Rule #31: On Letting Owning It Happen

by Rachel on April 5, 2011

Owning it has been on my mind a lot lately, and, after a really thoughtful e-mail from a reader last week with some questions for further discussion, I realized it’s time for a follow-up rule.

Thou Shall Let Thou's Friends Own It

Or, “Let others own it as you would own it unto yourself.”

See, owning it is great and all, but how is this whole thing going to work if all we do is own our lives and keep guilt tripping our friends when they want to own theirs? I mean, it’s not like we all just need to own it for no reason. We need to own it because other people have been keeping us from owning it. So consider this rule a reminder that even if you’ve been owning it like crazy, perhaps you’re still part of the problem.

Letting your friends own it takes practice, but it’s totally doable!

Let’s say your friend comes to you and says she is not going to go to Harvard Business School as she had planned to do her entire life.

First, remember the Don’t Be Ridiculous Clause in the original rule.

It shall be noted: If what you are owning qualifies as ridiculous, then the first rule takes precedence over the fourth rule. So don’t even try to get all, “He hits me because he loves me and I’ve owned it! You’re a bad friend for saying I should leave him!” Um, the fourth rule does apply here. As in, “Sorry I’m not sorry, but that guy’s batshit and I’m calling the cops. If that makes me a bad friend — I’ve owned it.”

So if your friend says, “I’ve decided I’m not going to go to Harvard Business School. I’m moving in with my new 18-year-old boyfriend. You know, the one who has three illegitimate children, lost his job for failing a drug test, and is probably going to get evicted before too long. Sorry I’m not sorry!”…then you have a bit more ground to stand on.

Not that it really matters, because what I’m going to say next is the same whether or not your friend is being ridiculous.

The most important thing is that you have to own your response to your friend.

Let’s say your friend isn’t forgoing school to be with a baby daddy. Let’s say she comes to you and says, “I’ve decided I’m not going to Harvard Business School. I don’t want to go and then go to work for some big company; I just want to open my own bakery and I don’t want to wait. I’ve owned it.” But you think she should go to grad school because you saw how hard she worked to get there and [insert any number of reasons here you think you’re right, reasons that ultimately just mean that you think you know better than she does].

Let me be clear: you have the right to speak up. You have the right to disapprove. But you have to own it. Don’t ask her, “Have you considered just deferring for a year?” and “Are you sure you can afford to start a bakery?” and “Really? You want to give up your power suits and make cupcakes all day?”

The problem is that these questions make it seem like your friend hasn’t considered the most obvious things. And I bet she has. Seriously, you don’t think she thought about deferring? You don’t think she thought about whether or not she can afford it? You’re friends with someone who…doesn’t have the basic intelligence of an adult? (Even though she got into Harvard Business School?!)

Remember, the original rule says, “Don’t ask. Do tell.” That applies to both owning it and letting your friend own it. Don’t ask if she’s considered other options. Just tell her why you think there is a better option.

As in, “Dude, I think it’s crazy that you’re going to give up everything you’ve worked so hard at for years to go start your own business. Starting a business is so expensive and I’m worried you won’t be able to afford it.”

It’s totally OK to disagree with your friend. You’re owning that you disagree.

So you say your piece once. And then you know what you do next?


And this is where most of us fail.

Because typically, when our friend comes back with, “This is my dream. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you — I can feel that this is the right thing to do,” we don’t trust her. We don’t let her go and try and find out for herself. We don’t stop and think that it’s her life and not ours. We think we know what is best for her.

To let your friends own it, you sort of have one shot to make your case. And if your friend still doesn’t agree, then fine. At least you know you spoke up and said something. This isn’t so you can say, “I told you so,” if it doesn’t work out. (And if you would say that…I don’t want to be friends with you.) It’s so that if it doesn’t work out, she doesn’t look back and say, “Why didn’t anyone try to stop me?” No one wants to wake up in five years, realize they’ve made a terrible decision, and then find out that everyone in their life thought it was doomed from the start but didn’t bother to say something. Your job as a friend is to say something…and then move on. Let it go. Don’t get yourself all worked up. It’s her life.

Once your friend says “I’ve owned it” or “Sorry I’m not sorry,” take that as a cue that she’s over it. She’s over the conversation. From that point on, your only job is to say, “I know you know what’s best for you and I support your decision 100 percent. I can’t wait to see how this works out for you. And you better make me lots of cupcakes.”


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ashley Breton April 5, 2011 at 9:59 am

GREAT advice. I know some people that are genuinely concerned and then those friends that LIVE through their friends (or at least try to) and fail miserably.


2 Hannah April 5, 2011 at 10:12 am

I love your owning it posts! They make me want to own it more… whatever “it” is.
Basically it’s let others own as you would like to own? Makes sense.


3 Melissa April 5, 2011 at 11:49 am

Dead on. It’s the moving on part that most people fail with. It causes a rift in the friendship, and you end up drifting apart. A real friend owns it and lets you be honest with them, too AND you can still be friends. That’s what counts the most!


4 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat April 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

You are so upfront and honest and it’s SO refreshing.


