I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing in my school’s main office talking to one of my teachers about an upcoming school assembly, at which students would be encouraged to showcase their talents. I timidly asked my teacher, who also happened to be the coordinator of the event, why I was never asked to sing, since it was widely known that I was in the school’s concert choir. So Mrs. Smith said, “Okay, you want to be considered? Well, sing something for me.” It was in that moment that I froze. It seemed like every song I had ever sung, rehearsed, or even known, flew out of my head immediately. Mrs. Smith said, “See, that’s why.”
Now of course this was a blow to my 15-year-old ego, but in hindsight, it taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life. Sometimes, timing can be everything. When an opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready, or you may miss out on an experience needed to take you to the next level. In my own personal experience, and in observations of those close to me, I’ve noticed that there are three ways that we’re often unprepared for great opportunities.
Sometimes, timing can be everything. When an opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready.
You’re not present (mentally, or even physically).
You get an invitation to a networking event after work, but after a long day, the last thing you want to do is bump elbows with a bunch of strangers and collect business cards. So you skip it, thinking that there will be plenty of other events. But you learn later that week that the person you were trying to snag as your next client for your side business, or the senior-level executive from your company who has a project you’re just dying to be part of, was at the event. You completely missed out on a great opportunity to connect.
Or, on the flip side, you attend a local charity dinner and you sit at a table with people that you know and spend the entire night talking to them. By the time you leave, you realize that you’ve not met a single new contact. Little did you know, there were at least 2 or 3 people at the dinner who were connected to organizations that had resources your latest project could benefit from, but you failed to introduce yourself.
Not being present is a sure-fire way to waste a perfectly good opportunity to advance your career, or to simply meet new and interesting people. How many times do people say that they happened to “fall into” a career or project that they now love? Often times, it’s their willingness to step beyond the boundaries of their comfort zones and explore something new, that leads them either to the next step in their life plan, or take them on a beautiful and exciting path toward their life’s passion.
You’re not utilizing your network properly.
And then there are some that have networking down to a science and have amassed an exceptional circle of contacts (both personally and professionally), but whenever they need backing for a great idea or initiative, they’re at a loss for how to get started. It’s so important that you not only build, but manage and nurture your network. Categorize your contacts by topic such as area of industry that they work in, or interests that you have in common. Keep in contact with them, making sure that they’re aware of relevant news items in their industry or projects that you’re involved in. This way, when you have something that you want to promote, or see an opportunity that could be enhanced by collaboration, you can be strategic in who you reach out to and maximize your chances of getting the support and expertise that you need.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. I currently serve as a board member for Jelani Girls Inc., a non-profit organization that provides cultural enrichment and empowerment for girls of color. As the lead for fund development, my job was to secure financial and material resources to support programming initiatives for the upcoming year. Within two weeks, I had secured over $700 in donations (including a $500 corporate sponsorship from Walmart) by strategically sending emails to several of my contacts who either ran non-profits, or were known for their philanthropic efforts toward youth-oriented non-profit organizations. It’s always tough asking for money, but because I had established great relationships with these individuals, offering myself as a support and a resource to them on several occasions, they were more than willing to answer my call.
You don’t speak up.
This one is a biggie. More often than not, we miss out on fabulous opportunities because we just don’t make people aware that we’re even interested. You may be the best public speaker on the planet, or you have the ability to sell water to a fish, but if you never make that known to the people who matter, it won’t matter.
I recently completed a contracted professional development training for The Nativity School of Harrisburg two weeks ago, and quite frankly, I never would have gotten it if I hadn’t spoken up. I’m still establishing myself as an educational consultant in the central PA region, so a lot of people still aren’t aware of my services. I landed the contract because I happened to be at lunch with the principal for an unrelated project and picked up on a need that he had regarding staff development. He mentioned his staff’s upcoming in-service days, and some areas that he was hoping to get his staff trained in. So I plucked up the nerve to tell him about my business and that I would appreciate being considered to come in and speak to his staff. And just like that, he said, “you’re hired”.
There are opportunities all around us. And every opportunity isn’t for every person. We have to discern what’s right for us at that particular time in our lives/career. But by paying attention and advocating for ourselves in the right moments, we greatly increase our chances of attracting opportunities that will propel us further toward achieving our life goals and dreams.