How to Take Responsibility for Your Life

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During my first visit to Prague, it was heavily raining. Stuck in a hotel room with a group of my friends, we began telling stories to pass the time. Most of them were funny and entertaining. But out of nowhere, one of the guys broke everyone’s mood when he told us this story:

He knew a guy from his neighborhood — “Johnny” — who was always kind of shy.

Johnny didn’t go out much, stayed inside most of the day, and focused heavily on his schoolwork. By the end of high school, he was set to study medicine and become a doctor. Everybody had high hopes for him.

On his 18th birthday, his friends decided to take him out. “Come on dude, you’ve been working so hard for so long. It’s time to let loose, just for one night.” Reluctant at first, Johnny ultimately agreed. After all, he didn’t want to be a boring bookworm. He simply prioritized his education over partying.

The gang went to a bar in the city, where Johnny admitted that he had never tried alcohol.

Everybody was shocked, but only for a moment. Ten seconds later, his friends were ordering a round for the table. Nothing hardcore, just beer. After all, heavy liquor would be too much for him to handle if he’s not used to drinking.

At first, like most of us, he was disgusted by the taste. But about two beers in, Johnny had gotten in the mood. He was relaxed, cracking jokes, and having a good time with his buddies.

“Thanks for this guys, I really needed it.” He came home sometime in the night, drunk for the first time in his life. He laid on his back, with the ceiling spinning like a laundromat, and smiled. He was happy.

The next morning, he was found dead.

As his mother entered the room, she felt a special type of pain reserved only for a mother who knows she had lost her child. Apparently, at some point during the night, Johnny vomited because he was drunk. Since he was lying on his back, he choked on his own vomit and died before sunrise.

Everybody in our group suddenly went silent. I mean… how do you respond to a story like that? It’s a tragedy. A one-in-a-million event that saddens and terrifies you at the same time.

But the final comment struck me as the most bizarre:

“For months, I’ve searched for the guys who got him drunk but wasn’t able to find them. If I did, I would’ve killed them for what they did to Johnny.”

Wait… you would kill them?

The guy who told the story was known for exaggerating, so I assume only 50% of what he said was true. But his urgency to blame the friends really rubbed me the wrong way. And I believed I wasn’t the only one, so I responded:

ME: “What do you mean you would kill them? How are they responsible for what happened when he was alone?”

HIM: “Yeah, but they forced him to go out and get drunk, so they are responsible for his death.”

ME: “That is ridiculous. Johnny was not a helpless little kid. His friends invited him out and he agreed. He made a choice. If you encourage me to go out with you tonight, and I get drunk and fall of a bridge, would all of you be considered my murderers?”

I’m not trying to minimize the effects of what happened. I know that, when a tragedy like this occurs, people naturally look for someone to blame. You are filled with a lot of anger and you have nowhere to direct it. So you can blame the parents, the alcohol, even Johnny, but it’s pointless.

But blaming his well-intentioned friends for something all friends do is ridiculous.

To my surprise, the rest of the group didn’t agree. My friends didn’t care that they have done the same thing a million times. They didn’t care that they were “Johnny’s friends” on more than one occasion. They didn’t care that this could have happened to anybody.

All they cared about was placing the blame on someone else.

This is a pattern I see with lots of people, from family members to friends, romantic partners, acquaintances, bosses, and strangers. And I’ve realized that the more people place the blame on external forces, the more miserable they become.

Everybody does this to a degree. But there are two types of beliefs that highly limit the way you see the world around you (and make you a shitty person in the process). I’m sure you will either recognize yourself or someone in your life as having one of these two beliefs.

BELIEF 1: You assume things always “happen” to you and that you have no influence over them

If you believe the things that happen to you are not influenced by you in any way, you will assume you have no control over your life. To people like this, problems are unsolvable and good things unobtainable. They simply have to wait until things randomly occur. Sometimes those things are good, most of the time bad.

These people think successful people simply “got lucky“. They believe that hard work doesn’t pay off, so they do everything half-assed. Then they complain about having mediocre results (which are directly a result of their half-assed work).

It’s that girl from college who spent most of her days working, yet always appeared to be completely broke (despite living with her parents who paid for everything). When I asked her how come she doesn’t have $3 for a movie ticket, she’d say she blew her whole salary on a pair of shoes. She would then continue complaining about being underpaid, without seeing the irony.

