From Hedonism to Fulfillment: The Power of Responsibility
7 min read

From Hedonism to Fulfillment: The Power of Responsibility

A hero of old standing on a hill with dignity, seriousness, and optimism as he looks into the future.

I used to hate responsibility.

When I was young, I saw it as an unpleasant, boring, and constraining duty I heavily disliked.

Instead, I valued freedom above all else and wanted to maximize my time having fun.

I felt that responsibility just got in the way of fun and freedom. So, I avoided it like the plague.

When I was young, I didn't want to help my parents with anything. Instead, I wanted to play Lego, have fun, and not do boring, responsible things.

When I was in my teens, I didn't want to spend much time doing chores, homework, or socializing. Instead, I wanted to play video games all day long.

When I began studying, I didn't want to do tasks that are a normal part of adult life like grocery shopping, taking care of important correspondences, or staying on top of all the orga stuff at university. Instead, I wanted to stay out late, party a lot, and spend more time playing video games.

In a nutshell, I was chasing the classic dream of a hedonistic lifestyle that would maximize my time having fun while minimizing my time of doing things I didn't want to do.

When I looked around this was what almost everybody around me was doing.

Of course, there were a few responsible friends of mine or students around me who were studying judiciously and getting really good grades as a result, but those were the outliers. Most people just wanted to have as much fun as possible and avoided responsibility as a consequence.

So, I felt like what I was doing was the normal thing to do.

Avoiding responsibility felt good, too. At least for a while.

The Problem With Avoiding Responsibility

Because even though I hated to admit it at the time, there were times when I lay awake in bed at night and couldn't sleep.

Something didn't feel right.

When I thought about how much time I spent playing video games, I wondered what else I could do in those ten thousand of hours and how much more meaningful and satisfying the results of spending my time more wisely would feel.

When I thought about the fun I had partying with superficial friends, I wondered how many deep friendships I could have created if I had spent this time in deep conversations with like-minded people instead.

When I thought about my vast freedom, I felt uneasy about all the possibilities that emerged as a result and was overwhelmed by the vast number of choices that lay before me. As a result, I felt paralyzed when I thought about what to do in the future. So, I avoided thinking about that, too.

Despite my doubts, the overwhelm I felt, and the uneasiness I experienced, I didn't connect the dots at the time. I didn't see how my avoidance of responsibility was causing me to suffer despite, or maybe even because, it created an overwhelming amount of freedom.

Instead, I continued to avoid responsibility and set my life up to have as much fun as possible.

But, these nagging thoughts and doubts returned night after night and kept me

I could drown them out with fun and distractions during the day. But, a part of me felt dissatisfied, unmoored, and anxious about the life of boundless fun I was living.

It wasn't until I opened myself up to responsibility, adopted more of it, and saw how much better it made my life that my thoughts and doubts left me alone and I could live a much happier, satisfying, and meaningful life.

I'd love to tell you that this was thanks to one easy decision or one fateful moment in time. A time, when I simply read a book about responsibility, embodied all its principles a few weeks later, and remained a paragon of responsibility ever after.

But, that'd be a lie.

My Path to Responsibility

Instead, as with most life-changing experiences, I embraced responsibility after being knocked down and out in the aftermath of a devastating breakup.

The whole story of that breakup is too long for this essay. But don't worry. I'll do a write-up on that sometime in the future.

What's important for this letter about responsibility is that in the aftermath of my breakup, a good friend told me about the Jocko Podcast.

If you don't know, the host of that podcast is Jocko Willink. A former navy seal, member of one of the most elite units of the American military. It's a great podcast, especially for a historian and self-improvement enthusiast like me. Roughly nine years later, I still listen to it.

But, when I first listened to it after my breakup I was surprised about the power of responsibility that shined through the war stories that Jocko told.

The more I listened to them, the more I saw responsibility as the path to freedom.

The True Meaning of Responsibility

The insight that began to unlock seeing responsibility that way was a deeper understanding of the word itself:

Before, I understood responsibility as an unpleasant duty bestowed on me by something or someone external. Like my parents telling me to clean my room, my study dictating how much time I had to spend learning, or my tasks as an adult telling me what to do.

