Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Power of Initiative

Seredipity is not passive. It isn't just a matter of fortuitous events happening to you but you taking advantage of random occurrences and turning them into fortuitous events. This requires initiative—taking control of whatever circumstance life presents to you.

"Initiative" is the power to "initiate" or start things. When you have initiative, you take control of the situation you are in rather than being victimized by it. You can practice initiative regardless of your circumstances. You don't dwell on the powers you don't have; instead you grasp the powers you do have and use them to the max.

Let's say you lose your job. Most people would call this a stroke of bad luck. If you have initiative, however, you're going to try your darndest to turn that bad luck into good luck. Some of the best career moves in history started with people losing their jobs. It was just the kick in the ass they needed to move in a different direction. In retrospect, losing the job may seem like serendipity—a random fortuitous event—but what it really was at the time was an active decision to take control of the situation and turn it into a fortuitous event.

The alternative is to bemoan what have lost and let yourself be defined by it. You may react to the unexpected event in the usual ways (collecting unemployment, looking for another job), but you don't try to take advantage of it. Maybe you descend into self-pity: "Why can't anything happy happen to me?" Maybe you take to drinking, which is a sure sign you've given up initiative. Maybe you even flirt with the idea of suicide. Serendipity hardly ever happens to people who take life this way.

Initiative is really interesting phenomenon. Almost anyone can catch a ball if it is thrown at them. That's "reaction". Initiation is when you are the first person to throw the ball, who gets the game started. Very few people are capable of that.

If you examine the daily life of the average person, you see very little initiative. They go to work because they have to, where they do the assignments that are handed to them. Then they come home and consume packaged entertainment. They dutifully fulfill the obligations they have already set themselves up for. They may have wishes and dreams, but they don't do anything about them. Life is stable and repetitive, and they like it that way.

When something comes along to disrupt the pattern, it's a disaster. If the TV breaks, it's a crisis. The usual response is to get the TV fixed or replaced, regardless of the cost. The serendipitous response is to say, "Hey, maybe this is a good thing! I've been meaning to quit television, and this is just the excuse I need." Okay, if you had strong initiative, you might have ditched the TV long ago, but it takes initiative just to recognize an opportunity and use it.

Initiative is the power to willingly change course, with or without a prompt from the outside world. The opposite is "inertia"—the tendency to continue moving in a straight line unless a powerful immovable force stops you. Most adults are specimens of inertia. You just can't expect much voluntary change out of them.

Oh, they'll talk about change! They'll tell you about the things they're going to do "someday". Initiative, however, is a phenomenon of the present. You see what needs to be done and you immediately do it—or at least you start the gears moving. As soon as you introduce a delay factor into the system, you give inertia the advantage. If you plan to quit smoking "tomorrow", it's probably never going to happen. If you change your behavior right now, as soon as it occurs to you, you have a much greater chance of success.

Initiative seems to arise from a certain part of the brain. If this part is damaged, people may retain the ability to respond to events but can't initiate them. It may also be true that some people are "gifted" with more initiative than others. That doesn't get you off the hook, though. Like any other muscle in the body, the initiative circuits are strengthened by repeated use. If you take control of your life in one area, it becomes easier to take control in other areas. The more you use the initiative circuits, the more robust and powerful they become.

As cliched as it sounds, much depends on "believing in yourself". If you believe you can quit smoking, then you will. If you don't believe, then you won't. Most of the power of initiative comes from the simple belief that "I can do this!" and then trying!

Of course, self-confidence isn't the whole key to success. A lot of damn fools declare "I can do this!" when the task is physically impossible. The point is, you have to initiate actions before you can complete them. You have to get off your ass and actually do something! The something you do could succeed or fail, but you have to actually try it before you can obtain that data.

Serendipity is the intersection of initiative and happenstance. Like it or not, unexpected events are going to happen to you. Most of them won't seem fortuitous at the time, but your job is to make them so. You will apply initiative to the things that happen to you. You will take control of them instead of letting yourself be a victim.

Serendipity isn't a matter of waiting for happy things to happen but turning what happens into happy things.

Oceanside, California

Next: "The Power of Preparation"


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