The best way to gain control of your life is to take personal responsibility for what happens. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of personal responsibility since reading a book called The Virtue of Selfishness many years ago. I have since also read a lot about existentialism which also emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility.
To take personal responsibility is to realize that there are things that we can and can not control. With this distinction clear, it is up to us to focus our energy on what we can influence and accept that regardless, outcomes are always on us.
For some people, the idea of personal responsibility is scary because we are often encouraged to blame other people when things go wrong. While that might feel good at the time, in the long run, it takes away our power and makes us feel worse in the end.
If you are interested in taking personal responsibility, keep reading as we will discuss it in detail.
I admit it; it was all my fault; I made a huge mistake.
Many years ago, when I was much younger than I am today, I made a huge mistake, and it took me a long time to take responsibility for it. Long story short, I had a girlfriend, and I left her to teach English on the other side of the world. While we didn’t break up, I ended up having an affair and cheated on her.
At the time, I was honest about what I had done, but I wasn’t apologetic and acted like what happened was outside of my control.
The backlash from this event was amplified by the fact that I was on the other side of the world and was able to act as if nothing happened.
However, back home, lots of feels were hurt, and plenty of people were upset.
When we do something wrong, it is easy to blame other people; it was easy to point to the Korean lady who was taking advantage of me. She kept on calling me and showing up at my apartment. She was the one who started the whole thing by getting drunk and trying to seduce me during one of our English lessons.
But even if she was the one who was pushed everything, I didn’t run away; I didn’t say no, and I didn’t talk to my boss about it. Undoubtedly it would have been complicated, and I might have lost my job and got sent back home, but I still had the power to stop things, even if I didn’t.
While it was happening, I kept it quiet, and I only told my girlfriend back home about it after it was too late. Some of my friends told me I should have broken up rather than telling her what had happened, but I was too afraid to do that. But even when I told her what happened, I didn’t show remorse and brushed it off.
Two years ago, due to various reasons, I moved back home; and it got me thinking about some of the mistakes I had made in the past. The one that bothered me the most was my Korean affair, so I reached out to my ex and apologized for what I did to her. The truth was that I had been able to push that experience to the back of my mind and pretend it didn’t matter.
But that wasn’t true, I’d fucked up, and it was all my fault.
Taking personal responsibility means looking at the things we have done and realizing our role in them. Sure there are parts of our experience that are out of our control. But that doesn’t matter because there are aspects that we do control. And while we can’t ever go back to the way things were in the past, we can accept responsibility and apologize where possible.
Taking Personal Responsibility Helps
As I mentioned above, being back home reminded me of the past and what I had done wrong. Maybe it was because of how the world was changing, or perhaps it was just my time to accept what I had done. The thing is, when we push mistakes outside of our minds, we might be able to forget them for a while, but that doesn’t make them go away.
I must admit that not everyone is wired the same, so others might not have the same experiences. But I tend to feel bad when I make mistakes, and when I hurt people, I remember that. Sometimes the feelings swirl around in my head or go away for a while and then come back again.
But what remains is that not being accountable, or taking responsibility, only makes us feel worse in the long run.
Avoiding our responsibility for what we have done doesn’t help anyone, especially us. Instead, it becomes a burden that we carry. Luckily, when we take personal responsibility for our mistakes, we have the chance to change the way we think about what had happened.
Everyone makes mistakes, and if we are willing to forgive other people, we should also be willing to forgive ourselves.
If that means saying sorry or making amends somehow, then that is what you need to do. For me, the weight on my shoulders went away when I accepted my responsibility and said sorry to my ex. Now it is not likely that we can ever be friends, and it is too late for that anyway, but at least the ending of our relationship is a little bit cleaner. At the very least, I can say that she appreciated the apology, and I no longer have that regret.
It is vital to take personal responsibility now as well.
While it might be easy to look back at past mistakes and see how they could have been done differently, it is equally important to take responsibility for our choices right now. This doesn’t mean that we apologize or try to make amends before something happens. Instead, it means realizing we are responsible for our outcome.
So much of our culture today is focused on blaming other people for the problems that exist. While some grievances are valid, it doesn’t help anyone to avoid the personal side of responsibility. This is the case because any time we do something, there is a risk of failing or succeeding, but only we have to deal with the eventual consequences.
If you drive in the club district in the middle of the night on the weekend and get struck by a drunk driver, you’ve got to take responsibility. Indeed, you are not responsible for the asshole who was drinking and driving.
Still, you are responsible for putting yourself in a situations where bad things can happen.
We can’t control other people or what they do, just like we can’t control the weather or time. If it is the middle of the winter and there is a massive snowstorm, you need to acknowledge and understand that it is risky to go for a drive. At the same time, you can blame the slippery roads, but at the end of the day, you are the one who will have to pay a higher insurance premium.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to suggest that there are no external factors outside of our control to get in our way. Instead, I’m saying those things exist; we know that they are risks, so we need to consider them whenever we do something, even if we don’t want to do it.
Taking personal responsibility comes down to looking at the situations you find yourself in and making the best possible choices you can. At the same time, it means you can’t blame anyone else in the end because what happens is always on you.
But looking at this in the grand view, rather than taking away our power, it gives us power; however, with power comes responsibility.
What does it mean to take personal responsibility?
Personal responsibility all comes down to how we look at our situation and the conditions around us. There are lots of things that we can do nothing about, but that is ok and something that we can be alright with.
On the other hand, there are lots of things that are entirely in our control, and we need to be conscious and aware of them so that we can make the best possible choices.
Ultimately, when we give in to the idea that we are responsible for our situation and have control over it, we gain the power to change things up.
For myself, I used to accept things as they were and at the same time believe that there was nothing I could do to change my life for the better. This became clear during the holidays last year; I wasn’t feeling well and knew that it resulted from my lack of physical activity. Know that doing exercise was something about myself that I could control, I committed to getting into shape.
Accepting that I was responsible for my health and fitness gave me the power to do something about it. And so, with that commitment, I’ve set up a routine that I stick to and has made an enormous difference over the last nine months. But again, none of this would have been possible if I made excuses and blamed things outside my control.
Taking personal responsibility comes down to accepting what we can control and holding ourselves accountable for what happens in the future.
If we want to have a better life, that is within our power if we are willing to look at what needs fixing and commit to changing it. But of course, we can’t forget that there are factors outside of ourselves. However, we need to be able to adapt and work around them.
If you want the best possible life for yourself, you need to be willing to work for it, and you also need to stop blaming other people or external circumstances for the situation you find yourself in. Moving forward requires accountability to yourself and your goals, so you need to be willing to stick with them.
If you are still not convinced of the importance of personal responsibility, check out my article on it. On the other hand, if you are skeptical about your autonomy, check out this article that discusses how much control we have over our fate.
Thanks for reading, and I look forwards to communicating with you again.