How To Take Responsibility for Your Actions (and Grow in the Process)

I’ve written lots of articles on this blog, giving out what I hope has been useful life advice. But of all the advice I’ve given, this topic—how to take responsibility for your actions—is one of the most challenging for me, personally.

I don’t think I’m alone in that struggle, either. Owning up to things you’ve done wrong and mistakes you’ve made does not come naturally for most people. Usually it gets tied up in feelings of shame (more on that later). 

But if you can fight through the awkwardness and discomfort, your life will change for the better in the long run.

This is not a skill you can pick up in one sitting. To be honest, you’ll likely be working on it for your entire life.

But that’s just the first hard truth you’ll have to swallow if you want to learn to take personal responsibility. And buckle up—I have seven more coming in this article.


What does it mean to take responsibility for your actions?

Taking responsibility for your actions means taking ownership of your mistakes and misjudgments and your successes and milestones. 

It’s important to remember both sides of this equation. It’s easy to focus on the negative side of taking responsibility for your actions, but it’s just as important (and often equally challenging) to own up to the things you do well. 

When you take start taking responsibility for your life, you’ll be doing things like this: 

  • Apologizing when you offend or hurt someone 
  • Admitting to mistakes without being asked 
  • Being honest about past mistakes you’ve made and what you learned 
  • Listening to others’ feedback on what is and isn’t your responsibility 
  • Talking openly about big wins at work and in your personal life 
  • Graciously accepting praise and compliments for your accomplishments

Not easy stuff. But learning how to do it without too much anguish can have major benefits for your life in the long run. 


What happens when you start taking responsibility for your life

What are the benefits of taking responsibility for your actions? Here’s what will happen, with examples to paint a clear picture. 


You gain a deeper understanding of your true self

01 how to take responsibility for your actions true self

Taking responsibility for your actions requires a lot of self-reflection. You must continually assess what’s going on in your life and investigate your role in the bigger picture. By doing this, you are learning more about who you are and what you want in life.

Example: The Typos

You’ve been collaborating on a presentation with some of your colleagues. When it comes time to show the slides to your client, there are numerous typos on the slides you worked on. Your gut instinct is to keep your head down since no one on your team can remember who worked on which slides. But instead, you decide to own up and take responsibility. 

Before you come clean, you take a moment to reflect on what happened. You remember feeling rushed when you made the slides. You weren’t paying much attention in the meeting about the presentation and must have missed how important it was. 

You come clean and make a promise to your colleagues and yourself to be more attentive and pay closer attention to detail. You’ve learned these are some of the areas you can work on—a realization that gives you a chance to become a better person with improved skills that can help you get ahead in life. 


You develop empathy, which opens you up to new experiences

02 how to take responsibility for your actions empathy

To learn how to take responsibility for your actions, you’ll have to recognize and resist the urge to throw the blame on others when things go sideways. 

The only way to do this is by developing empathy for the folks around you—when something bad happens, you must put yourself in other people’s shoes. Examine the situation from their perspective and consider how you and everyone else involved is feeling. 

Empathy helps you build stronger connections with people who are different from you, and as a result, you’ll get new experiences and perspectives that are worth gold.

Example: The Bad Joke

You’re hanging out with a group of people after class one day—some people you consider close friends, others you don’t know well. At some point, you make a joke that your friends all laugh at, but a few of the folks you don’t know well don’t crack a smile. In fact, a few of them look downright angry. 

Immediately you feel defensive. You have thoughts like, “They’re being too sensitive” or “They don’t get my sense of humor.”

Then you hit pause. You reflect on why they may not be laughing. Perhaps their life experiences give them a different perspective on the joke. 

Instead of laughing and moving on, you put your hands up and say, “I’m sorry, that was a thoughtless comment.”

That simple statement is an honest apology, and instead of the conversation moving on while people are still annoyed at you, you’ve opened up room for discussion. A few of the people in the group share why they found it unfunny, explaining how it made them feel.

You learn from them as you listen openly and get to see a glimpse into how your new acquaintances approach life. You’ve laid the groundwork for deeper relationships, and you’re far less likely to put your foot in your mouth again in the same way.


You strengthen trust and relationships

03 how to take responsibility for your actions trust

You probably know someone who is really bad at taking responsibility for their actions. They always blame someone else or make a flimsy excuse. Do you trust that person? Would you go to them in an emergency? Probably not. People take note when you’re unable to take responsibility—but when you do it often and openly, they trust you so much more.

Example: The Anniversary

It hits you as you’re walking out of work—today is your two-year anniversary with your partner. You completely forgot, and you haven’t planned anything or purchased a gift.

