Initiative: taking ownership of your decision-making process, acting without being told, pressing on when things get tough, and taking advantage of opportunities that others pass by.
I was a freshman on my college volleyball team and had been recruited to be either a setter or a defensive specialist. I had always been a setter, and I loved that position. The setter on a volleyball team is often attributed to being the quarterback of the court. We get to make the play calls, decide who gets the ball, be involved in every play, and make changes to the play design as we see fit. I love the strategy involved in being the setter.
Without getting too far into the weeds on the game of volleyball, there was just one thing holding me back from being the next setter of the Taylor Volleyball team; I was 5’ 5” with my shoes on. A lot of collegiate setters are 5’ 8” and taller.
I was quickly humbled sitting the bench my freshman year and watching the senior setter run the court. I was more so humbled and then concerned when my coach started recruiting another setter for the following season. I read the writing on the walls… I was going to be a defensive specialist.
With the doubts planted, I faced a decision: (1) give up my dream of setting and start working on my defensive skills, or (2) hone in on my setting craft so deeply in the off season so that my coach doesn’t have a choice but to name me “quarterback.”
I went with option two.
For the next six months, I spent five days a week setting volleyballs one after another after another with the setting coach. I made mistakes and I asked him how to fix those mistakes. I mastered a few sets and we moved on to more challenging sets where I would make more mistakes until I mastered those. I would ask my teammates to come into my practices to hit off my sets and give me feedback:
What was working?
How could I place the ball in a position for them to be more successful?
What did they need from me to be better?
With their feedback and my coach’s instruction, I started to sharpen my skills so that sets that were once very challenging weeks before became almost second nature. I was honing my craft.
In a Cinderella fashion ending, I was named the starting setter of the Taylor Volleyball team in the fall. We had a great season, finishing just one game shy of the National Tournament. I was recognized as the Crossroads League Setter of Year and selected to the All-Conference First Team. I would go on to be the setter the next two seasons through my senior year and I finished as a Top 10 setter of all time at Taylor University.
I tell this story not just to relive my own glory days, but to demonstrate the value of taking initiative. When you want something, it is up to you to find a way to get it. While I’d be remised not to acknowledge that incredibly important, encouraging, and supportive people came alongside me in my journey, not one of them could become a great setter for me. Only I could make that happen. Only I could initiate that.
The same truths carry over to our work life. While our coworkers, managers, family members, and mentors want to see us advance in our careers, only we (individually) can choose to improve. It is up to you to take the initiative to do great work in your current position, learn the different aspects of your work environment, and seek out opportunities to bring your unique assets to the organization.
3 Ways to Take Initiative at Work
- Get to know those around you.
Invest time into your coworkers and teammates. Use active listening to better understand those you’re working with and become more aware of their needs, desires, and headaches. By truly knowing the people around you, your eyes will naturally become open to ways you can help the betterment of the group and take steps forward in your own career path.
- Ask clarifying questions.
Inquiring about a new system or the way something ‘has always been done’ with a respectful curiosity shows your teammates (and manager) that you are invested in the work you are doing. By holistically understanding your profession, you’ll be better able to offer new suggestions and contribute to the team more quickly.
- Find solutions before sharing problems.
Rather than waiting for someone else to hand you the answer to a problem, take it upon yourself to brainstorm ways to fix the issue. More times than not, the manager you’re bringing the problem to will be glad to move forward with your presented solution rather than spending their time coming up with one. Not only do you quickly become a reliable source for your manager, but you also save yourself and your client time and frustration.
Take initiative. Take ownership. Improve and advance.