One of the ongoing processes of learning over a lifetime is figuring out what we can control and therefore be responsible for and what we cannot. Responsibility presumes free will and choice, and lack of responsibility precludes them. If you can make choices, then you are responsible for those choices; if you have no choice, you cannot be held responsible for what happens. Of course we can only make the best choices we can figure out given what we know and our judgment overall. So even with free choice, and responsibility, we cannot always control, or foresee, outcomes. Still, with the possibility of going one way or another, we affect what happens in the world and with us when we pick a direction. And we can do our best to be thoughtful and careful in exercising our free will.
It is most difficult to understand and accept our partial control over our lives. We vacillate between holding ourselves totally responsible for creating our own problems to feeling helpless and hopeless to craft the lives we want. Knowing that our choices matter, that we matter, and at the same time accepting that we have no guarantees about the outcomes of those choices can be a precarious balance. We do not like uncertainty, and most of life is very uncertain. Many of our cultural and personal systems are an attempt to manage that uncertainty. We like structure and predictability, sometimes even at the expense of spontaneity and creativity.
Ultimately, we learn as we go. All of our lives is trial and error, jazz improv with a never-ending performance. We have the circumstances and challenges that we have, and our task is to create the best life we can. And even more difficult, it is our responsibility to define what “best” means. The responsibility part of it comes with the free will part of it. Some part of what I experience is my doing and some part of it is not. The learning comes in teasing apart which is which and refining our next decisions. And that learning means we are creating the future as we go.