It’s Not You, It’s Me©

Back by popular demand and following up on last week’s Leadership Lessons from Butch & Sundance, this week’s leadership and life lessons come from the television. Specifically, from the wisdom of Seinfeld – the show that claims to be about nothing but is really about everyday life (if you look for it). If the title (It’s Not You, It’s Me) sounds familiar to you, then you’re a regular watcher of Seinfeld. If you immediately knew that the line belongs to George Costanza, then you’re a Seinfeld aficionado … or perhaps even an addict. It’s from a memorable episode in which Gwen, a woman George is dating, is breaking up with him. Seinfeld, Season 5, Episode 6 (“The Lip Reader”) (1993). Here’s the conversation between Gwen and George, who vehemently protests her strategy:

Gwen: I’m sorry, George.

George: I don’t understand! Things were going so great. What happened? Something must have happened.

Gwen: It’s not you, it’s me.

George: You’re giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ routine? I invented ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ Nobody tells me it’s them not me; if it’s anybody, it’s me.

Gwen: All right, George, it’s you.

George: You’re damn right it’s me.

Gwen: I was just trying to …

George: I know what you were trying to do. Nobody does it better than me.

Just another example of George’s disingenuous approach to life and relationships? Perhaps, and that certainly is consistent with George’s hapless and helpless character on the show. While George is saying “it’s not you, it’s me,” he’s really not taking personal responsibility. This is just the line he uses in the context of the break-up with his girl friend rather than demonstrating George’s ownership of the situations and problems. But amidst George’s insecurity and dysfunction is a golden nugget of wisdom for all of us, because George is actually right without even knowing it: when it comes to life, communication and relationships, it is always about me!

In a world where so many people want to be in control of their days, their work, their relationships, their careers, their businesses, and their lives, we seem to do just the opposite – we give up control by blaming others for our emotions, our circumstances, and our outcomes. Before I woke up and started to pay attention, I doubt that I went through a single day without blaming someone else for what I was experiencing. Jake Blues (John Belushi) in the Blues Brothers (1980) gives us a classic example of how easily we can fall into the trap of blame and excuses:

Jake: Oh, please don’t kill us! Please don’t kill us! You know I love you, baby. I wouldn’t leave ya. It wasn’t my fault!

Mystery Woman (Carrie Fisher): You miserable slug! You think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.

Jake:    No, I didn’t. Honest … I ran out of gas. I … I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

Of course, this is outrageous and extreme! Or is it?

Think about your children: how quickly and easily when they are young do they make excuses and blame circumstances for the fact that they did not honor their commitments, do what they were asked, or meet expectations? Remember the old saying, “The dog ate my homework?” It’s used as humor, but it’s born from the reality of students always having excuses for not doing their school work. And we allow it—I allowed it. When one of my sons forgot something, their Mom or I would make herculean efforts to “fix it” so that they would not get into trouble (or more accurately, be held accountable).

Do you really think that we (and our children) were naturally born to make excuses and express blame? That doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, children learn to make excuses, point the finger, and blame others and circumstances—from adults. And guess what: we as parents are those adults. Yes, there are other influences (friends, teachers, television and movies, other family members, athletes, politicians, etc.), but parents have the best opportunity to instill a sense of personal responsibility and accountability in our children. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel great about how well I did—at least for much of my life.

And that leads us to the present time, where blame and excuses are still the easiest way to approach life, especially when things don’t go as we hoped or planned. Certainly, if things go right we love taking the credit, but when things don’t go as expected it’s so much easier to make excuses and blame either circumstances or other people. Yes, it’s absolutely easier to blame, but it’s not better since blaming is evidence that we are giving up the most important element of control that we have in our lives – control over our choices, now and in the future.

Most people think that they take personal responsibility and don’t blame or make excuses. At the same time, most people think that everyone else does blame and make excuses. Do the math – if we’re all great at taking personal responsibility, then who is doing all of the blaming and excuse making? Here’s the real test – when things don’t go your way, as planned, as hoped or as expected, what’s your immediate reaction? If it’s to think about the things that didn’t go right that are outside of your control, then you’re making excuses even if you don’t say the words. However, if your first reaction is to ask, “What could I have done differently?” and “What can I do differently going forward?” then you’re taking true personal responsibility for your life and your outcomes. That’s empowering. That’s control. That’s what will make a difference for you going forward. It IS about you!

Your choice (yes, it’s always a choice) is very clear. You can be George (the ultimate blamer and excuse maker) OR you can choose not to be George and own your choices. After all, that’s all you ever really had.

George - Its Not You Its Me Seinfeld


  1. Loved this!

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