I like to think that I’ve lived a life of responsibility. Even dating back to the rebellious teen years, I was a responsible kid. I followed my parents rules because compliance seemed the better approach compared to the strife that occurred for the rulebreakers. Yes, there were a few exceptions along the way. The great and massive collapse of obedience that led to me getting kicked out of the parental home when I was 22. And another thing here and there.
But if any word describes my behavior over the thirty year course of my life as an adult, I think it’s responsible. Always moving forward, thinking about what’s to come. Trying to plan and take care of things that need to get done. I take pride in the fact that once I moved out I never had to ask my parents for help. Real help any way. There have been some moments where I thought I might need it, but I found alternatives and I’ve been on my own, responsible for me and able to fulfill that responsibility for a long time.
That responsibility though isn’t the problem. It’s all of the others that have piled on. The responsibility of family and children, of owning a home, of work, of planning and preparing for others. It feels endless and relentless these days and has for a long time.
This week will mark the 8th anniversary of my current position at work. I’m the General Counsel for an elected official who oversees a state agency with over 300 employees. I’ll spare the details, but because of my position, there isn’t a matter that I’m not involved in. Every division, every component of the agency’s operations comes through my office at some point. It’s a job I thought I might aspire to at some point in my life, but it fell into my lap one day when my boss, the prior General Counsel, told me she was quitting, that she had recommended me to be her replacement, and that I better take the job should it be offered to me.
That first day I felt like a kid wearing his dad’s suit. I still feel like that frequently, alarmed that people seek out my opinion and involvement in critical matters. (“Wait, don’t you realize? I’m no better than you. No smarter than you. Why would you ask me?”) But, it’s endless at times. There are days where the cycle of responsibility just seems so … endless and relentless. What do you think about this? How should we do that? What does this law mean? Couldn’t it be read this way instead of that? Hey, we have a problem with this employee? Write this piece of legislation? Sit in on this meeting. Do this. Do that. Constant, never-ending responsibility. (By the way, people at work who read this – don’t worry, I’m still here to help. It’s actually the odd paradox about this. I enjoy helping people and I get to do that frequently in my job. So, keep stopping by.)
And, then, I go home. I’m responsible for 90% of the income for my family. I have done everything I can think of to raise my two boys responsibly and well. It doesn’t seem to be working out so well at the moment. I’ll spare you the details. But I have felt for years, in the confines of my family relationship that there are things I have taken responsibility for, or things the responsibility for which has been forced upon me, an overwhelming sense that I have had to be the responsible one. Solely responsible for so many things that are supposed to be team efforts
The point of this post is to talk about responsibility and my 30-year dance with it. And to say enough. I don’t want to wear my dad’s suit anymore. I want to spend my day in t-shirts and shorts. I no longer want to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of others. I want to be happy myself. I no longer want the drain and strain of all of this. I simply want to be.
In various forums, it has been suggested that I like to argue. I’m sure that my kids think I like to yell, since I’m so good at it. I’m willing to bet that people I work with believe I enjoy confrontation, that I thrive on conflict and “winning.” All of them would be wrong. The reasons I have to argue and yell, and face down confrontation and conflict is BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE AREN’T TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES. What I prefer is a world in which people act and think responsibly. That people work towards solutions rather than pointing at somebody else to solve the puzzle. What I prefer is a world where communication is the key.
Back in 2012, Barack Obama was featured in a magazine profile. During the course of the piece, he talks about the relentlessness of having to make decisions. That, as President, he has to make so many decisions. That no matter how big or small, the need to make decisions is draining all on its own. As a consequence, to make sure he had the energy for the big decisions, he had done everything he could to eliminate the small decisions. He eliminated all suits from his closet except for black and dark blue. He had the same meal for breakfast and followed the same routine every morning.
Now, I realize I’m not anything close to the President and that the decisions I have to make don’t come close to those he makes, but that little discussion about the energy-sucking effect of decisions struck a chord with me. It relates to the relentless nature of responsibility. And I want less of it. Actually, I want none of it. That’s the battle I’m facing these days.
One might argue it’s nothing more than a midlife crisis for me. One of those things we all go through at some point. When the perceived dissatisfaction with the now is replaced by the mythical dream of what could be. I don’t think it is though. I’m worn out. I’m tired. There are battles I’ve been fighting for years I no longer want to fight. They aren’t battles I chose. They are battles forced upon me. Yes, I didn’t have to have kids. I chose to have them. Yes, I didn’t need to accept the position I have now. I chose to do so. But, the battles I’m talking about aren’t inherent in those choices. They are the battles that need to be fought because other people aren’t taking responsibility. Other people are looking elsewhere for somebody, anybody to take care of things so they don’t have to.
I have this dream. In six years, I will be 55. My youngest son will be 22 and hopefully done with his undergraduate program. My responsibility to and for my kids will be at an end. I will be able to retire and spend the rest of my life living the life I want to live. One where the only thing I’m responsible for is myself. Where the only choices I will need to make each day are whether to sit on the beach in the morning or afternoon. Whether to write or read. Whether I should make French bread or pita. My home will be something as small, as minimal, as possible. I won’t need to be responsible for mowing a lawn, or repairing a garage door. Yes, there will still be things that will need fixing, things I will be responsible for. But, responsibility will no longer be what fills my days, weeks, and months. Freedom will.