Chapter 6

The spark of deter­mined action: Initiative

Don’t dream about Never-Never Land!

Nothing happens on its own. If you want to survive and have a prosperous life, you have to move, become active and take action.

In the past, this happened within the social network of the family. These days, it happens in the context of a state economic and social order. Today, to live, you no longer need family. Instead, you need a job. However, since no one is guaranteed a job, every one of us has to develop initiative.

Immediate success is rare

But how do you become someone with initiative? For example, a high school graduate has decided that to achieve her goal of working in financial management, she will start by doing business training in a medium-sized company. She writes to the chamber of commerce for addresses. She wants to go to the companies and have a look at them. What kind of setting are they located in? How will they receive her? What impression does what she gets to see make? What kind of people will she encounter there?

Rather than sending an appli­cation, she sends emails in which she requests an appointment for a visit. She justifies the motivation for her request to “do temporary work” with her interest in business­re­lated work as prepa­ration for her profes­sional career. She decides that she will not speci­fi­cally ask about a slot in a training program until she’s invited for an interview. The young woman is not under any illusions about her quest. She knows that she will need perse­verance.

The response to her email campaign: Only a handful of companies respond. Some of them send her company brochures with the comment that she is welcome to write again some time. But in fact she is offered a few appoint­ments. And in the end, during one of the visits even the CEO is available to meet with her. He asks whether she has ever had a job before. Yes, during the summer vacation, she answers. But it isn’t so easy to find a summer job these days–or did she have connec­tions, he asks. No, I found it on my own.

The company head wants to know about the details and finds out that the young women is full of ideas and has worked syste­ma­ti­cally. At the end of the meeting, without her asking he offers her a place in the company’s training program.

Getting closer to your ideas about yourself

If you have initiative, you have to have goals. You shouldn’t just jump into things. That would be impulsive, and doesn’t lead to anything.

There are all kinds of goals. After you have written down your personal goals, just as they occur to you and without judging them criti­cally, it is useful to assign them to one of the following categories:

  1. goals for your personal behavior and
  2. goals for shaping your life.

Behavior goals are defined for the long-term and are pursued by means of ongoing practice. You will never achieve them completely, but instead, you will keep getting closer with the quest to be “better and better.”

Examples of behavior goals:

  • being open and curious toward people and situa­tions: attentive, friendly and benevolent;
  • being open to new things: listening, looking, asking questions;
  • resolving conflicts, not running away from them: selfcri­tical, argumen­tative and prepared to make compro­mises;
  • dealing with work-related problems and not putting them off: not allowing yourself to be deter­mined by your desire and moods;
  • conti­nuously expanding your educa­tional horizons: wanting to know ever more, wanting to know the details, assigning facts to contexts;
  • whenever possible, gathering new experi­ences; being coura­geous, taking risks, jumping in headfirst;
  • maintaining and expanding your intellectual capacity: remaining capable of learning, being able to learn on your own;
  • putting up with short­co­mings without resigning yourself to them: neither being angry nor succumbing to indifference;
  • having a positive and oppor­tunity-oriented attitude toward life: always keeping in mind that there are two sides to everything.

Come up with an image of how you would like to be! Write it down in keywords in your diary and go back and read it from time to time!

What do you appre­ciate about other people? Do you have role models? Read biogra­phies and become aware of the subjects’ behavior and character.

Shaping your life according to your ideas

In contrast to behavior goals, goals for shaping your life are not based on the HOW of your action, but rather on the WHAT. They have different time-related dimen­sions; they can be long-term or they can apply only briefly. They have to do with life planning and life phases.

Goals for shaping your life include:

  • deter­mining your living space and making arrangements,
  • setting up and maintaining your social network,
  • earning your money and managing to live within your means,
  • ensuring that you eat a balanced diet,
  • keeping your profes­sional skills up to date,
  • lending expression to your values,
  • keeping yourself physi­cally and mentally fit.

The wide range of goals forces you to set priorities. You cannot achieve all of your goals at once. This means that you have to proceed according to urgency and consistency.

Initiative is not an end in itself; instead, its purpose is to achieve something. You have to pursue your goals in a profes­sional manner and not succumb to the fallacy that you can also make it as a dilet­tante. Dilet­tantes cannot make it. For this reason, you need to become profes­sional! This means mastering the methods you need and being thorough.

Translate initiative into actual action! Otherwise, your inten­tions will burst like bubbles. Actual action means the following:

  • analysis,
  • concept,
  • plan,
  • project,

You must proceed with all of this and carry it out in a manner using a reliable method. If you don’t, even the best of initia­tives, along with the fantastic ideas, will never get off the drawing board.

Take action with a view to the future!

The occasions and impetuses for taking the initiative often come from outside. Unfort­u­nately, these are often bad news or events: We get caught up in a confrontation,

  • someone plays a prank on us,
  • we are the victim of injustice,
  • someone sets a trap for us,
  • we have been fooled,
  • our feelings have been hurt, etc.

An early-warning system can help us to take the initiative proac­tively. It enables us to become active at our own initiative, before the inevi­table impetus comes from outside.

There is a tool that is perfectly suited for developing proactive behavior early on: the calendar that you have expanded into an organizer. In the context of the time frames you have defined, your organizer serves to help you do the following:

  • maintain a clear picture of your goals for your behavior and for shaping your life,
  • keep the program for improving your behavior and the projects for shaping your life in mind,
  • keep an eye on the early-warning system for the need to take action.

