Learn to listen. Opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly.
Are you missing out on opportunities?
It has been said that opportunity is all around us. However, most of us unfortunately let opportunity slip-by every day because we are either untrained or unaware of the signals that life throws our way. Other times we see the opportunities that life presents us with, however we don’t take advantage of them simply because on the surface they appear to be nothing more than problems. And who needs more problems to deal with, right?
There is no doubt that people miss out on incredible opportunities every single day. They work hard to achieve their goals and objectives, only to sabotage their own success because they neglect to take advantage of the chances that life sends their way.
While reading Richard Branson’s autobiography* it dawned upon me that this incredibly successful entrepreneur earned billions of dollars because of his uncanny ability to spot opportunities. However, what really separated him from others and gave him the edge he needed in business and life, was his willingness to take risks on the opportunities that came his way. He wouldn’t wait for the perfect time or moment to take advantage of opportunities, instead he would take advantage of them early and quickly, making sure that he had an edge on his competitors. Of course sometimes, after taking advantage of an opportunity he didn’t quite know what his next steps were going to be. However, that didn’t matter, because he was already one step ahead of everyone else, and he figured that he would quickly work things out. The important thing was to take that initial step. He was confident that everything else would fall into place.
Using Richard Branson as our role model for opportunity, I would like to discuss how to go about spotting and seizing the opportunities that life throws your way. However, to begin with, we must first come to understand what exactly an opportunity is and how you can prepare your mind to capture it once it comes your way.
What is an opportunity really?
An opportunity is anything that provides you with a chance to change your circumstances for the better. Of course on the surface this sounds wonderful. There are obviously opportunities everywhere that I can use to help me realize more goals, right? Well… not so fast.
Many of the opportunities we come across are are actually disguised as problems or hard work. However, to the untrained eye — unable to see past the present moment — all opportunities are actually insurmountable problems that make life difficult, stressful and hard. And yet that is where we make a mistake. We see our problems as “problems”, rather than challenges that test and strengthen our resolve.
The moment you shift your perspective and begin seeing your problems as challenges, is the moment you begin training your brain to spot opportunities. Problems may very well be insurmountable. However, a challenge is something you can work with to better your current circumstances.
A challenge is therefore nothing more than an opportunity for change; an opportunity to gain experience; an opportunity to learn something about yourself and your circumstances; an opportunity to make progress and grow mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Become a People Person
Most challenges that you will confront in your life become opportunities when you realize that people are the source of the solutions and answers you are searching for. Yes, people are the key, because it’s these people who have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and resources you may need to help you turn a difficult situation into something that can help you move forward.
Who do I know?
Who knows me?
How strong is our relationship?
How can I enhance this relationship?
You must therefore continuously work on building and strengthening your relationships on a daily basis with key individuals in order to gain the necessary support you need to turn your challenges into opportunities to better your circumstances.
One of the best ways to gain the support of others is to give them your support, especially during difficult times. Show them that you are willing to go the extra mile, that you are more than happy to provide them with value along with the solutions and answers they need to help them improve their circumstances. The more you are willing to give to others, the more easily opportunities will come your way during difficult times.
The Opportunistic Mindset
There are certain indispensable qualities that separate a person such as Richard Branson from others who struggle to take advantage of the opportunities that life throws their way. And it is these qualities that we must focus on cultivating every single day.
- Curiosity: Opportunity desires a curious mind that is always asking deeper and more insightful questions.
- Generosity: Opportunity desires a generous heart that is willing to give opportunities to others.
- Perseverance: Opportunity desires someone who has determination, who will keep persisting and persevering despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in their way.
- Confidence: Opportunity desires a confident demeanor — someone who never doubts their skills, strength, resources and abilities.
- Optimism: Opportunity desires an optimistic attitude that doesn’t waver off-course if things don’t go as expected.
- Playfulness: Opportunity desires a light-hearted approach that is willing to be a little creative; willing to think outside the box, and willing to break conventional rules.
- Responsibility: Opportunity desires someone who is fully committed and responsible for their decisions, behavior and actions; someone who doesn’t make excuses or throw blame on others.
- Hindsight: Opportunity desires someone with hindsight who can see beyond this fleeting moment into the future. This “someone” understands that what might look like a problem now, might actually be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- Gratitude: Opportunity desires a grateful spirit that is thankful for anything that life throws its way, no matter how dark or grim it might seem on the surface.
How to Identify Opportunities
It amazes me how someone can get disgruntled about how many opportunities others seem to get, while they always seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. However, more times than not, if you ask these people what it is they really want, they struggle to express themselves in words.
How in the world are you supposed to identify any opportunities that come your way if you are not clear about what it is you want in the first place? Unless you know exactly what it is you’re looking for, then how exactly are you supposed to find it?
What is it that I want to achieve?
What is it that I’m looking for?
What specifically does this opportunity look like?
How will I know when it presents itself?
