How to avoid missed opportunities

What if missed opportunities were never, technically, opportunities?

Being interested in things is what buys you real opportunities. Enthusiasm will get you rolling the dice more often. That’s really the only way to try out enough of life’s games to discover which ones you have a decent shot at. Now obviously there are all sorts of blocks to being interested and excited about things other than oneself, and that’s the real problem (which I might discuss in a future post) — but for today, I just wanted to add something about opportunity.

Burned bridges

It’s not helpful to think of opportunities as one-offs, something there one moment and gone the next; a bridge burned forever, and of no use anymore. Even ruined bridges change the landscape in interesting and useful ways. But it’s dangerously tempting to see opportunities that way, because it gives us an excuse to give up, or to paint a flattering picture of our unknowable alternative selves, or simply be impulsive because we feel like it!

“What’s the point bothering to learn that again. I failed in it at school. That ship has sailed.”

“If only I’d really applied myself at college I could have been a millionaire by now.”

“This drawbridge might get pulled up at any moment, I’ll go for it right now!”

They’re all as bad as each other. Excuses are always suspect, especially ones based on this kind of thinking. The trick is to spot them and nip them in the bud.

It doesn’t really make sense to spend time thinking about what ‘could have been if things were different’. The world is vast and infinite and things could have been different in myriad ways. Why is the way you’d have liked things to have been different worthy of special concern?

Je ne regrette rien

I often see an idea I’ve had, but have failed to act on, out in the world doing well. There it is, paraded in front of my eyes by the cruel taunting puppet master of Fate. Perhaps you’ve had the same sort of thing happen.

“Look,” Fate seems to say. “If only you’d pulled your finger out and acted on that idea, you could have had their success!”

But that’s not how things work, is it? Business ideas, shows, inventions – in fact any important accomplishments – don’t just spontaneously erupt from a moment of excitement. These things are complex, long-term machines: a tangle of multiple people and agendas that rumbles on over a long period of time. Maybe I could have made a go of it, but isn’t it just as likely that I avoided it because I knew I didn’t have the skills and team required, or the timing wasn’t right for me?

All this sounds very obvious. You know it already. I know it. And yet we continue to think in terms of opportunities as things to be snatched at or missed forever, like shooting stars.

The truth is the opposite. Opportunities need something to build on, and the more solid the foundation, the more solid the opportunity. Get your head out of the clouds and start with yourself.

Today’s challenge

Write down three related excuses you’ve been using and how they’ve been serving this misconception about opportunities.

  1. An excuse that’s been getting you out of bothering to try something again because ‘it didn’t work last time’.
  2. An excuse described as a dream of what, ‘could have been’.
  3. An excuse that’s letting you act impulsively or selfishly ‘in case an opportunity is lost’.

That’s it, just writing them down should help make you more aware of them!