Personal Responsibility: The Ultimate Freedom

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Personal responsibility. Who wants to hear about that? Well, you do… if you want to have any chance at health, wealth, and happiness. Author, musician, and podcaster Zuby explains exactly why.

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Personal responsibility. 

Whoa, who wants to hear about that?

Well, you do… if you want to have any chance at health, wealth, and happiness.

So, what does it mean—personal responsibility?

You probably already know, but just in case—it means holding yourself accountable for your words and actions, instead of blaming others or making constant excuses.

It means taking responsibility for your own successes, but also—and this is even more important—for your own failures.

Your life boils down to this: conscious choices, habits, and random events. 

You can’t control everything that happens to you. Accidents, sickness, bad luck, human malice, and natural disasters are all unfortunate realities of life. On the other hand, you also get to experience love, friendship, kindness, opportunity, and generosity—all the good stuff life has to offer.   

But bad things do happen. And sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. 

What we can control is how we react. It’s a lot easier said than done, but people do it all the time. Who doesn’t know someone who’s been dealt a bad hand—for example, a debilitating disease—yet who manages to be happier than someone who is in perfect health.

We all confront our own struggles, pain, personal tragedies, and ultimately, death. So, while you’re here, I recommend making the most of the opportunity.

To do that, the very first thing you have to do is take responsibility for your life. Yet this simple and self-evident concept is widely rejected and even mocked. 

Why is that?

It’s because it strikes at the core of our ego, our image of ourselves.

It’s human nature to seek excuses. Telling people they’re responsible for their bad decisions removes these comforting alibis. Blaming another individual, group, or plain bad luck is much more appealing.

Furthermore, adopting such a victim mindset can act as a form of social currency, a way to court attention and sympathy, or even as a cudgel to wield against others.

If you’re out of shape, broke, unsuccessful, or unhappy, then it must be the fault of someone else—or even better, some nefarious “system”—which doesn’t even need to be defined. You just know that you’re a victim of it.

It’s easy to see why people would want to reject the idea of personal responsibility—the warm glow of victimhood is very tempting—but the consequences of doing so inevitably lead to misery, anger, and ruin.

Only when you recognize that your destiny is in your own hands can you make positive changes to your life: your health, career, relationships, self-esteem, happiness, and most important of all, your character. No one else can—or will—do it for you.

As one recovering addict put it when asked “when did you decide to become sober?” 

“The day I stopped blaming everybody else for my problems.”

To understand where you are now, and to make better decisions in the future, it’s also important to understand history. Wise people—and being wise has little to do with your age—learn from the past. But a word of caution: preoccupation with the past to the point of obsession is destructive.

The past is immutable. It can’t be altered nor reversed.

You have no control over the past. But you do have control over the present and the future.

If you’re driving a car whilst only looking in the rear-view mirror, then you’re going to crash. But if you keep your eyes on the road ahead, looking back only to orient yourself, then you are far more likely to reach your destination intact.

We all start at different positions in life. We don’t get to choose when, or where, or to whom we’re born. We don’t choose our genetics, our nationality, our sex, or our ethnicity.

Everyone has advantages and disadvantages that they can’t take credit for, nor be blamed for.

The only question that matters is: what do you do with what you have?

It’s trendy now for people to talk about ‘privilege’ through a narrow lens, typically focused on skin color, gender, sexuality, and occasionally, wealth. ‘Privilege’ is considered a sin that must be decried and even shamed.

I take a different view. I believe it’s our responsibility to take advantage of whatever privileges we have in order to succeed and, ideally, provide such privileges for others.

Everything else is just excuse-making.

When you refuse to take responsibility for yourself, you are—whether you know it or not—giving it to somebody else—be it another person or a government.

And that is disempowering.

Personal responsibility is the ultimate freedom.

And it’s great to be free.

I’m Zuby. Host of the Real Talk with Zuby podcast and author of Strong Advice: Zuby’s Guide to Fitness for Everybody, for Prager University.