The first time I was drunk I wandered around a campsite picking up all spare food, dirty dishes, and trash that could attract wild animals and muttering, “At least I’m still responsible.”
To say that responsibility is in my DNA would perhaps be an understatement. It’s apparently so inbred in me that even after chugging two bottles of champagne on an empty stomach—effectively reducing me to nothing but my id—being responsible was still my main prerogative. Even the thought of losing that part of my personality while drunk terrified me to the point that I overcompensated. It was a jarring, if hilarious, lesson that at the core of I who am is someone obsessed to an alarming degree about living up to my obligations. Even if it’s just bear-proofing the campfire.
The thought of failing fills me with unparalleled dread. At work when I get sucked into a project that has nothing to do with me or my job, even if I’m just a small section of it, I feel the weight of the entire thing on my back. I push the rest of the team harder to make sure it gets done because I innately don’t trust anyone else to do so—even if it’s their own project. I take on far more than my fair share just so I can guarantee it will get done. It’s obsessive. It’s unhealthy. It’s mind-boggling-stress-inducing. But giving up control terrifies me, and not only because I’m Type-A, but because once something has been given to me to do, I’m not capable of not doing it.
Perhaps it’s a fear of failure. I was the kid who hyperventilated if I somehow missed a homework assignment. I remember many a time when I’d see that one missed assignment as proof that I would fail the class, fail high school, not get into college, not get a job and end up on the streets homeless. The same goes for family and friends. When my sister was born, I took the responsibility of being a big sister to the extreme degree. It was less a case of making sure that she had a shoulder to lean, but rather a determination that her health, happiness, and life were on my shoulders. If she needs something, I provide it. If someone hurts her, they answer to me—be it a friend, a relative, or God himself. She’s my responsibility.
Admittedly I take it too far, I trust too little, and fear failure too much. However I think far too many people don’t take it seriously enough. Every day I see people idly taking something on that they have neither the competence or drive to see to fruition. I see peers, colleagues, elders and the like trusting that it will all work out and not fretting the small stuff. I find people saying, “Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” They let work, school, family, friends, relationships, the like fall by the wayside, not keeping their word, and letting others down left and right.
And it drives me around the bend.
As a generation, we’re accused of being lazy and not wanting to work hard, that we blame all our problems on someone else and nothing is ever our fault. We could point to the recession for our job woes, our parents for not giving us a sense of purpose, or society for making everything simultaneously harder and absurdly easier. We could say that the reason we don’t commit is because there’s very little we can rely upon for long—everything is evolving, bubbles are bursting, and adaptability is the name of the game. All these things are true, but none of it accounts for the core of the issue: we have to take personal responsibility. When life has turned to shit and you can’t rely on anything, you have to be able to rely on yourself. You have to be able to say, “Yes this is my fault,” “I could have done better,” and most importantly, “I can be relied upon to make it right.”
You don’t have to take the weight of the world on your shoulders nor do you have to reject any and all things reckless. Being responsible doesn’t mean you have to be a wet blanket, the permanent designated driver or the person who doesn’t stay up too late because you’ll be too tired the next day. It just means being the person who doesn’t let people down, who can be counted on when all else fails, and the person whose word and commitment means something. You may end up having to pull more than your share of a project sometimes, and maybe you’re the person who always makes the plans and organizes because everyone knows you’ll follow through. You’ll feel resentful and overburdened at times. But there will never be any doubt that you can be trusted. That you are exactly who and what you say you are. That you can commit.
At the end of the day, there is no scapegoat. If we don’t take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, if when we give our word it is as fleeting as a tweet, and we give ourselves permission to be unreliable, irresponsible, and flaky, then we are exactly that which we have been accused—lazy and entitled.
Personally, I’d rather willingly bear the albatross of responsibility around my neck than ever be called a flake. Flakes are forgettable, tedious, and useless—three things I never aspire to be.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” Winston Churchill – 1943 Quebec Conference
Photo by Nico Nordstrom