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Responsibility: Burden or Empowerment?

17 Jul 2013 | Work Life Rhythm

Remember those days when you actually wanted responsibility? Perhaps as a child, wanting your parents to trust you with responsibility, or in those hungry ambitious early-career days, wanting more responsibility at work.

Maybe you wanted more autonomy or authority. Maybe you wanted to be in charge, to make things happen, to feel in control, make a difference.

Yet the reality of responsibility can feel like anything but.

The responsibility of being a parent – the burden of everything that needs to be done, all the decisions you make, that you might get wrong, and all the guilt that comes with that.

The responsibility of being a business owner – that the buck stops with you. That the only way anyone gets paid is if you keep bringing in the business. As the annoying saying goes, “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”

But what does it really mean to be responsible?

When we feel overwhelmed and burdened by responsibility, helpless, unable to take action or make a difference, are we actually taking responsibility?

Perhaps it’s more helpful to think about it as response-ability. Our ability to respond.

If you’re carrying a burden so heavy you can’t move, you don’t have the ability respond.

If you’re feeling trapped by your commitments and unable to make a choice about what you actually spend time on, you’re not responding.

Being response-able means making choices about how you respond, and owning that choice. Not automatically saying yes to everyone else and no to yourself. That’s abdicating responsibility.

It’s about YOUR response

Take Katie for example. Who was always cancelling her own business plans when she was called upon in her school governor role because she felt responsible. And yet if they had called on one of her employed working days, she knows she would have said no.

Instead of just feeling responsible, she took responsibility and made a choice. She chose to give an hour of her time rather than let them take a day. And that worked out fine for both parties.

It’s your choice to define the way you do business or parent your kids. That’s the only way you’ll be happy with it. Your choice how you show up in all your different roles, and who you show up for. Your choice what you say yes to and what you say no to.

It’s about your ABILITY to respond

If you’re always putting yourself last and running on empty, how does that affect your ability to respond?

If you never take time to work on your business, how does that affect your ability to respond within your business?

If you’re over-committed and things are already falling off your plate, how does that affect your ability to respond to an emergency, curve ball, or a dream opportunity that comes out of the blue?

I don’t know about you, but if I’m tired, my ability to respond to spilt milk or moody tantrums is much much much reduced.

That’s why I’m taking August off. 

Because my kids have end-of-term-itis and I think it might be contagious.

Because this is the last summer before both kids are at school full time *cue hyperventilation*

Because I’m tired. Yes, I’m human, and happy to admit, I need a break!

Because my husband’s been amazing at holding the fort when I’m on my ninja travels, and I want to respond well to him 🙂

Because my house needs de-cluttering and that affects my ability to respond.

Because I love my work, and I know I’ll have so much more to give when I recharge and renew my ability to respond.

Because I want to show up as my best self. In all my roles.

So I’m taking responsibility this summer and taking August off.

How about you? Where in your life do you feel overwhelmed or burdened by responsibility? How are you going to take responsibility?


  1. Louise Elizabeth Wiles

    Hi Grace,
    A timely post as I was thinking about my holiday in August and wondering how much of it I would really be “off” for – this has really helped me, I will be off from the 6th August through to the 26th because I want to give the people I really care for the best of me… we’re travelling home to see family and friends in the UK and then having a weeks break just the four of us and they all deserve my full attention – thanks for helping with that decision and have really great break yourself Grace.

    • Grace Marshall

      Yay! Glad to have inspired you Louise. Enjoy your break 🙂

  2. Sally

    Yes Grace, I can relate to end-of-term-itis for adults too!

    • Grace Marshall

      It’s contagious I’m sure of it! Thanks for stopping by to comment Sally 🙂

  3. socmediamamas

    Great post – if you can’t take the time to be with your little (or not so little!) people then what is the point of running your own business. Enjoy every second!

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Nicola! I’ve always reduced my hours over summer, but this is the first time I’m taking the whole of August off. Scary and exciting!

  4. naomirichards

    Good for you Grace. I am not taking the summer off because I am a balancer and juggler and thrive on that. I have my child time and my work time. Never the twain they meet. Enjoy August and hanging out with your children.

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Naomi, I’m definitely an advocate of ‘whatever works for you’. I’m a juggler too and love variety, so this is very much an experiment. Have to say, since announcing it I’m enjoying it already!

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About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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