What to Do When It’s Your Fault

annie sisk guest blogToday’s post is another guest edition — welcome Annie Sisk to RedheadWriting…and it’s time to ask…is this your fault? It’s quite often MY fault. Maybe it’s yours, too.


“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

We’ve all heard the saying.

And as far as it goes, I guess, it’s fairly decent advice. Look for the silver lining, find the lesson in the tragedy, yadda yadda, what-the-hell-ever.

But what if life isn’t to blame?

What if you planted the seeds, watered the tree, and picked those motherfucking lemons yourself?

What do you do when it’s your fault?

It seems most of the world falls roughly into one of two camps: the finger-pointing, blame-shifting, “not my fault” camp or the self-punishing, self-loathing “everything’s my fault, all the time” camp.

Or maybe that’s just my cynicism on overdrive after a contentious political season.

Nah. Probably not.

Here’s what I did, when a combination of external events and my own personal failures created the mother of all shit-storms four years back:

I hid.

I ignored the problem.

When it exploded, so I could no longer ignore it, sure I asked for help – but I asked the wrong people, or I asked the right people for the wrong kind of help.

And then, when the explosion was over, fires had been extinguished, and all that was left was to face up to the consequences, I punished myself.

I kept punishing myself for three years.

I’ve only realized in the last few months the extent to which I imposed solitary confinement on myself. At the time, it didn’t feel like punishment so much as it felt like consequences.

And there’s a big difference between those two, as any parent can tell you.

Sane, sober, non-abusive parents don’t punish their kids for wrongdoing because the child needs to suffer. They do it because the kids have to learn consequences flow from bad actions.

Which makes it understandable, I suppose, that many of us punish ourselves when we screw up big.

That’s what I did. I began believing not that I’d made a bad choice – but that I was a bad person.

I began to believe I deserved financial ruin, homelessness, the loss of some friends, and more.

But here’s what I learned over the last few years: it’s not my job to punish myself.

Please understand: I’m not talking about consequences. I’m not talking about putting things right (which you should do, to the best of your ability). I’m not talking about shirking responsibility (which you must not do, if you value your integrity at all and it’s not just a word you throw around in your website copy).

I’m talking about self-loathing …  self-imposed exiles … self-created deprivation.

I’m talking about the way I convinced myself I had no right to speak up when I wasn’t being treated fairly by someone, because I fucked up a few years ago.

Or the way I withdrew from society and friendships, because I had no right to feel loved and appreciated and part of a community, because I fucked up a few years ago.

That’s punishment.

That’s also useless. And counter-productive.

Because how can you create anything worthwhile in that headspace?

How can you even begin to move on?

That kind of self-loathing is destructive, in the most literal sense. Day by day, I felt parts of myself flaking off, leaving a psychic trail of crap behind me.

And as long as I was wallowing in that much self-loathing, I was incapable of doing anything to correct the situation.

I’ll be paying the price for my mistakes for a long time – and that’s completely appropriate, and totally right.

But I’m done punishing myself.

I found that in the center of this shit-storm, like the eye of a hurricane, was a still, calm spot of awesomeness: a new sense of mission.

Like Steve Martin’s character in Leap of Faith, I became the sinner-who-became-the-priest. (‘Cause nobody knows sin – and how to give that fucker the slip – like a sinner.)

Yes, I picked my own damn lemons.

You will too, one day if you haven’t already.

And when it happens, here’s what you do:

  1. Face up to it. Don’t ignore it. It all just gets bigger and uglier.
  2. Ask for the right kind of help, from the right people.
  3. Apologize where you can.
  4. Make it right where that’s possible.
  5. Get clear on what you just learned.
  6. Resolve not to need a refresher course ever again.
  7. Move the fuck on.


About the Author:

Annie Sisk is currently working on The Pajama Productivity Guide to Getting Your Business $%!# Done, a book about productivity written just for small business owners, freelancers, and creative workers. You can get more of Annie’s get-your-shit-done advice at Pajama Productivity.


I've been punishing myself for the past for a long time, and here's the kicker: EVEN for shit that wasn't my fault but happened when I couldn't defend myself. I can totally relate to self-imposed confinement and isolation; my bed's been my best friend for so long I'm surprised I haven't adhered to it yet. But just like you, I'm done fucking myself over. Life's too precious for all that. Time to move the hell on and screw anyone who tries to bring me down for finally taking my life into my own hands. Thank you for sharing your story, Annie. It reminded me to keep getting out of bed every day and keeping my new promise to myself to live raw, fiery, & BOLD. And thanks for hosting her, Erika! :D

Nicole Fende
Nicole Fende

As usual @anniesisk:disqus you've delivered insight with soul and a boot to the patootie. I love that you've addressed the issue of self-punishment and self-blame. Long after the rest of the world has forgiven and forgotten people still beat themselves up. Love the 7 steps and I would add another one - be sure to remember this when someone else asks for your forgiveness or help. Its a two way street.

Sandy McDonald
Sandy McDonald

So glad you're on the other side of what sounds like one almighty nightmare storm, Annie. You've more than earned calm water, clear skies and profitable productivity. Our six year haul ended this year. One day, our old voices just began to bore us. We were over being angry and regretful. I'm no longer bothered by what we could have done differently. What's exciting is that there is a good life on the other side. You're inclined not to believe that when you are in the middle of a long and tumultous mother of a storm!

Nick Armstrong
Nick Armstrong

Annie, We're often the ones to blame when it comes to our own failings - everything from a client's mismanaged expectations to scope creep to getting audited. In the long haul, shortcuts we take today have a hellacious way of coming back to bite us. Every time I experienced such a failing it was because I didn't bet on myself to find a solution - new client, new cash flow, new idea - in time. In working with you, I share the following sentiment: always bet on yourself. You kick ass. Sometimes you just forget how much. Thanks for featuring Annie, Erika!


Man I wish I'd read this 3 1/2 years ago! And what is the 3 year deal of self imposed exile/flagellation/psychic freakout? Been there, did that. Move the fuck on is the final step -- very affirming to know I'm not the only one who's swam upstream to finally get to that clear and simple point. Forgiving yourself is helpful, too.

Melanie Kissell
Melanie Kissell

Fab, brick at the back of the noggin piece, Annie! I wonder if life serves up a "quota" on "mother of all shit-storms"? I seem to be storm-ridden and shit-ridden a lot. ;)


This hit so close to home I had to check the author's name to make sure it wasn't me and I will be trying to un-cringe for the rest of the day. Thanks for the reminder to move the fuck on.


Great post! Asking the right people for the right kind of help is just one side of it. The other side is to invite the wrong (but well-intentioned) people to take a step back. People mean well and can feel compelled to offer unsolicited input. It's one thing to ask the right person for the right thing. Maybe it's asking a lawyer friend for legal knowledge that you can't pay for. It's another thing to tell your friend who's a Printer that she's NOT a lawyer and isn't a mental health professional. She can be a best friend by just going and having a drink and being an oasis in the middle of the shit storm.

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef
Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

This was great, Annie. I seem to be in a loop (spiral?) of all 7. A lot of the time we create our own circumstances. It would be nice to be able to be more conscious of things BEFORE they go sideways. ;-)


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