After listening to Jocko's stories, my understanding of responsibility changed.

First, I understood that responsibility was simply my ability to respond to a situation.

If I had a messy room and I'd take responsibility for that, I could respond to it, clean it up, and create a tidy or even beautiful room.

If I had to learn certain things to get a good grade in university, I could take responsibility for that, I could study more to get good grades.

If I had to do some tasks as an adult, I could take responsibility for them and could do them well to set myself up for a better future.

The Freedom in Responsibility

Second, I understood how empowering and hopeful it was to take responsibility.

If I could respond to a situation I could take control of it. That way I could make it better, and create a better future for myself. The opposite of that would have been to have no control over a situation, be unable to make it better and be helpless to create a better one.

Quickly, I began to see responsibility as an opportunity to create a better life for myself.

Having the opportunity to take responsibility for my problems, my dreams, and my life as a whole created countless opportunities to understand myself, solve my problems, and create the future I always dreamed of.

Avoiding responsibility, I realized, accomplished the opposite:

I wouldn't be able to understand myself or solve my problems because I couldn't face myself or my problems, avoided doing what I could to make progress, and would never create my ideal future.

Realizing how good taking responsibility was for myself and my future fundamentally changed my relationship with it.

From Blame & Excuses to Responsibility

Instead of avoiding responsibility, I tried to look for opportunities to take more of it.

When I saw a problem I used to reflexively blame it on something or someone else.

When I got bad grades in university, I blamed it on the bad teaching style of the professor, the unfairness of the way he graded my paper or bad sleep. In short, I made a bunch of excuses and shifted the blame to something or someone else.

Of course, making excuses keeps you stuck.

Because if a problem isn't your fault, you can't do anything about it. Instead, you just have to live with it. This often means that you'll become bitter, resentful, and hostile toward the problem and the people you blame for it.

Which is why responsibility is so freeing.

Why Taking Responsibility Creates Opportunities

When I saw a problem after I began taking responsibility for my life, I stopped myself every time I noticed that I started to make excuses or shift the blame on someone or something else. Increasing my self-awareness really helped with that.

Next, I always turned my focus back toward myself.

I asked myself difficult questions like:

"Did I create this problem?"
"What can I do to solve it?"
"What stupid thing did I do to make it worse?

Inevitably, asking these questions turned up a lot of answers:

"Yes, I created that problem by doing A, B, C, and not doing X, Y, Z."
"To solve it, I could try to do E, F, G."
"And I now realize that I did M, N, O to make the problem far worse than it could have been if I hadn't done those things."

Just like that, I had a vast amount of possible options to take responsibility for.

How Responsibility Can Improve Your Life

Inevitably, the more responsibility I took for my life, the more it improved.

Today, I believe that the more you take responsibility for your life the better it can become. That's because the more things you take responsibility for the more things you can improve. The more things you can improve, the better your life can become.

This is why taking responsibility is so crucial to creating the life you want.

If you avoid responsibility you won't make much progress.

You'll simply be stuck with blaming your parents, your teachers, or your boss. This won't get you anywhere. It will only make things worse because it will embitter you.

But, if you take responsibility for the changes, improvements, and sacrifices necessary to create a better future it becomes much more likely that you will succeed with that.

While taking responsibility doesn't guarantee that you'll create the life you want avoiding it guarantees that you won't.


So, taking all things together here's what I learned:

Thinking about responsibility as an unpleasant duty that was constraining and something to be avoided was dead wrong.

Instead, taking responsibility is a foundational mindset shift you can do to create the life you want.

I hope that my cautionary tale of avoiding responsibility along with my story of embracing it makes you think about your relationship with responsibility.

If you avoid it, like I did, maybe it will show you a way to think about responsibility differently and start to experiment with taking some of it in situations you're comfortable with that.

If you already take responsibility for your life and the lives of others, maybe it cements your commitment to it and keeps you on the path toward the life you want.

Regardless of where you're at in terms of responsibility, I hope that this letter gave you a helpful way to think about responsibility and adopt more of it in your own life.

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