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Career Success

How To Be a Self-Starter And Take Initiative At Work

Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Leadership Strategist | Executive Coach | Dr. Batchelder teaches business leaders how to create corporations where Millennials want to work.
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Do you want to be a self-starter and take initiative at work? These 10 essential tips will change your mindset and change the way you work.

Why do I need to be a self-starter and take initiative at work? Aren’t those traits only necessary for entrepreneurs? After all, isn’t the journey towards success only about beating the competition?

I thought this way for years. Even as a child, I thrived off of competing against my peers. I won all the games, aced every test, and enjoyed looking over my five-year plan over coffee when I was seven—okay, forget the coffee, but you get the idea. There was something addictive and satisfying about meeting my objectives and exceeding my peers. And when I stepped into the workforce as an adult, I carried this ideology with me.

As an older Millennial, I grew up believing that business success meant a corner office in Manhattan, enormous shoulder pads, and Jimmy Choo pumps. Okay, maybe I watched a little too much Sex and the City growing up, but you get my point.

When I got my working permit, I followed Dolly Parton’s anthem, 9 to 5 to the letter.[1] I focused on climbing the invisible ladder to the top and avoiding the pitfalls by staying one step ahead of the competition.

Let’s just say it didn’t work for long.

I soon realized that life within the business sector no longer echoed a 90’s sitcom. If anything, it was the antithesis of what I had learned growing up. And if I wanted to stay ahead in the game, I needed to understand the new rules. I had to gain an entrepreneurial mindset, become a self-starter, and learn how to take the initiative.


If you want to succeed this year, you might need to shift your focus. It’ll take some work, but I’ve made it easier for you. Here are ten essential tips that will change how you work and help you become a self-starter.

1. Run Your Race and Set Your Pace

When you can no longer see your competition, you up your own game. Being a self-starter is more than posting selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #EntrepreneurLife. It takes work, and it takes time.

Running your race requires you to look ahead and not around. When you take the time to concentrate on your journey, you don’t care how fast or slow the people around you are traveling. Their race is not your destiny. Don’t allow their movement to become your distraction.

So, set your own pace, schedule your day, and figure out how you work best. When you take the time to become a self-starter, you permit yourself to work differently. And this can be incredibly freeing and helpful.

2. Skip the Rituals and Branch Out a Bit

When I first launched my business, I had no idea how to plan my day. I was used to working the same forty hours a week, taking lunch breaks at the same time, and conversing with the same people day-in-and-day-out. Needless to say, my life was a bit boring.

It was nice to know what to expect each day. But when I stepped away from the box and colored outside of the lines, I realized that these rituals of sameness were keeping me from moving forward and meeting my career goals. Think about it, “you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.”[2] Let that sink in for a moment. Look at your goals, and then look at the people next to you.


I’m not encouraging you to throw out friendships or refuse to talk to your coworkers. What I am saying is that you need to mix things up a bit if you want to be a self-starter. Don’t get dragged into the group complaining party. Let others sulk in the corner. You have goals to meet and work to do.

So, before you face another week of frustration, question your surrounding and get to know some new people at the office. Embrace the diversity of various perspectives and let that influence your objectives.

3. Don’t Settle Into a Box If You Want to Succeed

Competition keeps you at the top. But here’s the deal; the top is relative—it’s related to the work ethic and the ability of those around you. If you only strive to be the best compared to others, you limit your actual potential because you can only go as far as everyone else desires to go.

To reach the top, you need to break through the barriers, and you have to be willing to go against the grain and go beyond your colleagues’ expectations and excuses. Remember that not everyone wants to move past a particular stage. Many people just want to check-in, check-out, and then place their check in their bank account on payday.

If you learn how to be a self-starter and take the initiative at work, the sky is the limit. However, if you remain stuck in competing against those around you, you’ll never reach your goals—you’ll get stuck following someone else’s dreams and miss out on your own goals entirely.

4. Be Teachable and Seek to Learn

No one ever expected to drum up potential coaching clients on Tik Tok, adapt to a lateral leadership model or work from home 24/7 for an entire year. 2020 completely shifted the business world, and we were pushed off the high dive and weren’t provided with any lifejackets.


No one took the time to train us how to dance, sing, or present a business pitch on social media. The business sector was always about the “know-how,” not entertaining strangers online. But all that changed. Life is much different than what we learned in college.

Years ago, you might have received an A+ for a presentation on cardboard with pasted pictures, but people want more—and they deserve more. To succeed in today’s work environment, you need to create something better than a cardstock display. You need to ask questions, consult with your colleagues, and take a class or two if you want to expand your ability to connect—and, most importantly, communicate your ideas.

If you want to succeed in today’s workforce, you need to present more than an Ivy League degree. You have to bring a hunger to learn and a willingness to adapt.

5. Being a Self-Starter Requires You to Be Self-Aware

One of the worst things that you can do is move forward without direction. After all, just because you’re moving doesn’t mean that you’re making progress.

If you want to be a self-starter, then you need to be self-aware. And introspection isn’t always the most comfortable. When you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you can either hide and avoid acceptance, make excuses and refuse to adapt, or face the facts and embrace the awkwardness.

Taking the initiative at work requires you to take ownership of your present and your past. It’s the only way to move forward.


6. Know Yourself and Then Accept Yourself

Before I started my own business, I worked in the 9-5 world, and I would always judge my performance against my coworkers. I would pat myself on the back, hold my head up high, and feel confident for about five seconds.

But the feeling never lasted long. Behind my smile and charisma, I felt like a could never keep up. Dealing with reality wasn’t easy, but I’m extremely thankful for this feeling. When I accepted myself, I permitted myself to progress forward with warts and all.

