Benefits: Learn to identify the “things” you are actually responsible for.
So That You Can: Meet your Esteem needs and live the fulfilling life you were meant to live.
Go From Inspiration to Action With the Worksheet Below!
Are You Taking Responsibility When You Don't Need To?
You need to take responsibility for your actions. You need to take responsibility for your choices. You need to take responsibility for your life!
You’ve heard all of this before, right? And, if you’re like me, you don’t need to hear these messages again. You already know how important taking responsibility is. In fact, you’ve managed to turn taking responsibility into an Olympic event.
We are the people who not only take responsibility for ourselves, we take on the burden of responsibility for everyone and everything within our circle of influence. Plus, we feel guilty when we don’t take responsibility for things that aren’t even inside our circle of influence. We often find ourselves asking the question, “Should I be doing more?”
Well, should you? Or are you taking responsibility when you don’t need to? I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but we’re going to work through them together. Stick with me, and we’ll see what I come up with by the time I end this essay.
To tackle these questions, we’re going to Stay Curious and Respect Other Points of View — 2 components of The Cycle of Deliberate Thinking — by discussing what some of the “experts” on taking responsibility have to say about it:
- Eckhart Tolle — a spiritual teacher
- Dr. Jordan B. Peterson (of course!) — a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology
- J. Krishnamurti — an Indian philosopher
- Sadhguru — an Indian yogi
- Olivia D’Silva — a life purpose coach
Then, we’ll see if we can meld their opinions together into one that would make sense to Deliberate Thinkers like us.
Why Is Going Through This Exercise Important?
Because I want you (and me) to live the fulfilling life you were meant to live. In order to do that, we have to meet our Esteem needs — dignity, independence, and respect.** It stands to reason that it’s going to be nearly impossible to meet our Esteem needs if we are in the habit of taking responsibility for things that we don’t need to.
These “things” that we are taking responsibility for are not our burden to carry, but they’re also not even under our control. Yet, we will judge ourselves and value our self-worth based on how well we meet these perceived responsibilities.
(As I write this, I’m reminded of a post about codependency that I wrote a while back. I’ll put a link to that at the end of this post. Codependency may be the root cause of your tendency to take responsibility.)
How the heck are we supposed to gain self-esteem, dignity, independence, or self-respect if we’re evaluating ourselves based on something we have no control over? If we expect ourselves to always anticipate other people’s needs? And if we take personal responsibility for other people’s problems?
We can’t, right? And that’s why we’re going through this exercise — because learning what we should take responsibility for will help us get one step closer to becoming self-actualized and realizing our full potential.
Plus, quite frankly, I’m sick of fighting this fight every day — constantly reminding myself what is and what isn’t my responsibility. So, I’m hoping to gain some clarity right along with you.
Without further ado, let’s see what the “experts” had to say.
**I’m referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you’re not familiar, there’s a link to a great article that explains it at the end of this post.
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Eckhart Tolle - Spiritual Teacher
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag and give away Tolle’s answer to the question, “What is my responsibility?” — your state of consciousness. I guess this isn’t a surprising answer, given that it’s coming from a spiritual teacher, but it makes a lot of sense.
In this context, your state of consciousness is your awareness of yourself — your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions — and your environment at any one moment in time. Your state of consciousness creates your world, according to Tolle.
Tolle goes on to say that a “diseased and dysfunctional” state of consciousness produces a “diseased and dysfunctional” world, which seems to imply that we have a responsibility to create a healthy and functional world. And the way we do this is by taking responsibility for our state of consciousness.
After all, the world we create is a byproduct of our actions. Our actions are a byproduct of our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions (consciousness). And that’s why we need to take responsibility for our state of consciousness and, in turn, create a better world for ourselves and for others.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re going to feel responsible for making sure other people know that they need to take responsibility for their state of consciousness. (I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. ?) To that, Tolle says:
It’s enough for you to take responsibility knowing there’s still a few million others who don’t know that they can take responsibility because they live in such unconsciousness . . .
In other words, it’s not your problem! You create a better world by taking responsibility for your own consciousness, and that’s the best you can hope for.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson - Clinical Psychologist and Professor
Peterson would tell you that your responsibility is to pick up the heaviest thing you can and carry it. Yikes! That sounds a bit intimidating and maybe even unachievable. So let’s unravel this thought a bit.
Before we can really grasp what Peterson is conveying to us, we have to accept some things about our world and ourselves. For starters, we live in a world where:
- There will always be some form of oppression and suffering within our societies.
- We will always be at the mercy of nature and the doctrine of survival of the fittest.
- All humans are flawed, deceitful, and selfish.
In spite of these truths, our responsibility is to maintain a level of “optimism that is not naive.” Meaning that we bear our burdens and “struggle uphill” to “reveal the best of [ourselves]” — even though we know that we’ll never be able to change these truths.
Why would we want to “struggle uphill”? Because taking responsibility for our lives and seeking truth are the secrets to a meaningful life, according to Peterson. He goes on to add:
If you were able to reveal the best of yourself to you and the world, that you would be an overwhelming force for good.
That’s why we pick up the heaviest thing we can and carry it. Because it will lead us to a meaningful life, and we will become an overwhelming force for good, both of which are our responsibilities.
J. Krishnamurti - Philosopher
First of all, J. Krishnamurti is not a fan of the word responsibility, and his reasoning is so intriguing. I’ll do my best to explain it, but prepare to have your mind blown because it’s one of those concepts that makes total sense and no sense at the same time.
