Hippocrates’ pithy summary of life continues with ‘opportunity is fleeting.’ We all know the cliches – seize the moment, and so forth. But how true is it, really?
Yesterday I discussed life is short mostly in terms of my own life span, but the reality is that when this aphorism was coined, the life span was about half, roughly, what it is today. We do have a short life relative to art, true. However, it’s a much longer life in which to seize the days. Perhaps there is some wiggle room, after all?
My daughter asked me, a couple of years ago, if I would travel to Japan with her. She wanted to take a year off school and travel after highschool and before college. Now, I know this isn’t going to happen right now. But between that conversation, and a book I was reading recently, I remembered something I’d nearly forgotten – an opportunity that I didn’t take. When I was a senior in high school, I was asked if I would be willing to travel with a missionary family to be a nanny for their kids for the summer, possibly a year. They offered me plenty of time off and a rail pass. I could have spent time traveling Europe. The kicker… looking back now, this was the time, and the place where the book I was reading was telling about. The book? A recounting of excavating mass graves in Serbia and Croatia. The family’s plan, where I did not accompany them? Was to be in Croatia. In 1994.
I look back at my life and see opportunities I could have taken, and didn’t, and don’t regret. I see ones I didn’t take, and do regret. And I see the ones I did take, that made all the difference. I’ll never be 18 again, footloose and fancy-free. But with some planning and prep, I might someday take the Ginja Ninja to Tokyo.
Preparation is absolutely necessary to seize opportunity. I’ve written before about our family’s current situation – I want to live in a house we own (albeit with a mortgage for a while) rather than a rental. But first, we’ve decided that we need to be debt free before we take on that burden. So while the perfect house is out there, somewhere, we’re working to be ready when it comes up for sale. Or for that matter, if a job opens up that is the perfect career move for me, I need to have all the tools in my experience toolkit before I can seize that opportunity. I polish up the resume every so often, even though I’m not actively looking, because… because.
You never know when a door will open, or how long it will stay open. Now, some doors can be closed, and you have the key to unlock them again, like the house-hunting I mentioned above. We’re not even opening that door right now, not until we have the key in hand. An opportunity long-lost, on the other hand, is my window to go into the military. So opportunities are not all the same.
How do we tell what’s the real deal? I was bitterly disappointed I couldn’t go to Croatia, all those years ago. Now, I look back and I’m very grateful I didn’t go. Chances are nothing bad would have happened. But it was not a good place, and bad things happened. I think most of us have these things: they looked like an opportunity at the time, but only later we realize that was a bullet dodged. Or not dodged, when we took it and regretted it later. One of the things I’ve learned to do as I grew older (and hopefully wiser) was to listen to my gut. I was offered a job right after college, and declined it. Later, I learned that the position had been closed a week after I declined the offer, due to lack of funds. It wouldn’t have been devastating, but… I’m glad now I didn’t say yes. I didn’t have a firm reason why, other than the position wasn’t what I was hoping to do with my career. If I have a sick feeling about something, I try to analyze why, because often I find that my unconscious leanings are backed up by facts I didn’t see clearly until I stopped and looked at the whole picture. And sometimes I don’t find out why my gut was queasy until long afterwards.
So: be prepared to leap on the opportunity when it arises. But don’t jump before analyzing if it’s a true opportunity, or a pitfall. And some opportunities will wait on you to be in the right season before you walk into them. Sounds clear as mud.