Today I want to talk about something that I don’t think gets emphasized enough today – taking advantage of opportunities. I see a lot of advice that teaches you how to execute step-by-step plans, with little regard for the spontaneous events that life throws at us.
It feels nice and safe to have a plan doesn’t it? We feel like we are in the fast lane to success when we follow the plan.
Yet, we all know that life doesn’t work that way. How many success stories started out with a detailed plan that was executed without any hiccups? Very few, if any.
Now I’m not some internet success guru, nor do I want to be. So I can’t give you advice that guarantees anything to you.
I can only share my personal experiences in hopes that you find something valuable to take away and apply to your own life.
With all that said, I’m going to share with you how I have recognized and seized opportunities in my life – and what I’ve learned from them.
“One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
How to Recognize Opportunity
Opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s no telling how many opportunities we’ve missed that could’ve dramatically changed the course of our lives.
However, you want to be able to recognize opportunity as many times as possible. I’m going to share some common things that seem to happen when opportunity has come knocking in my life.
Excitement & Fear
Looking back on the big opportunities that I’ve seized, those two emotions were always present. Every time.
I’ve heard many entrepreneurs say recently that the things you are afraid to do are usually the things you should do.
When something presents itself and it makes you simultaneously excited and scared, that’s a strong sign that you should take a closer look. One of the most common causes of fear in humans is the unknown.
We fear what we don’t understand. We fear change. Coincidentally, to be successful we need to understand as much as possible and constantly be adapting to a changing world.
Of course, there are also times when fear works as a natural mechanism to keep us safe. So how do you know the difference?
Well, personally, I always trust my gut to decide that for me. However, unless there’s a chance of death or ruining your life in some way – your fear is probably rooted more in discomfort than a safety concern.
On the other hand, if an opportunity doesn’t excite you in any way than it probably isn’t the right move for you.
The best opportunities will excite you to the point that you can’t get them out of your head. If I’m not obsessively turning an idea over in my head, I know I’m not that excited about it and it probably isn’t the right move.
The Stars Align
Most of the time, this won’t happen. What’s that old cliche? The best time to start a business was 10 years ago and the second best time is today. 99% that is the case.
However, if this does happen and everything is timed just right – stop second-guessing yourself and do it!
Now, for most of us average people in the real world, the stars won’t align perfectly. That’s okay though, because we don’t need perfect. We just need doable.
If you can do it, then in my mind the stars have aligned. Can you find a way to jump on that new opportunity, even though it might be a stretch? If so, consider the stars aligned. That’s all you need.
For me, I’ve noticed that when opportunities appear that the timing might not look perfect but in retrospect the timing actually ended up being just right anyways. The beauty of hindsight is 20/20 vision.
What I’ve Seized and Learned
You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to have a story to tell. You don’t have to find million-dollar opportunities to learn million-dollar lessons either.
The following stories are examples of how a normal person can make the most of what’s available to them.
How I Became a DJ
In high school when we through parties, I was the one who made the mix CD’s we played. Yes, that was back before you could plug in any of your 10 devices that store MP3’s to a stereo.
Being a DJ wasn’t my life dream or anything, but in my mind it was a dream job. It was one of those things that other people do, but I thought I could never do.
Until, one day I found out I actually could do it. One of my best friends mentioned that his older brother’s best friend worked for a DJ company, mostly DJ’ing weddings and school dances. He said they would train me for free and if I made it through tryouts I was in.
Right away I was excited! Then the fear started creeping in. It turns out that these DJ’s were required to work the mic, A LOT! The problem was I was very afraid of public speaking. I was thinking I could just stand back there playing music and not have to do any talking.
The primary selling point of this particular company was that their DJ’s were entertainers and were the life of the party at any event they were hired for.
As far as the timing went, there was no excuse. I was waiting tables and taking college classes, so all I had to do was ask to not be scheduled on weekends. Since the DJ gig paid more than I had ever made at that point, it would be stupid to turn it down as a broke 18 year old.