Krishnamurti’s beef with the word responsibility is that it implies division. Not only do perceived responsibilities separate us into groups — based on ideology, sense of duty, and social class — they compel us to separate ourselves into two entities.
When you say, “I’m taking responsibility for myself,” you’ve just created two entities. It’s like you’re saying there’s someone inside me who’s responsible for me. There’s the “you” who is responsible and the “you” the first you is responsible for. So who’s responsible for the “responsible you”? It doesn’t make much sense when you think of it this way, does it? (Mind blown yet? ?)
Krishnamurti’s other beef with the word responsibility has to do with the origin of the word itself. The noun “responsibility” comes from the Latin verb “respondere,” meaning “to respond.” Which means that your perceived responsibilities are responses you have programmed into your brain based on past experiences, nothing more. This is why your perceived level of responsibility — the way you respond to people — varies depending on who that person is and the role they play in your life.
But how can your responsibility to someone today depend on your memory of past events and your recognition of a current event in light of past events. That seems pretty subjective, doesn’t it? And shouldn’t a responsibility, or duty, be a little more objective? (Now that had to blow your mind. ?)
Although Krishnamurti didn’t directly answer the question posed to him — “What is our responsibility to ourselves and others?” — what I took from his response is this:
- Our responsibility is to be at one with ourselves, with others, and with the present moment. It is to recognize that everyone and everything is connected. In a sense, our responsibility is to stop defining our responsibilities and focus on doing whatever is best for the common good.
Sadhguru - Yogi
Sadhguru’s “taking responsibility” message is pretty short and sweet, so this section will be pretty short and sweet as well. But that doesn’t make it any less profound.
All the things you are, and all the things you are not, are your responsibility.
So says Sadhguru. How you choose to react to life, even if that reaction is one of inaction, is 100% up to you — 100% your responsibility.
That’s a pretty complex thought to wrap your head around. One of those messages that makes complete sense and no sense at the same time.
It’s an important thought to examine though because, as Sadhguru would say, only after you take responsibility for all the things you are, and all the things you are not, will you be able to “explore the depth of the possibility you hold.” Or, as we would say here at The Expectation Gaps, realize your full potential.
Olivia D’Silva - Life Purpose Coach
The message I received from D’Silva speaks directly to the people this essay was written for — people, like me, who take on the burden of responsibility for everyone and everything within our circle of influence. She refers to this burden as “misguided responsibility.”
Accepting misguided responsibility makes us feel like it’s our duty to make everyone’s life better. And, when we can’t, we feel guilty for the opportunities we have been given or for our lack of suffering. We might ask ourselves, “Who am I to have the life I have when other people are suffering?”
It sounds like we’re being altruistic, right? Like we want to selflessly serve others. But the truth is, as D’Silva pointed out, we’re actually being pretty arrogant. It’s pretty arrogant to think that someone else’s problems are ours to solve; that we somehow know what’s best for them; or that we can begin to understand the adversities they are facing.
Instead, D’Silva suggests that we focus on taking responsibility as follows:
- Be available and offer support to people when they are ready to ask for help.
- Make the most of the opportunities that are put in front of you.
- Go after whatever you feel called to do — lead by example in honor of those who can’t.
Are You Taking Responsibility When You Don't Need To?
There’s that question again — the one we’re here to answer. Now that some of the experts have weighed in, it’s time to meld their thoughts together.
You need to take responsibility for:
- Staying true to yourself.
- Creating a meaningful life.
- Taking full advantage of the opportunities you are given.
- Using those opportunities to be a force for good.
- Offering support to people when they are ready to accept it.
This list really highlights something I’m beginning to realize. Our responsibilities to ourselves and our responsibilities to others are really one in the same.
When we meet our responsibilities to ourselves, we are in a much better position — emotionally, physically, financially, etc. — to serve others. Which means that we won’t see serving others as a burden. Rather, we’ll see serving others as the fuel for the meaningful life we have created.
If you’re ready to start taking responsibility with intention, be sure to check out the worksheet I put together for you that will help you take action on the ideas introduced in this post.
Click here for more posts with an “intentional living” theme.
If you’re ready to Stop Settling & Start Living! check out our home page to learn more about what The Expectation Gaps has to offer.
And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
Only Have 1 Minute
Sources & Inspiration
Codependency post I referred to: How to Stop Being Codependent: My Personal Journey
Maslow article I referred to: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Saul McLeod, Simply Psychology, updated 2018
What Is My Responsibility?, posted to YouTube by Eckhart Tolle on 8.28.09
Are you taking full responsibility? | Danny Opheij | TEDxSittardGeleen, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 4.13.18
RESPONSIBILITY – Powerful Motivational Video | Jordan Peterson, posted to YouTube by WordToTheWise on 8.24.19
Jordan Peterson on taking responsibility for your life | 7.30, posted to YouTube by ABC News In-depth on 3.12.18
What is our responsibility to ourselves and others? | J. Krishnamurti, posted to YouTube by J. Krishnamurti – Official Channel on 7.02.17,
Your Life Is 100% Your Responsibility – Sadhguru | Yogi’s Guide, posted to YouTube by Android Climber on 6.11.19
5.5 What is Your Responsibility?, posted to YouTube by Olivia D’Silva on 7.07.19
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