By Rhea Seddon
Common laments we often hear are: _I wish I had. . . I should have. . . If only I had. . ._ They stem from an inability to recognize or act on opportunities when they appear. Throughout life, opportunities arise along our path. Knowing how to see them and when to act on them determines our future.
If you look back, you may remember times when there was a fork in the road and you had to decide which path to take. Choosing one road or the other can make a world of difference in the destination you reach. Here are some important things to consider when encountering opportunity.
Planning, preparation, and being ready
It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t end up where you want to be. It is imperative that you have a clear objective and plan your journey with that end in mind. The plan must have a blueprint, a set of specific actions to complete.
Perhaps you think you are lucky and can achieve your goal without hard work. But luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Be sure you have prepared well and have the requisite skills when you learn about a great opportunity. This gives you the confidence to move bravely to your final goal.
Having a goal and a backup plan
Narrowing down your hopes and dreams to something concrete through planning and preparation is an important step. However, it is also important to be realistic as you move forward. It is fine to aim big, but it is also important to be realistic as you assess your chances of success. At some point it may become obvious that your destination is not reachable. Don’t give up! There are alternative routes to reach your goal or somewhere near it. This requires you to always be looking for a Plan B that allows you to achieve the goal by another path or leads you to another goal at a different time.
The appearance of an open door
It behooves you to lead a life full of interesting people and activities. Almost everyone who has achieved his or her dreams has learned from intelligent, ambitious people who can describe how they got where they are. If you surround yourself with these people, they may show you how to open the door to a future like theirs. You may be surprised that someone you barely know or a long-lost relative has information important for your success. Throughout your life, listen for opportunities, and assess whether you should pursue them or study further. But remember, time marches on with or without you. Don’t let a chance to succeed pass by.
It’s never too late for a new path
Rare is the life that follows one straight path. Whether by choice or by chance, most people will need to change careers, locations, job positions, or work environments. It can be particularly difficult if you are let go from a job or if that job no longer exists. It can be especially difficult if you are older and find change a struggle. Have you ever considered that you may find something better? Use this lull to pause, plan, and pivot. Assess your skills and passions. It can seem daunting, but it is never too late to learn new things and start afresh.
The value of a network
There are probably many people you have known awhile who would be happy to guide you along your career or life path. If you think about it, this network is the most likely to understand who you are and what you are good at. Almost all successful people are happy to offer a hand up to others in their profession or refer you to someone in their network. Never hesitate to speak to others in your field or in the field you’d like to enter. Ask your friends or colleagues for introductions to people who may be able to help you.
The fear of moving on
We often get comfortable in our lives and jobs, and we quake at the idea of having to change direction or lifestyle. Fear can sabotage our ability to see what the future might hold. It can be frightening to jump into the unknown. Looking back at times when you made it through past upheavals can give you good ideas to navigate the current one. In times of uncertainty, it is good to have supportive friends and family members who can encourage you along this new path. Sometimes the only thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other until a new world opens up. Have the confidence to move on!
When you live a full and well-planned life, it may be surprising to see how many opportunities bubble up all along the way. Some may seem right for you, others not. Some will take hard work and complete focus. Remember that it is never too late to start something new. You always need to have a goal, a plan, and be fearless. Ask others for help and have a backup plan (or two!). Always be listening for and assessing opportunities with curiosity and courage. In the end you will rest assured that you did not pass up the “chance of a lifetime.” Remember that you live in “the land of opportunity”!
_Rhea Seddon is an astronaut and the author of “Go for Orbit,” a memoir about spending 30 days aboard the space shuttle. She is also a former surgeon, health care executive, and entrepreneur. For more information, visit www.astronautrheaseddon.com