When you take the time to celebrate who you are and your own goals, you don’t care to replicate your life after someone else. You realize that you don’t want to follow someone else’s path. If you want to succeed, then you need to own your own goals and take the initiative to bring your dreams to fruition. So, next time you see your reflection, celebrate who you are and stand up tall.

7. Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

If you want to be a self-starter, you need to learn how to stand alone. This means that you need to develop the mind of an entrepreneur—even if you never plan on leaving your 9 to 5 job. It’s not about the location. It’s about perspective.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset gives you the ability to think differently and gain the tools you need to be a self-starter and take the initiative at work.

If you are new to this concept, here are three tools that will help you to develop this type of mindset:

  • You need to embrace challenges and see them as stepping stones towards progress.[3]
  • Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs.[4] When you’re with people in the same field, they spur you on to dig deeper and risk greater. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely position. When you connect with other square pegs in round holes, you create a support system and a strong community.
  • Be ready to swim upstream, wade in the water alone, and face the twenty-foot waves while pursuing your goals.[5]
  • Entrepreneurship is not easy. But it’s one of the most significant traits that will assist you in becoming a self-starter and taking more initiative at work.

You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to follow your own path. You just need to know yourself, stop judging yourself, and run your race without comparing yourself to those around you.

8. Be a Team-Worker

One of the most prominent features of a self-starter is their ability to stand on their own and get things done. However, there are times where you will have to work and collaborate with other people. There are times where you simply cannot afford to be an island. In such situations, the success of the project usually hinges on the ability of the whole team to work cooperatively.

Permit me to digress a bit into the sports world. If you are a basketball fan, you will notice how much emphasis is placed on teamwork and chemistry when organizing a basketball team. This is because no matter how talented a team is if they cannot coexist with one another, they will run into serious problems down the line.

The same applies in workplaces and the like. As a self-starter, you have to be able to get other members of the team involved, ensuring everyone knows their duties. Also, you need to understand how to assertively state your opinions while also respecting the opinions of others. After organizing tasks, communication about these tasks should be clear to all members of the team. The team will also decide on its meetings, deadlines, punishments, and the like.

9. Don’t Focus on Failure

Failure sucks. I can assure you of that, but you probably already know! But you must understand that failure is part of life. This sounds so generic, I know, but it is absolutely correct. Life is not always smooth sailing, and there will be times when you wouldn’t get your way.

But the difference between a self-starter and an ordinary man is their response to that failure. Self-starters don’t focus on their failures. They don’t let their failures discourage them from taking risks. Instead, they learn from them and move on.


No one ever prays for failure, but you need to be able to handle it nonetheless. And in such cases, ask yourself for lessons you can learn from the experience. Then shift your focus to the positives – what you have actually succeeded in and let that motivate you to work and strive harder.

10. Avoid Procrastination

This is one of those pieces of advice where it is far easier said than actually done. It is always easier to say, “I’ll do it later,” than actually getting up and doing it now. Avoid procrastination by all means.

If you have an activity or task to do, let your mentality be on doing it “now” and not “later.” Not only will you complete your tasks as fast as possible, but you will also inculcate a winning mentality.

Even if you get every other thing in this article right, if you cannot stop procrastinating, you will never actually make real progress as a self-starter.


Which Self-Starter Skills Can You Show In an Interview?

Every employer wants a self-starter for their company because of the many benefits they bring to the table. This is why in interviews, interviewers are always on the lookout for certain skills that naturally accompany self-starters. Below are some of these vital skills.


Self-starters usually can motivate themselves to work. They don’t need to be forced, coerced, or threatened to work before they get things done. This is a critical factor in many interviews, as self-motivated people will mean less burden on employers and greater productivity and efficiency.


Self-starters are typically very confident in their abilities. They place a lot of trust in their discretion and ability to make the right choices at all times, and it usually pays off well in interviews. Exuding confidence is perhaps the best form of reassurance your employers need as it means you will not be easily swayed by various opinions in the course of the job.

However, one needs to make a distinction between confidence and over-confidence. The former is excellent; the other is absolutely horrible. Over-confident fellows don’t take advice from others or believe they are beyond correction. Trust me; there is no bigger red flag in an interview than a person that doesn’t seem flexible to correction and change.


Aim big – that’s the message. It’s as simple as that, really. Don’t just settle for the bottom level when you can be aiming for far bigger things. This is one of the skills that can gain you favor in the eyes of interviewers. No one wants a small mind in their business.

But, you need to ensure the ambitions are realistic. If they sound more like things you’d ask a genie, then you’ll just piss off the interviewers. To pitch realistic ambitions, do a lot of research before attending the interview to know where the business is and where they can be.


One of the commonest reasons people lose their jobs is lack of discipline. As you would imagine, employers are very wary of the discipline of potential employees. As a self-starter, discipline is critical. Being able to restrain oneself when needed and follow certain set guidelines is a way of winning the hearts of interviewers.

Discipline is such a valuable skill to have. One way to improve discipline is to set a schedule and follow it closely. It may start with little things at first, like what time you go to bed and wake. Mastering this will help improve your overall discipline.


Good communication skills

Right from the first point of contact with your interviewers, they often already have a fair idea of how good your communication skills are. You don’t even have to say a word at times, and I am dead serious here.

As a self-starter, you need to be able to communicate your goals effectively and also pass across essential information. This is only possible with good communication skills. Know when to start talking and know when to stop talking. Watch your facial expressions closely. Pay close attention to all communication cues.

Final Thoughts

In many ways, learning how to be a self-starter and taking the initiative at work gives you the tools to succeed in your professional life and meet your personal goals.

So, color outside those lines, skip the rituals, and walk your path. Create a far more fulfilling life than a forty-hour workweek. Get to your destination without being deterred by the noise and work without being boxed in by comparison.


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