My son told me a joke he heard at school the other day.

A young man says to his mother, “I don’t want to go to school today. Everyone gives me a hard time – the boys are difficult to get along with and the teachers are mean to me.” “I understand” says his loving mother, “but you have to go. You’re the principal.”

Everyone has days (weeks, months) like this – children and adults, whether our job is to go to school or earn a living, whether we work for a business or a non-profit. And part of growing up, part of what we need to teach our children and ourselves is to accept this reality.

Children imagine that once these high school years end, they will finally experience their dream of a carefree existence. Their parents know that nothing could be further from the truth.

The thing we need to keep an eye on, the thing we need to train our children to focus on, is the privilege of a life of responsibility.

Even though we may not always feel like it, we want to accomplish and we want to succeed.

We need projects and jobs. We need responsibilities and commitments in order to feel like we are making something out of our lives, that we are using rather than squandering our gifts.

Most people are surprised to discover that the CEO actually has less freedom than his salaried employees. Because the buck stops with him. He (or she!) has greater responsibility. And also the ensuing greater pleasure and greater reward.

It’s good to build that recognition while young. It will help our children stay motivated.

Even the principal in the joke would still rather be in his role than be one of his teachers. How do I know? Because he could step down. But he has probably worked long and hard to reach his position. It’s a proof that we want responsibility, that we recognize the opportunity for growth and character development. Rarely does anyone choose to be demoted rather than promoted.

Yes, our children frequently don’t feel like getting up for school in the morning. They argue that they will “never use this chemistry again,” that “the teacher is incompetent,” and that “the other kids are idiots.” They may be right.

But they still need to go. Being responsible doesn’t mean only when it’s easy. It means when it’s difficult, painful, frustrating, challenging…That’s when our sense of responsibility means something. That’s when we grow up. That principal couldn’t just think of himself. He had to think of all his employees and students who were depending on him. He couldn’t let them down.

And that’s how we need to behave also. We have created worlds where many people depend on us – spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, co-workers. We can’t just do what we feel like. And the honest truth is we wouldn’t want to. Ultimately it’s ourselves that we can’t let down.