Oswald Letter

When opportunity knocks

by Dan Oswald

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” And for Lincoln, the opportunities did come in large part because he created them. He was known for his hard work and determination. But it all started with two things: his willingness to prepare and his understanding that opportunities will present themselves.

It’s the second item that I believe is most overlooked by those supposedly seeking opportunity. Often we are looking so hard for a certain opportunity or for opportunity to look a specific way that we miss countless other opportunities along the way. The saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Maybe it should be, “When one door never opens, others do.” We can’t get so wrapped up in one thing that we miss everything.

I know some of you are thinking, “But isn’t it focusing on a specific goal that leads to opportunity?” I don’t think so. There are some dreams that, regardless of how much we work at them, will never come true. Think about the career minor league baseball player who just can’t seem to get to the majors. Sure, he has talent—lots of it—but just not quite enough to be counted among the world’s elite. His focus on one goal will never lead to the opportunity he so desperately seeks—a chance to play major league baseball.

But what if he’s destined to make the majors as a coach? What if all of those years playing minor league baseball, watching other young and talented players get called up to the majors, have provided him with the perspective, knowledge, and experience to be a major league coach? His focus and dedication to one goal could provide him with an opportunity even rarer than playing in the majors, but only if he recognizes it as an opportunity when it presents itself. If he has closed his eyes and his mind to everything but playing major league baseball, then every other opportunity will be lost to him.

So now we’re looking for opportunities wherever they may present themselves. You must understand that opportunities come in weird shapes and sizes. Often they don’t look like opportunities at all. When I look back at my career, I can see wonderful developments that resulted from situations that at the time looked like anything but an opportunity.

I was working at my first job and my wife and I had just had our first child when the company I was working for was sold. Keeping my job meant picking up our young family and moving halfway across the country away from family and friends. It was a big step and one that came with considerable risk. But we packed up our young son and made the move. There we met some wonderful people we still count among our friends, I found a mentor who continues to provide counsel to this day, and I gained some terrific experience that has aided my career. Everything considered, it was a great opportunity. But if you had tried to sell it as such to two young 20-somethings with a newborn (not to mention my mother-in-law, who lived nearby), it would have been a tough sale. Sometimes an opportunity looks like anything but one.

Consider the saying, “When opportunity knocks . . .” There is a certain amount of passivity implied in it. Opportunity comes from hard work—as Lincoln said, you must be prepared. Let’s assume you have worked hard and have done well to prepare yourself. When the time comes and opportunity is knocking at your door, you still need to get up off your seat and open it. How many times do you think opportunity has knocked at our door and we have failed to open it? It could be out of fear or misunderstanding—even laziness or passivity—but we let opportunity move on down the road because we couldn’t or wouldn’t open the door. Again, some of this requires that we look for opportunity and that we recognize it despite its packaging, but it also requires us to seize the moment. Sometimes that door opens only for a second and we must be willing to step through.

I believe opportunities present themselves to all of us on a daily basis. What we do with them is up to us. For our part, we must be prepared, understand that not every opportunity will look like one at the time, and be ready to seize them when they do present themselves. When opportunity knocks, will you open the door?