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"Show Some Initiative."

In my first high school job as a counselor-in-training (CIT) at a YMCA summer camp, I received some scalding feedback: “Show some initiative.”

My “boss” and friend was tired of my questions about how to set up for the very important, last-night-of-camp dance. I had never attended the dance and wanted to know where to put the tables and food and decorations and who knows what.

I did a lot of standing around waiting for direction.

She got very impatient that I wasn’t doing anything. To her, it was obvious. She’d been involved in camp since she was six years old. She had attended MANY dances and had a number of different memories to draw from.

I was frustrated she wasn’t telling me what to do and embarrassed that I was missing some character trait, “initiative,” that I didn’t know I needed.

Exasperated, she finally said, “It doesn’t matter. Do it how you want. Just show some initiative.” I was furious and embarrassed.

This dance was a highlight of the camp experience. I mean, we SHOWERED for this signature event. The last thing I wanted was to make a mistake.

To an outside observer, it might have looked like I was dawdling, being lazy or procrastinating. The truth was, I was expending a whole lot of energy trying to figure out the perfect way to set it up without having any prior knowledge to draw from. Plus, my “boss” was frustrated with me.

This story illustrates all the components that make for a perfect storm of paralysis by analysis and procrastination: high importance and high visibility; ambiguity; and relationships. My ego was at stake and it was stalling, big time.

I knew how to follow rules; I didn’t know how to think for myself or even that it was ok to experiment. I hadn’t learned how to learn from mistakes—only how to do my best to avoid them by following someone else’s rules.

It’s no wonder I didn’t know what to do.

But these are the kinds of situations that people encounter every day at work. So, if you see someone who looks like they are dawdling, procrastinating or stuck in paralysis by analysis, here are some questions that could help move move them from indecision to action:

  • What’s the worst that can happen? How likely is that to happen?

  • Who else knows something about this project/idea?

  • What can you learn by trying X, Y, Z?


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