What did you see when you read the traffic signs in the photo? Did you see OPPORTUNITY IS NOWHERE or OPPORTUNITY IS NOW HERE? Whether opportunity is nowhere, everywhere, or now here is a matter of perspective. Like the signs in the photo, it depends on how we view it or life. Everything good that happens to us is an opportunity that we have found. Everything ‘bad’ that happens to us is an opportunity waiting to be discovered.
Take the case of Gracie and Walter. They decided to make their honeymoon peaceful and quiet, as well as romantic, so they left for a log cabin in the country. Every morning at sunrise, however, a woodpecker started hammering at the roof. The sounds echoed throughout the room, disturbing the sleep of the newlyweds. Did they get frustrated and angry? Did they demand to move to another cabin? No, they laughed it off. In fact, they used this ‘disturbance’ as an opportunity. They used it as inspiration for creating the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character. You see, Walter Lantz was the cartoonist and his wife, Gracie, became the voice of Woody Woodpecker!
Some, like Walter and Gracie, respond to a disturbance by changing it into a positive event. Others react in anger, oblivious to the hidden opportunity. When we respond, we are in charge; we use our reason and creativity to advance. But when we react, we abdicate our control to our emotions; we remain stuck in the mire of mediocrity. For those who react to every difficulty, opportunity is nowhere. Perhaps they’re afraid of getting eyestrain by looking at the bright side. But for those who respond to every challenge, opportunity is now here and everywhere. They have an open mind, heart, and eyes.
Opportunities are handed to us, uncovered by us, or created by us. In 1962 I was accepted as a student by a Japanese language school in Tokyo, Japan. The only problem was the Japanese government wouldn’t allow me to enter the country unless I had a Japanese sponsor. The sponsor would be legally liable for any of my unpaid bills during my stay in Japan. But how could I get a sponsor if I didn’t know anyone in that country? Despite repeated visits to the Embassy in Washington D.C., no help was to be found. After all, rules are rules.
Instead of reacting in frustration and anger, I decided to respond by thinking things through. I decided I had to create my own opportunity. As I reached the bus stop close to the embassy, I saw two gentlemen speaking in Japanese. I followed them aboard the bus, and with my heart racing, sat down next to them. I’ve got to do something now, I thought, and struck up a conversation with them.
It turns out they were members of the Japanese Diet (Parliament) and in Washington to study the American congressional system. They accepted my invitation to give them a tour of the city that day. The tour was followed by dinner at my father’s house. After dinner and entertainment, I explained my problem. Instantly, both agreed to become my sponsor. I just needed one, so I chose Mr. Suzuki. Thanks to his willingness to sign the necessary documents, I spent fifteen exciting years in Japan. This is an example of the magical power of asking. How true it is that “Ask and you shall receive.” Also, this was only one in a long series of opportunities that I created, and something that we can all do.
Ladies, what if you were born unattractive? Would that be a disadvantage or an opportunity? According to Golda Meir, Israel’s first woman Prime Minister, “Not being beautiful was the true blessing… Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.” What happens when someone becomes destitute? Should they throw in the towel or try to uncover a hidden opportunity? Read what Eileen Caddy said, “When you feel that you have reached the end and that you cannot go one step further, when life seems to be drained of all purpose: What a wonderful opportunity to start all over again, to turn over a new page.”
If we are to uncover opportunity, we must realize that it often comes disguised as a problem, challenge, or obstacle. Barriers are meant to be smashed and hurdles meant to be jumped. Sure, life is full of hard knocks, but it may be opportunity that is knocking. Thomas A. Edison explains another reason why opportunities are often overlooked, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Opportunities abound. We are faced with hundreds, if not daily, weekly. They are in the choices we make all during the day. Do I drink water or coffee? Do I skip rope in the gym or skip my exercise? Do I jump to opportunities or jump to conclusions? Do I accept helpful criticism or ignore it. Do I arrive at work early or late? Can you see how each choice I make results in an opportunity gained or lost? To take advantage of the power of choice, it is a good idea to review our decisions at the end of the day. With constant evaluation, our choices will improve. Don’t trivialize the importance of the smallest decisions, for small opportunities add up to big ones.
Why are there so many people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity? Those who complain of lack of opportunity frequently have no goals. How can we find what we are not looking for? The golden opportunity we are searching for is within ourselves. It is our perception, attitude, and ambition that bring opportunity to life. It is our choices and actions that result in opportunity. Opportunity comes not only by our willingness to strike while the iron is hot, but by striking until the iron grows hot.
