“Opportunity is missed by people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Around the time I was finishing up college all I wanted to do was get into bartending, as many kids that age do. Sure, I was working on a degree in writing, but launching an actual writing career sounded hard. Breaking into bartending, I imagined, would be easy. It turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought, especially since I was living in a little university town where thousands of kids were vying for position at same handful of bars.
During my last year of school, I spent some time studying in Paris, and while there everyone would ask me what my plans were once I returned to the US to graduate. My answer was always the same. At that point I was dreaming of moving out to a little town in Eastern Washington for a while where I would work at the local brew house and spend some time decompressing from the rigors of education. I had no experience, no contacts at the brewery, and no real rationale for thinking that life would actually take me in that direction, but the strangest thing ended up happening: it came true.
It came about rather inauspiciously. I returned to the US, graduated, and then went on a weekend camping trip near the town, which happens to be called Winthrop, in case you’re wondering. One afternoon I decided to go into town to have lunch at the brewery. It was in absolute chaos. At some point I overheard a man who turned out to be the owner mention that the bar manager had quit without warning earlier that morning, and they were trying to make the best of things until a replacement could be found.
I pounced, at least conversationally speaking.
“Ahem, sir: I can manage your bar.”
“Do you live around here?”
I didn’t, but said that I could move into town within a few days. And just like that I wrangled myself a job as a brewery manager. Three days later I was living in a tent outside of town.
It sure seemed lucky, landing a job at the exact place I’d been talking about for months, as a manager none-the-less. But what some call luck, I simply call a recognized opportunity. And as our old friend Edison mentioned above, a lot of people miss opportunities because they look uncomfortably like work.
It was hard work to learn how to manage a bar on the fly. It was uncomfortable to live in a tent for months on end. But the opportunity was there, and while I could have told myself that it was unrealistic for me to think I could run a bar with zero experience, or that it was crazy to move into a tent, I seized the chance and profited by it.
A few years later my writing career got off the ground in much the same way—an opportunity arose and I didn’t let it go by. It resulted in hard work and more than a little discomfort, but it wasn’t long before I was writing full time, which is a dream shared by many but obtained by few.
Why does it seem like so few people end up being lucky enough to achieve their goals? Because they think luck exists of its own accord. But the truth is that we make our own luck, and if you wait for it to come to you, you’ll end up letting your dreams pass you by.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
That’s a quote by one of those old Roman know-it-alls, Seneca. Let’s consider his words in terms of something that we all know involves a great deal of luck: Dating.
If you don’t place yourself in situations in which opportunities to meet people will come your way, how can you expect to find that special someone? You have to venture out into the world by getting involved with clubs or organizations, attending events, or meeting people through friends. But opportunity isn’t everything—you have to be mentally prepared to apprehend it.
A lot of people are good at placing themselves in opportune situations, but many struggle with the mental preparedness part of things. How many times have you landed a great job interview only to say all the wrong things?
There are a number of things you can do to increase both your chances for opportunity and your mental preparedness:
- Remember—you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I know a lot of people who want to launch careers in writing, but they pass up opportunities because they’re asking what’s to be gained rather than reminding themselves that they have nothing to loseiong rt of t. They look at internships or low-paying gigs and think that it is too much work for too little benefit. But what do you have to lose by trying? A few hours of sleep or leisure time? Don’t pass up a great opportunity just because you’re being lazy and thinking in terms of short term gains rather than long term goals.
This goes for anything in life. Every day we come upon a million opportunities to make new friends, romantic attachments, or business connections. It could mean something as simple as talking to the person next to you on the bus. If you spend the next month thinking this way, you’ll amazed at how many situations you’ll stumble upon that seem lucky, when really you’ve been passing up these sorts of opportunities all along.
- Learn to look at momentary situations on the basis of your long-term goals.
In my brewery story, I knew that I wanted to go into bartending, and when I happened to overhear that someone had quit, I decided to apprehend the moment and do something that would set me up for the future. Living in a tent for three months was temporarily uncomfortable, but taking on a new skill set and building up experiences allowed me to have future opportunities. Similarly, when I broke into writing, a six-month unpaid internship that required me to get up at a ridiculously early hour may have been tiresome, but it gave me a springboard that catapulted me into the career I love.
Don’t let uncomfortable or tedious moments dissuade you for grabbing the lucky opportunities that come your way. The desire for instant gratification is one of our biggest disincentives to stay motivated.
- Prepare yourself.
Between competitions, a professional marksman will spend hours on end raising an empty gun to its firing position. A basketball player will take thousands of practice free-throws. Or a musician will spend years of their lives racing through scales. This is called building muscle memory.
You brain works the same way, and there are a number of ways you can increase your mental preparedness. Learn to think positively instead of negatively: I can instead of I hope I can. Learn to exert your mental energy in a useful manner: you can’t control the weather, but you can prepare for it. And spend time reflecting on how your daily activities further your long-term goals.
When it comes right down to it, making your own luck is all about not being afraid to take a chance on opportunity. To do that you have to learn how to recognize the difference between something that provides you only a momentary benefit, and something that is genuinely an opportunity that will help you achieve your long-term goals. You’ll never lose weight if you keep giving in to your momentary cravings for candy bars.
Luck literally surrounds us, like oxygen. But all of that oxygen is useless if you don’t breathe it in.