Five critical skills you need to pivot: #5 Proactive responsibility

By Jacqueline Allschwang
Raizcorp Guiding Quality Manager

This is the final article in my series – Critical skills you need to pivot during a system shock. Of the five, this was the most difficult for me to write. While the others emerged quickly and effortlessly in one sitting, with this one, my usual clarity and flow was elusive and disjointed and it has taken me a couple of weeks to write the article. I asked myself, “Jacque, why are you struggling? Why are you procrastinating? Why has proactive responsibility got you all fuzzy, hesitant and stuck?”

By tuning in to our current prevailing environment, I felt for the pulse of where we are right now to find clues about what might be holding me back. We have moved from stage 5 to stage 4 lockdown, and somehow the mood and temperament has shifted. The novelty in the beginning has turned into tedium, boredom, frustration and anger. We are playing out a whole host of shadow emotions that span the entire spectrum. Some people are restless, agitated, annoyed and disappointed. The initial support of the government’s decisions and policies is fading and giving rise to dissent, tirades, tantrums and legal action. Initial acceptance has morphed into burgeoning resistance and rule breaking. Many are reeling and railing against how continued lockdown is curtailing their civil liberties, negatively impacting their lives and livelihoods, and causing tremendous and growing amounts of hardship, suffering and personal stress.

Different people employ different coping mechanisms and survival strategies to get through a system shock. Some may go into denial and pretend as though nothing at all has changed, avoiding decisions and actions that will offer relief, unblock the flow and bring forward movement. Some get stuck in looping thought patterns they can’t shift out of, tormenting themselves and others with boring and repetitive moaning, griping, swiping and stories. Lastly there are those who work themselves up into an aroused state (fight or flight) of panic, anger or frustration that has nowhere to go, so it eventually either turns in on itself and implodes, or turns outwards in a powerful explosion, leaving carnage and destruction in its wake.

I have no idea what your personal circumstances may be, how you are reacting or responding, and I don’t know what coping or not-coping strategies you are employing, nor what your specific personal pain or fears may be. But the pervading landscape is highly emotionally charged and expressing an opinion, any opinion, or voicing my thoughts out loud feels risky and perhaps even a little dangerous.

I have no idea who might be triggered, and somehow the thought that I might cause a negative reaction or response has me tied up in knots, my thoughts going around in loops and spirals with nowhere to go.

What if I say the wrong thing? What if I do the wrong thing? What if I piss people off? What if I am judged or criticised? What if I get myself into trouble? And several other what-ifs that pool and swim around into my head. I recognise these questions as the voice of the part of me that tends towards everything-can-go-wrong thinking, the cautious, risk averse, fearful and cowardly part. All of a sudden it dawns on me … my fears are in the driver’s seat right now. They have taken over and are controlling the show.

My inner slave driver has been working overtime, whip in hand, alternating between self-flagellation and yielding force to drive output from people who are responsible for specific deliverables that contribute to the overall success of the project. Within me a war wages, an inner struggle between my desire to meet deadlines, deliver a quality output of an impeccably high standard (even if this is my own self-imposed, perfectionistic one) and maintain the wellbeing and commitment of the team of developer guides, not to mention my own personal health, wellbeing and integrity. My closet workaholic – whom I have managed to keep at bay for a few years now – has kicked back in with a vengeance, pulling me away from myself, leaving me overwhelmed, off-centre, unbalanced and out of control, with my physical body in pain. The pressure is immense, intense and relentless, with no respite and no end in sight. I am merely coping with life, not living it.

What I know about myself is that my coping strategy in times of stress or duress is to go into overdrive. I tend to hunker down, focus and work very hard. It’s my mind’s way of tricking me into believing that I have some semblance of control. It is my way of trying to regain some sort of order during times of chaos and disruption, and it is how I try to escape my deepest and most scary human vulnerabilities. It is how I avoid my fears so I don’t have to face them.

In the back of my mind I hear a voice saying gently, “Stop the train, Jacque. It is time to get off, and step away from the tracks. It is time to stop what you are doing and pay attention to your patterns. It is time to get still and quiet and to breathe deeply. Time to sit with yourself and reflect, connect, tune in and listen to your inner guidance and hear what you already know. It is time to dance with your demons. It is time to answer some important questions …”

  • What are the holding patterns that are keeping you stuck?
  • What is causing misalignment and imbalance in your physical body?
  • What coping strategies are you employing that may not be serving you?
  • What factors are contributing to your struggle?
  • What’s not working right now and why is it not working?
  • Is what you are doing energising or draining you?
  • What old and self-limiting beliefs and attitudes do you need to shift?
  • How are you impacting on others, yourself and your relationships?
  • What is likely to happen if you keep doing what you are doing?
  • What decisions, conversations or actions are you avoiding?
  • What are you really afraid of?

