The Responsibility Matrix

I call it The Responsibility Matrix

We’ve all be there before. If you haven’t been there in the recent past, you’ll most likely find yourself there again soon enough. And inevitably you will not like it; tough decision time. These are times when it’s 10 at night and you’re considering whether or not to close properly and get a little extra done to make your next day a little easier, or whether or not to phone it in and go home. It’s that time when you near the front of the line at the grocery store and remember that your wife asked you to grab eggs. Do you leave the line and fulfill your husbandly responsibilities? Or do you say, “fuck it, she can get eggs the next time she’s here”.

All these examples are part of a million and one little decisions that decide who we are on a daily basis. These little things add up but first in order to analyze which way to go, we need to look at your value system.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight, there is no “right” or “wrong” in life. I can drink and drive and inherently that isn’t “wrong”, though society looks down on it. I could shoot a looter and it doesn’t make me “right”. I could decide to skip out on my son’s birthday or leave the dishes in the sink or run a red light and these things inherently by themselves are not “right” or “wrong”. Society tells us they’re right and wrong, and makes us feel guilt or pride based on the theory that I’m about to explain to you.

And that theory is the responsibility matrix. Think about it. Drunk driving. You can drink and drive down any road you want to in the US. If you have a bottle in your hands and you’re heading to your car with keys in your pocket, no one will stop you. Now once you have an open container and are operating a vehicle, you run into the legal red zone but up until the point where an officer is literally flashing his lights behind you, you haven’t done anything “wrong”. But what you have done is been irresponsible. By drinking and driving you endanger others who are not empowered to make your decisions for you. You are affecting their lives, whether they know it or not, and willingly putting themselves and yourself at danger if you decide to drive inebriated, or run the red, or swerve into another lane without a blinker while talking on the phone. At that point, your responsibility to society and the other drivers on the road trumps the responsibility you have towards yourself. That teeter-totter flips and now you find yourself behind bars. If you think about it, this classifies all of our decisions. Not every one of them end up so violently or so dire, but all the decisions we make affect our own or other’s responsibilities to each other and yourself.

So let’s say you decide to buy a fancy watch. It’s $5,000 and will take out a sizeable chunk of your bank account. All the while, you know your wife and you have an impending move. Down payments need to be made, furniture and fixer ups bought, and moving vehicles and services purchased. $5,000 less is $5,000 you could have used to help with your move. Now at this point, you have a decision to make, weigh the responsibility of providing enough money for the move with your wife, or making yourself happy with a watch. Now experience may lead you to different conclusions in addition to the background context of this decision. Maybe you’ve made a big purchase like this in the past and know that the feeling that you’re seeking (empowerment, satisfaction, braggadocio) is fleeting. Maybe you’ve been saving all year for this watch or have been waiting until you made that promotion and this watch is a reward to yourself. Either way, you still need to weigh your responsibility matrix. Is your greater responsibility to your wife, or to yourself? I can’t tell you the answer here, but suffice to say that whatever you decide, look at what your values are and how they contribute to your final answer.

Or let’s say this; it’s a late night at work on a Friday. It’s 5:30 but you know you need to get a couple more things done to close out the day. Additionally, there are tasks that you can get done now that would prevent you from stressing out as much on Monday or possibly having to come in on Saturday to complete. All the while, you know your wife and kids are at home. Whether or not they’re waiting for you, you know that they’re eating dinner, going over the school day, and your kids go to bed at 8:30. What do you do? You have a couple of decisions here. You could either phone in the rest of your remaining tasks and decide to go home as soon as possible. Or better yet eschew them for an eventual Saturday at work or a more stressful Monday and go home now. Or you can decide to do the bare minimum required and cut out when your job is done for the day. Or you can go the extra mile and make sure that the job isn’t just done, but done extremely well, thus proving your value to your fellow employees and your boss. Whew! Three different decisions! As with the example above, it all depends on the context. Maybe you always go home at five o’clock and today your fellow co-workers need you to stay just a bit longer to make sure the job gets done right. They’re depending on you. Maybe you made a promise to your wife to be home by 5 and you know she’s counting on you to help out with the kids’ homework and to spend some time with her. Maybe you don’t really like your wife and you know your kids probably got in trouble at school again so tonight will be another screaming/lecture night at the dinner table when all you wanna do is have some peace and quiet for yourself. Whatever the case, you need to analyze your responsibility matrix here: is it to your wife/family, is it to yourself, or is it to your work.

And with that we come to our normal three camps between which we must constantly choose:

Yourself — Your Family — Your Work

Yourself: We’ve all seen the person who’s burned themselves out at work. They’ve given too much of themselves to their jobs. The passion seems gone but they’ve overcommitted and now they’re stuck on a loop from hell. They fail to set boundaries because they have no boundaries for themselves.

