Going from a Reactive to Proactive Mindset
Anytime you find yourself in the thick of a really big change everything can easily feel like it is barreling down on you. Things that are happening can feel like they are coming at you with a force that seems unavoidable, unplanned or worse yet, unwanted. But is that really the case? Sometimes absolutely.
However so much of how I’ve viewed the world can be skewed by how I’ve chosen to see the things that are happening around me. Is it all “happening to me” or am I allowing circumstances to dictate my story instead of taking a more proactive approach?
I started to examine this while preparing for this 2nd year abroad.
What are those things that I simply won’t be able to control?
Government regulations, the amount of job openings, the hot weather, the quality the of the latest Neflix rom-com
What are the things that I can control?
My choices, my thoughts, how I divide my time, my children, oh no, scratch that last one
Can some of those things that I think I have no control over change if I turn the idea on it’s side and look at my choices in regards to those things?
I’ve been reading a ton of articles, listening to podcasts, reading books and simply thinking through how I’m going to take on this year. Last year felt like a flood of reactions to what was happening. Starting with the logitics of a move, quarantining for 2 weeks, getting a new home set up, meeting new people, getting rejected by the Singaporean government work pass process due to new restrictive rules around Covid in Asia…the list was long. But if I really think about it, the barrage of “things” coming at me, were different but no less than what I’ve experienced at other times in my life.
Yet it felt very different. All at once, I felt like I had less and less control over the things that were happening and maybe because they were all “new” problems, this made them somehow feel much bigger in scope. Nevertheless, I needed to get ahold of everything if I was going to stay not only sane, but enjoy my experience here.
There is no point in getting to have this incredible experience to just be unsatisfied the whole time while here. I can be miserable back home! So I’ve gotta get myself in a position where I feel like I am more in the planning/proactive position and less reactive, now that I am more used to the guardrails of life in this new country.
Before I changed my perspective, I first looked at all of the things that I had done in the last 12 months.
What I accomplished:
I moved to a new country
I made a great group of new friends from all over the world
I helped the kids find their own community of friends
I helped someone through a health crises
I started building a small business
I started writing again
I traveled to 3 new countries with my family during Covid
I took up a new sport
I learned how to play Mahjong again (Hong Kong rules this time)
I survived a case of Covid
Looking at the above list is kind of astonishing. I did a LOT last year. Much more than I even thought I did. This list looks like it should actually span across multiple years, not just 12 months.
But that’s the trick of this set up. We are living in an environment/climate that stays relatively unchanging weather-wise, so it becomes hard to mark the time. Sure you have rainy season, but beyond that you feel like you live in a perpertual summer. (Which I know sounds awesome, especially as everyone starts to get ready for sweater weather, but also can trick a mind that’s so used to 4 seasons) Then add to that the lack of a set schedule to adhere to and you start to completely lose track of the days.
I keep thinking about how I want to view this experience when it’s done. I want to be able to say that I took full advantage of this experience, learned a lot and enjoyed it dispite the guardrails.
When I was a proactive rockstar:
I think I’ve always been a pretty proactive individual. It’s something that made me really good at my job and helped to push projects, initiatives, teams and myself forward. Yet I think I was taking much of my tried and true tactics from NY and thought I could employ them in much the same way over here. I thought a similar approach would bring similar results. Some of that works in respects to building a social circle, finding out how to get where you are going and making a happy family life here. Yet some it falls flat.
My biggest mistake:
If you think you are going to be able to transplant your whole life and career in a new country that has it’s own rules and regulations, no matter how proactive you are, some aspects won’t bend to your needs or time frame no matter how much you plan it out and try to attack it.
And that can be the case whether you move to a new town or a new country. If you want the same, well you better just stay where you are. Any change will bring a new construct. There is no escaping that.
Instead of trying to force this “new normal” into being just like my “old normal”, I have to remind myself to take the time to experience what’s new and find what makes me happy.
Some of this is also a matter of perspective. Am I too hyperfocused on only an exact job and title to show up or can I broaden my views to answer a larger need? Maybe its not a particular role or industry but instead a type of impact I’m looking to make. My view of what should show up really does depend on how wide or narrow my inteded view is to begin with.
How this helped in my marriage
I found changing perspective from reactive to proactive can improve my relationship. Even the healthiest of relationships go through ebbs and flows. To say this move changed our dynamic would be a big understatement. We went from a very equitable 2 career family to a very “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle in the span of a few weeks. For quite a while, we held onto the way our marriage had always worked, but slowly things started to shift with the change in lifestyle.
No longer did we have similar days and hours logged at the offfice. One of us knew everything that was happening with the kids while the other was working all hours. It became harder and harder to expect that equilibrium to balance on its own.
Taking a proactive approach put me back in the drivers seat vs a passenger or dreaded back-seat driver. Taking the initiative to plan the types of dates, movies we see or even something as simple as topics of discussion, goes from wishing they would plan what you’d love to do to fun plans that you actually prefer. Once I started doing this, I also started seeing him returning back to us sharing that responsibility. It felt like we were finding our footing once again.
Where this helped as a parent
With the amount of change we’ve experienced, one thing you learn immediately is how important consistency, schedules and familiarity is for kids. They like some surprises of course (usually in the form of candy) but really thrive when they understand the parameters of a day, a week or outing.
Alas, I’m more of a let’s-just-see-what-we-feel-like-doing kind of parent on the weekends, which has led to many whining Saturdays about being “so bored” or a Saturday that just drags without definition.
Showing the kids my plans and then leaving a time, outing or decision that’s up to them has really helped us all feel like we have more definition and reduced the amount of “but what do we do now” conversations. And the really nice thing about this has been the dedicated time I’ve been able to spend with both kids simply by carving out the time in advance.
Don’t be fooled into believing this solved all of our parenting challenges (Oh, no! What’s the fun in that? That would be too easy!) No silver bullet, but this simply helped us carve out one element of our lives that we found particularly challenging.
The other aspect of this that I’ve found helpful is giving this tool to our kids to use. Have them take the initiative to getting what they want, whether that’s means actively getting ready to try out for a play or preparing for a playdate, they’ve shown that they like being the ones to plan, run through different scenarios of what could be fun and be ok with change. Showing them that they too can be in the drivers seat has been an empowering for all of us.
Ways to keep this in my minds eye
This year, I’ve had to build my own schedule in a way that is very proactive in order to stay ahead of what is to come, even when I wasn’t entirely sure of what was next. I found when I didn’t, it was almost too easy to jump around, push things off or feel like my life lacked traction.
Part of this is the fault of working in the corporate and agency world for so long. There is an over reliance on outlook calendars structuring your day or seeing your day as visions of little blocks of billable half hours instead of seeing the time that truly is before us in a day. I had to be more proactive in my thiniking otherwise you can get lost in the constant push of the invites, emails and meetings.
Now my life is built more around my own schedule, which can be great, yet deceiving, as it can be just as difficult to get things done without structure or that same pressure to get things done within a condensed time frame.
So I’ve gone back to my roots of planning out my full week each Monday with what I want to get accomplished, what are must haves, nice to haves, people I need to reach out to and those I need to meet. All of this helps me to get me closer to the true end.
The true beauty in that is the editing. Taking out the junk, the unnecessary and the things that simply won’t be additive. There is so much noise in life (both professionally and personally) it can be really easy to get lost in it.
Trying to keep my eyes on the prize and let the rest stay where it belongs.