Oswald Letter

Seizing opportunities

seizine opportunityRecently, I wrote about the importance of consistent, dedicated effort on a daily basis, quoting Woody Allen, “90 percent of success is showing up.” Some might ask, as they have, “Doesn’t it take more than having your butt in a chair?”

Of course it does. Consider a student with perfect attendance. She’s at school each and every day attending classes. But if she isn’t engaged and willing to learn, making an effort by doing her work, she’s not going to be successful. The same is true of any employee. Showing up is the first step and, according to Woody Allen, it gets you 90 percent of the way to success.

So, showing up is the first step and it gets you a long way toward success, but it takes more than just being there. Here’s how I figure it. It’s like the student described above, if you’re willing to make the effort to be there every day it’s a good sign that you’re dedicated and desire a positive outcome. By showing up, you keep yourself in the game.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready.” If you’re at work — ready, willing, and able — you put yourself in a place where it is more likely that opportunities will come your way. The coveted project or the lead on a new team can only be given to someone who is there. So be there as much as possible and you increase your odds of getting noticed and being given the opportunity.

The person who “just shows up” also demonstrates his willingness to work. That’s not something to be underestimated. Thomas Edison said, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Being the type of person who shows up consistently will likely demonstrate you’re also the type of person willing to work hard if you’re given an opportunity. Trust me, those handing out assignments don’t want to give them to people they don’t believe are going to make the best effort. Now it’s up to you to back it up.

That’s why showing up, all by itself, isn’t enough. That extra 10 percent Woody Allen is talking about is hard work. It’s doing the work when it’s presented. It’s being earnest and dedicated to the work you do. It’s all the little things that ultimately set you apart.

All too often in this world we see a “what’s in it for me attitude.” I implore you not to be that type of person. When presented with an opportunity, the first question out of your mouth better not be, “What’s in it for me?”

Often, instead of jumping on it when presented with an opportunity, people stop and think this is the time to get something for them. And, sometimes it might be. But just imagine what would have happened if Oprah Winfrey had gotten greedy when she was offered a position as an intern with a local Nashville television station? What if she had countered for more money or a full-time gig? Would she be where she is today?

Instead, Oprah jumped at the opportunity and was ultimately hired full-time with the station as an anchor/reporter. She became the youngest and first ever African-American female news anchor at the station. It was a tremendous accomplishment made possible by her acceptance of the internship. But what if Oprah had first asked, “what’s in it for me?” Would she have had the career she’s had, becoming a mega-star and billionaire?

When someone opens a door for you, step through it. Don’t wait to ask what’s in it for you. Seize the opportunity, prove you’re worthy of the confidence being displayed in you, and deliver the results. Then you can ask, “What’s in it for me?” Having demonstrated your dedication and work ethic, and, most importantly, delivered the results, it’s now fair to make sure the rewards match the production.

I have a colleague who likes to say, “Revenue before resources.” That is, prove the concept before dedicating a lot of resources to the venture. The same is true for individuals — show them the revenue (or results) before you ask for the resources (raise or promotion). When you’re presented an opportunity, now isn’t the time to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

I can hear the cries now, “How do I keep from being taken advantage of?” “How do I know I will be treated fairly if I’m successful?” Ultimately, you can’t and you won’t. If you work for a good company with a track record of dealing with employees honestly and fairly, I like your chances. If you have a boss who has treated you well in the past, the odds improve. Look, there are no guarantees. But if you’re given an opportunity AND deliver, then it will pay off. If not with your current employer, it sure will look good on your resume.

The bottom line is that you can’t control how you will be treated if you succeed. But it only stands to reason that with success comes reward. And if you’re current employer isn’t smart enough to reward you for what you contribute, then you should find someone who is.