The activities and events recorded in your organizer are checked off every day in a log in a way that makes the need to take action tangible. How did the daily events pan out and what feelings dominated as you dealt with them? Then,

  1. What conver­sa­tions and processes took place?
  2. Who took the initiative?
  3. What infor­mation gaps and what misun­derstan­dings were revealed?
  4. What action needs to be taken?

Scruti­nizing the daily events by asking the question “What action needs to be taken” leads to proactive action. Just as when you are on the road, you develop a sense of what other road users will do – and prepare yourself for it. Or like when you play chess: You consider in advance what moves you want to make and predict how your opponent will react.

If you think about what may happen to you, how you will continue to pursue your goals despite all the setbacks, you will increase your chances of moving forward. Proactive action allows you to take the initiative. It should become a habit!

Things that can rob us of our
ability to take the initiative

Performing this type of initiative review over a period of several months can work wonders. While you can definitely take a break for a while, if you notice that you have fallen back into passi­veness, you need to perform the review again.

This is because dangers are lurking. You lose sight of the big picture. We no longer know in which areas and with whom we need to take the initiative. We miss the right point in time. Needed infor­mation is missing, important conver­sa­tions do not take place and priorities are set incorrectly.

Under stress, we can lose our cool and become hectic. We then quickly lose sight of our behavior goals, we start flagging and drop behind. The conse­quence is that we only rarely take the initiative and are just rushed around from outside. Our initiative dies. We have to counteract this:

  • The enemy of all initiative is procras­ti­nation. That’s why you should take care of every­thing you can do immediately. It has to become a habit!
  • Don’t expect others to take the initiative but – whenever possible – become active yourself!

Examples of risks that can suffocate our ability to take the initiative:

  • Media such as television and the radio can turn us into passive recipients of stimuli. Antidote: Repeat what you have seen and heard, interpret it and evaluate it.
  • On the internet, we click our way aimlessly from website to website and are taken in by every link that appears to be attractive. Antidote: Before you start surfing, write down what you want to do on the Web.
  • With friends, we just kill time. Antidote: Plan and undertake activities together.

You acquire independence
through proactive behavior

Adole­s­cents on their way to becoming young adults may have to pull themselves together in order to stand on their own two feet, to leave home and set up their own place to stay. But there are so many people who don’t manage to do this. They are wimps who love it when things are easy and like themselves the way they are.

They think that the diplomas and training courses they have managed to graduate from are enough. They think that the way to a pleasant life is to not subject themselves to any constraints and to avoid enduring pain as much as possible. Of course, this also depends on a person’s tempe­rament and the amount of intrinsic energy they have whether they tend to be an active or a passive individual, whether they are attentive and alert and ready for action or if they rather tend to be observant and introverted.

On the other hand, as children, most people are sponta­neous, curious and outgoing. It is up to their parents, their caregivers and daycare and school teachers to foster and develop these traits which are crucial for survival.

It is terrible to have to watch how parents – in parti­cular those who are incapable of bringing up children – allow a child’s initiative to hit a blank wall, squel­ching their offspring’s activities by warning, reproa­ching and forbidding them. This means that the only option the young adult has is to regain his or her ability to take the initiative.

See your employers as customers!

Since today having a job is the precon­dition for a comfor­table life, all of us have to direct a great deal of our initiative to being fit for the job market: 

  • What can I?
  • What do I have to improve?
  • What do I have to learn?
  • Who needs what I have to offer in terms of
    profi­ciency, knowledge, experience and skills?
  • How do I find my “customers”?

In the economy, an unremitting exchange of services takes place: give and take. This means that anyone who has something to offer has a chance if they manage to make themselves known to others who can use their services. We shouldn’t leave this solely up to the employment agencies.

Whether we want to or not, each of us shapes our life via markets. If you operate in markets and want to be successful, you have to know your market:

  • What does it operate?
  • Who are the other suppliers?
  • Who are the customers?
  • What is offered?
  • What is needed?
  • How much is paid?
  • What is topical?
  • What is timeless?

If you are looking for a new job and if you want to advance in your career, then you have to see yourself as a supplier! Not as a customer. Only as a supplier will you make sure to constantly improve your offer. Only as a supplier do we compare our offer with that of the compe­tition, develop our strengths, offset our weaknesses, learn about the customers, their desires and their prefe­rences and do we attempt to establish contact to them.

No matter what company form you
choose,  be your own entrepreneur!

If you don’t want to spend your life as a wage-dependent individual or on welfare, you have to establish yourself as an entre­preneur. You have to see the employers as your customers. You don’t demand things from your customers, you offer them something. To do this, you need self-confi­dence. A self-employed plumber can’t win customers if he or she has an inferiority complex, and most certainly will not be able to convince them of his or her competence.

Being convinced of yourself based on experience with employers/customers “I offer compe­titive services” makes you fit for the job market. It is the basis for all other mindsets and skills that are signi­ficant for coping with life independently. Another thing that develops from this is a sense of self-awareness that you know how much you are worth.

An employee who allows his awareness of what he is worth to be taken from him or who has never developed this in the first place should not be surprised if he is labeled as someone who has to work in an employment relati­onship in which he is dependent, i.e., as an employee instead of a supplier.

In this case, the work he performs as a dependent employee for his boss smacks of depen­dence. He is an executing body. However, if you see yourself as the supplier of labor and your boss as the customer of labor and move away from the feeling of depen­dency from the slave days, you will become your own entrepreneur.

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