It is worth remembering Douglas MacArthur‘s words, “There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.” Also significant is this Arabian Proverb, “Four things come not back. The spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.” Thomas Jones describes something we do not want to do: “Many do with opportunities as children do at the seashore; they fill their little hands with sand, and then let the grains fall through, one by one, till all are gone.” Let’s graciously accept all the opportunities offered to us, diligently uncover those hidden from us, and enthusiastically create those denied to us.
How to Detect Opportunities
An enterprising Japanese company developed a “Date Detector.” The user programs this small electronic device with some basic information, including one’s age, gender, and interests, as well as that of the person they wish to meet. After leaving their home, they turn on the Date Detector and head for an area where people like to gather. As two people wearing Date Detectors come into proximity of one another, their detectors will start beeping if they have been similarly programmed. After finding each other, they laugh, start a conversation, and go on a date.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had Opportunity Detectors? Imagine it alerting us every time an opportunity was nearby! It could change our lives. After all, opportunities are everywhere; they surround us. Those who fail to see them are like people in a forest who cannot find firewood. They are also like people sitting on a park bench. They watch birds descend and surround them, waiting to be fed, but they do nothing, so the birds fly away. So it is with opportunity; it departs when we fail to act.
Returning to Opportunity Detectors, guess what? We do have them! They are called discomfort and fear. You see, if I wish to increase my happiness, enrich my life, and become a better person, I will have to do things that I am not doing now. Don’t you agree? And what is it that I do now? Isn’t it whatever I am comfortable doing? Don’t we avoid making an effort, experiencing discomfort, and facing fear? That is the mistake we make. Opportunity is always present. It is always close by, yet just out of reach. It lies outside of our comfort zone. So, every time we feel a twinge of discomfort or fear, it is our Opportunity Detector alerting us of opportunities to grow. You see, opportunity is not a door; it is a dare.
Where do opportunities come from? Don’t they come from other people? Doesn’t that mean that if you wish to experience more opportunities you need to experience more people? If you can step out of your comfort zone and start mingling with people you’re uncomfortable with, you’ll be exposed to a whole new world of opportunity.
What people are you avoiding? Are they overweight or underweight? Attractive or plain? Intellectual or uneducated? Bald or hairy? Male or female? Loud or soft-spoken? Cocky or meek? Tall or short? Take off your blinders; expand your vision; open your mind and talk to them. You are uncomfortable in their presence for a good reason. It is your Opportunity Detector alerting you of a chance to make new discoveries and experience growth.
What are snobs, know-it-alls, wise-guys, jerks, losers, and dopes? They are words used by others to describe you when you don’t behave or think as they want you to. You may also be guilty of judging others. If so, stop the name-calling and recognize that you’re merely uncomfortable when things don’t go your way. At times, don’t things have to go their way? Don’t they have a right to exist? If we can look at them in a new light and make ourselves willing to listen to their ideas, we will discover they no longer rub us the wrong way. In fact, they will rub us the right way, by polishing us and causing us to sparkle and shine.
Are you avoiding members of particular races, ethnic groups, religions, or political persuasions? If so, rejoice, for again new opportunities await you. Benefiting by the many opportunities that surround us takes more than an awareness of their presence. It also takes humility. How can I learn if I think I already know everything? When in the presence of others, one of the best things we can do is ask questions. Questions allow others to share information and allow us to absorb it by listening.
We also find opportunities by looking for them. If we would look for them as diligently as birds look for food, we would easily uncover them. For example, the behaviour of our children may cause us to grit our teeth. But, after reflection, we may realize they give us the opportunity to become the parents we always wish we had.
It is also helpful to examine our way of thinking. For instance, some complain there is no future in their job. Of course not, there is no future in any job. For the future doesn’t lie in our job, but in us. So, if we’re unhappy with where we are, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing wrong. If we do so, we’ll come up with answers. We’ll think of things to avoid and actions to take. Opportunities will present themselves to us. So, it’s not the world that needs changing, but we.
It’s not only our way of thinking, but the words we use that we should be aware of. For example, every time we say, “I don’t want to” or “I’m scared to” or “I don’t know how to,” we are expressing discomfort or fear. In other words, those expressions are pointing to opportunities waiting to be tapped.
