Opportunity comes from the word opportune, a Middle English word from the Latin opportunus. Miss Campbell, my Latin teacher of many years, would be proud that I remembered that much, but ashamed that I had to look up the rest, that ob- means toward and -port means harbor. In a way, I see where the Romans were going with idea, that opportunity can be interpreted as a chance at safety. However, I think the toward part should be emphasized over the harbor. Harbors are nice, and all, and there can be lots going on in them, but they don't offer the non-seafaring folk much in the way of opportunity.
For me, it is the toward part that matters. When I think about the encounters I have had with opportunity, there is typically motion towards something. Put more simply, if you just sit around, you don't get much opportunity.
All of us should be moving toward something. However, this is only part of the opportunity equation. We also need, I think, some other factor(s) to be in our favor. Bruce Lee once said "to hell with circumstances; I create opportunity." Bruce Lee could probably pull this off without too much effort, but the non-martial artists among us might need a little more coaching.
I've been thinking about opportunity lately, mostly asking questions like "Do I create enough opportunity for others?," "Where can I find some for myself?," "How can I recognize (or help students to recognize) a worthwhile opportunity?" and "How can we re-frame set-backs into opportunity?"
As I am not Bruce Lee, I can assure you that I don't have all of the answers. But I have made some observations about opportunity and what I believe we should be moving towards:
- Learning - Part of moving towards something is moving away from that which makes us comfortable. The outcome of that is typically learning. When we learn new things and develop new skills, we are making opportunity possible.
- Engaging with others - This allows us to meet people who could potentially offer us opportunities or point us in the direction of opportunity, but it also allows us to gain new perspectives and ideas.
- Saying yes - Sometimes, the opportunity comes disguised as a favor you can do for someone else. Saying yes (when it is feasible and practical, not just willy-nilly) can create opportunities that aren't on our radar.
- Showing up - 80% of success is showing up, right?
- Being patient - This is not the same as believing "good things come to those who wait," which implies that sitting around is really ok. Instead, we need to be patient and give our efforts time. This is hard, but usually worth it. Few great things happen over night.
- Working hard - You think Bruce Lee didn't?
Here is where I could quote for you some famous opportunity stories that you have probably heard already. Instead, I'll tell you about my 8th grade son, Charlie. Last summer, he decided that he wanted to learn to play tennis. A naturally shy kid, he refused to sign up for any classes (too much interaction), but relied on practice and YouTube to develop his skills. Oh, and he asked his family to play with him often. We played all last summer and well into the fall. We wilted in the blazing sun and played while wearing gloves well into the fall. It took a lot of courage for him to sign up for the team this spring, but he did. We still practice a great deal. Sometimes after the coach has dismissed them for the day, he will persuade his brother and me to practice some more.
Today was one such afternoon. We drove over to the courts and noticed three 9th graders playing. They needed a extra player. "Charlie, will you join us?"
My shy kid joined in. He had learned a lot, he showed up, he worked hard, he was patient, he engaged with others and he said yes. Is he the next Roger Federer? No. But did he get an opportunity today? YES! And, like Bruce Lee, it was one he created himself.