Proactivity is about taking purposeful action towards a clear, specific goal. When you’re proactive, you are creating situations based on a strategy. Making conscious choices about where to invest your time and energy helps you identify which opportunities, projects, and events deserve your attention.
It’s easy to confuse being proactive with taking action. On the surface they look very similar. In either state—taking action or being proactive—you appear energetic, forceful, highly motivated, and active. However, action is doing what needs to be done. You’re executing tasks based on the strategy of others. Often short-term and discrete in nature, tasks are part of most people’s jobs. Accomplishing tasks is much easier than being proactive, and it may appear simpler to stay focused on action. In the long run though, it can limit your progress.
As an example, think about how these two approaches show up when job hunting. A proactive job hunter knows what companies/positions are likely to meet their career needs. They focus on establishing contact with those companies that meet their criteria, and network to establish relationships likely to lead to job offers. They create a message track that positions themselves appropriately so that they find opportunities at the right level. Because they are specific, their networking and job hunting efforts build on each other—they are efficient at learning the industry needs/challenges and the key players, and can leverage one meeting into others. They establish momentum, which helps carry them through the inevitable ups and downs of a search. When they land, they have a much better chance of a good fit. Their job hunt has a good ROI because it is not only efficient in the short term, it also advances their long-term goals.
Conversely, an action-focused job hunter is about getting a job, any job, and spends time pursuing any and all leads that look remotely interesting. Their energy is dispersed across many activities regardless of the likely payoff. Perusing job boards, applying for jobs whether or not they truly want them, writing/rewriting resumes to fit what others are looking for—their actions are about fitting into what others are seeking versus what meets their own needs. This type of person will land a job, become dissatisfied in short order, and start the process all over again. Each time they start from scratch. It is a high-energy, low-return experience focused on short-term goals.
It’s important to understand this distinction. Being proactive–planning and executing your personal strategy—will ensure a much happier and satisfying work experience for you in the long run.