Let’s think small here. You are at work, and you see a bunch of electrical cords bundled up on the floor. You see that they all belong to electronics that are high on a shelf.
You get some money for your birthday from your Aunt Ida.
You are walking through the mall, and you see, in front of a store you shop at a lot, and have been thinking of applying for a job at, a bunch of flyers strewn about the floor.
You are at work, and you see someone walk in who looks obviously lost. You are on your way to break, but you didn’t have a whole lot to do on break anyways.
What do you do?
INITIATIVE, or your lack of initiative tells a lot about you. It talks about your character to employers, potential employers, the public, and people you may want to have as friends. Every day, you are faced with choices. At first glance, these choices seem like there is little or no downside either way. But if you think in terms of future actions, each has the potential to differentiate yourself either from the successful, or the failures.
When we talk about wealth-building, we see where many of these choices really come in. Like in the example, where you are given a wind-fall of money. It’s your money, so there is no right or wrong answer for what you should do with it. But if you are young, chances are your basic needs are handled by your parent(s). If that’s true, then anything you spend the money on is a luxury. Is there anything wrong with spending money on a luxury item? Absolutely not. Other PF’ers out there will disagree, but the fact is, money only has value when it is used. Other than that, it’s useless. Not that it has to have a use at all times. Sometimes, it is more beneficial to let it sit while you build it into something with a lot of value. But when you get a wind-fall (like from a benevolent Aunt Ida), you might decide to take the initiative to put that money in an account where it can grow. If you owe anybody any money, you might also take the initiative to take advantage of “found” money to pay back that debt (for free!); the choices are endless.
At work, little choices show up all the time. You might work in a retail store and realize that a shelf needs to be cleaned and re-stocked. It may not be exactly your job, but you will probably score a lot of points if you offer (without being asked first) to take care of the problem. In the first example, at the very least, you might consider making sure that someone can’t get tangled up in the cords, pulling something heavy on their head.
Probably the best way that I can think of to show (and to take) initiative it by asking your supervisor if there are things that you can help with, and by asking to be taught how to do things that you don’t know how to do already. In my experience, managers love the idea that there is someone out there that is willing to take some of the burden of a business of themselves. They may or may not be able to work with you right away, but they will notice your initiative to grow within a company, especially if it is genuine and sustained, and you will eventually have the chance to do just that.
Where initiative goes bad is when you think you are doing a good thing, but really you are just complicating a situation. Think of all those cords. I know your instinct was to untangle them and separate them, but you may find that doing so may disrupt something important. You may unplug the security system, or alarm, which would be a bad thing.
Another time when initiative gets in the way is when you think you are displaying initiative, but in reality, all you are doing is being a pain in the neck to your boss. There are some things that need to be done on schedule, even if there is something else that needs being done. If you are supposed to relieve someone for lunch, and lunches are already backed up, you might ask about taking out the trash, but your priority MUST be to relieve the other employee. Doing otherwise just screws up the routine.
At the end of the day, you need to display initiative if you want to move up in the world. Nobody will dump a great job in your lap if you are a slacker. You have to think about when and where is best to display that initiative, taking care to do less damage than good.