In answering these questions for myself, the following realisations and insights emerged. The project we are working on is critical and urgent if we are to maintain jobs, support thousands of entrepreneurs around the world in their efforts to save, reconstruct and reignite their flailing and floundering businesses, restore economic health and sustainability or alternatively birth and grow new businesses. But somewhere along the way, it feels like I have lost personal perspective and balance. In narrowing my focus, I have become dogged and single-minded in the pursuit of one goal and realise there is something I have been forgetting. The system shock has made me neglect myself and my most important values. I forgot who I am, what I am really here to do and, in that moment, I gave my power away. I see how my fears have taken me out of alignment, disconnected me from my authentic self and disempowered me from taking the decisions and actions that will get things moving and flowing again. I am reminded that one of the most critical skills in reclaiming personal power whenever it has been given or taken away, is proactive responsibility.

The dictionary defines pro as forward, towards the front or in advance. Active is engaging in physically energetic pursuits (i.e. agile, energetic, vital, dynamic, spirited, involved, mobile, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of get-up-and-go). Response is a reaction to something and ability is the possession of the means or skill to do something (this includes capacity, capability, potential, potentiality, power, faculty, aptness, facility, propensity, wherewithal, means, preparedness). So, in a nutshell, proactive responsibility is the capacity to use your skills, talents and personal power to take energetic and vital action to move yourself forward. Yes, people, this is a mental skill that can be developed with practice.

Throughout my life, I have seen two different sides of the coin when it comes to taking responsibility. Some people – often the highly skilled, competent and capable ones – take proactive responsibility consistently and extremely, and have a tendency to take on more than their fair share, tending towards over-responsibility, overdrive, overwhelmingness and eventually burnout.

While taking responsibility is an act of self-empowerment, over-responsibility is not always a good thing because it can lead to infantilising, over-parenting and disempowering those who are often the flipside of the coiners – the “under-responsibles”. Those who will do as little as possible for as long as they can get away with it. They hide, underperform and let the over-responsibles step in to get the job done.  There are a few different reasons people hide. A bit of laziness perhaps as a way of conserving energy, a lack of self-esteem or discipline. Or it could just be a fear that they don’t have the ability or capability to respond and will therefore fail. So, their perspective is that it is better not to try at all rather than to try and to fail. The problem with not trying at all is that it is a sure-fire, guaranteed way to fail. It does not serve your personal growth and development at all.

What is most important here is to understand your own personal relationship with pro-active response-ability. Whichever of these two sides of the coin you relate most strongly to, remember that there is only a problem if you find yourself out of balance and are experiencing negative physical, mental or emotional disruption in your system. Consider these questions:

  • Are you over-responsible or responsibility avoidant?
  • What are the drivers behind taking on too much?
  • Where and for what in your life or your business are you not taking responsibility?
  • What are the fears and factors behind this?
  • Who are you really responsible to and for what? (P.S. Don’t forget to put yourself on that list.)
  • Is this who you really are and who you want to be?
  • What actions do you need to take to restore yourself to balance?
  • What needs to happen or what do you need to shift to move forward?

Whether your circumstances are self-created or caused by external factors, true empowerment can only happen when you are clear about who you are, what inspires you, know what is yours to do and take proactive responsibility for doing this to the best of your ability. Understanding your strengths and limitations will help you discern what you can and can’t do, and to know when it is time to do something different. When you have tried everything you can think of, when you have explored many different avenues to no avail and still find yourself stuck or procrastinating, sometimes asking yourself a few important questions, speaking to one more person, knocking on one more door, taking just one more step or surrendering and letting go of attachment to the outcome may be the very thing that might just change everything. You never know. The outcomes are uncertain but there are always more options. You just need to decide for yourself which is the best one for you, in this moment.

Taking proactive responsibility makes you the sovereign force in the centre of your universe and your own life. It brings to your awareness the most important challenges you need to think through, the critical conversations you need to have, the life-changing decisions you need to make and the business-building actions you need to take to bring yourself back into alignment and restore yourself to purpose essence and flow.

Personally, it took one bold and risky decision, some tough conversations and someone to remind me who I really am, reframe my perspective and encourage me to own my space, that restored sovereignty over my life and work, bringing me back into alignment, balance, empowerment and flow.

With this, I remembered myself, the bigger-picture desired outcome and the promise I made to share five articles in this series. I remembered one of my core values of commitment, dug deep into my treasure chest of resources to pull out a healthy portion of courage, put on my big-girl pants and showed up at the page to complete writing this last article. I trust you have received some value, benefit and enjoyment from the series, and I thank you for taking the time to read them.