The surprise benefit of taking responsibility

A message from our CEO & Founder, Joseph Chou

For many people, taking responsibility feels like a terrible and heavy burden; blame that you must accept and be punished for; decisions that feel too overwhelming to make or too difficult to carry through.

But for me, taking responsibility has been liberating – exhilarating even. Taking responsibility has given me a sense of freedom. It gives me the ultimate power; it puts me in the driver’s seat; it means I am solely responsible for whether I succeed or fail at something.

Life will inevitably be full of challenges but, as the saying goes, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react that matters. How you react will give you the upper hand.

So what does taking responsibility really mean?

To me, responsibility is setting a goal, taking the initiative to find out more and to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. It means taking action based on your goal, staying the course and then holding yourself accountable and taking ownership for what happens. Whatever happens – whether you get the outcome you were planning for or whether the outcome is less desirable.

Responsibility is not leaving things to chance; it is not making excuses; it is not blaming other people.

The responsibility mindset

When something goes wrong, it’s a common enough reaction to look for somebody else to blame. The responsibility mindset, on the other hand, is very solutions-focussed. When you can’t make excuses, when you can’t be on auto-pilot, when you can’t blame your neighbour, colleague or boss – it’s up to you to be proactive, to learn from any ‘failures,’ to grow, improve and find a better way forward. Holding your vision or goal close in mind, you will do what’s necessary and persist until you achieve it.

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When you are proactive, when you take ownership, when you seek knowledge in abundance and when you hold yourself accountable, you will inevitably draw good people to you. This will also position you as a natural leader – and leadership qualities are so important if you are pursuing success in your career. Taking leadership responsibility also means helping to elevate your team and support their growth and achievements.

I love the saying that a great leader takes responsibility when things go wrong and gives credit to their team when things go well.

This is the approach that I have endeavoured to hold myself to in my career and I credit much of my success to taking full responsibility for myself, my actions, my pursuits and my goals in all aspects of my life.

At school – taking my education into my own hands

For me, taking personal responsibility started at a young age. When I was in high school, I had my heart set on pursuing a career as a violinist and didn’t want to go to university, so I chose to stay in a local school instead of a selective school. But when I realised that going to uni was a better choice for the future, I knew I’d have a better chance of success if I got into a selective school.

ironfish joseph chou

Rather than accepting the situation and leaving my education to chance, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I approached the principal of the selective school that I wanted to attend – a process entirely outside the norm – and managed to convince him to accept me as a student.

Once I started, I quickly found that whilst I was a top student at my local high school, I was now far below my new selective-stream class. Again, rather than blaming anyone else or feeling sorry for myself, I accepted the new, higher yardstick and worked harder, with more focus than any of the other students. As a result, within 3 months, I had become the top student again. I went through the same process again at university.

As a migrant – working harder, waiting longer

I made the decision to give up a good job as diplomat and immigrate to Australia with my wife. As a new migrant, without any transferrable qualifications, the job I landed was far from glamourous: earning $7 an hour as a pizza delivery guy.

At no point did I complain that Australian society was unfair, or that my English was holding me back. I never went to my old contacts to ask for help or a handout, and neither did I regret my decision to leave China. The responsibility approach meant that it was up to me to learn, to be prepared to work harder and wait longer for my success.

And if I was going to be a pizza delivery guy, then I was going to be the best pizza delivery guy, knowing this was just a stepping stone on my way to building a new career and finding a way to excel again.

At home – my promise to my wife

The decision to leave China also affected another significant person: my wife! When I proposed, I had made a promise to my wife that I’d look after her and give her a good life. But my expectation of ‘good’ was a lot higher than many. When we came to Australia, I set myself a goal of earning $1 million a year – an arbitrary figure that represented a lot of money. A figure that would give us complete financial security, it would give us more choice in life, including the ability to help others.

By making it a goal, it meant it was not wishful thinking, and something I had to work towards and it was up to me to make it happen.

Some years later, when my wife was expecting our first child, she was keen to be their primary carer, which meant giving up her own career, including her 6-figure salary. I decided then to take responsibility for our family’s income – so she wouldn’t ever have to work if she didn’t want to.

ironfish joseph chou

This included responsibility for the kids’ education: private school, extra-curricular activities and the best opportunities.

As a business-owner – doing the right thing every time

When I first started Ironfish, I said to my colleagues who were joining me that our company would never go under. When companies go under it’s either because business owners don’t know how to do it, find it too hard and give up too quickly, or run out of money.

In starting Ironfish, I was both in a financial position and was personally prepared to put in what was necessary.

Of course, I ensured my wife and family were taken care of, but the rest was for the business. I know many people start a business without necessarily being able to do this – and while I salute their courage, to me it is irresponsible to your customers, your staff, your partners and yourself.

Because taking responsibility in business also means doing the right thing by your customers and staff – every time, not simply when it’s convenient. This is so important for the long-term success of a company.

As an investor – learning from setbacks

Pre-GFC my stock broker convinced me to take on margin lending to build up a serious portfolio. But then the GFC hit and I was faced with a margin call, whereby I either had to put in more money, or sell my shares.

I chose the latter, and my $1 million portfolio was suddenly only worth $12,000.

I could have blamed my broker and given up on shares forever. But at the end of the day, it was my decision to take her advice. So, I was responsible for the loss. And I learned a lot from this experience. I now continue to invest in shares, but have taken a much greater interest in it, conducting my own due diligence and employing a different investment strategy.

In 1998, I bought property which I sold too early. I lost faith during a market downturn and missed out on the longer-term gains. I learned from that too; I don’t sell anything anymore!

I know many investors are drawn by discounts, free stamp duty or other bonuses – but these are only the side benefits of property investment. There is no point accepting these if the fundamentals aren’t right or if you can not settle your property when it comes time. I know other investors who are excited initially, but then, during a perceived change in the market, they don’t want to settle, or sell too early at a loss. Unless you really need to sell because your circumstances, health, work or so on have changed substantially – selling too early, to me, is irresponsible.

Your future, your responsibility

Living in the ‘Lucky Country’, we are very blessed to have so many things freely available to us. But this same luck makes it so easy to become complacent about our future. We expect to be taken care of in retirement or if something goes wrong – if a rainy day ever eventuates.

But the reality, as we know, is that the pension falls far short of what we need to live a decent life, the average super balance is not nearly enough to fund retirement. So, unless we take retirement into our own hands, we’ll be at the mercy of someone else in our most vulnerable times.

superannuation ironfish

While we are younger, capable and able, with working years ahead of us, we need to act and prepare now for our future. At Ironfish, this is our underlying mission; we want to help more customers take the responsibility approach in life, to build assets for the future and to take ownership of their own success.

If you fall into the habit of blaming others when things go wrong, leaving important aspects of your life to chance or finding excuses not to do something, then you’re not giving yourself the best chance to succeed. You will limit your opportunities to learn and grow as a person; you’ll alienate the people around you and you’ll likely under-achieve.

My personal belief is that in many cases it may even be better to take the wrong action than to take no action at all. If you don’t do anything, you won’t have a chance to learn anything, build anything or gain some more wisdom for next time.

People go their whole lives playing it safe – but what is safe? Successful people take calculated risks all the time. Challenges will always be a given, regardless of what you do; but if you don’t lose sight, if you stay the course, if you hold yourself accountable, then you and you alone will be responsible for your success. And that is a powerful thought.

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Joseph regularly travels the country presenting at a range of events, workshops and property investment seminars. Many of our own events are free to attend – find out where Joseph is next speaking here.


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