In high school, seniors go on a seven-day class-wide camping trip. When it came my turn, I was placed into a group of 28, in which we formed groups of four. Each of these groups was responsible for one night of dinner.
My group of four decided that we wanted to bring dumplings. One of my friends in the group suggested that buying 10 bags should be enough. These bags had 15 dumplings apiece. A quick google search showed that dumplings have about 80 calories, so each bag had 1200 calories. The average person eats around 800 calories for dinner, but our trip involved physical activities that would increase this number. I thought 1200 calories for dinner was reasonable, which suggested we needed to buy 28 bags, approximately three times more than what my friend originally suggested.
While we were having this discussion, I remember noticing my friend thought he could guess a number instead of doing multiplication. I remember thinking that it was likely that another group would guess a number, fail to multiply, and bring three times less food than necessary. I remember thinking this and not doing anything about it.
Can you guess what happened? No one went hungry until the 7th day. When it came time to prepare dinner, the group in charge for pulled out two bags of ravioli. Two bags. For 28 people.
Whenever something bad happens, it is always tempting to look for other people to blame. In most cases, there are obvious culprits that aren’t yourself. Being responsible means ignoring this temptation; to always ask “what could I have done to make things better?”. You can only control yourself, so the buck must stop at you.
It’s freeing, in a way, to decide that “I wasn’t responsible for that” is not longer an acceptable excuse - that there are no acceptable excuses. You no longer have to waste energy thinking of them. You just have to make sure the job gets done no matter what. You can devote all your effort into winning, instead of trying to justify a potential future loss.
Importantly, being responsible for everything doesn’t mean that you have to do everything. If you delegate a task and it gets done poorly, it’s your fault for delegating. However, if you don’t delegate a task that could have been delegated, you’ve wasted time that could have been spent doing something more important. That’s your fault too.
Worrying is similarly double-edged. If something unexpected happens, it’s your fault for not worrying about it and preparing. However, if you spend too much time worrying about things that don’t happen, that’s your fault too. If someone is about to make a decision that you think is incorrect, it’s not enough to know that you won’t be blamed. If someone gets hurt, it’s your fault. Are you okay with that?
Being responsible isn’t easy. Responsibility doesn’t tell you what the correct action is, only demand that you take it. If you do what you think is the responsible thing and you turn out to be mistaken… well that’s your fault too.
Thus it is written:
When all is said and done, and Nature passes her final judgement, you will not be awarded extra points for the persuasiveness of the reasons that there was nothing more you could have done.
You will be measured only by what actually happens, as will we all.