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© iStockPhoto - iofoto

© iStockPhoto - iofoto

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
Malcolm X

Freedom… This word takes you back to your last vacation, where you are reminded of the absence of constraint, the feeling of able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Very rarely this sweet vision includes a crying toddler, a boss or client screaming for changes to be done this very day, or any other pressing commitment. At first sight, freedom is pretty antagonist to the very concept of responsibility. Maybe it’s because we think about it wrong.

Freedom lies in responsibility

The absence of freedom

Let’s say you’re a freelancer, working at home. Your kid is crying, you have to change a whole design before 5, the house is a mess, your in-laws are arriving tonight and your spouse won’t be back from work until 7 or 8. Meaning you’re stuck. You would like to get unstuck, but what’s really interesting is how you feel and why.

You don’t decide what you do, you do what you have to, the most urgent, given the situation. You don’t feel free because :

  • You are tied to constraints rooted in external circumstances
  • You believe you have no choice
  • You are unable to change the parameters of your situation
  • You wish things were different

And that’s the problem. You believe and wish things could be different, but at the same time you act like you don’t have any responsibility. Things are done and happen to you. You are a victim of circumstances, of other people, of life (or God) itself. Victims have neither responsibility nor freedom. It’s easy to be a victim, it doesn’t require an effort, you can just feel down.

On the plus side, having no freedom/responsibility has its advantages :

  • You have the sweetness of not having to do anything
  • You can complain about the situation and feel ok about not trying to change it (you can’t)
  • Your decisions don’t impact much, so hopefully no disaster will happen because of you
  • You take refuge in passive activities like TV, games, browsing the Internet, without the craving and responsibility to contribute

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

Mark Twain

If you want freedom, you’ll need to take responsibility.

When you take full responsibility for your life :

  • You see the consequences of your actions
  • You feel empowered
  • You stop complaining about what could be and start making changes and going forward
  • You adopt a learning mindset and learn from your mistakes
  • You focus on what you can do to improve your life and not on what’s wrong with your life
  • You accept what comes to you, deal with it, and use it : you turn problems into opportunities
  • You take your power back
  • You can be proud of what you do

But how to do that?

First of all, you have to separate things that are out of your control from those upon which you can act. For example, you can’t change the weather, but you can take an umbrella.

Once you’ve done that, you have to consider the potential consequences of each and every action and project you undertake, and assume responsibility for them, whatever happens.

I personally don’t believe in what I call “divided responsibility“, meaning each person involved has a tiny responsibility in a given situation; I believe in shared complete responsibility, closely related to collective responsibility, each actor having full responsibility over a situation in which it could act upon, and assume its consequences. Some among you might think I’ve lost my mind putting such a burden on mine and everyone’s shoulders (that’s ok, I don’t mind), but I think it’s much better to have full responsibility than non-existent one. If you take into consideration the fact that one has a large range of possible actions (from indifference to engagement and self-sacrifice), do you still think you’re not responsible of anything?

Once you’ve clarified what you can do or not, you have the power to change the situation, or at least your perspective on the situation, which actually, for your brain, means changing the situation. You can either feel very bad because your in-laws will see how much a mess your house is, or accept the fact that you prefer to make your client and kid happy and deal with the mess later, and still feel good about your decision.

When you take responsibility for your job, your relationship, everything that goes right and everything that goes wrong in your life, something happens: you realize you have the freedom, and power, to change everything.

What are you taking responsibility for today? What can’t you take responsibility for, yet? Answer in the comments below!