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Career changers and job seekers worry about getting their foot in the door.

Freelancers wonder how they’ll get more clients.

And ordinary workers everywhere are asking themselves: what can I do to protect myself from a layoff?

While there are never any guarantees, I think the best answer for all of those situations is the same: show some initiative.

I can see you all shaking your heads now.  What’s new about that idea?  Tell me something I didn’t know!

I may not be telling you something you didn’t know, but chances are, I’m telling you something you aren’t doing.  Initiative, in my experience as a manager, business owner, and consumer, is pretty rare indeed.

The following are a couple of examples of how initiative can pay off big time.  And how you might employ the idea to accomplish your own goals.

Get your foot in the door

Marsha Stopa had a pretty bad year and then some.  She was laid off from her job as a business journalist after 20 years, then went through bankruptcy, and then finally foreclosure.

She had seen many former journalists struggle to apply their skills in a new field after losing their jobs, and she was determined not to let that happen to her.  So with the money she would have been paying in rent and the small amount she earned in unemployment, she invested in herself.  She took training classes in internet marketing, WordPress set-up, social media, and membership sites.

It was slow going.  As Marsha admits, she made every newbie mistake in the book.

Then she had an idea.  Marsha had watched another woman in one of these courses offer to become the forum moderator and assistant, and noticed it subsequently opened a lot of doors for her.

Marsha was enrolled in Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging program, a course I took myself and am always quick to recommend (affiliate).  Jon was often busy, so Marsha simply started answering forum questions and taking care of the community when he wasn’t available.

Jon noticed her initiative and hired her as a part-time forum moderator and assistant.

Of course, Marsha’s not stopping there.  She’s created two new sites of her own: one as a business copywriter, drawing on her prior experience as a journalist, and has plans to launch a blog called The Realigned Life, which will share her lessons learned after bouncing back from unemployment.

When you see what she did, it seems so easy and obvious.  But every day, people follow the same old system of submitting resumes, hoping a piece of paper can serve as their ambassador.

Get more clients

When I started blogging, one of the big inhibitors for me was the technology side of things.  I had (and still have) some pretty strong anti-passions in learning about plug-ins and video editing and really anything that happens behind-the-scenes on a blog.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished someone would just freaking help me.

Last week I had the pleasure of having tea with the legendary Niall Doherty, who quit his 9-to-5 job to travel around the world (“conveniently” without flying to any of his destinations). To make that work, he needs to make money.  But he’s such a nice guy, he wasn’t pitching anyone–it felt like an intrusion.

As I described my frustrations, it was an a-ha moment for Niall.  He realized that solving someone’s problems isn’t an intrusion at all.  Quite the contrary.

Moreover, taking the initiative to do so is relatively rare.  Thousands and thousands of people read my blog and watched my free training at the No Regrets Career Academy.  If you’re reading and watching what I’m doing, you could probably come up with a list of twenty things where I could use help.  I’ve been pitched a total of 3 times, and only once for a specific need.

Getting more clients is easy.  You simply ask for them directly (and smartly).  Efficient?  Maybe not.  But very effective.

Get job protection

Obviously, there are times when nothing can protect you from a layoff.  I know several good employees who were literally in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But I can also say that initiative is in short supply in the workplace.  Sometimes this is because everyone is so busy conquering their own to-do lists, as admin and other support functions get eliminated, it’s hard to step back and see where you could do something more valuable.

This is a classic case of what my dad used to call “work smarter, not harder.”  (I know, it didn’t make me feel better at the time either, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.)

If you want to find a way to stand out, this is absolutely the best way to do it.  Because in this economy, the proactive employee saves the company time and money, while hopefully also providing fresh innovation.

One of my clients recently told me the story of how she noticed her company didn’t have any recycling programs, even though they branded themselves as being “green.”  Being a big environmentalist herself, she involved other employees and got a program in place.  Seem like a small contribution?

She was awarded Employee of the Year.

Too many people wait around, hoping to be picked or anointed or put in charge.  They’re always waiting for someone else to give them their power.

Initiative means, quite simply, you don’t wait.  As Seth Godin says

I don’t think the problem has much to do with the innate ability to initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it’s possible and acceptable for you to do it. We’ve only had these doors open wide for a decade or so, and most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.

There’s a huge shortage … a shortage of people who will say go.

Are you ready to take your work to the next level?

Don’t wait for anyone’s endorsement.


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15 Responses to Got Initiative?

  1. Thank you for this post, Jen ~ I’ll definitely be re-reading it when I feel stuck. Such a powerful truth: “Too many people wait around, hoping to be picked or anointed or put in charge. They’re always waiting for someone else to give them their power.”

