Alertness and Initiative were two of the “lost blocks” for me for many years. Along with Friendship, Loyalty, and Cooperation, they failed to capture my attention like the other ten blocks. As you will see, that was "my bad” rather than any fault with the blocks. When I would teach these two blocks, I gave John Wooden’s definition and his thoughts about them to the students, but I really failed to do an adequate job of selling the importance of these blocks to my students.
In this blog, I am talking about Alertness and Initiative only because of the importance that I now see in them. At least two things occurred in the last year to help me realize what I had missed. The first is that I began to tell my students that the world needed them to solve the many and imposing problems facing mankind. I began telling them that their lives have purpose and that their talents, skills, and passions would be sorely missed if they failed to answer their purpose. As I taught these ideas to my students, they began to ask me how they could discover what their purpose was. As I began looking for answers to their questions, I began to realize that most of us are asleep at the wheel of life. We hypnotize ourselves with TV, video games, alcohol, drugs, cars, sex, and all other kinds of addictions. It became clear to me and my students that it is very difficult to discover one’s purpose without looking for it. The problem for most Americans is that life is so comfortable that we can just slide through it going from one air-conditioned pod to another constantly stimulating ourselves with things that don’t matter. In this society, purpose becomes beside the point.
The second thing that was happening was in my reading. The books that I was choosing all seemed to be discussing the importance of recognizing special moments of our lives. These books emphasized the need to be Alert to those moments, or they could be lost. As a teacher, I thought about moments when students offered me opportunities to impact their lives, but I was too involved, too busy to recognize the importance at the time. How could I be so dead, so NOT-Alert, to miss the incredible importance of Alertness in a world such as mine?
Of course, everyone needs to be Alert to their opportunities. To answer the questions my students posed about discovering purpose, I now say that they must be looking, searching all the time. They must be looking at their own abilities and passions. Of course, they are so often being what their peers want them to be or what the world says they should be, that they are often confused.
Once we begin to throw off our addictions, we begin to see life differently. However, if we lack Initiative, then we are powerless. If we see what we should do and fail to act, then we are lost. Ray Bradbury says, “Sometimes, we have to jump off cliffs and build our wings on our way down.” Erwin McManus in Chasing Daylight adds this idea: When we walk up to the cliff and turn away, then we die a little inside. On the other hand, when we jump – even when we fail – a surge of energy flows through us. We know inside that we are no longer sideliners in life. We enter into the realm of those who will risk and those who will pursue their purpose. Of course, that is a realization we carry inside rather than one that we shout to the world. The world will see soon enough when we have the Initiative to act!
One other thought that Erwin McManus had about Initiative was that we need to act even if we are not sure that we have found our purpose. Many people fail to act because they are not sure whether their action is "right," so they do nothing. He points out that when we are moving, we have a much easier time in redirecting ourselves than in getting ourselves going when we are motionless.
I have to ask myself one more time: “How in the world could I have missed the importance of Alertness and Initiative? How can anyone possibly reach Competitive GREATNESS without the ability to commit himself or herself to the search for and implementation of purpose?!”