A few years ago, I adopted a new “mantra”, or “credo”, after a particularly stressful few months of my life. “There’s only so much you can do”, is how it went.

It is not that I had been a perfectionist beforehand or anything, but I was working pretty hard on a project and I became frustrated that it was not being as well received by everyone as I had hoped, and I became sensitive to some criticism of what I was doing.

Then one day it dawned on me that I was never going to make everyone happy, no matter how hard I tried, even if I bent over backwards. I resigned myself to doing my best, being satisfied with the effort and the result, and thinking, “to hell with it if some people aren’t happy”.

I actually began to frequently repeat the phrase around the house, so much so that my wife actually printed it out and framed it for me to put it up in my office, where I continue to see it daily.

If you have been paying close attention though, you will have noted a slight difference between that mantra and the title of this blog post. I still like the mantra as it is, but I have also come to a major realisation recently, which had me switch out the word “you” and bring in the word “I”.

Now I want to be clear about the reason for the change in words, and also to say that one saying is not necessarily “better” than the other, but that they are slightly different.

My wife might cynically say to me that my preference for the first person pronoun stems from the fact that I always act as if “it’s all about me”, but I would beg to differ.

Instead, I am looking at it more from the “personal responsibility” perspective. When we see the pronoun “you”, it looks like a second person pronoun, but it isn’t really, in this case, is it?

If I were to say, “there is only so much you can do” to a particular person, in response to a particular situation, then yes, it clearly is a second person pronoun.

But if I say it in the usual context in which I made it my mantra, it is really saying that there is a limit to what “any person” can do, which really makes it a third person pronoun, and what does that really mean?

To me, it is kind of like giving up, and not taking responsibility for MY part in it. During my coaching training, the course leaders often used a technique to drive this point home when a participant would use the pronoun “you” as I way to escape responsibility.

For example, someone would say, “you know, it’s really difficult, because you feel silly, you feel like you might be misunderstood, etc.” The instructor would feign confusion, and say “excuse me, who? Who is ‘you’? Do you mean ‘I’?”

If the person is speaking about himself, then the correct word is “I”, first person. But what is the reason for not saying “I”? In these cases, I think that the person is either trying to de-personalize it, and/or make it seem that that is the reaction that “any normal person” would have.

For me, saying that there is only so much “I can do”, is starting to feel more natural. It can be difficult to get someone to be more personally responsible for their actions, but like any habit, practice, more practice, and even more practice is required.

Once you have that down pat, there are surely others things you can work on too. Here is a suggestion: get rid of the word “but”, and substitute the word “and” in its place.

You may be surprised how much negativity you can get rid of with that simple change. And there is only so much I can do to make you try it!