It’s that guy who falls in love too fast and ignores obvious red flags. He blindly follows his partner who doesn’t treat him well, blames him for things he didn’t do, and continually pushes his boundaries. When things inevitably explode, he becomes surprised how his partner could have “changed so much overnight”.

Without taking responsibility for their own actions, these people continue making the same mistakes over and over again and believe they are “destined” for a shitty life.

Sometimes, things in life do happen randomly and there’s not much you can do to prevent it. But in most cases, you are responsible for the things that happen to you, whether directly or indirectly.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are some “bad things” that recently happened to me. In the last three months, I’ve:

  • Had a pretty bad breakup (while living together in a foreign country)
  • Randomly cried on an airplane (following the breakup)
  • Had two motorbike crashes (in Thailand and Bali)
  • Learned someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer
  • Lost 8 kg (18 lbs) due to stress

For every single one of those issues, I could say: “It’s not my fault.”

I could say that my girlfriend “became evil”, which is why I was stressed and lost weight. I could say that her behavior pushed me to break up and cry on an airplane as a result. I could say that people cut me off in traffic, causing me to crash. I could say that someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer “out of nowhere”.

But it’s not true. None of it.

The breakup happened because I didn’t have clear boundaries. I lost weight because I didn’t pay attention to my mental, physical, and emotional health (which is also why I broke down on an airplane). Even though I crashed because of someone else’s actions, I should have known that people in these countries drive differently and always cut everybody off. And the cancer diagnosis came after the person ignored the symptoms for over a year. These things weren’t random.

While truly random things do happen, they are extremely rare. Most of the things you consider “unlucky events” are influenced by your own decisions. You chose to date that person. You chose to spend your money. You chose to quit school. You chose to work at that company. You chose to get blind drunk.

This doesn’t mean that other people don’t do bad things. And other people can most definitely be at fault for the bad things that happen to you. But even if somebody else is truly at fault, it is still your responsibility to deal with the outcome.

  • If somebody wrongs you in some way, it is your responsibility to deal with the new reality. It’s up to you to choose how to proceed.
  • If somebody is treating you unfairly, it’s your responsibility to stand up to him or her, learn to live with it, or remove that person from your life.
  • If somebody traumatized you, it’s your responsibility to deal with that trauma, recover from it, and seek help. Your mental health is in your own hands.

This idea that fault and responsibility are two different things was proposed by Mark Manson. Here’s another great example from his article on the topic:

“If you woke up one day and there was a newborn baby on your doorstep, it would not be your fault that baby was put there, but the baby would now be your responsibility. You would have to choose what to do. And whatever you ended up choosing (keeping it, getting rid of it, ignoring it, feeding it to your pet parrot), there would be problems associated with any of those choices and you would be responsible for those as well.”

Avoiding personal responsibility usually comes from focusing on blame and fault, instead of accepting the new reality and adapting yourself to it.

BELIEF 2: You’re responsible for good things in your life, but not for the bad ones

This is a perspective most people have to some degree. It personally plagued me for a long time. But when I see it today, it annoys the hell out of me.

These people are quick to bask in the glory of admiration. “Oh, you got into a great school? Oh, you got that award? Oh, you found a great partner?”

Their response is always “Yes, I did it all by myself”.

But when things turn sour, they pull a 180. If a spoiled rich kid runs over a couple and crashes his car while driving drunk, it’s not his fault. It’s the couple who was walking in the dark, his friends who “let him” drink, and his girlfriend who didn’t stop him from driving.

It’s that girl who brags about getting a promotion because she worked hard for it. But if another girl gets promoted, it’s because “the system is rigged”.

It’s that guy who will brag about hooking up with a girl because he’s so skilled with women, but when he gets rejected, it’s because “she’s a stuck up bitch who only wants money and cars.”

It’s that friend I used to have who will brag about how he worked hard to get a good position in a good company, even though he just smoked weed for years until his mom hired him. But when his music career isn’t going anywhere after a decade, it’s because “people are stupid and don’t appreciate real music.”

This mindset is appealing, as it’s in line with our social-media-centric society.

If you take a look at anybody’s Instagram profile (including mine), you would only see the highlight reel: the travel, the parties, the success. Judging by Instagram, you would think that everybody is having a time of their life, all the time, while you’re stuck in your gray-ass cubicle, contemplating which wall you’d rather paint with your brains.

It’s the same with responsibility: you only want recognition for the “good” things in your life.

While traveling, I’ve met a lot of people who have digital jobs, from influencers, writers, to guys selling MLM schemes. Each of them speaks about how to achieve the “good” things like making money or building your social media following.

