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Reading: The Responsible Party


Ray Dalio says in Principles, "...the inevitable responsible party is the person who bears the consequences of what is done." On his blog, Sebastian Marshall refines with an example: “If you’re sick, you might choose to delegate the responsibility of figuring out what do to about it to a doctor. However, it is your responsibility to pick the right doctor because you will bear the consequences of that decision.”

Marshall’s comments brought up some thoughts and questions for me.

First, the personal. I learned early on that I was responsible for my own academic success and physical wellbeing. Parents could be misguided. Teachers could be misinformed. Doctors don’t have all the answers. As a high-achieving kid with Crohn’s disease, I learned to be resourceful. If my doctor wasn’t listening, I’d ask for someone else. If my schoolbooks weren’t cutting it, I’d find new ones.

But when it comes to relationships and specific goals, things are different. I develop codependences; I worry about what others are thinking. I’ve tried to shoulder the others’ responsibilities, often at my own expense, so that I can avoid my own. In the past, I’ve sought out successful people and made myself indispensible to them. As an achiever who thrives on praise, I can become overinvested in others’ lives and underinvested in my own.

So, reading Marshall’s post got me thinking:

  • What does it mean to “bear the consequences”? For instance, if an employee makes a serious error and is fired for it, does he bear the consequences, or does the business?
  • Is it possible to be fully or partially responsible for something that belongs to someone else—or to another person? Are we only responsible for ourselves and our own ideas?
  • Is professional responsibility different from personal responsibility? In the world of startups, where’s the line?
  • What happens when there are multiple sets of consequences for different players? Who bears the brunt?
  • Are any responsibilities truly shared? How about parenthood? Co-founding?
  • Is it possible to shoulder the responsibilities of others, and say, “I’ll take it from here”? (Spoiler: I don’t think so).
  • As a follow-up, is there something inherently unwise about attempting to take on the responsibilities of others? If so, what?
  • How does investment play into responsibility? How about the idea of “owing” a person or organization?
  • How does one walk the line, keeping their side of the street clean while involving themselves in projects with others?

In the context of Tradecraft, this article acts as a friendly warning. It says to me: don’t confuse the Tradecraft mission, or a mentor’s mission, with my own personal beliefs. Make goals, and keep them in sight. Take pleasure in praise, but do not seek it as an end. Develop my own methods for measuring personal and professional success.

As an achiever (my StengthsFinder score says so), I’ll need to be vigilant. I am motivated by praise, grades, recognition. However, I’m drawn to work where official accolades don’t yet exist. In these spaces, an ideal student does not always make a great leader. My parents, teachers, employers, and mentors have a stake in my future as a leader, sure—but only I can make the leap.