You Are Responsible

by Mike Shea on 8 March 2011

30 second summary

Ultimately, each of us is responsible for dealing with the situations in which we find ourselves. We have a lot more control over our lives than we think. It's easy to assign responsibility for our problems to the rest of the world. We hate how people write email. We hate how they tweet. We hate that our boss is a micromanager. We hate that we don't have a single evening to ourselves when we have a family of six. It seems like these are external forces but the responsibility for dealing with them is completely up to us. It's our problem, not theirs. Analyzing our problems ultimately comes down to a single question:

What are you going to do about it?

It all started with email

I spent a lot of time thinking about processing email. It is very easy to point outward when it comes to email problems. People send to too many people. They write shitty subject lines. They hit "reply all" too quickly. They send urban myths that are easily proven over at snopes.

There are a lot of ways to suck at writing email and many of us have read a lot of articles giving people tips to write better email. The problem is, anyone who takes the time to study, understand, and put into practice good email etiquette isn't the problem. The people who most often flood our inboxes with crap will never listen to or understand good email practices.

So we can throw our arms up into the air in dismay. We can shake our fist at the heavens for creating such terrible chain-email-generating cretins.

Or we can do something about it.

We can accept responsibility. We can recognize that, if we have a problem with email, it's OUR problem. It isn't the problem of the sender of these shitty notes. They're happy with themselves. They're relaxed and leaning back sipping a Starbucks frappuccino while sending worthless text to seven thousand people. They have no problem. We do.

Accepting responsibility for how we handle shitty email suddenly puts us in a spot of control. Don't get mad, learn how to use filters. Learn how to bounce email to accounts you don't care to check. Learn how to create temporary addresses. Learn how to scan email for the useful bits and how to get rid of the worthless stuff before it takes hold in your brain. Learn how to whitelist those who can send email directly to you.

Embracing the philosophy that email problems are the responsibility of the receiver is strangely liberating. It means you can do something about it, not just sit there being mad at everyone else.

Expanding to all communication

We can take this a step further towards nearly all of our communication. When you realize that the articles you read are making you mad or your Facebook newsfeed make you wish you had never gone to high-school, now you have the power to deal with it. Stop reading things that don't make you happy. Learn how to turn off updates from people who post stuff you don't like. Recognize that it's just an "unfollow" button away to step away from heavy Twitter posters with a terrible signal-to-noise ratio. Turn off CNN if it's just bombarding you with buildings on fire and ads for gold brokers.

Expanding to nearly everything

Now we can expand this even more. Instead of screaming at the crazy lady who took our spot at the gas pump, move on. Instead of seeking revenge for the guy who cut us off, focus elsewhere. We must recognize that our anger, our pain, our frustration, and our pride is our own. Other people don't care. It isn't our job to fix the wrongs of the world, to tell that cellphone driving dickhead that he's going to kill children. Why not worry about making ourselves happier, healthier, smarter, and more productive? Have a problem? Look in the mirror.

Hate your job? Renegotiate with your boss, switch departments, or start interviewing elsewhere. Wish you had more time in the day? Cut out stuff that takes your time but gives you little happiness. Feeling like you have far too many responsibilities at home? Sit down with the family and renegotiate for a couple of "mommy" or "daddy" nights a week. It's not the world sitting like a yoke around your neck. That's just you weighting on yourself. No, it's not your fault you have rectal cancer, it's just your responsibility to decide how you're going to deal with it.

Take responsibility for your life and build it into the one you want.