How Responsibility Helps You Find Purpose in Life

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I have a confession.

As you may know, I had a crazy health issue last fall that sent me into emergency surgery and a lot of nights in the hospital (it was a Volvulus if you really want to know).

Here’s the confession: after the surgery, when I knew I was going to be alright and I was laid up in the hospital, I felt this weird sense of relief. One part of this was the relief that I had made it through surgery and that I was going to be ok eventually— that’s no surprise.

The surprise was the other part of the relief— the part that is embarrassing to admit:

I felt relieved that I had an excuse.

I had an out. I had a way to take a little less responsibility for my work.

If the Meaning Movement doesn’t grow or if the Calling Course launch had failed, no one could judge me. No one could say, well, you could have done better when I’m fresh out of the hospital and struggling to be able bodied enough for every day life.

I can talk a big talk about taking risks. I can write posts about how you have something to say and that you need to say it. But when worse comes to worse, I wanted a way to get off the hook. I wanted to have an excuse.

What I’ve realized since is how common that feeling is. We often want to give away the responsibility. We want someone else to make the hard decisions. We want someone else to be held accountable. We want someone else to put themselves on the line.

All of this so we can relax and coast.

If you don’t believe me, think about it for a moment.

Have you ever jumped on Craigslist, LinkedIn, or some other job platform to try to find a better job instead of doing the hard work of understanding what your life’s work is about? How often do you open your email inbox, favorite blog, or social media instead of working on a vulnerable side project?

Too often we want to decrease responsibility and find ways to get off the hook. We want to take a pass, or put the ball in someone else’s court. This is because being on the hook is scary. Responsibility is hard and can cost you emotional energy.

But here’s what we forget— the work that you’ve felt most connected to and proud of is work you did when you had skin in the game. I guarantee it.

If you want to find purpose in life and work, look at the places where you’ve taken responsibility. Purpose, meaning, and responsibility all work together.

You do your best work when you’re more responsible, not less. When you’re more on the hook than off. [tweet that]

So the question is, how can you take more responsibility for your work, your life, your career, your next move?

How to increase responsibility and find purpose in life:

1) Find accountabilityget others involved in your process. Ask others to help you take the action that you know you need to take and let you make excuses.

2) Share your process publicly— the more people know what your work is about, the more you will be asked about it. When you tell the world, I’m doing this, you have to be responsible for it. You’ll have the choice to make it happen or go back on your word.

3) Start a side project— if you’re not sure where or how to increase your responsibility, consider starting something. Most of us have some idea that’s been floating around in our minds for a long time. Why not start now?

4) Set a deadline— Some of us are more motivated by deadlines than others. Either way, it’s worth trying. Set a deadline for you to take action on some part of your work, career, or art. Consider adding a reward (i.e. if I succeed, then I get to go to my favorite restaurant) or even a penalty (I.e. if I fail, I won’t get to go to my favorite restaurant).

5) Invest in yourself, your work, and/or your art — It’s taken me a long time to learn this, but one way to increase your responsibility is to invest in yourself. If you pay for a tool, a course, a coach, or whatever it is that you need, you’re more likely to get more out of it. We all know the phrase get your money’s worth. You can use that in your favor by investing in something that will help you. When there’s money on the table, you’ll work harder to get your money’s worth out of that experience.

6) Mix and match these options— The best way to increase your responsibility is by doing more than one of these. For example, you might need accountability and deadlines working for you.

Final Thoughts

I’ve found some grace for my desire to be off the hook. It’s made me more aware of how I dodge responsibility and how I can keep the ball in my court instead of passing it off.

I’m curious about you and your work. How can you increase your responsibility and do more of your best work? Share in the comments.

Also, we have some great opportunities coming up to help you with this. Consider joining Fearless February (100% free) or The Bold and Brave Cohort (only 6 spots available).

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 4 Comments On This Post.

  1. Aymar

    Hi Dan,

    Is good to know that your recovery is going well. Thanks for the post, what you were telling happens very often, one wants to have an excuse because being accountable for something is hard, can weight, specially if there isn’t a strong purpose (or meaning) behind.

    In my journey I fell like that many times, also doing something, but not as much as I could, settling in a way.

    Sharing this feeling with you is going to help me, for sure, so your post is a great help!

    Carry on with your inspiring work.

    All the best,
    Aymar

  2. EpicSpiritWolf

    I know Aymar is right. I know how important responsibility is, but I hate it. I don’t want so much of it. To me I just want to be carefree. Sadly, I know most people think this. I have always wondered how much responsibility is enough. Should people have a never ending list of it? Once I have them down pat there are always MORE added. I have so many I forget atleast one everyday. I despise responsibility so much now. When I was 6 and 7 I loved to get
    responsibilities. They made me feel grown up. Now that I’m a young teen I have so many sometimes I literly break down and cry softly to myself. Help me understand why so much responsibility is good. Bye for now.

    • Hi Epicspiritwolf!
      Sweet name! When I read your comment, it feels a bit like hard part of growing up. I don’t know you or your story, but I wonder if you’ve had to become responsible sooner than most. Or maybe you just haven’t been as ready as you’d hope.

      The good part of responsibility is that it gives you the power to effect change. It makes your life meaningful to know that you’re making and difference and helping others.

      I hope that helps!

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