The Obstacles Standing in Your Way
Now that you are clear about what it is you want, and have a rough idea of what kinds of opportunities you will keep an eye-out for, it’s time to pinpoint several things that may hold you back from taking advantage of the opportunities that life throws your way.
First of all take a look at your beliefs and identify if there are any unhelpful beliefs that could potentially prevent you from taking advantage of opportunities:
What beliefs may prevent me from spotting and seizing opportunities?
Next, take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and evaluate how they can help or hinder you throughout this process:
What weaknesses could prevent me from discovering opportunities?
How specifically could they hinder me?
What strengths could assist me with discovering opportunities?
How specifically could they help me?
Finally, identify your risk tolerance. This is important because the more risk you are willing and able to take, then the more chances/opportunities you will be able to take advantage of.
How much am I willing to risk?
How much am I willing to potentially lose?
Your assessment of these areas will help you to better understand yourself, your motivations, your limitations, and the actions you are willing or unwilling to take when opportunities present themselves.
If you are finding yourself lacking in a number of these key areas, then it might be a “wake-up call” to begin developing new skills that will provide you with the confidence, belief and desire you need to move forward towards the achievement of your goals and objectives.
How to Spot Opportunities
Now that you are clear about what it is you want, and you understand what kind of opportunities you will be looking out for, let’s now take a look at how to spot the opportunities that life throws your way.
Be in a State of Readiness
The single most important thing to consider when looking for opportunities is to be in a state-of-readiness for any and all opportunities that may come your way. This basically means that you must be constantly on the lookout for anything that could possibly help you achieve your goals and objectives far more quickly, effectively or cheaply. It also means that you must be open to new perspectives and ideas — things that are out of the ordinary that could potentially provide you with unique understandings that will help move your goals forward or overcome the problems you are facing.
The key to this awareness lies within your willingness and ability to ask the right kinds of questions. The questions you ask will stimulate your curiosity and will force you to think about the events and circumstances of your life in a new way — which could likewise provide you with the insights you need to spot the opportunities that you might be able to take advantage of.
As you go about your day, keep a note of the following questions, and consistently run through these questions in order to keep possible opportunities at the forefront of your mind:
What is happening here, right now?
Why is this happening?
What’s interesting about this?
What does this mean?
How could I benefit from this to help me achieve my goal?
What must I do or say next, to take advantage of this?
The more you ask these questions, the more curious you will become, and as a result the better questions you will ask that will help focus your mind on the right events, people, things or circumstances that can help you move forward in the best possible way.
Alternatively, if you’re not asking questions, then it’s important that you keep your mind primed and focused on possible opportunities. In such instances keep repeating to yourself the following affirmations:
Everything happens for my benefit…
Every problem brings with it an opportunity I can take advantage of…
Opportunities are abound…
A mix of questions and affirmations will provide you with the focus and concentration you need to direct your senses on whatever it is that will help move your goals forward.
Search for Clues
Once you’re in the habit of asking questions that help spark your curiosity, it’s now time to put on your detective hat and begin filtering through the clues that present themselves.
Clues that will lead you to unique opportunities can come in many forms, and will be very specific to the types of opportunities you are looking for. However, there are certain types of clues that you should keep in mind. These clues can come in the form of trends, problems that people face or things that they complain about, gaps in the market, and unusual patterns, events or circumstances.
All of these clues can provide you with an opportunity to do something different, new or unusual. They can also provide you the opportunity to see things from a unique angle and perspective that will likewise help you gain the insights you need to change your course of action, or take a chance that you never previously considered. Moreover, these clues can lead you down new paths; they can open new doors, and can potentially provide you with surprising resources, support and tools you may need to help you achieve your goals and objectives.
To help you with this process, it is recommended that you become a little like Leonardo da Vinci, and begin keeping a sketch/notebook of your random thoughts and observations as you go about your day. This sketch/notebook will help transform how you think about the events and circumstances of your life, which will likewise help shift your perspective and understanding of your life and goals as you know them.
Expanding Your Reach
In order to further improve your ability to spot opportunities, it’s critical that you expand your reach by learning new skills, by regularly networking with people who may be able to support you in your endeavors, and by acquiring new resources that will help expand your life resources list.
In addition to all this, you will naturally expose yourself to more opportunities by attempting new things; by seeking out new experiences and responsibility, and by showing a willingness to tackle ever bigger problems that life throws your way.
How to Seize Opportunity
It is all well and good to spot opportunities that present themselves, however, what good are these opportunities if we are unable or not willing to take advantage of them. It’s of course true that not all opportunities are worth pursuing. I’m sure Richard Branson didn’t or simply couldn’t take advantage of all the opportunities that came his way. However, there will always be key opportunities that you will want to take a chance on, and it’s these circumstances that we must prepare for.
