Opportunities Squandered Or Seized?

Look even casually at anyone you truly admire for having met with success and you’ll undoubtedly find a person who given an opportunity, made a conscious decision to seize it.

There are the athletes who train hard outside the limelight and put in hours when it’s just themselves and their strength and conditioning programs. There are the explorers who took risks heading off into the then unknown with hopes of what they might find to fuel their dreams. There are the students in school who place themselves in the hands of others to learn, become educated and lay the groundwork for their individual futures. What binds them all together is the choice they made to place themselves in positions to succeed.

Not everyone however recognizes the opportunities before them or makes the decisions you and I might assume they would to better themselves. We can look around and easily find students in Universities and Colleges who have a lack of investment in the learning before them. We can readily find athletes with potential who become complacent; who settle for mediocre, would rather party than continue to commit to the regime of training and self-discipline that had them formerly on the rise.

From the outside, it’s often clear when we look at others who is committed and who is not; who is seizing opportunity with both hands and who is squandering that which may or may not come again.

What is harder and less appealing is to look at ourselves. We don’t always recognize real opportunities when they lay before us, and even when we do, isn’t it the case that we often squander them? The reasons? Perhaps a lack of money, courage, self-motivation, reluctance to put in the hard work required, competing commitments etc. For those that squander chances and opportunities, there’s always a reason.

I work with people in receipt of social assistance, most of whom are unemployed and some of whom are underemployed in part-time jobs both in and outside their fields of training, education and interest. You might assume that every one of these people would be looking to improve their financial situation; looking to get back to being gainfully employed and productively contributing to the society in which they live as a result. You’d be wrong. Just like in any other group of people, you’ll find the highly motivated and the ones letting opportunities pass them by.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the distinct privilege to work closely with 10 unemployed people who are looking for employment. Each of the 10 had the same introduction to the two weeks given to them individually. They heard that one of my key expectations was that they must want a job more than I want it for them to be successful. They were even advised that if they didn’t want to put in the work required, I’d rather they didn’t choose to join in, and no penalty would befall them for turning the opportunity down. Now of these 10, there wasn’t one who didn’t agree.

Things being what they are however; and yes you’ve probably guessed it, not all 10 seized this opportunity with the same enthusiasm. At the end of the first week I asked everyone in the group to share how many jobs they’d applied to, how many calls they’d made and how many interviews they’d had. While each person reported at least some achievement, one person reported no calls made, no jobs applied to and not surprisingly no interviews forthcoming. Puzzling.

This isn’t the place to share all the background I explored and learned for reasons of confidentiality however, I can say with conviction that this is an opportunity squandered. Sure there’s personal factors; there always are. Not one of the 10 in the group doesn’t have barriers to overcome and in this they are just normal people like you and I. Everybody has challenges; things that we either face, struggle with and commit to overcoming or things we choose to give power over us.

Now what of you? What’s your personal situation at the moment? I’m willing to say that you’ve got something now before you that is an opportunity hanging in the balance. It might be an employment program, a return to school, a job that would need a move on your part, an apprenticeship, a course to upgrade a licence or certificate. You might have put off this opportunity for a long time too, and with the passage of time you’re feeling that chance is now becoming more remote than ever. But it still keeps nagging at you.

Is it your age, wondering how you’d pay to go back to school and still pay the mortgage and provide for the family? Is it not wanting to have wasted the education you have already which at one time you thought would set you on your career path? Maybe it’s that your afraid of the pressure it takes to throw yourself back into a determined job search; pressure being something that has in the past triggered your dependency on drugs to cope with; a path you don’t want to revisit.

The good thing about opportunities is that they come to us all the time. You’ve got several before you today in fact. Today – yes today – could be the very day you make a decision to seize one.




Want A Better Life?

Last night while talking with my wife, she shared a comment that someone she knows often makes. The fellow said, “I’ve had a lot happen in my life.” This, apparently is what he says as a way of both explaining why his life isn’t that good and why it won’t get better either. Like people all over the world, this fellow has had his share of challenges, but it’s like he wears his as a badge of honour not choosing to actually make some changes and do things in the here and now that will alter his future for the better.

It struck me then as it does now, that it might be useful to talk about how to go about improving the future; your future. After all, it’s a safe bet you’d like yours to get better whether your past and present have been a series of disasters or quite good. There are some, many I suppose who actually like chaos and disappointment but let’s look to focus on making life a better one in the future for you.

So here’s some ideas to get you started. Share these with anyone you feel might benefit from reading them with my thanks.

