4 min read

Letters To My Past Self: Freedom Through Responsibility

When I think of my past, I realise that there are times when I have often felt angry and upset at the world. And the nature of this frustration was usually directed to the external world. When I was young, it was against the unfairness of some parenting decisions, when I was a bit older, it was against the unfairness of certain people around me, and even recently it was against the unfairness of the world’s systems.

While it may be true that things are unjust, my frustration was not borne out of a sense of justice. It was more personal, and so perhaps more selfish too. It was tinged with an element of entitlement to change. Entitlement to changing what is clearly wrong to better – without me having done any of the work to make that change.

Because you can judge accurately whether something is unjust and how, perhaps, it should change for the better. But the frustration I describe, you can imagine, had more to do with why it hasn’t already changed for the better. But I didn’t do anything to make those things a reality! I just comfortably judged a situation and lamented the lack of change. It doesn’t really matter even if my assessment was correct because I was complaining about something more than just what the correct thing to do was.

And so we can expand this sense of anger to almost everything else in life. With your parents, if you think some things are unjust – perhaps you are feeling frustrated because you implicitly assume that things should have changed for the better, without your intervention! The same can be said if you have self-esteem issues, perhaps sometimes your self-hate has more to do with how actually you are not changing yourself for the better, and you can recognise that you’re falling short of the mark. Likewise with social issues even. Yes of course things are wrong in the world, but crying out that it is all wrong and unjust isn’t the end of the story. Maybe the next thing to do is then follow up with how such wrongs can be addressed.

The answer, I submit, is to realise that you have to take responsibility for literally everything that goes on in your life. By acknowledging that you need to take responsibility, you give yourself the permission to pursue the changes that you realise are needed. Think actually taking the effort to learn more, to work out, to improve your relationships with your family. Compared to being resentful that people don’t change, maybe you should focus on how you choose to react first. Who cares about whether someone else is supposed to have fixed things instead. A good example is I was once resentful against my parents for not knowing better, and being fairly ignorant on some issues when I was a kid. But that is irrelevant, and as an adult now – because I am not a child anymore, I should and can focus on how to improve my relationship with them.

The onus is not on them, and neither is it on me – unless I want to see things improve! And this is the whole point. If you find yourself complaining, then maybe that means you want to see something change. So go out and change it because you can. And if you complain or expect someone else to come in for you – then you’re delusional.

Back to how this applies to your everyday life: for anything that you want to see changed, you are free to take command and pursue said change. And that is a burden. It is troublesome, complex, and sometimes unrewarding. But what else is there to say? This is actually an amazing realisation. You are free to do anything at all that you want, so long as you are willing to pay the price for it. Want a good career? Work for it, strategize, network, and be plugged into a community. Want a good partner? Make yourself the partner that they would want, get around to socialise, and put in effort to understand people. And so on.

Conceptually, this is not hard to understand. The real problem is that it is actually very hard to play out in real life. Because as I said, it is obviously a heavy burden to enact change on almost any possible level you can think of. Even within yourself if you have bad habits.

So the key focus should be on accepting that whatever you want out of life will cost you. And that it will be hard, and it won’t be fun. But maybe it will be meaningful, and you won’t get that empty feeling when you delude yourself too much in short term distractions. You can imagine this because even people who want to pursue their ambitions will settle for a facsimile of their dream. I know I plaid strategy games instead of actually pursuing a tough job with real stakes.

So do you see? It almost goes without saying that the pathway to freedom to do what you want is to just pay the price to actually get there. That’s not very hard to understand conceptually. But the real obstacle is more likely to be that it is hard to actually put in the work. It is actually painful, and it is so easy to delude yourself that there are other ways around it. Instead of committing to a lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise, you pursue quick thirty-day schemes. Instead of learning how to upskill yourself, you pursue hot stock tips that don’t even make sense. And so on.

So read, re-read, and continue pursuing your goals until you can internalise that this truly is the path you want. Hard work is not a burden! It is only a burden if you are doing something you don’t believe in. Otherwise, hard work is simply a by-product of pursuing the path you set out for yourself! There is no alternative. You aren’t short-changing yourself of happiness, because who said that sitting around in leisure is what you should be striving for in the first place? Accept that life is inherently hard, and you will find yourself free to pursue all those things that you thought you had to ask permission for to pursue.