I don’t know where I’m going, but follow me.

Yet, most of these people are a mirage. They themselves don’t have a huge following and make little to no money. But when asked why that’s the case, can you guess what they say?

  • “Nobody cares about photography anymore, you can only get followers if you post naked selfies.”
  • “I’m trying to teach people how to get money. But I am not making money myself because people are too stupid to see how my product can help them earn more.”
  • “My writing is good, it’s just that nobody reads anymore. It’s all about podcasts and videos these days.”

The same old boring excuses.”Poor me, the world is unfair.” But when they do start getting followers or making money, it’s not because “people are smart”. Oh no, it’s because they are geniuses who hustled until they became successful.

How to stop being a shitty human and take responsibility for your life

If you’re reading this and realized “Hey, this kind of describes the way I deal with problems in life”, then I hope that sentence is followed by some version of “I don’t want to be that person anymore.”

And if it’s not, well… read on anyway. Trust me, your life (and the world) will be much better if you stop blaming other people for your problems. I mean, what else are you going to do? Be like Ross Geller from Friends?

Look, I’ve made it really simple. The process from “shitty person who blames others” to “strong individuals who gets shit done” has just three steps:

STEP 1: Accept responsibility for your own actions (by admitting mistakes)

The first step in being responsible is being willing to admit when you make a mistake. It can be an intentional mistake (you drove too fast, so you got a ticket) or it can be an unintentional mistake (you tripped and dropped a glass).

If something bad happened as a result of your actions, own up to it. If your actions don’t affect anybody else, simply acknowledge your wrongdoing by saying to yourself “I made a mistake“. If they did affect other people, apologize and say you’re sorry.

When you make a bad choice, whatever happens as a result is your fault and your responsibility.

STEP 2: Accept responsibility for your own emotions (by not blaming others)

Many times, you will be affected by things other people do. This is where it gets easy to place the blame on someone else. Resist that urge. When you end up in a bad spot because of someone else’s actions, ask yourself the following:

  • What can I do now? Whatever happened, happened. Try to figure out the next step, whether it’s to fix the situation, control the damage, or simply deal with the outcome in the best possible way.
  • What could I have done to avoid this? See what you can learn from this experience to avoid ending up in the same situation again.
  • What if it was a gift? See how what happened could actually help you improve your life or make a step in a better direction.

In all of this, the most important element is that your own emotions — whether you feel sad, angry, or betrayed — are your own responsibility. Somebody else might have caused them, but it is up to you to handle them properly.

When someone else makes a bad choice that affects you, what happens as a result is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.

STEP 3: Don’t take responsibility for other people’s actions and emotions

This step might surprise you, but it is equally as important as the other two. In fact, ignoring this step is what often creates the problems you have.

Just like other people are not responsible for your emotions, you are not responsible for theirs.

Does this mean you need to completely lack empathy and be a heartless son-of-a-bitch? Of course, not. It does, however, mean that you shouldn’t let others blame you for their feelings.

Some common examples:

  • Your romantic partner “feels” betrayed because you spend time with your friends. They think you’re cheating and demand that you constantly justify yourself, even though you’re not doing anything unusual.
  • Your mom “feels” you don’t care about her because she asked you to pick her up at a certain time, but you can’t get out of work.
  • Your friend “feels” disrespected because he asked you for a favor and you said “no” because you just can’t do it.

In all of these scenarios, people will try to guilt trip you and make you feel bad, even though you didn’t do anything wrong. This is why it is extremely important that you treat everybody else with the same standard you treat yourself.

When someone else makes a bad choice that doesn’t affect you, it is not your fault nor your responsibility. Be harsh against anybody who tries to make you feel guilty for no reason.

While the word “responsibility” can seem intimidating, especially if you’re in your teens and 20s, it should never be a personal preference. As you’ve seen, not only will taking responsibility for your own life make you less negative and stressed, it is going to make you a better person.

Instead of complaining about how everybody in the world is screwing (with) you, your focus will be on the solution — “Shit happens, but what can I do about it?”

If my friends had this mindset, they wouldn’t blame Johnny’s death on his friends. So it should come as no surprise that I have ended my relationship with them. They continually blamed everybody else for their problems, which is why they never achieved much.

Life is always going to be full of unexpected problems. The way you handle those problems determines the type of person you are. You can either be ready for anything life throws at you or helplessly beg for mercy. What’s it going to be?

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