unmet needs while prioritising only theirs?
What if we saw accountability as a way to exercise our power, our newfound wisdom, and even our ability to grow in self-compassion?
Ya, it doesn't feel great... initially. Especially if accountability means reaching out to someone who you may have unintentionally hurt in the past, and potentially opening yourself up to an outpouring of their feelings. But you know what? Clean wounds heal smoothly. Like a sore muscle, flexing your ability to be accountable makes it grow and makes it easier to show up in your life and relationships, and for others to be accountable to you. Accountability is a MUST for spiritual connection & growth.
Let's choose the hour of awkward, apologetic conversation and listening -- than the years of poison that unacknowledged suffering can entail. Let's choose, your ex thinking you're a weirdo for reaching out after five years, instead of your ex spending ten years carrying the burden of feeling like they're stupid or unattractive or unworthy or whatever pain they experienced. That old friend may still be mad if you take accountability for that thing you did - and that's okay. You'll grow bigger, and more compassionate, and ultimately, so will they.
But when you think that you don't need to show accountability for the things you've done or said, you undermine your own power. The message that you're putting out to the Universe is that you don't BELIEVE that you have any power or impact over how another person feels or lives. And if you don't believe that, how do you expect to believe it when good things show up? How do you expect to feel powerful and successful in your own life/career/relationship if you're clinging to this hidden belief that you're not significant enough to have the power to hurt or heal someone? You are powerful enough to impact how a person feels physically, emotionally and spiritually.
When you hurt or let someone down, it means that they cared for you. And THAT is what you're being accountable for. THAT is what has the healing power to acknowledge. So you behaved like an idiot when you were drinking? Maybe it's time to say to them (not, 'I'm a terrible person' because you're not) - "thank you for caring for me, when it wasn't easy. Thank you for spending your time and energy on me at that time when it was particularly hard to do so." Can you see the difference? Lets ditch the idea of accountability being some kind of childlike punishment (or involving abandonment, rejection, violence or trouble), and lets embrace it as part of our spiritual work in exercising our power to be a part of the healing process of others.
Acknowledging the impact we have had on them allows us to carry some, not all, but some - of their burden. Knowing that along our path, we have had people that extended time and care and love or interest in us, for a short or long period of time, who witnessed our journey. And let's be thankful for them.
In this last week or so of Mercury Retrograde in Scorpio, take the opportunity to free yourself and grow EXPONENTIALLY in this supercharged healing atmosphere, and be accountable to the people who need it. It can be an apology, it can be listening, it can be a card of acknowledgement. It can be flowers to people that have helped you, it can be a text or a DM. It can be offering to pay for counselling, it can be making a tangible contribution to making their life easier - chores, a financial donation, support in their education, health or wellness journey.
Being accountable doesn't make your current success, position or life circumstance less worthy or stable. It has the effect of, actually, making you feel more whole and deserving. The worse you feel about letting people down, the more deeply you can feel into how cared-about you were, are, and WILL BE.
If I have encountered you on my way, in this work, especially as a client - I have learned something from you. I am so happy when you succeed and so understanding when you don't.
I'm grateful to you.
To make right:
Please forgive me.
I love you.