Opportunity Knocks

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I was having a wonderful chat with a coach friend of mine earlier this week and we got onto the subject of missed opportunities and what we can learn from them. As we talked, I recalled something from my past and thought I’d share the story with you as I did with her:

One day (some time ago!), when I was a first year Computer Science undergraduate student, I came across a poster on one of the universities notice boards advertising sponsorships from British Gas for “high flying” and “exceptional” IT students. The deal was that the company had a small number of places on offer where they would provide a bursary, vacation employment and management training throughout the years of degree study for those who could make it through their “rigorous assessment process”.

I automatically picked up an application form because there was a pile of them in a box under the poster and yet at the same time knew I wasn’t going to apply because I was certainly not an exceptional student …. I had some results to prove it! The deadline was about 3 weeks away and when I got back to my room I left the form on my desk and thought no more about it.

Skip forward about 3 weeks and as I was enduring a particularly boring lecture one morning I noticed that Tim, sitting next to me, was filling out one of those forms! Now, in my opinion (and his) Tim was very similar to me in terms of ability and exceptionalness and yet there he was applying… having a go. This spurred me into action “if he believes he’s in with a shot, then maybe I might be too” I thought…

To cut a long story short, I got the form in just on the deadline, and ended up (via various tests and interviews and all sorts of assessments) being one of 4 students who won a sponsorship from almost 50 that applied!

I benefited hugely from the sponsorship and subsequent opportunities it provided. Interestingly enough, I’d say that the management training and personal development I was exposed to in those first years of my corporate career contributed hugely to the passion I have today for coaching! (so, you never know, if it hadn’t been for Tim, you might not be reading this now 🙂 )

I’ve certainly had my share of missed opportunities as well as good outcomes like the above. Together, they’ve reminded me of some all important learning:

Sometimes it’s good to take chances and go for opportunities which we may not feel totally “qualified” for. All within reason of course – I’m not about to apply to fly a commercial aeroplane!

There is experience/qualification and there is competence. I’ve come across many people who have the competence to do something new, very effectively. They are able to learn quickly and then deliver great value.

A lot of the time, we can easily put ourselves down and focus on the things we can’t do rather than those we can, particularly when we venture into new areas.

We can often disqualify ourselves from opportunities because of what we assume about certain labels and definitions. In my story, I nearly killed off the opportunity because of my assumption around the term “exceptional”.

Others often see our potential more than we see it ourselves. A good way to test this is when we reach out and put ourselves forward for something. At worst we’ll get a reality check (which can help us subsequently). At best we might be pleasantly surprised.

One opportunity will usually open a door to another and even if the first one doesn’t work out, the very act of pursuing it might lead to something else which turns out really positive.

The old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a wise one and so I hope that the next time an interesting opportunity knocks for you (even if heavily disguised), you’ll think the best of yourself, take that chance and give it a whirl.

2 Responses to Opportunity Knocks

  1. Oh the power of assumptions! What’s lethal about them is that we not only create a story that takes account of only part of the bigger story, but we then fall into the trap of confusing our story with reality. It’s a small step from there to disqualifying ourselves from opportunities and possibilities – which is sometimes about fear of failure. We delude ourselves into thinking that if we don’t act, we won’t fail. And sometimes – as author Seth Godin says (see, for example, http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/10/missed-opportunities-vs-poor-execution.html) the most unsafe thing to do is not to act, to stay in the same place and think that will protect us from risk….

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