For most people, the expression “personal responsibility” feels like a loaded term. It almost feels like a cage, or a weight that separates the freedom of childhood from the heavy, joyless toil that adulthood brings.
A child cannot be held fully accountable, yet neither do they have any tangible social sway. Nor should they, for they are children, with no practical life experience that grants the ability to understand consequence, accountability, or responsibility.
It often seems that we have to bear the burden of personal responsibility in order to win the freedoms and privileges that come with adulthood.
In the past, concepts such “personal responsibility” weren’t so heavily fleshed out. You had your duty and you did it. If you didn’t, then you were either a coward or a simpleton craving a child’s life with no accountability.
In today’s world, where “adulting” is avoided in favor of self-indulgence and irresponsibility, having a sense of duty and accountability can be a rare thing.
But whose sense of responsibility are we adhering to? Our own? Or duties and expectations that have been imposed upon us?
What is personal responsibility?
Before saying why personal responsibility is important as a functional adult, it’s good to check that whatever it is you’re being expected to do is actually your responsibility.
Did you agree to it? What are you gaining from this contract? Are you involved in this thing because you want to do it? Or are other people forcing their expectations and ideas onto you?
We have entered into a new age where people don’t necessarily have to shoulder the same burdens just because their friends, peers, or families are telling them to do so.
Personal responsibilities are often blurred into group responsibilities and very often some of the group don’t play nicely or fairly.
As an example, a person’s parents might tell them that they need to “take responsibility” if they’re following a different path than the parents did, or that they would have chosen for their offspring.
The parents might have envisioned that their child would follow in their career footsteps, or settle down and have children at the same age that they did.
When and if their child chooses a completely different lifestyle, the parents might think that the kid is being irresponsible, when in fact they’re just choosing a different way to live.
Many actions that we’re expected to take aren’t those we ever dreamed of, nor consented to.
Very often, when you scratch the surface of what’s going on, it’s not responsibility, but compliance and submission to other people’s wants or plans. By not bowing to their wants or ideas, you’re being “irresponsible.”
So! Self-awareness and a sense of humor go a very long way. Ask them “why?” with a big grin and ask them to explain themselves. Watching them huff and splutter will be very cathartic.
Alternatively, a less confrontational approach is to pause and think before tacitly excusing yourself from their bonds. Keanu Reeves was popularly mocked for taking 12 seconds or so to respond to some inane question. I believe he was truly taking the time to fully think his response out. It’s better to be thought of as a fool for a moment than to waste your life on other people’s designs.
Why personal responsibility is important.
Now that we’ve touched upon the various aspects of personal responsibility, including why it’s good to question where these expectations are coming from, we can dive into why having this kind of personal accountability is, in fact, important.
1. Your word is your bond.
Whether you’re turning up to work on time, remembering birthdays, keeping to your exercise or dietary plan, or just remembering to brush your teeth, it all essentially boils down to keeping to and honoring your word.
Do you feel that you have a strong sense of integrity? As in, when you give someone your word that you’ll do something for them, do you keep it?
Are promises sacrosanct to you? Or do you just say whatever you need to in the moment to get what you want, and deal with the consequences later?
A person who keeps their word is a person who can be trusted, and trust seems to be a very rare thing in this day and age. Many people make and break promises whenever it’s convenient to them to do so.
Let’s say that you’re dating someone and you see them break a promise to someone else. They might brush it off as unimportant, or say something like “oh, I broke that promise to them, but I’d never break my word to YOU.”
No. If they don’t keep their word to another, they won’t keep it to you either. Sort of like the “if they cheat with you, they’ll cheat ON you” scenario.
If you have decent friends or an employer, they’ll be more willing to offer help/energy to someone they know is “good for it.” If you’re self-employed, this sense of responsibility will motivate, inspire, and drive you forward.
Would you want to be in a relationship you can’t trust? What about having business dealings with a person who consistently breaks their word?
Responsibility is important because you are either trustworthy, or you’re not.
Which do you want to be?
2. Taking responsibility leads to pride in yourself and your accomplishments.
Finishing everything you start is immensely satisfying. You will begin to have an elevated and substantial expectation of your capabilities and overall performance and, after a while, others will start to see it in you too.
The social results of having personal responsibility are interesting. Many people will resent you for displaying an internal quality they may be failing to meet.
For instance, people who are out of shape will often get salty with those who begin a dedicated workout routine, and mock them for it. This is usually because they don’t have the motivation to do it, so they have to project their self-loathing onto those who do.
Others will respect you for your endeavors and encourage you to go further. They might even be inspired by your actions and choose to take up a similar pursuit.
Irrespective of others’ opinions, personal responsibility matters because it means that you are keeping your word to yourself. Five good press ups today will lead to 500 a year from now.
3. Holding yourself accountable for your actions allows for real growth.
Most of us know at least one person who blames everything bad that happens to them on other people.
Nothing is ever their own fault. Anything that goes wrong is someone else’s doing, and they eagerly change narratives to suit whatever story they’re trying to tell themselves to justify their poor choices and even poorer behavior.
How much respect do you have for people like this? Furthermore, how much respect could they possibly have for themselves?
Those who coast through life blaming everyone else for their bad decisions, lack of motivation, and constant struggles never grow from their experiences.
One of the main reasons why failure is so important is that it teaches us invaluable life lessons. We learn from our mistakes, and hopefully file those experiences away for future reference, so if we find ourselves in similar circumstances again, we can make different, better choices for better outcomes.
People who abdicate any kind of personal responsibility and accountability, blaming others for failed endeavors, never learn. They just keep spinning around an endless cycle, then wake up one morning, look around, and wonder where decades have gone. They haven’t achieved anything, and will just be bitter and angry at the world for letting them down… when in fact, the only person who has ever let them down is them.
True personal responsibility isn’t a looming existential shadow, nor a weapon to trap you in other people’s designs. It’s actually one of the greatest pleasures and privileges of being an adult!
The more you learn and grow, the more duties and associated perks should naturally come along.
For instance, an increase in responsibility should be synonymous with recognition of your talent and experience. In turn, this type of recognition should come with an increase in pay, and generally more respect from those around you.
In the end, it really depends on your lifestyle and the company you keep. If everything absolutely sucks, and you find yourself shouldering burdens that you never consented to carry, then the greatest responsibility you have to yourself is to say “enough!”
Re-evaluate where you are and what you’re doing, create firm boundaries with those who are taking advantage of you, and determine what is, in fact, your own responsibility versus that which others should be carrying instead.
If your friends, family members, and partner won’t change or help, there are plenty more wonderful people on the earth to go co-create your dreams with.
Coldly assess the particular social dynamic, how people are treating you, what are you receiving in exchange for what you are giving? This accountability is indeed personal and individual yet also socially interconnected.
If you’re working hard in any situation and no one else around you is doing their bit. AND using the responsibility card as a harness, then it’s your choice to keep or cast the yoke.
To sum it up, checking in with yourself, knowing yourself and following through to completion brings about a greater degree of self-knowledge and purpose. You can then decide for yourself what YOU want to do and then the associated responsibilities will become clear.
It will also (mostly!) be a pleasure to fulfill them as they were of your choice and not another’s.
You may also like:
- How To Take Responsibility For Your Actions & Life: 11 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- Why Integrity Is So Important In Life (+ How To Show Yours)
- How To Stop Running Away From Your Problems And Face Them With Courageous Resolve