You’re supposed to meet your partner in 30 minutes. You think about what you could do—perhaps a trip to the grocery store for some flowers and a card? Try your luck at a restaurant and pretend you have a reservation?

No—you screwed up and you’re learning to take responsibility for your actions. So once you meet up with your partner, you say, “I’m really sorry about this, but I forgot today was our anniversary until just now. I don’t have anything planned, but I still want to spend the rest of the day with you.”

Your partner is hurt and upset, but you end up having a good night once the initial shock wears off—especially when you show your partner that you’ve added two calendar reminders for all your anniversaries going forward. You put a bow on top by giving them a gift later in the week—one that shows them how much you love them, and how sorry you are for hurting their feelings. 

Your partner now knows that you won’t hide things, lie, or gaslight them when you’ve messed up. They know you’ll own up and apologize, which means they trust you to be honest and straightforward with them. That’s what good relationships are founded on.


You gain more ownership and autonomy

04 how to take responsibility for your actions autonomy autonomy

Owning up to your responsibilities gives you more control over the outcome of your actions and how you’ll behave in the future. You don’t have to hide from your mistakes or play down your successes—instead, you take responsibility for them, learn from them, and use them to push yourself forward.

Example: The Sculpture

After weeks of hard work, you’ve just finished a sculpture that you’re really proud of. You’re finally ready to step away. As you’re leaving the pottery studio, you hear two people discussing your sculpture, commenting on how much they admire it. 

Your instinct tells you to slink away quietly. You don’t want to appear cocky or obnoxious. But you fight back against that instinct—people are admiring something you’ve done well, and it’s time to take responsibility for your actions. 

You step forward, smile, introduce yourself as the artist, and thank them for their kind words about your work. This opens up a conversation where they give you feedback, ask you questions, and even suggest working together on something.

You’ve made new friends, gotten important insights into your work, and, most importantly, gained confidence in your skills as an artist. Now, you have more control over your art—you have more connections to pursue at the studio and more inspiration for even more amazing sculptures in the future. That’s a lot more autonomy than you would have had if you simply went home without saying a word.


You keep anxiety levels at bay

When you think about taking responsibility for your actions, you may feel a flutter of anxiety (which is totally natural). 

But take it from me, as someone who knows what chronic anxiety feels like: Owning your actions is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety long-term. 

If you fail to hold yourself accountable for your actions, you are essentially bottling them up. You keep them to yourself, and are likely to beat yourself up over your actions internally (cue the anxiety).

By owning up to your responsibilities, you’re taking the burden off yourself. Instead of carrying the anxiety around and beating yourself up with it, you’re releasing it so you can move on.

Example: The Gift

During the holidays, you’re visiting with family and exchanging gifts. A cousin gives you a present that you don’t really like—and you show it. You barely mutter “Thank you,” and quickly move on to the next present. 

Later at home when you’re winding down, it hits you: You were rude and unappreciative. You cringe and start to feel anxious. You think of your cousin, wondering how they feel and if they’re upset with you.

You want to just forget it and move on, but you’re on a mission to start taking responsibility for your actions. So instead of carrying that ball of anxiety, you bite the bullet and call your cousin to apologize. 

They assure you they hardly noticed, and you get a chance to thank them graciously for the gift. You get to have a nice conversation, and the incident is water under the bridge—a much better outcome than long-term anxiety and a wedge between you and your cousin.


7 hard truths that will help you start taking responsibility for your actions

Taking responsibility isn’t easy for anyone. People who make it seem easy have already put in the work and accepted some difficult truths about life. 

If you want to join their ranks, here are some of the hard pills you’ll have to swallow to start taking personal responsibility like a pro. 


1. Life isn’t fair, and the universe doesn’t owe you anything 

At some point in life, you’re going to come up against some extreme unfairness. You won’t get into the college you want. You’ll lose a loved one too soon. You’ll get ghosted by someone you were kind to or betrayed by someone you trusted. 

It happens to everyone and different times and to varying degrees. In the face of injustice, it’s easy to let resentment consume you. You may have thoughts like, “Why do bad things always happen to me?” or “Why can’t I have an easy life like my sister?” 

But this kind of negative dwelling doesn’t get you anywhere. Blaming the universe isn’t helpful—the universe simply doesn’t care. Comparing yourself to others only breeds resentment and puts distance between you and the people in your orbit. 

Once you accept that unfair things will happen to you whether you want them to or not, it becomes much easier to take the bad things in life in stride. Sure, they’ll still make you depressed or frustrated. But once you stop blaming the cosmos or other people, you can focus on righting the wrongs and overcoming the challenges. 


2. You may be the root cause of your biggest problems

If you seem to be coming up against challenges and problems everywhere you go, I have two words for you: common denominator. 

