Initiative. It’s an important concept. Think of any role model or successful person. Every one of them created their success by taking initiative. By contrast, there is no surer way to stay where you are than not to take initiative.
I don’t have to tell you the value of initiative, but it bears repeating. Whatever kind of success you want, it begins with your taking initiative. External success, like promotions, raises, gaining responsibility, funding, friendships, new ventures, and so on, results from taking initiative.
So does internal success, like developing grit, the ability to innovate, ownership, enthusiasm, meaning, passion, purpose, and joy. These things don’t fall from the sky. They result from taking initiative.
It applies in business, with family, with friends, with strangers, and on your own.
“Alright, Dave, I agree,” I hear you saying. “But what do I actually do?”
The First Step to Develop More Initiative
Taking initiative isn’t easy. If you don’t try, you’ll never fail, so consciously or not, many of us don’t try. But taking initiative works. It creates its own reward.
The first step is to adopt that mindset: It isn’t easy but it works. Some things you try won’t work. You’ll fall on your face sometimes. But the struggle leads to success.
Adopting a new mindset can be hard. I recommend looking up quotes from Babe Ruth on striking out or Michael Jordan on missing would-be game-winning shots, and Oprah Winfrey’s Harvard commencement speech.
I wish I could say once you get the mindset you’ll never go back, but you have to keep refreshing it. I have to remind myself of it each time I take initiative, and I’ve won and lost more times than I can remember. The good news is that the mindset does get easier and sticks a bit more each time you take initiative.
Step 2 to Develop More Initiative
A step-by-step approach helps you cross gaping chasms. The problem with most books and courses for starting things is that they assume you already have a winning idea and a team.
It’s great if you have them, but what about the rest of us? Few of us know before we start what we will love doing, yet how can we start if we don’t know what to do?
The best answer I’ve seen to this Catch-22 is in Joshua Spodek’s new book, Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work). He points out the flaws in thinking, “If only I knew my passion, then I’d act,” or on the other side, “If I push myself to act, it will reveal what I want.”
The first way leads people to wait around, hoping a muse will whisper in their ear, but I never found inspiration from waiting. The second way leads to burning out and concluding that trying just leads to frustration.
Sometimes people get lucky and stumble onto something they love. But, like an overnight success 15 years in the making, most of the times people look lucky, it came from hard work. Besides, do you want to depend on luck for the most important things in your life?
Initiative, action, and passion work best in a cycle: Taking a little initiative leads to moderate action, which leads to discovering some passion, which leads you to take more initiative, and the cycle continues. No big chasm.
It’s like how to get to Carnegie Hall: You have to play a lot of scales and musical exercises. Spodek’s book is the scales you play to reach your version of Carnegie Hall. You don’t have to use his “scales,” but I do love how simply he has laid them out.
Step 3 to Develop More Initiative
Step three is to act.
But work on step 1 first, so you act while knowing it’s hard and knowing it will hurt sometimes, but knowing on the other side of the hurt is success.
Reading articles, watching videos, and talking to your friends and family about your castles in the sky (or escapes from your doldrums) is essential, but no place to stop.
We learn by doing. You probably know things in the back of your mind you want to act on, maybe unconsciously. The best way to find them is to act on what you are conscious of.
Take small initiative steps. Make small successes, even if so small you think they don’t matter. They develop your skills to initiate.