Johnny Carson said, “Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’” How about you? Are you ready to associate with those you have been avoiding? Are you ready to stop talking and start listening? Are you ready to do what you have been putting off? Are you ready to make the call, instead of waiting for your phone to ring? Are you ready to seize every opportunity, no matter how small, or how difficult? Are you willing to admit that winners are people who do the things losers are uncomfortable doing? Are you ready to discover that you can do what you are afraid of? Are you ready to choose between realizing your dreams and realizing your fears? Are you ready to heed your Opportunity Detector?
Marianne Williamson has this perspective to add: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Finally, here is a “Knock-Knock” story to be remembered:
“Don’t be silly — opportunity doesn’t knock twice!”
What Is The Greatest Mistake You Can Make?
The answer to the above question is: “To be afraid of making one.”
“What? You plan to go to Japan to study the language? You’re nearly 24, without a college education, so why would you want to do that? How will you support yourself? And if you do learn the language, what will you do with it? Aren’t you taking a big gamble?”
Yes, I was taking a gamble, but isn’t that what we all do when we chase after our dreams? So, I didn’t heed the advice of my friends and family and left for Japan. The result was the greatest adventure of my life, which lasted 15 years.
“Are you mad? You want to marry a foreign student? Do you want to bring shame on our family? Only fools would gamble with their lives like that! We forbid you to marry him, and if you do, we will disown you!”
But my wife, who was a Registered Nurse at the time, chose to listen to her heart, rather than her parents. So, we married and continue to share a 57-year adventure, which was spent in Japan, Hawaii, and Canada.
These stories are just two examples of the countless opportunities that come our way. Life invites us to say yes to adventure, excitement, and courage. Many, however, turn away from life’s call because of fear. But all the decisions we make have consequences, and the consequences of giving in to fear are lives of regret.
Yet, in unguarded moments, courage can change to rashness or impulsiveness and the gambles we take may turnout to be destructive, rather than constructive. Some, for example, turn to gambling, alcohol, sex, and drugs to add thrills to their lives. But rather than lead us to our dreams, such choices drag us to our nightmares.
To avoid treading down the wrong path, we need to question our motives. Here are questions to ask. Is this action likely to be constructive or destructive? Do I want to do this because I’m running away from pain or boredom, or am I running to a positive goal? Am I trying to get something for nothing (such as winning money at a casino) or am I willing to invest the time, effort, and expense that is needed to reach my dream? After all, as A.P. Gouthey (a Christian writer of pamphlets and booklets in the 1920’s and 30’s) wrote, “To get profit without risk, experience without danger and reward without work is as impossible as it is to live without being born.”
Risk-taking is our legacy and salvation, for “This nation was built by men who took risks — pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, businessmen who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” (Brooks Atkinson)
Philip Adams explains why it is so important for us to reflect on our actions, goals, and fears, “It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly (TV) and treat life as if it goes on forever.”
And Robert Collier points out the paradox of risk-taking, “Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world.” This message is constantly repeated. For example Geena Davis said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”; Erica Jong echoes, “If you don’t risk anything you risk even more”, Elbert Hubbard wrote, “The greatest mistake you can make, is to be afraid of making one”, and Dag Hammarskjold stated, “It is in playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” These thinkers are simply expressing the truth that if we refuse to take risks, we will not be able to accomplish anything worthwhile.
When we refuse to take risks, there are terrible consequences. For a life without risk-taking is a life without adventure. After you’ve read a page in a book, do you endlessly reread the same page? Don’t you turn the page to find out how things develop? Life is a book; the risks we take are the pages, and as we turn the pages, we experience the adventure of life. Here are three more thinkers commenting on this theme:
“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves.” (André Gide); “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.” (William James); “You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” (Paulo Coelho)
Tips and caveats
1. Only by daring to go too far can we find out how far we can go. So, we mustn’t be afraid of taking big risks. Of course, balance is also called for. That is, we should aim for calculated risks while avoiding rashness and impulsivity. Yet, as Alvin Toffler writes, “It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” Why is that? Because “We fail more often by timidity than by over-daring.” (David Grayson) Besides, “If there were no bad speculations there could be no good investments; if there were no wild ventures there would be no brilliantly successful enterprises.” (F.W. Hirst) When we play it safe, we just get by, but that may not be good enough in turbulent times.
