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Senior Correspondent

Personal Responsibility: Giving It CPR

Financial Freedom

Personal Responsibility: Giving It CPR

I thought the rules about finances didn’t pertain to me. They were for “other people.”

I knew all about numbers. I had been raised in a family where we were involved in my Dad’s businesses from early on. At 13, I worked at his iron ore mine in the interior of Brazil. I monitored and recorded how much ore was loaded in each railroad car before it left on its journey from Mariana, Minas Gerais, to the port and on to some foreign steel mill.

By then our family had already gone from “extremely comfortable” because of my father’s business successes…to dead broke because he took his eye off the ball and his local partner cleaned him out. I already knew about scrubbing the bottles I gathered at a construction site in Alexandria, Virginia, in order to collect the 2-cent deposit. (You see, the grocery store next door to the Rexall on the corner only accepted clean bottles.) That was my allowance. And I knew about my $5 Christmas money from my grandmother going towards paying for the fridge.

So I knew numbers.

Twenty years into my own career, with an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance under my belt, I found myself dead broke too.

Somehow, despite everything I knew about finance, I didn’t think I needed to follow the same rules I set out for my consulting clients.

I’ve talked elsewhere about how I lost everything. And about how that triggered deep introspection and research to understand what had gone wrong. (And how to “right” it. Which I did.)

Today, after working with so many women whose upbringing and lack of financial education have kept them vulnerable, I’m very clear about a growing challenge facing our nation. It’s something that has woven its way throughout my writings more and more this past year. It’s something that has to be in place in order to successfully change one’s financial situation.

And that “something” is personal responsibility.

Time after time, I’d see that personal responsibility is the one differentiating factor between those women who succeed in turning their finances around and those who don’t. Those who succeed do not consider themselves victims. They do not assume they are “entitled” to things. And they don’t make excuses for themselves. Instead, they look honestly at their behaviors, determine those that are detrimental, “own” them, work to change them bit by bit, use every tool that’s handed them…and go on to thrive.

As we enter 2012, I realize that it’s no different for our country.

I see a country that is deep in debt, not “earning” enough (in tax revenues) and spending too much. Not saving. Not investing wisely. I see a government that blames the situation on everything but itself, as if it were a victim. I see a government that promotes entitlement, thereby diluting the personal responsibility of its players and its citizens even more. I see a government that refuses to accept any blame and thrives on excuses. And I see a government that is not going to play any role in the foreseeable future to change much of anything, regardless of what party plays what role.

So what are our options as individuals?

The mantle of personal responsibility has to settle on us. We’ll have to get ourselves out of our own messes. If the best aspects of “exceptionalism” that this country is known for are going to survive, and even thrive, it will be because as a people we choose to thrive.

By taking responsibility for our own debt, our own spending and our own investing for the future — by not counting on some government program to jump-start the economy or supplement our income — we’ll take care of ourselves. And, in the aggregate, we’ll move our country forward.

You’ve probably heard a phrase made famous by John F. Kennedy: “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Well, surprise, surprise, looks like it’s up to us to provide the water.

So…here’s to thriving in 2012…because of who we are.

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