Although there are many qualities that might positively influence our lives, optimism and responsibility, if present at the same time, can help us to significantly improve our, overall, wellbeing. Presence (or absence) of these qualities influence our all major interest areas, from the decisions we make and the opportunities we pursue, to people we connect with and the level of performance at work.
These two qualities might be key competencies that can help us experience positive emotions and support daily constructive actions. So, lets start from the basics, from the definitions:
Responsibility is the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.
Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.
Why would combination of these two be so important?
Responsibility is important because it provides a sense of purpose. In addition it supports building resilience in the times of adversity on an individual and societal level. Like an addiction, sidestepping responsibility may feel good in the short-term, but leads to exponentially worse pain and suffering in the long term.
Optimism is important because it brings lightness to our lives. Unfortunately (or luckily :)), humans are born with a survival instinct, default approach to find a negative, to recognize potential danger. It’s one of the reasons why, as species, we are still around. We survived because of a well-developed impulse to recognize potential danger. On the other side, overused ability to recognize danger constricts our thinking, it put us in a defensive crouch, and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
Responsibility and optimism are competencies
For most people, it’s clear that responsibility is a competence. Parents, school, and society teach us to be responsible. Becoming responsible is part of growing up. It should be one of the differences between kids and adults. Society, to certain extent, wants from us to develop this competency. Potential problem is that society doesn’t explicitly teach us to take full responsibility, for example many of us think that…
- doctors are responsible for our health – they are not, we are responsible
- school is responsible for our kids education – they are not, parents are responsible
- companies are responsible for our development – they are not, each employee is responsible for his / her development
Taking full responsibility for your actions involves owning up to the positive and negative consequences of your choices and behavior, rather than attributing them to external factors or others’ actions.
When it comes to optimism, many of us believe that optimism is only a personality trait that can’t be developed or that it is dominantly affected by outside factors – like the economy or the result of an election. The truth is that optimism is not based on a genetic makeup, but it is a competence that we can acquire and develop. The more optimistic we are, the higher quality of our life we experience.
“Researchers have tried to tease apart how optimism helps or hinders leaders at all levels in an organization. Their findings helped me understand the nuances of this important skill. Yes, I said “skill.” People are not born optimists – a positive outlook is something you can develop, just as you can enhance physical skills such as swimming.” – Daniel Goleman
Responsibility vs. Optimism
Since both of these qualities are actually competences we can demonstrate (or not) each of them in different situations. We can demonstrate them separately or together. So, let’s explore 4 different areas of Responsibility – Optimism matrix.
Complainer – This includes lots of complaining. It is a strategy of passive attitude toward problems, preferring to allow them to work themselves out. When we use this strategy we take the credit for good outcomes and blame other causes for bad outcomes.
Hippie – I call this area “hippie area”. High optimism without taking responsibility to move things forward. Often, when people picture optimists, they visualize an airy, lighthearted tree-hugger who is idealistic and unrealistic. Optimism without responsibility for outcomes might be useful as a short-term strategy in difficult times.
Workaholic – This area often includes lots of action and it misses sense of purpose. My experience shows that this is energetically very expensive strategy. There are many successful people who take on too much responsibility, and often for the things that are not under their control.
Dream Catcher – This is my favorite area. The more I manage to use this strategy in my life, I am more aligned with my purpose. Being optimistic in the sense of being purpose driven, has lots of connections with reality. Purpose-driven strategy gives us a sense of control of our destiny, which makes us generally more positive.
Responsibility and optimism are the price of greatness
Its important to underline that these are only strategies and it’s not wise to identify a person with a strategy. Ideally we should choose the best strategy for a given context.
“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” George Bernard Shaw
If we take responsibility for making things better, things will get better. Even if it is only because we look positively towards our future. Like Nietzsche said, become someone who says “yes” to life, carry the burden of being and do what is in your power to do. That is the true meaning of shouldering responsibility and the true meaning of optimism. Things can be better, it’s only up to us to do something about it.