Seize Opportunity

I once had an assistant who frequently complained about how hard it was to make ends meet. Her husband’s work was unsteady and she had three mouths to feed; money was always tight. At the end of the year, it is customary on Wall Street to pay our staff, out of pocket Christmas bonuses. The range has historically been quite large spanning from a few hundreds to several thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars - all depending upon the firm and its respective culture.

I always believed that the support provided to me by my assistant was invaluable; it was partnership that allowed me to harness my greatest level of efficiency. As such, I rewarded my assistant with a sizable bonus. At one point, my job had changed and I didn’t require as much support from my assistant, but I continued to pay her generously. For that however, I did expect to receive a higher service level than she provided to others; knowing full well, that I was paying her more.

But that’s not what happened. When I reduced her workload, her attitude towards me changed. She prioritized others over me and tended to their administrative needs first. I not only thought it was odd, I thought she was being foolish and had mistakenly assumed that she understood where her bread was being buttered. So, I began to reduce the dollar amount I paid her each year, until it matched what others were paying her. I thought to myself “how dumb is she letting easy money just pass her by?”

But she isn’t alone with this type of mentality. A lot of people allow opportunity to pass them usually because they are so consumed with gripes about the inequity of the system. I have come to realize that even if handed everyone the exact same amount of money, some would end up with more while others with none. The difference between haves and the have nots is not about circumstance but rather about opportunity. Those who stand ready to seize it, capture it. And those are the people who become successful in life.

One of Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules to Success is to “expect the unexpected and always be ready.” Cuban talks about the importance of preparation not just for the worst but for opportunity. Don’t get caught on your heels, be ready to attack the worst, the best, and opportunities.

But how does one learn this?

My ex-mother-in-law always used say “only an open hand gets.” Through the years this has become an expression that I have adopted as my own mantra because only when you are truly open to an opportunity will you be able to recognize it. That is the challenge. So often, we are set on an idea of what an opportunity is supposed to look like and when one comes by in different shape or form, we don’t recognize it and we let it pass us by.

It’s like the Story of A Drowning Man:

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

Don’t be the Drowning Man, when an opportunity comes by, seize it.