  1. Change has to happen. If you want a different future than your past or present change must occur so see making changes as a good thing. This will take some getting use to and it may be uncomfortable at times when you do things differently. However, expecting a better future when you keep doing what you’ve always done hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now. Welcome changes.
  2. Make better decisions. Those changes I spoke of in point 1 can only happen if you make different decisions than you’ve typically made. The key is not only to make different decisions but better decisions. Again, these better decisions won’t always be easy or comfortable but you want a better life right?
  3. Take responsibility. This is your life, and it’s made up of your decisions in the past, the present and the future. Stop blaming your parents, family and friends, former bosses and co-workers for what life has ‘done’ to you. Stop giving them power over you and admit this is your life to live and yours to make. That’s empowering and with that power comes responsibility and accountability.
  4. Get help. If you had the necessary skills to make better decisions, it’s highly likely that you would have done so right? Yet, here you are wanting things better than they are which indicates you need some guidance and advice when it comes to both making those choices and support on the follow through.
  5. Move on. The thing about the past is that it is…well…the past. You can’t go back there, you can’t live there. Move on. Try walking forward down a sidewalk with your head facing backwards and you’ll run into a lot of obstacles. Turn your eyes forward and you can avoid those collisions. Look forward in life and move on.
  6. Learn and not re-live. Making the same mistakes over and over and re-living the errors of your ways isn’t productive. When things go wrong – and they will – learn what you can from the experience with the goal of making better decisions in the future when you find yourself in similar situations.
  7. Eliminate temptations. You might have good intentions but fall to temptations if you don’t remove yourself from what’s caused you problems up to now. So it could mean dropping friends who are bad influences, moving from a bad neighbourhood, clearing the house of the alcohol or the chocolate and fatty foods. You have to want your end goal more than your temporary fix.
  8. Set Goals. Know what you want in this better future you imagine. Picture that job, the ideal partner, a better apartment or condo, a clear complexion, a new set of teeth, no criminal record. Whatever it is, set a goal; maybe several that are meaningful to you personally.
  9. Develop plans. Goals don’t turn into reality without some planning. Again, get some help from someone you trust. Start with one of your long-term goals and come up with a plan that will eventually cut the things getting in your way of having this better future. Big problems will take time and a lot of effort. Small problems are easier addressed. Both big and small need attention.
  10. Commit to yourself. You’re going to have setbacks, make some spur of the moment decisions you regret but don’t pack in the, “I want a better future”, plan. When you have a setback, re-commit to yourself what you’re working towards and focus on what you’ve accomplished so far.
  11. Forgive. A big one. Don’t carry hate, anger and bitterness around with you because it’s not attractive, certainly doesn’t help you and always hinders you. Let it go and forgive those who harmed you, set you back, let you down and disappointed you. This is your life not theirs; you’re forgiving them because YOU’VE moved on.

Look it’s not going to be easy and few things in life that are worth having are. In fact, ‘easy’ hasn’t been your past life has it? Nor your current life? So, ‘easy’ has nothing to do with it. Yep, you’re going to have to work for what you want and all that’s going to do is make you proud of yourself when you get it. It’s your call.

When Thinking About Your Next Job

If you want your next job to in fact just be, ‘a job’, stand in front of a job board; whether online or in some employment centre and pick one off the wall.

If on the other hand you want your next job to be rewarding, fulfilling, meaningful and bring you happiness each day, don’t start your search using a job board. Here are some of the best things you can do to increase the odds you’ll find work that is the right fit for you at this point in your life:

  1. Assess where you are. Young and just embarking on the search for your first job, in your prime and looking to maximize your earnings or are you nearing retirement and looking for a job where you can finish with a flourish or wind down in grace? What you want, need and are qualified for largely is determined with this initial assessment.
  2. Assess your skills, interests, abilities and qualifications. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do that I am qualified to do?” Listing these four categories and then plotting in the information under each heading will – if you do it honestly – give you a solid inventory of your commodities. As for honesty, don’t do this exercise unless you commit to being honest with yourself.
  3. Know your preferences. Big corporation, non-profit, self-employment, cozy environment, start-up or virtual office; what kind of working environment works best for you on a daily basis? Do you relish conversations with co-workers throughout the day or are you more productive and focused when you work in relative isolation? Your personality and general favouritism for being an introvert or extrovert might reveal a decided preference for your environment. Then again, you may have a social consciousness or environmental mindset that would be nice to see replicated in your future workspace.
  4. Commute. Get out a map and plot your geographic limitations. Are you looking for a job on a bus line within 15 kilometres of your home or are you mobile to the point where you’ll pick up and move across the country or beyond for the right job? Factor in family ties, schools for your children, the love of your life, your hopes to see the world over the next 4 years etc. and arrive at what you’re comfortable with in terms of the physical distance you’ll travel to and from work.
  5. Know your motivators. What’s important to you? Money? Experience? Animal welfare? Poverty reduction? Global warming? Land acquisition? Buying a home? Moving out of your parents’ home? Your children? Knowing what motivates you can help you identify what your next job and the income you derive from it will allow you to do or what you could acquire. If you find yourself happiest in your personal hobbies, is there some way you could turn that hobby into full-time employment and get paid?
  6. Give Time Its Due. Time doesn’t stop just because you’re undecided and confused. If you take time off to see the world, add to the family, find yourself, care for someone or just pause from the world of work, Time itself keeps moving. You’ll find your widening gap of unemployment unattractive to employers the longer it becomes, as it moves further away from what they value; routine, responsibility, work ethic and of course any skills get out-of-date as do your references.
  7. Network. Many people have an incredibly difficult time networking because they stick with what and who they know; avoiding with deliberate action introducing themselves to people they don’t; people who can have profound impacts on their future lives. When you speak with and listen to people you don’t know, you have with each exchange an opportunity to learn something and maybe have your interest peaked which can lead you to have the desire to learn more about that subject on your own.
  8. Experiment. With every job you do you’ll pick up what you like and dislike. Whether it’s the style of supervision, an office vs. a factory floor, indoors vs. outdoors or even business vs. business casual clothing, you’ll develop a personal bias for what works best for you. This information can help you determine what you want more of or want to avoid in future jobs.

As you search for your next job, invest some time in researching the company, its employees and most importantly ensure you have a really good grasp on what you would actually do in the job you are applying to. Too often I’ve watched people take jobs they are genuinely excited about and in a very short period of time they lament that the job didn’t come as advertised. This was the case just recently when a young person I know traveled 3000 kilometres to take on a job and she returned less than 2 months later disillusioned and disappointed that it wasn’t at all in reality what she thought it would be.

So you see there’s a lot more to think about in terms of finding the right job than you might have previously thought. Oh and honestly, there are more factors than these to think of which could be of greater significance to some job hunters. My point is, you can hardly expect to find a meaningful job if you just walk up to a job board and pluck down a job posting and announce, “This is the one.”