There were three things that brought me freedom. First, achieving basic financial stability. Second, overcoming my mental illnesses. Third, taking 100% responsibility for everything that I am directly responsible for, and 0% responsibility for everything that I am not.

For me, those three steps happened in chronological order. But they didn’t have to. I could have taken step 3 at any time, but I literally didn’t know how. I didn’t have the right concepts. My hope is that in writing this, I can help someone apply the concept of responsibility. Because I could have achieved mental and financial stability much more quickly if I had even known how to take step 3.

So here are the basic elements of responsibility.

My relationship to any person is 100% my responsibility. It is 0% their responsibility. My relationship to my own job, career, business, emotions, family history, actions, habits, dreams and values (and etc.) is 100% my responsibility.

Any person’s relationship to any other person is 0% my responsibility.

Any person’s relationship to their own addictions, dreams, career, failures, hopes, successes, emotions, temper tantrums, gossip, happiness, health, finances or values is 0% my responsibility.

And when I say zero percent, I mean ZERO. It is not my responsibility at all. It’s not even any of my business, except to the extent that I need information to make decisions on the things that are my responsibility.

I wish to God that I had this concept earlier in life. Learning to take complete responsibility for what’s mine, and taking absolutely no responsibility at all for what is not mine, has made me radically free and completely clear.

At first, I was going to “explain” this concept of responsibility, but I think it will be more useful for people if I go in a different direction. I’m going to say that this concept of responsibility is the reason behind several rules of thumb that have served me well. Here are the rules of thumb. These are not absolutely true, but they are true 99% of the time.

  1. Stay out of any conflict between other people.
  2. Don’t take sides. Don’t even take your own side.
  3. Never do couples counseling or try to help anyone with their romantic relationship.
  4. Don’t give advice.
  5. Listen.
  6. No really, shut up and listen.
  7. Never believe gossip.
  8. If you want to say no (to ANYTHING), that’s a good enough reason to say no.
  9. If you want to leave, that’s a good enough reason to leave.
  10. You don’t need to give your reasons for saying no or leaving.
  11. The only form of leadership is by example.
  12. Do not label people, not with positive or negative labels.
  13. Directly support the people you want to support. Don’t attack their enemies, even if their enemies are actually abusive.
  14. NEVER channel anyone else’s emotions, especially anger.
  15. Go after what you really want with everything you’ve got.
  16. Let go of everything that isn’t important.
  17. Define your boundaries clearly while still staying connected to people.
  18. Always talk directly to people, even if they have left your life, even if they are dead.
  19. Never deliver messages for people and never accept a third-party delivering someone else’s message.
  20. No one owes you an explanation. Actually, unless they made a clear promise, no one owes you anything at all.

A brief note on number 17–you’ll never get 100% good at that. The balance is impossible to do perfectly, but you should aim at perfection anyway.

Let’s talk about rule number nine briefly, because that is the only one on the list that my younger self would have needed an explanation for. My relationship to my job is 100% my responsibility. It is 0% my job’s responsibility to keep me happy. That means that if a job doesn’t give me what I want it is 100% my responsibility to create and execute my exit plan.

Same with any relationship, living situation, or group.

It is 100% my responsibility to figure out how to love other people the way they want to be loved, to deal with conflicts effectively, and to communicate clearly. They have 0% responsibility for our relationship. And that means, a whole lot of the people I wasted a whole lot of time on I never should have even been friends with.

Taking 100% responsibility for my relationships with other people, then, quite often precisely means that I end the relationship.

So there you have it. How I got free.