Do you wait for instructions or do you initiate an activity? I used to be someone who waited for instructions and encouragement.  I had a fairly big fear of doing something wrong. I only felt confident moving forward if I had the approval and support of someone else.

Bold or guilty?

In Were You Raised to Take Initiative or to Feel Guilt?, I wrote about American psychologist, Erik Erikson’s theory that between the ages of five and seven we are socialized to make bold moves or to resist such moves to spare others’ worry or anger. Girls are more likely to feel guilt if their behavior makes others uncomfortable. Society encourages girls to relate more deeply to other’s emotions, hence their feelings of guilt when their behavior meets disapproval.

How you handle home repairs says a lot

On a talk radio show, two women talked about managing the repairs in their homes. One of the women said there are three kinds of people: 1. Those who see a problem in their home and do their best to fix it themselves, 2. Those who see a problem and call someone right away to fix it and 3. Those who see a problem but do nothing and just live with the broken item.

I used to be someone who called someone right away. I even prided myself on having a solid list of reliable, reasonable and trustworthy service people.

My mom was single most of my childhood. She always saw herself as someone who needed help with anything stereotypically a male job. She did mow the lawn but if anything in the house or yard needed repair she called someone.

Many things are beyond me and my DIY skills, but over the years I have become more comfortable investigating the problem before calling for help. Taking something apart, Googling the symptoms and watching Youtube videos are now my go-to reactions. Youtube videos are the best. I’ve uninstalled wired in smoke detectors, replaced the ignitor battery on my gas grill and put in new toilet flapper valves just by watching videos. Granted, these are not complicated tasks, but still required curiosity and a will to solve the issues.

Yay or nay?

Passive due to inexperience

For many years I let my ex-husband lead me. He drove everywhere and worked out the logistics. He managed all of our investments. I looked to him for direction regarding the discipline of our children. He initiated home maintenance and investigated any problems with our appliances, furnace, sprinkler system, etc. If he could not get to it or fix it himself, he had me call someone. He initiated. I passively observed.

Getting stronger

Things started to change when I began working with a personal trainer. Taking the step to push my body into difficult physical tasks, was the first step toward becoming an initiator. True, my trainer gave me instructions and led our sessions, but I completed the work. It was me who pushed through the pain and survived. It was also me who learned  from my trainer how to build my body. Just like watching my ex-husband get curious and explore the broken appliances in our home inspired me to do the same when he was gone. When I stopped using a personal trainer, I had the skills and tools to go forward with my own fitness regimen.

Safe people foster initiative

Eventually, I noticed it was easier to take initiative if I felt safe with the people around me. My trainer challenged me and I did not want to fail in front of him but his support was evident. I knew it would be OK if I flopped, he would simply help me do it better the next time.  My ex-husband was not so safe. It took his absence for me to delve confidently into initiator mode.

Empowered or average?

In Ben Hardy’s article, One Behavior Separates the Successful from the Average,he says, “Most importantly, those who become successful initiate. They reach out to people, ask questions, make recommendations, offer to help, and pitch their ideas.” These people do not need consistent governing or specific instructions. They take action and are difficult to replace.

Over the years, I’ve learned reaching out to people and offering help is not hard. I’ve also learned to be very careful about when and where I make recommendations. The important thing is taking steps, moving forward. Settling for what comes our way, leaves us stressed and starved for true fulfillment. There is no power or agency in settling.

There are many areas where passivity is the easy route: our career, health, parenting, education, lovemaking, etc. I would argue we are not truly living if we are not consciously engaged in the experiences of all of these. Letting all of these endeavors find us, is the slow train to mediocrity.

Service people wish I was passive

A good part of my confidence in initiating comes from maturing and using the experience I have gained. Watching my mom look and feel helpless served as a good deterrent as well. Now, sometimes to my husband’s annoyance, I ask many confirming questions of the service people or I ask my husband if he asked certain qualifying questions of the service people. I do not passively accept the minimum answer. I enjoy learning new things from said service people. There is a sense of control and manageability that feels calming and empowering.

Are you an initiator or a wait for instructions type? How has that served you? What holds you back from initiating more?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Photo by Cesar Carlevarino Aragon via Unsplash