Wednesday, May 2, 2012

initiative: doing more than you are asked, expected, or paid for

The first lesson in initiative I received came almost twenty years ago from my sister-in-law, who advised me to work as if I was making seventy dollars an hour rather than seven. This attitude resulted in being awarded with increased responsibility, promotions, bonuses, and raises.

The second happened when I was a graduate student and a teaching assistant. My objective was not to "get ahead," but to immerse myself in the culture of composition studies, to learn how writing programs worked, and to be the best teacher I could be. Thus, I offered to do work for which I was not paid, volunteered to present workshops at orientation meetings, facilitated and participated in faculty discussions, and more. The result was that I was invited to be part of committees (something not typical for TAs), given opportunities to attend conferences, and approached to take part in various pilot programs. In fact, my colleague and professor, Linus Travers, would introduce me to university administrators as "This is Elisa Lorello--she's on a faster tenure track than most of our already tenured professors."

Initiative is doing something without being told or paid to do it, and following through once it's done. Initiative can take you far in life.

Do not mistake initiative for being someone's doormat. It's good to gain the reputation of being someone who is reliable, perhaps being indispensable. It's good to be the go-to guy. But if you're being taken advantage of, then you'll gain a reputation of being someone who is a pushover, who can be bought for nothing. You also don't want to gain a reputation of someone who "will do anything just to get ahead." There's nothing wrong with ambition. But if you're taking all this initiative and not getting ahead, or getting ahead by stomping on others, then you need to re-evaluate your actions.

As an author, I exercised initiative when I made the decision to self-publish. I had just finished writing Ordinary World, the sequel to Faking It. I had also spent much of the year querying agents for Faking It, and ultimately it was rejected. How does one query for a sequel when the original was rejected? The more I learned about self-publishing and POD, the more I believed it to be a viable option for me. For one thing, agents said they didn't know how to market Faking It. I thought otherwise. They also weren't sure they could sell it. As a former employee of retail sales, I was very confident in my abilities to sell a product I believed in. And above all else, I believed in my novel. Although I didn't know who or where my readers were when I wrote the novel, I was confident that they existed and that I could find them. Ditto for Ordinary World.

And so, I took initiative.

Rather than send out another batch of queries and hope for an agent to say yes, I moved ahead with formatting my files, designing a cover, publishing, marketing, and selling my book. I learned as I went along, willing to ask others for help and unafraid to make mistakes along the way.

As you know, that worked out well.

As writers, taking initiative means we take charge of our careers--we make time to write rather than find time to write. We go about organizing our own writer's group if we can't find one that suits us. We set our publishing goals based on our definite chief aim, and then execute them with organized action without listening to others telling us we can't, we shouldn't, it's not a good time, do it this way, wait and see what happens, etc.

One of the best pieces of advice I received from another author was to "get aggressive." Essentially, that meant taking charge of my career as an author. Rather than wait to afford a publicist, I took charge of my publicity. Rather than wait for someone to invite me to do a reading, I approached others about doing readings. And so on. Getting aggressive doesn't mean being pushy or shoving my book in people's faces; rather, it means taking my success into my own hands.

So, what's the nemesis of initiative? Procrastination.

Have I overcome procrastination? Absolutely not. For example, every summer the goal "re-vamp website" goes on my To-Do list. And every summer it gets moved to the bottom of the list until summer is over and I complain that I have no time to look into it during the semester, or I'd rather be working on my books, etc.

Napoleon Hill has suggestions to eliminate procrastination as a bad habit and replace it with the habit of initiative:
a. Doing one definite thing each day, that ought to be done, without anyone telling you to do it.
b. Looking around until you find at least one thing that you can do each day, that you have not been in the habit of doing, and that will be of value to others, without expectation of pay.
c. Telling at least one other person, each day, of the value of practicing this habit of doing something that ought to be done without being told to do it.
I started to implement "c" in the classroom midway through the semester. And although I may not have mentioned it every single class, I certainly planted seeds. And incidentally, it made me more conscious of my own behavior as a teacher, made me take more initiative in and out of the classroom. Initiative can be a very motivating tool, for myself and for others. It's contagious. I love when authors told me they took the initiative to self-publish after learning about my success (and I followed Stacey Cochran's initiative, so it's like a chain). When I get on a roll of doing things without being told or expected or paid to do them, I feel a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. And I am almost always rewarded--if not in cash, then in knowledge, satisfaction, recognition, etc.

Keep in mind that all these principles I've been presenting and discussing these past few weeks -- the master mind, definite chief aim, self-confidence, and the habit of saving money -- all work in synergy. Above all else, when you know your definite chief aim, the rest begins to fall in line.

Try the above suggestions for one week, and see what happens. Start NOW. I'll do it too.


Soma Chakrabarti said...

Hi Elisa: I don't know how I missed this blog post. This is so inspiring, and I'll try my best to take some initiatives myself :-). Thank you! - Soma

Elisa said...

Thanks Soma!