Within this last section I want to discuss how to capitalize on the opportunities that life presents you with to help you accomplish your goals and objectives.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Many of the opportunities that life throws in your direction will stretch and challenge you in a variety of ways. This means that they are going to be out of your normal reach, and as such you will need to be willing to step outside your comfort zone in order to take advantage of them. This may of course mean that you must step into a world of uncertainty and take a few risks that you weren’t expecting to take. Each of these risks will have their own consequences, which you must weigh against the benefits and decide whether it’s a risk worth pursuing.
The Small Opportunities Count
It’s important to remember that not all opportunities are created equal. However, it’s not the size of the opportunity that matters, it’s rather what you do with that opportunity that makes all the difference in the end. Therefore you should never underestimate or discount what an opportunity can do for you. Who knows, a small opportunity here could very well lead to bigger opportunities in the future. You just have to be willing and ready to take advantage when the moment arrives.
Network with Creative People
I could easily say “network with all people”, however who has the time to do that these days? Instead, focus on networking with the right kinds of people who have the resources, contacts, experience and skills to help you achieve your goals and objectives.
Above-all-else, network with creative people — people who think outside the box, who Zig when others Zag — who constantly challenge you to think differently about your life, goals, problems and circumstances.
Things to Avoid Like the Plague
When it comes to seizing the opportunities that come your way, it’s absolutely critical that you avoid doing the following at all costs:
- Following the crowd.
- Seeking security and comfort.
- Waiting for opportunities to arrive.
- Succumbing to uncertainty, to fear of rejection or fear of making mistakes.
- Pessimism and skepticism.
Following the crowd will get you quickly to mediocrity. If Richard Branson followed the crowd, would he be a billionaire today? Likewise, waiting for opportunities to arrive at your front door is like playing the lottery: it might happen, but for 99.99% of people, it never will.
Everyone suffers from fear one time or another. However, when you’re fighting for something you really want you need to take a few chances, and as such you must leave your fear at the door because this exact opportunity may never present itself again. Once come… forever gone. Life doesn’t give too many second chances.
Think BIG and Think BIGGER!
When confronted with an opportunity, thinking small will only limit your ability to take full advantage of the circumstances that you are presented with. Instead, you must think BIG and BIGGER! Think creatively and outside the box about everything that life throws your way — fully realizing that whatever you get from the opportunity is simply a reflection of what you put into it.
The moment an opportunity presents itself you must quickly identify whether it is time-sensitive. If it is, then you only have a very small window of opportunity to work with, and you must therefore take maximum advantage of the situation or circumstances.
In such instances, you must quickly weigh the pros and cons and create a plan of action that will help you to capitalize on the circumstances you are facing.
You must however be very wary not to make any rash decisions while heavily invested in your emotions. Being invested emotionally is very dangerous and may lead you down unfortunate territory. As such, it’s therefore recommended that you consider outlining a Plan-B just in case your initial instincts are clouded by your emotions. That way you may have a way-out of the situation if things don’t pan out as expected.
Here are some questions you might want to consider asking yourself when faced with an opportunity:
What is the outcome I want to achieve?
Will this opportunity help or hinder me?
What are the benefits?
What are the drawbacks?
Is the outcome under my direct control?
If it’s not under my direct control, then who controls it, and how can I influence them?
What is the risk that I would be taking?
What is the opportunity cost? What must I potentially sacrifice to take advantage of this?
Is this the right time and place to do this?
How do I know this is the right time and place?
Do I have the necessary resources and experience to pull this off?
Who could assist me with this?
Will I get this opportunity again?
Does it feel right?
By taking the time to thoroughly work through these questions will ensure that you are moving forward with the right frame-of-mind that will help you to better take advantage of the opportunity you are attempting to work through.
Learn from Opportunity
Whether you successfully take advantage of an opportunity or not, it’s paramount that you take time to analyze what you did, what went wrong, and how you could take better advantage of similar opportunities in the future. That is the whole point of lifelong learning, and could very well be the key to success in any field of endeavor.
What went right?
What went wrong?
What can I learn from this?
How could I do better next time?
It’s difficult for me to say whether my experience is typical, however over the course of my life I’ve found that life basically comes down to the choices you make. You either choose to take advantage of an opportunity, or you choose something else. And in the end your entire life script is written on the canvas of the decisions you made. We will of course never really know if the right decisions were made at the time, however looking back at life there will always be regrets, and most of them will be because of chances (opportunities) that we DIDN’T take, rather than the ones we did.
What opportunities are you going to seize today?
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Ways to Unlock Opportunity in What Scares You @ Huffington Post
- 6 Brilliant Books That will Help You Unlock Your Greatest Opportunities @ Inc.
- How to Prepare Yourself for Big Opportunities @ Inc.
- How to Prepare Yourself for Future Opportunities @ Life Optimizer
- How to See and Seize Life’s Opportunities @ Life Optimizer
- Making the Most of Any Opportunity @ Inc.
- The Best Opportunities are the Ones You Create for Yourself @ 99U
- The Smartest Leaders Make their Own Opportunities @ Harvard Business Review