When we are children, our parents are the authority. They are in charge, they know how the world works, and they solve all of our problems.
Then we grow up and learn our parents are fallible, so we unconsciously seek to replace this authority. With our bosses, our government, the illuminati… We want to believe that there are people in charge, that know how the world works, and will solve all of our problems.
But there are no adults in the room.
There’s a certain realization that successful people have. It’s summed up nicely in this quote from Steve Jobs:
- “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
I was always confused when I noticed people doing things like blindly listening to bad advice, or working for an incompetent boss. Why do people choose things that seem objectively bad? I realized it’s because they would rather choose something that makes them feel safe, because someone else is in control, rather than have complete open freedom to make their own decisions in their own best interests, and have the scary responsibility that comes along with that.
I think this is why I love startups and entrepreneurs. If I had to pick one defining characteristic of the best founders I’ve met, it’s that they act like adults. They have deeply internalized the idea of ultimate responsibility.
- “When you’re a little kid and you’re asked to do something hard, you can cry and say “I can’t do it” and the adults will probably let you off…. whereas adults, by definition, are not allowed to flake.” - Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator
The worst founders complain, abdicate responsibility, blame others on their team, look to the board of directors as their “boss” who will tell them what to do. Complaining is a sign of someone who hasn’t accepted ultimate responsibility. It demonstrates a fundamental belief that someone else is in charge of fixing things. I’m not talking about “venting” here as a form of emotional release, that is different and healthy.
Try this thought experiment: imagine someone you know who consistently complains about everything that’s wrong in their life and the world. Would you trust that person to take care of your finances, your family, your wellbeing?
Once you choose to take responsibility for your own life, you can continue growing by taking responsibility for the lives of others. Your family, your employees, your community, maybe even the whole world. You have the opportunity and privilege of becoming the adult in the room.