I’ve decided these three words are exactly why I’m exhausted both mentally and emotionally. This is what it’s been like for me on a bad day. Thank goodness my physical stamina is intact to counter-balance the depleted feeling of the other two. Most of the time, I’m just fine. In fact, I’m great. I’ve been coaching lots of managers and leaders throughout this pandemic and administration (I live in the US) and that work keeps me fed. It keeps me energized to work with others who are also struggling with uncertainty, chaos, and powerlessness for perhaps the same or additional reasons. Reasons stemming from changes in work (managing and leading remotely) in school (homeschooling and online schooling) and in life (fixing and planning all the meals, getting to the store before they close early, standing in lines, waiting on hold for an eternity for medical advice).
I’ve been listening really hard. I’ve been watching and learning and reading like mad. I’m doing this to top myself off energetically. To find ideas. To connect dots in a novel way. To fill myself with thoughts and ideas on how to move forward through this environment of uncertainty, chaos, and powerlessness. Because there is one thing I know: if you’re going to make it through adversity you absolutely must find the opportunity in it all. I was brought up that you don’t show up with a bad attitude. You are not a victim unless you choose to be one. No one owes you anything. You earn it. You earn it every day. Of course, this affects my ability to be empathetic at times–I’m working on that. More importantly, it keeps me on the rails and out of fear and pain–a coping mechanism.
For over thirty years I’ve been teaching and coaching skills for accountability; how to hold people accountable and drive a culture of accountability and doing this from relationship, people-centered approach to communication and change. It’s one of the simplest; most straightforward skill sets you can master (most people I coach can master skills within 6 weeks.) Yet, it is, I believe, a very large part and primary cause and driver of our uncertainty, chaos, and powerlessness right now. There seems to be a pervasive collective victim mentality that’s run amok. There is no accountability. There is no ownership and personal responsibility for anything. It’s showing up in our leaders, our police departments, our congress, our social media feeds, our remote colleagues. Everyone seems stuck in their story of uncertainty, chaos, and powerlessness making us all frustrated, angry and afraid. We are all in some kind of pain. Maybe because we are choosing to be. Nope… definitely because we are choosing to be.
That last sentence might have lit you up. Or it might have got an “amen.” Either way, it’s true. Sure, go back up and reference that sentence on my poor empathy. It doesn’t change the story. For years I have been teaching a concept called: “This is It. No One Cares and No One is Coming.” It’s merely a sentiment, meant to grab you and shake you into understanding that you are not a victim. You in fact have 100% control over every decision you make every day. Go ahead. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. You are anything but powerless. You hold all your own cards. You are the master of your fate. You choose how you show up. You are empowered to make the best decisions for yourself. And today is the day. This is it. This is not a dress rehearsal. No one is coming. No one is coming to save you from your need to be told how to handle it. You must do the hard work of research, of thinking critically, of self-reflection, and action on your own behalf. And really…no one cares. I mean this in the writ-large kind of context. No one cares how much you hate Zoom, standing feet apart, or having to wear the damn mask.
The truth is, we have never lived in a period of certainty. It’s always been uncertain. There has always been some kind of chaos and there are a ton of things you cannot control. Nothing’s really changed in that regard. What has changed, is that in the vacuum of leadership it’s become okay to get out your blame-thrower and torch people with it whenever you feel the need to hit your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Or now literally with your fists or canes or your iPhone camera whenever you feel threatened or afraid. While we are marching down the streets demanding accountability from others, we ought to stop and think about where we’ve abdicated our own accountability. What are we failing to own?. We are allowing ourselves to be hijacked by negativity on a daily basis and living in a state of “fight and protect” or “freeze and appease” because we have been told repeatedly these are “uncertain times.” This “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world is laying waste to the fundamental truths of responsibility and accountability. We are facing this on our own. Right now you are being called to lead. And you are getting that call on a daily basis. Pick up the phone!
You must see your way through because there is no one to tell you how to go. What is your vision for sticking this out and coming out the other side? You have to do the hard work of thinking it through, making the calls, and deciding what’s best. You are called on now to be bold. To take action you may have never thought you would. To work in ways that require you to learn new skills, to operate in places and at times you’ve never done. You’ve got to explore some ideas and test your assumptions on all things work and life. If you don’t do that first, you’ll fail to create the structures you need to get things done. You can do this. You can lead. You must lead. Yeah, it’s exhausting. But it’s also the growth spurt you didn’t know you needed and were waiting for. If you choose to lead – lead your life, your work, your families–you will become a person you never knew you could be. Think of it this way. People pay thousands of dollars to go on Outward Bound experiences where they’re thrown (not literally of course) into the wilderness for weeks or months and must learn on the fly how to deal. You’re getting the experience for free and you can even get the meals you want delivered via DoorDash or UberEats. Embrace this chance. Stand in this moment. Call yourself to account. Own your ability to lead and you will see that uncertainty, chaos, and powerlessness are all just a story; an illusion that’s just holding you back from the biggest opportunity you’ve ever been given.