Most of us are well-practiced -- if inadvertent -- mimics. Embed us within a group of coworkers, and in short order we will mimic our colleagues’ tendencies.* If they don’t like their jobs, we won’t much care for ours. If they come into work a few minutes late, we’ll come in a few minutes late. If they steal office supplies, we’ll steal office supplies.

Couple our gift for mimicry with the daily pressures to do what’s required of us in a given day, and we will quite naturally spend nearly all our time doing ordinary things in the ordinary way.

In another era, that might have been sufficient. But we live in a time when advancement – and sometimes just continued employment – requires a distinctive, proactive approach.

In a performance review, a former colleague of mine was told that he had done everything that had been asked of him.  He smiled in acknowledgement. Then his boss shook her head and told him that was insufficient. Why, his boss wondered, hadn’t he done more?

In a series of papers,** Crant and colleagues demonstrated the career and life-shaping power of a proactive approach.

Proactive people take steps beyond the ordinary – they learn something beyond what is required of them; they take on challenges beyond what is asked of them; they imagine ways their field could advance beyond where it is today; they make it a point to interact with people beyond their immediate circle.

Not surprisingly, Crant and colleagues find that people who look for opportunities to act, who show initiative and persevere through challenges wind up excelling in their careers whether measured objectively (income, number of promotions) or subjectively (career satisfaction).

It is a given that you are busy. You already have a full set of work responsibilities and more than enough pressure and stress. And, you may well have settled into a nice rut, easily fitting in with the vibe of the office. How are you ever going to climb out and become proactive?

You need to assign yourself extraordinary time. Just as you meet your hunger for food by eating every day, you need to meet your hunger for success by having extraordinary time every single day.

Start with twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of extraordinary anything – twenty minutes of doing absolutely nothing that’s required of you, twenty minutes of doing absolutely nothing the same as the person at the next desk. Twenty minutes focused on possibilities beyond your immediate grasp.

Can you find twenty minutes to be extraordinary today?

 *Greene, A. 1999. “Honesty in Organizations: Perceptions of the Corporate Environment and their Impact on Individual Behavior.” Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University.

**Seibet, S., J.M. Crant, and M. Kraimer. 1999. “Proactive Personality and Career Success.” Journal of Applied Psychology 84: 416-427.

Bateman, T., and J.M. Crant. 1993. “The Proactive Component of Organizational Behavior.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 14: 103-118.

Crant, J.M. 1995. “The Proactive Personality Scale and Objective Job Performance among Real Estate Agents.” Journal of Applied Psychology 80: 532-537.

You are reading

Solving Unsolvable Problems

John Grisham Can't Be Stopped

Four keys to persistence when you feel like giving up

Urban Meyer on How to Win

What Coach Urban Meyer learned and unlearned about the effect of all-out effort