Though life is indeed unfair, if you are experiencing negative patterns in your life (like losing jobs, overdrawing your bank account, having bad first dates, etc.), it’s time to consider whether you might be the problem. 

No one wants to believe they’re the cause of problems in life. But often, if you take a moment to examine a recurring situation, you’ll find that the biggest obstacle standing in your way is yourself. 

Maybe you are frequently late to work because you oversleep. 

Maybe you spend too much money eating out when you could cook. 

Maybe you talk about yourself too much on first dates. 

It hurts to acknowledge these shortcomings, but you won’t be able to improve them until you accept that they’re contributing to your issues. Once you can accept that (and forgive yourself—more on that later), you’re paving the way for self-improvement and a resolution to your issues. 


3. You need to work on your listening skills

Self-reflection is necessary if you want to take responsibility for your actions, but you also must learn how to take on feedback from others and empathize with them (as I mentioned above).

You won’t be able to achieve this if you aren’t an active listener—someone who is engaged and attentive when listening to others (rather than thinking about what you want to say next). 

Active listening is a big enough topic, I could write an entire article on it. In fact, I have, and it’s a good companion piece to the article you’re reading now: 


4. No one is coming to your rescue. You have to take action

When we’re young, it’s easy to feel like everything will be taken care of by the adults in our lives—parents, relatives, teachers, even kind strangers. 

For many, leaving the comfort of home is a harsh awakening. Suddenly, there’s no one there to help if you run out of money, get in trouble, or face a tough moral situation. 

This can lead to paralysis. You can sit with your problems, waiting for some magical person to come along and solve the issue for you. 

But here’s the truth: No one is coming. It’s up to you to take responsibility and take action. Otherwise, you’ll stay in the same place forever. 

Remember that sometimes, taking action means reaching out to family, friends, or professionals for help. It can also look like doing your research on solutions, or confronting someone, or being honest with yourself. Put in the effort, whatever it is, because no one else is going to do it for you. 


5. You can’t run away from guilt and shame (and it’s vital to know the difference)

Guilt and shame both play a role in how well you take responsibility for your actions. And though many use the words interchangeably, there’s an important difference: 

how to take responsibility for your actions quote

Here’s an example. Let’s say you were washing dishes and accidentally broke your roommate’s favorite vase. This feels terrible, and depending on where you are in life, you’ll feel either guilt or shame. 

Shame Response: “I’m such an idiot. I’m always dropping things, and my roommate probably hates me for it already.” 

Guilt Response: “Oops. I dropped that vase because I wasn’t paying attention. I need to be more attentive when handling important things like this.” 

It may seem like both responses here are examples of taking responsibility. But really, the shame response puts blame where it doesn’t belong. You are blaming who you are as a person—which really has nothing to do with what happened. You aren’t a stupid person, and it’s highly unlikely your roommate hates you for simply breaking a dish. 

Feeling shame will also make you want to run from the problem rather than own up to it. 

On the other hand, the guilt response acknowledges what behaviors caused the accident. Behaviors can be changed and improved, keeping you on track to becoming the person you want to be and loving the person you are


6. You won’t succeed without being kind, patient, and forgiving to yourself

There’s been a lot of tough love in this article, but now I want to touch on something a bit softer. 

Learning to take responsibility is painful. You will feel shame despite your best efforts. You will have difficult conversations. You will lose trust before you gain it. 

To make it through these challenges and come out the other side better off, you must be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to screw up, and be proud that you are now owning up to it when you do. 

If you make the same mistake twice, even after setting your mind to fixing the problem, forgive yourself. These things take time. 

Patience and self-empathy will get you there in the end, and soon you’ll be a master at taking responsibility for your life.


7. There is a lot about your life that you can’t control

It is nice to think that your destiny lies within your own hands. We are often told as young people that our actions and choices will define our lives. 

This is true, to an extent. But it’s also true that there are lots of factors that are completely out of your control, and they will have a big impact on your life. 

These factors can be big or small, positive or negative (and usually somewhere in between). Where you live, the makeup of your family, political and economic climates, your gender, race, and sexuality—these are just a few of the factors that will impact the course of your life. And there’s not much you can do to change them.

But if there is one thing you can change, it’s how you react and respond to the circumstances of your life. You can choose to hold yourself accountable. And though it’s not easy, taking responsibility for your actions can give you a greater sense of control and autonomy.



Most people find it challenging to start taking responsibility for their actions. In fact, there are people who never develop this skill, because it’s so hard!

But those who learn to gracefully own their actions stand to gain a lot in life. If you want to count yourself among the lucky people who have deeper relationships, more personal freedom, and richer experiences—start taking responsibility for your actions.