So I show up at tryouts and it was even more nerve-racking than I thought it would be. You’d think talking on a microphone in front of hundreds or thousands of people would be scary, but those first tryouts were actually the scariest moments I ever had behind a microphone.
The trainer walked us through some lines they use to make particular announcements during wedding receptions that we would be doing at almost every show. This guy was a pro! His voice projected energy, enthusiasm and confidence. If you wanted to make a grand entrance as a newly married couple – this is the guy you wanted to announce you!
A couple trainees went through the exercises, they sucked. I thought surely I could do better than them, at least. Then it was my turn.
Suddenly my throat clinched up and the most timid and monotone voice squeaked out of the microphone. I sucked just as much as the other guys did. It was humiliating.
I drove home feeling disappointed in myself. Most guys are too ashamed to show up after the first tryout and they limited you to 4 tryouts before they cut you off. Once the trainer decided you were ready, you got to shadow a DJ for 2 shows and then you were on your own.
I knew what was wrong. I was afraid to just put it all out there. I was afraid of looking like a jackass by being overly animated and loud. Then it dawned on me, that’s why those guys were entertaining – because they were animated and crazy.
Week 2 I showed up and decided to lay it on the line. I felt weird and uncomfortable, but I could tell by the look in the trainer’s eye that he saw potential. I got the job.
If I hadn’t seized this opportunity, I can definitely say that my life would be very different. More than just making money and having a lot of fun, I learned more from that job than any business professor could teach.
Here’s what I gained from that experience:
- My first opportunity to work closely with a true entrepreneur, Clay Clark. He actually dropped out of college to start that company.
- Clay told me he’d give me $100 to read the book Think and Grow Rich. That book changed my life! I never asked for the $100.
- I learned the secret to getting anything you want. As Clay would say, “over-deliver and get overpaid!”
- I also gained a tremendous amount of confidence in myself for facing my fear of public speaking and getting to do something that I thought only other people get to do – be a DJ
If that isn’t an example of why you should face your fear, I don’t know what is.
The First Time I Moved For a Job
When I was 20 I had the chance to work for an Optometrist who owned a chain of 1-hour glasses retail stores. I’m not going to say who he was, because I don’t want to hear from his attorneys.
I’ve already written about that experience in detail, you can read it here if you want. I’m going to focus on what stands out to me about this opportunity.
I was excited about this job because I knew there was room for advancement and I knew I had no competition in that organization. (Remember that confidence I said I gained from DJ’ing)
The real opportunity didn’t present itself until about 3 months into that job. When the owner proposed I take on a new role that would require me to travel for training and then go live in a different state for the summer. At the time, this was out of my comfort zone. This new role also came with more responsibility than I had ever had in a job up until that point.
I was used to traveling alone from DJ’ing, but I had never up and moved to a new city by myself before. I wasn’t afraid of it, but it was out of my comfort zone a little bit.
Here’s what I learned from that experience:
- I learned how to spot shady people in business. This guy was not only doing some illegal practices, he did business in a very unethical manner. He used a religious persona to hide this. Any time a business person flaunts how religious they are, I’ve found them to not be trustworthy.
- I learned how to negotiate a raise and how to stop an employer from taking advantage of me
- I learned how to sit down at a restaurant and eat alone. Not really that important, but I probably never would’ve done it before that situation.
- Most importantly, I learned that when you are willing to do something that others aren’t it increases your value tremendously
I wouldn’t call this opportunity life changing, but I learned some very valuable lessons in business that continue to aid me to this day.
How I Made Six Figures in My First Year Out of College
I’m hesitant to write about this, seeing as how I never even told any of my friends I made that much money that year. In fact, hardly no one in my family even knows.
The truth is I really don’t like talking about myself much and I don’t like to brag.
Nonetheless, it’s the truth and I feel that it’s something that many people would like to learn from – so here it goes.
I was in my last year of college and unsure about what I was going to do when I graduated. I enjoyed studying Economics, but I wasn’t interested in the typical jobs that people pursue with that degree. I wanted to do my own thing.
By that point I had amassed a lot of student loan debt. It was the end of the spring semester and I knew I could graduate that December if I packed my summer and fall semesters with as many classes that would fit.
