There was a tiger in the grass—the man knew this much to say the least, and the least wasn’t very good at all. For him, the precariousness of the situation extended him the opportunity to be the lucky victim of a two pronged path of fate: one leading to a certain, gruesome, and agonizing death; the other, an equally painful death, prolonged by the careless judgment of a lazy tiger unwilling to kill you swiftly. Under the given circumstances it appeared that he would not survive this ordeal.

There was, however, a slim chance that the man might escape his death if he could somehow get to his gun, which lay only a few feet away on the ground next to his camp. The only trouble was that the tiger lay hidden from his view so that the man did not know its exact location, and because his gun was a single shot rifle, shooting aimlessly would surely result in the tiger’s advantage—and ultimately his own death. All things considered, it was clear that the man’s chances of survival and subsequent success as a human being relied heavily on knowing the location of the tiger

A flash of thought found him fantasizing about aimlessly scrambling for his rifle only to turn around late enough to find the tiger’s jaws at his face; the vision ended in his death. The man struggled with himself, pressing his mind for an iconic motto of proactivity that might save him from a problem much more potent than a stagnant career:

      don’t think, act.
                                                            you’re a sitting duck.  
                        Don’t just wait around for something to happen.
                Make it happen.
                                                                                                      Act now.

As each message rang empty, each becoming the dismal dirge of a foreshadowed death precipitated by hasty actions, he caught a glimpse of movement in the grass to the left of him. At this realization he came to and snapped back into place. To create a heightened state of peripheral awareness he forfeited his focus, making his field of view acutely sensitive to movement. Breathing slowly, he waited—the grass moved. The man darted for his rifle, discharging one shot in the general direction of the swaying grass. The tiger was dead.

In times of confusion or restlessness it has come to my attention, the very common desire expressed by many of my friends, to do something in their lives. Their fantasies of pro-action take them from quitting their job and moving, to going back to school this minute, to plowing thousands of dollars into a new hobby they know nothing about. Much of the time their fantasies and romantic prattle is accompanied by an air of proactive esteem—most likely facilitated by the kind of “go get yours” dogma that pervades the language of most Americans. The ideal is: you have to make it happen, always. This rationale often carries the hefty implication that action now is always best, and that waiting is always detrimental. I say, poppycock.

Now, be sure, there’s nothing wrong with change—and certainly not with facilitating such changes. However, when it comes to the big things I believe that a “wait and see” approach can often work to one’s advantage. In comparing hasty action with delayed action based on observation (as was the case with the man and the tiger), although outcomes might prove similar, the probability of being better off with a delayed action seems more likely. The point I’m trying to make is not that action first is a bad thing; of course there are always appropriate situations in which action first is best. The point is that in many situations not dire in nature, having no information and nowhere to begin, it is best to delay action in waiting for a cue from your environment. The cue will tell you what to do next, and then is when hasty action is most beneficial.

Before moving to Japan I was at a job where upward mobility was proving to be zero and raises were frozen due to the recession. Prior to this realization, despite longing for an increase of my income or a change of scenery, I decided to hold my actions and wait to see what “movements” or “ripples” I could perceive in my pond before taking any action. The economic recession was the first signal. Frozen salaries—second signal. Next came the company meeting that foreshadowed future layoffs due to deep cuts in government funding. The third signal was being rejected from a great masters program that I really wanted to attend. This particular signal was significant because I had been chosen as one of the few out of thousands of applicants for an interview. Yet, despite great remarks from the chairman and his colleagues, I wasn’t chosen. I was devastated—for exactly 3 days.

On the third day my first-year roommate from college messaged me from Japan. Over the last 6 years or so, apart from exchanging happy birthdays and a Merry Christmas, we hadn’t really kept in touch. He mentioned in passing that a teacher at his company was leaving and casually suggested that I try to contact his boss, as he thought I might fit the job well. That was the final cue. I charged it like a bull immediately and landed the job and a brand new life (with a kick ass salary and benefits to boot).

Though it’s true that I might still have landed another job in America or here in Japan, even if I had abruptly quit my job and not waited, the result would not be this good. I might have seen some benefit, but not nearly as much as I’ve reaped by waiting for the right cues before acting. Despite an entire subculture of inspirational “just do it” slogans, expending resources to invent the wheel from scratch when you don’t have to, is not smart. Wait for your environment to lay out some of the tools or a piece of the blueprint for you.

So, while its true that proactivity is important, it’s also true that starting from nothing is a bad idea. Being restless and wanting change—in and of itself— does not carry enough merit to warrant hasty action. You must wait and see. Listening, watching, and waiting for the right cues can mean the difference between coming into a slightly better situation and really hitting a homerun. Truly, the key is being very alert. The bottom line: hasty action without guidance from cues will result in a less favorable outcome and could make you dinner for a hungry tiger. Wait it out. Watch for the cues. Grab the rifle. Save your life.