    My friend Brooke and I have started giving each other permission to take initiative in our writing work~ it’s been very helpful. When one of us might feel shy about taking a risk, the other one is usually able to challenge & affirm. And when we do take initiative, congratulations abound.

    • I think having an “initiative partner” is a great idea. It always helps to publicly commit to something, even if that public is just one person.

    • On
    • October 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm
    • barbara
    • Said...

    As you know I’m not particularly shy and reserved, but to offer your services involves totally believing you have value. As with many things, necessity is the mother of invention.

    My unemployment ran out last winter. It wasn’t a large amount of money but it definitely helped. I don’t indulge in a lot of pampering, but I’m very particular about my hair. When I find a stylist who ‘get’s’ me we might as well be married.

    My stylist owns his shop and likes to say he’s living in the 18th century… particularly in regard to technology. One of his receptionists started a facebook page for the shop, then she moved away. I offered to run his facebook page on trade. He was thrilled! Within a month he asked me to set-up a website for him and for that he would pay me. Win-Win!

    The other indulgence (which is actually a necessity) is regular massage. I have issues with my back since an accident fused 3 vertebra. My massage therapist is a neighbor who has a gorgeous Victorian building that houses her business. She asked me if I would dress her windows for trade. DEFINITELY! It means changing design seasonally and keeps me mobile. WIN! WIN!

    If you don’t ask you’ll never know. I agree with this post completely Jen!

    • I love these examples, Barbara. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!!

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  3. Hey Jen,

    Great post. You know, initiative is one of my strong suits, and often gets my foot in the door. I am currently looking for a position and average 2 interview opportunities a week. But I FLAKE on them. I cancel or worse, a couple of times have simply not responded.

    Why am I telling you this. I don’t know. I’m scared. I had one interview that was so intimidating I just never got my mojo back afterwards, and now suffer from feeling like a fraud, as though even though I can convince people I’m good enough (in writing), they’ll discover how ordinary I am when we speak/meet.

    I’m so disheartened that I’ve just about given up looking…for now. I feel something bigger/deeper is at play and I have to figure it out before I venture in to the deep end again.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

    • Oh Steph, I know what you’re talking about. Really. I just went to New York and pitched myself to a bunch of big media. It was all I could do on that first day to walk into the room and speak. But the response was amazing. Not everyone loved me, but many more did than I ever anticipated. You have to give yourself the chance. And if you “fail” (i.e. don’t get hired), then you figure out what you could do differently and try again. The answer isn’t to quit looking. It’s to force yourself to face your fears. Maybe try some of the early Everyday Courage challenges to prepare you?

      Best of luck and big hugs. YOU CAN DO THIS!!!!

    • On
    • October 13, 2011 at 6:50 am
    • Debi Davis
    • Said...

    It’s been 10 years since I read “The Knowing-Doing Gap” (by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton), but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t see situations where the only missing ingredient is initiative, and am reminded that in order to “do,” you have to have a plan.

    A plan can be as simple as a checklist; that’s how I started. Your plan becomes more powerful when you prioritize tasks and assign them to a timeline. Whatever your approach though, keep your plan in front of you. Break it into manageable steps and never take your eye of the goal. The “initiative partner,” mentioned in one of the comments above, sounds like a great idea, too.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the reminder to “work smarter, not harder.”


    • Debi,
      Yes! Checklists are great. The Air Force uses them so that no matter how scared you get, you know what to do next. As you say, it makes it manageable. And thanks for adding to my ever growing reading list! :)

    • On
    • October 13, 2011 at 3:25 pm
    • Grady Pruitt
    • Said...

    My site sat around for more than a year not really going anywhere because I wasn’t really doing anything with it. When I started taking the initiative to get out and meet people around the web by commenting on other blogs and interacting through social media, I started seeing more progress in a few weeks than I had for an entire year.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Absolutely, Grady. I’m so glad we connected with each other. You’re a wonderful inspiration on this topic!

    • On
    • October 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm
    • Michelle
    • Said...

    Thank you for sharing this Jen!
    Sometimes I indulge and don’t take initiative because of I lack of self-confidence. But it’s when I’m the one who takes initiative and actually does her job that I feel really satisfied and fearless. I aim at always feeling like that, satisfied and fearless.

    • That’s great, Michelle! Let each one of those “satisfied and fearless” victories propel you to the next. And remind yourself that we’re all scared too–just hiding it as best we can. :)

  4. Felicia,
    CONGRATS on the book by Random House. That’s HUGE!! Really so happy for you. Thanks for the update. I always love hearing about your adventures and successes. And glad to connect you with Jon Morrow. He really is a blogging god! LOL

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