Then I get a call from my dad, completely unexpected. A friend of his said there was a Landman crew that was willing to train young guys who had a degree or were pursuing a degree.
You might be wondering what a landman is. It’s a job where you basically do legal research for oil companies. You work out of the courthouse in the county where an oil company is leasing land to drill. You prepare legal documents to send to an attorney to approve so that the oil company can legally lease the land. In the industry we call it doing title work.
Landmen are typically self-employed and work on a contract basis with oil companies. The only way to get in with a company is by having someone who will vouch for you. It’s incredibly rare to find a crew that is willing to train someone, because you are essentially seen as dead weight. These jobs are (or at least they were, things have changed in the last year) very high paying. The downside is that you have to live in the most remote and rural towns imaginable.
He said they could get me on if I was interested. I didn’t know the first thing about this kind of work and I knew I’d have to find a way to change all of my classes to online classes.
I also knew that I would make enough money that summer to pay for my summer and fall semesters without any loans and have plenty left over to live on. In addition, it was a way into a hot industry where I could try my hand at being self-employed.
The timing wasn’t perfect, but I knew I could make it work. That’s all you need.
I was, of course, excited to finally make some real money and I knew that this sort of work is considered paying your dues in the oil industry and would put me well ahead of the average college graduate. On the other hand, I would have to live in the middle of nowhere – Lamesa, TX. To drive from end to end, it took 5 minutes.
It sounded like an adventure, so I put in my 2 weeks notice at my current job and packed up for Lamesa. It was a tough summer. Between the 40 hours of work and 21 hours (I had to manipulate the school system to do that) of online classes, I didn’t get to come up for air once.
Being a serial opportunist, I knew I’d find a way to make the most of that opportunity – and I did. By the end of the summer I found a way to convince my client, Chesapeake, to keep providing work for me while I went back to school. Turns out there was a guy they were paying to do some work that could be done from anywhere on the computer and he was planning on quitting.
Since what I was producing was not only significantly better than that guy, but I was much faster, they happily obliged. They would only let me invoice part-time hours and I wouldn’t be getting any of the extra per diem, but that was okay.
That last semester of college I made over $30k working one day a week. It was the best semester of college I ever had.
After graduating I went back out to Lamesa to start doing title work again. At that time I formed my first LLC and started my real education.
Later I ended up in a joint venture with 3 other guys and the real fun began. 2 of those guys were veterans and 1 was another young guy. We put together our own projects to sell to oil companies. It was during that time that I earned my first six-figure check, $225,000. So in my first year out of college, I was able to pay off 5 year’s worth of student debt. It felt amazing.
More important than the money, I got my first real education in business. A year before that, I never thought I would be sitting in the executive boardrooms of Fortune 500 oil companies pitching a deal. You can’t put a price on that education, but in my mind it is worth millions. At that point, I realized how worthless my degree actually was and is.
Here’s what I gained from that original opportunity:
- I learned how to live in the middle of nowhere
- I learned how to create opportunities in the real world
- I formed my first LLC and got a real business education
- I earned six figures and paid off all of my student loans in my first year out of college
It’s funny to think, when my dad first called me about the original opportunity I actually told him I’d have to think about it and call him back. My gut told me to do it, so I called him back no less than 5 minutes later to get the contact information.
I don’t want the last opportunity I mentioned to overshadow the others. In life, some opportunities are going to be better than others.
However, if I hadn’t seized the first 2 I wouldn’t have been prepared as a person to take the 3rd one.
With each opportunity I learned new lessons and grew into the person that was ready for the next opportunity. I can honestly say that each new opportunity would have never been available to me had I not completed the previous one. Of course I could have never predicted that, but that’s one of the beauties of life. You believe in yourself, avoid the path of least resistance and great things happen.
Opportunities are exciting and scary. Face your fear and seize them! You never know what results will come of it. Worst case scenario, you will learn life-lessons that you can’t buy.
As for me, I don’t know what my next opportunity will be. I can tell you one thing though, when it presents itself – I’ll be ready.
Until Next Time,
What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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