We’ve also seen people in shitty relationships. Where from the outside looking in, it’s obvious that the other party is not fulfilling their end of the task list and letting your friend or loved one carry the lion’s share of the tasks. Or relationships where we’ve seen one individual be so obviously damaging to the other but we can’t help them see it for the life of us. We’re sucked into a committed relationship just because we tell ourselves we’re obligated to keep the relationship alive. I’ve hooked by wagon up to the train and now I’m in it for better or as often is the likely case, the worse.

Always take your own mental and physical health into account. If you’re debating staying extra hours again just because you think that’s what the boss wants but you know that you’re putting your future writing career or schoolwork in jeopardy just for some supposed expectation that was never clearly elucidated by your boss, then you’re being irresponsible to yourself. If you’re in a relationship where you find yourself walking the dog again even after you asked your husband to do it and he’s still playing video games. Or your wife isn’t offering to help during a move even though she knows it will benefit you both. Or you’re counting on your husband to get home at 9 so that he can hang out with you but instead he gets home at 12 after drinking out with his co-workers, then it’s time to have a serious conversation about the respect you expect and your perceptions of what you’ve been receiving.

Take into account that this doesn’t mean you win all the time. It’s not an excuse just to do things for you, obviously. But it’s worth taking into account that if you’re upset that you have to stay an extra hour at work or you’re getting pissed off that the laundry is falling again to you to fold it up and put it away, then perhaps it’s worth noting that you may be overcommitting yourself and it’s time to take some responsibility back to taking care of yourself instead of taking care of other people so much.

Your family: My father always used to go into work on Saturdays. Almost religiously. In fact, on days where he stayed home on Saturday, it was usually a sign that something was wrong, he was sick, or it was Christmas. With that being said, his child (me) didn’t really get to see him much except for on Sundays and in the evenings. Now I’m not saying that this had a negative affect on me overall. I came to love it when he got home and we’d play UNO as a family or on one of those special Sundays when we’d go to the mall and we’d hit the food court and the arcade. Him coming home to help me with my math homework or take me to gymnastics (yes, don’t judge) are some of the highlights of my memory. But I also remember the flip-side where he wasn’t quite aware of who I was as a person. There would be often times where my mom and I would be having one of our classic arguments or she’d be punishing me or whatever and I knew my dad was staying at work just to avoid it. I came to hate it because I knew there were times that my mom was unreasonable and I wanted my dad to be there just to have my back or listen to my case. However, sometimes on Saturday I’d hear that garage door open up and hear his car pull away and know that it was going to be a loooong day of choring with my mom. This concept was never so clearly evidenced as when it came time for me to go to college. I think both my mom and myself knew that I wasn’t ready but my father seemed intent on it. He was ready to pay the money to send me to a top notch school and lamented severely when I decided to join the Air Force. (In the end, my mom was right.) Anyway, point being that sometime committing too much to yourself or to your work can lead you to blind spots in your family life. It’s a point well illustrated and hashed out in multiple TV shows and relationship self-help books and whatnot. But it bears worth repeating, watch how much time you spend dedicating your life to things other than your family. You only get one. And especially with kids, if you don’t form strong bonds now, then they won’t be there when you want them or need them.

Ahhh, and finally we made it to the last one. Thanks for sticking it out with me. But Work is one of our simplest topics. That’s because it’s covered in the job description. At the end of the day, is the job getting done? What were you hired for? What are you getting paid for? Is that job getting done? Because if not, it may be time to analyze if you’re committing enough of your own resources to make sure the job gets done. But if you’re constantly “going the extra mile” for things that are not your responsibility, at the detriment of yourself and your family, then you need to take a good look at what you’re doing here. Are you wasting time with irrelevant detritus or getting lost in the weeds of a task and taking too much time? When are you responsible for your work? When not doing your job negatively affects the team. But seriously, the only question you need to ask about your work is; what was I hired to do? And “What am I being paid to do?” Barring that, then you owe no obligation other than the one you put on yourself. If it helps, just keep in mind that no one is going to thank you. As I like to say, you don’t get points for being early, but you do lose points for being late.

At the end of the day, the point put simply enough is, where do I owe responsibility to? Do I owe a greater responsibility to myself? To make sure that I get the rest I need or am achieving the dreams that I have for myself instead of subordinating myself to others? Is my responsibility to my family? To make sure that my relationships are balanced and that the people counting on me to care for them can trust that I’ll be there. Or is my responsibility to my job, to the team, to the project that counts on me to get it done well and on time. Looking at that, look at the responsibilities you have to the individuals in your life. When your co-worker asks you for something, do you have a responsibility to say “yes” to please them and make them like you? Do you have a responsibility to help the team? Or is your greater responsibility to say “no” and commit to the ones you’ve already committed to.

“It’s not where you go, it’s how you get there”



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store