2. Risk-taking requires trust in yourself and trust in life. Some find this difficult because faith is synonymous with uncertainty. Yet, acting without certainty is pragmatic. For how else can we learn if something will work or not?
3. With courage, we can try anything, but that doesn’t mean we will succeed at everything. So, we must monitor our efforts and make changes in direction or method whenever necessary. At times, we may have to start all over from the beginning. But we need not be afraid of ‘failure,’ for as someone else once wrote, “Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.”
4. If you are riddled with doubt, don’t proceed because half-hearted attempts rarely succeed.
5. Common sense and caution are better than rashness, but don’t be too prudent. For “We may by our excessive prudence squeeze out of the life we are guarding so anxiously all the adventurous quality that makes it worth living.” (Randolph S. Bourne)
6. It is good to do research and investigate the possible impediments to success, but don’t expect to solve all problems before you begin. Nothing will ever be accomplished, if you wait for the ‘perfect’ plan.
7. Use these quotations as guideposts on your life adventure: “Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” (George Shinn); “To see what few have seen, you must go where few have been.” (Buddha); “We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.” (Martha Grimes).
8. Learn from Kelly Williams, “When I’m in a bout and I stop fighting to win and start fighting not to lose, I’m almost guaranteed to lose because I quit taking chances.”
9. Learn from the poet, Victor Hugo, “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” We don’t have wings, but in their place we have resilience. Don’t forget about this inner resource and remember, we are as powerful as we allow ourselves to be.
10. Manage your fears. And to help you do so, here is a practical guidebook that should be on everyone’s bookshelf: Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears: A Practical Handbook to Overcoming 100 Stomach-Churning Fears by Michael Clarkson.
11. Learn from Mahatma Gandhi who said, “There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid.” His teaching is important because it reminds us that remaining afraid is a choice.
12. Remember that some things are too important to avoid doing merely because you are afraid, or as Bill Cosby put it, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”
13. Life has two rules: 1. If you want to succeed, do what you fear; 2. Always remember the first rule.
14. It’s easier to be courageous if you remember that “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.” (Earl Wilson)
15. How is your life going? Are you experiencing any defeats? If you’re not running into roadblocks, tripping over barriers, or crashing into obstacles, it may mean you’re not taking enough risks!
16. To avoid the pain of defeat, some build walls of protection around themselves. These walls are made of excuses to do nothing. But be careful, for if you build a wall too thick, you won’t be able to break free. Yet, if the pain of being a prisoner of mediocrity grows stronger than the pain of breaking free, you’ll be able to advance once again. Here’s how Anais Nin expressed this idea, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
17. Don’t be afraid to take risks because if you win, you’ll be happy, and if you lose, you will be wise. And as Peter F. Drucker points out, “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” Since the odds are the same, it doesn’t make sense to try and be safe.
18. Learn the Disney 4 C’s. “Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making his dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy and the greatest of these is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.”
To get the most satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning from life, we need to constantly take new risks, or regularly step out of our comfort zone. If we’re not doing so, that’s because we’re not spending time thinking about what we want from life or because we don’t know what we want. To solve either problem, make a list of ten things that it would be nice to do, be, or have.
Here’s an example list of five items:
1. It would be nice if I could speak, read, and write Arabic.
2. It would be nice if I could do ballroom dancing.
3. It would be nice if I could repair cars.
4. It would be nice if I could earn extra money.
5. It would be nice if I could visit Australia.
Your list will reveal things that you would like to do, be, or have. Why haven’t you achieved those goals? Is it because of fear? Is everything you want on the other side of fear? Or is it because you are not yet willing to invest the time, effort, and expense to achieve them? Practice self-questioning and ask yourself what is preventing you from reaching your goals. But be careful, don’t look for excuses; rather, look for what you are doing wrong, what you should be doing, and how to begin doing it. Remember, those who said they never had a chance, never took one.
It’s sad that, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.” (Mary Kay Ash. Is that the way we should live? Or would we be better off abiding by the following maxim?
“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” (West Point Cadet Maxim)
Denis Waitley has the final word, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”
Taking Smart Risks: How Sharp Leaders Win When Stakes are High by Doug Sundheim
Risk-Taking for Personal Growth: A Step-By-Step Workbook by Joseph Ilardo
Bob Proctor – You Were Born Rich – Complete 10 Hour Seminar
Mona Patel – See Problems As Opportunities
Jia Jiang – The hidden opportunity behind every rejection
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.