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The attribute of proactivity

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t" - Mat Fraser, 4 time CrossFit Games champion


Defining proactivity


The Oxford dictionary definition of proactivity is:


creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened.


James Taylor and Gaurav Seth both alluded to proactivity as being a key attribute and their definitions resonate with the above. Gaurav suggested that throughout your career you should take the lead at the right points in time and have the initiative to open doors for yourself. He coupled this with the point of not being afraid to behave proactively.


To James, proactivity means taking the time to think about your career and where you want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years. Whilst this might change, you need to understand the experiences that you need to have in order to get to where you want to be and then have the gumption to go in search of those experiences.


control of career drone

Why is proactivity important?


The problem with not being proactive, is that you then naturally fall into the category of becoming a reactive individual.


Even worse, you can find yourself in a velvet rut, a phrase I first heard in my favourite Courteeners song.


Being reactive means that you respond to a stimulus rather than creating or controlling a situation.


Within your career, this might mean that instead of pushing for a promotion or searching for a senior role externally, you wait for a promotion opportunity to present itself internally or for a recruiter to put the perfect role on a plate. Depending on the business you are in, this internal opportunity may not arise for years. Regarding external roles, if you don’t begin the search yourself, the opportunities will take a lot longer to come to you.


It could be that you want to get exposure to commercial finance projects to broaden your experience. Instead of creating an opportunity to do this type of work yourself, you wait for a project to arise and then you wait to be asked to be involved. This project may firstly, never arise, and secondly, what makes you think you will be asked to be involved when it does?


Or, reactivity might result in you settling for your velvet rut.


If you allow yourself to be a reactive person, things will take a lot longer to happen. Yes, you can still do well and you can be successful, you might even be lucky and get offered to do something that you hadn’t even considered doing that gives you a kickstart...


But, over the course of your career, inertia will hold you back.



What does proactivity look like?


I’m currently reading the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey. This book has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide since being published in 1989. It has been published in 40 languages and is one of the best selling business books of all time. Bill Clinton even asked Covey to teach him how to integrate the principles of the book into his presidency.


Guess what habit number 1 is? Be proactive.


The foreword to the book describes how Bill Gates “acted upon the moment”, dropping out of Harvard and moving to Albuquerque where he could access a computer to write code - a proactive response to a great opportunity.


A number of the guests on the podcast have demonstrated proactivity in their careers too:

  • Tom Steabler created the opportunity to work in M&A before ultimately deciding it wasn’t for him

  • Ian Daly fanatically searched for the right moment to start his own business despite the risk of failing

  • Olivia & Charlotte saw a gap in the swimwear market and had the enterprise to fill this gap themselves

  • Josh & Luke were dynamic enough to co-ordinate the set-up of Woodhurst


Sometimes, there are things that you just won’t get if you are not proactive. For example, during my time at BDO, I undertook a secondment in Brisbane and, seeing an opportunity, I asked if I could take 2 months out at the end of my secondment to travel. If I hadn’t have asked for this, nobody would have offered it to me and those were 2 of the best months I’ve had!


It pays to be proactive!


Become a proactive person


Proactivity is definitely something that comes easier to some, but it is not something that necessarily needs to be learned. Everybody has the ability to be proactive, they just have to make the decision to do it.


  1. Reflect - Dan Bolland mentioned the importance of reflection. If you take the time once a month or once a quarter to think about your career, you’ll negate the risk of tunnel vision. Tunnel vision will drive you forwards but not necessarily toward where you want to be. Reflecting will help you to assess where you are in your career plan and whether you are on track.

  2. Plan - Although you might not know exactly where you want your career to go in the early stages, you should have an idea of the things you do like and the things you don’t. As James Taylor said, your plans may change and that’s fine, but make sure that you at least have a plan that will send you in the right direction.

  3. Act - Once you have your plan in place, be proactive and act upon it.


Make these changes to be proactive and you will get to where you want to be sooner than you think!


plan of action

Let me know your thoughts


If you found this article useful, or felt that there was something missing, go ahead and leave a comment!



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