5 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. April 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Kudos on this post. This part of “owning it” and “sorry I’m not sorry” is extremely important, too. I swear your blog is like my bible. <3


6 Manon April 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm

haha…totally agree. If I had a religion, and it had a book, it would be :)


7 Kelly April 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm

SO SO SO Smart!!!


8 Caroline April 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I love this post and want to pass it on to all of my friends and family members.- When I told people I wasn’t so sure about med school anymore, I’ve never gotten more “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and “YOU’RE CRAZY!!!” responses in my life. I can imagine you got a lot of concern comments when you decided to move to that where the idea for this rule came from?


9 Rachel April 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Actually, it grew out of a coaching chat I did with a client who talked about feeling guilty for wanting to lose weight and I told her to own it.

Re: moving to Texas — luckily, I’d been owning it for a while and surrounding myself with people who let me own it, so I got FAR less resistance than you might expect. Once you make a habit of owning it, people tend to let you go.


10 Penelope April 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm



11 gretchen April 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Wholeheartedly agreed!!! And nice job spotting & covering the loopholes in “Thou Shalt Own It.” I appreciate that you support a friend’s right–and duty– to say something, but also the original “owner’s” right to only have to hear it ONCE from his or her friend. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of respect for your friends’ decisions. Lack of respect is the quickest way to kill a friendship!


12 Sarah April 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Fabulous post! I wish the “moving the eff on” part was easier though…I find it SO HARD to just walk away knowing that they see things differently than I do and having to be okay with that. I am an extremely logical person–like, I do a cost/benefit analysis or pros and cons list for almost every decision. Somehow, I wound up with a set of best friends who make decisions based completely on their hearts. I admire them–but I also sometimes fear for them, and sometimes wish they would consider the impact that their decision is going to have on all facets of their life. It is especially difficult for me when I see friends making financial decisions that are clearly leading them towards a difficult situation and a future with less options, or when they make the decision to stay involved with a crappy guy, or when your BFF gets pregnant on purpose during medical school when she already lives on loans and has no idea what she will do for childcare. Hypothetical situation of course. It’s not that I want to be right–it’s that I don’t want my friends to suffer or get hurt.

I deal by reminding myself of exactly what you said here: people make their own decisions and their own mistakes. I need to honor the viewpoints/feelings/background/advice/gut feelings that have led them to their decision instead of wanting to make it for them, and just be the best possible friend no matter how the situation unfolds. I also try really hard to experience the emotions they are experiencing with them as they progress through their situation–like, “yes, I might not agree with your particular choice of fiancee, but let’s move on. I am SO happy that you are a bride! Let’s go dress shopping and sample cupcakes and talk about centerpieces! Whee this is fun!”

This was really thought-provoking…thanks again!


13 caitie April 6, 2011 at 6:25 am

Ahh this was great to read!

One of my friends is so marriage obsessed that I am afraid she is rushing into something SO serious just because she thinks it will be some fairytale. I have already gotten in multiple fights with her about it and this makes me just want to “move the fuck on”!!!! I have said my opinion and she knows it, now I need to let her make her own decision! Success!!


14 Rachel April 6, 2011 at 7:46 am

YAY! Reading that made me really happy! (Not that you’re friend could be rushing into it or that you’re fighting, but that you’re ready to MTFO!)


15 Parita @ myinnershakti April 6, 2011 at 7:31 am

Thanks for this new follow-on rule! I definitely needed to read this because I have a lot of friends who have made decisions (some that turned out great, some not so much) that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Reading this really opened my eyes to the fact that just like I love “owning” my own life and people respecting my choices, my friends do too and they should. I do agree with you when you say that certain situations warrant speaking up and voicing your opinion (in a respectful way of course). Even if that person disagrees with you at the moment or really can’t see where the heck you are coming from, they will (one day) respect you and thank you for caring enough to speak up. Great post, Rachel! Love it!


16 Hannah April 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

What a great post, Rachel. I need to learn to own my responses and opinions, without feeling like a chicken. And then move on. Will so be bookmarking this!


17 Sarah April 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

Last night, my friend told me about a big decision in her life that I think is crazy.
I told her politely about my concerns, and then I told her that I knew she was smart and I trust her to make her own decisions. And I MEANT it. (your post was fresh in my mind)
She THANKED me, and then she asked me for MORE of my opinion, because she knew that I was looking out for her in a supportive way, and she had no reason to be defensive.
And now she gets to own it and know that I support her, and I get to feel good about knowing that she heard me out.
This was the most well-timed post in the history of blogging.
Thank you.


18 Liv @ The Salty n' Sweet April 23, 2011 at 1:01 am

Awesome post! I’ve been in this position many times, and sometimes I’ve let my friend know my opinion, and other times I’ve been too afraid of seeming like a bad friend to speak up.

But honestly, what you’re talking about is the best of both worlds. You can tell your friend what you think, but do it with sincerity, and see if she agrees. If not, you just back off and continue, with an unblemished friendship, supporting each other.


19 Allison @ OneWhiteTulip April 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I just discovered your blog. And I have never owned it in my life ever. Ever ever. I ask permission for everything. One comment of dissaproval, even from my worst enemy, makes me question my entire value as a person. And so forth. And this doesn’t exactly have anything to do with this post, but THANK YOU and I’m going to go read all of your columns on owning it.


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