If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build A Door

Throughout my years in the military, I’ve learned that deep reflection on past events and situations in our lives is a healthy way to grow as a person and to tackle future endeavors. I reflect often because when I started my adult life, I never would have thought that 14 years later I’d be responsible for four kids, seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, been through all the military schools that I’ve done, and have the opportunity to mentor Soldiers as an Infantry leader and a Drill Sergeant, been an instructor, been a church speaker, and many other occasions that I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of and to get me to where I am today. One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is a word I used in the last sentence…Opportunity!

     Opportunity is a major part of the successes I’ve had and is an infinite concept in our lives. Opportunity is all around us. Opportunity comes as often as we fight to create it. I’ve learned that any successful leader should deal with opportunities two ways: 

  1. Create opportunities for yourself.
  2. Create opportunities for your Soldiers, employees, subordinates.

     I’ve assessed that creating opportunities for yourself and others is more vital and more of a discussion point than taking the opportunity itself. That’s simply because not every opportunity should be taken. I’m sure we all can look back in our lives and see opportunities that we passed on and they were the correct choice. They were correct choices because we planned ahead for them. We knew the direction we wanted to go. We saw they were not in our best interests. We didn’t hesitate to move on and seek other opportunities.

     I took the opportunity as a young Soldier to foolishly raise my hand to volunteer to be a Stryker driver at my first unit (mainly because as a Private you volunteer for everything if you don’t want your NCOs to crush you). That opportunity gave me the skills and knowledge to understand numerous communication platforms and how to operate and maneuver the vehicle. This played a role almost 12 years later when I returned to the same unit five ranks higher and already had the extensive knowledge of this platform that allowed me to be successful in this assignment.

     I took the opportunity to reenlist to be assigned to the 101st Airborne Division knowing it’s a high operational tempo unit. At the time of reenlistment, I was a Sergeant E-5 and had spent my three years in PSD (personal security detail) and was behind my peers as far as Infantry knowledge. The opportunity of just being in that unit earned me extensive training in Infantry skills that brought me up to speed with my peers. Add to that Air Assault School, promotion to Staff Sergeant, and a deployment to Afghanistan that made me grow extensively as a person and a leader.

     I got orders while in Afghanistan to be assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana. At the time, I had no idea what unit I was going to. My friend Chris, who I mentioned in my thank you post and is a regular contributor, was already stationed there. He put in a good word in for me to his boss to come work as an Observer/Controller Trainer (basically an instructor/evaluator for civilian terminology). Again, I felt like I was not qualified for this position but took the opportunity anyway. At the end of the three years there, I had begun college, finished all my NCO schooling, completed Pathfinder School and earned my EIB (Expert Infantrymen’s Badge which is a must do as an infantryman if you want to progress in your career). I had a solid performance my first year and was asked to come fill in the slot of a Battalion Reconnaissance observer controller over roughly 40 other Soldiers. Here is where I also found Christ and turned my life around personally. None of which would have happened if I didn’t seek the opportunity with Chris and if he didn’t offer it to me.

     These are just a few examples. Leaders need to make connections. Leaders need to net-work. And no, I do not mean kiss the bosses butt to get in good to make opportunities. You get in good by other means that we’ll talk about in the future. 

     Creating opportunities requires looking ahead. Developing the skill to think and plan one, two, three steps ahead of your current situation. This is something I pride myself in and really honed that skill while I was a Drill Sergeant. The ability to discern how an action or decision we choose and take will not only affect the immediate response, but multiple avenues, multiple courses of actions and how we will respond and attack which ever path we’re confronted with.

     When opportunity presents itself, and you want to take it, DO NOT HESITATE! Hesitation will absolutely kill/destroy you. From the moment of the event of a DREADFUL thing to the first moment when you initiate action on that event, everything in between is like a horrible dream. Like a nightmare. Everything in between those two events is when the hesitation is at its strongest. That is when it has its tightest grip on you in which you are stuck dead in your tracks with fear. That is when we must take that step into the unknown. The unknown, therefore, most often causes the fear in which will ultimately cause our defeat. Hesitation is your enemy and it allows the opportunity to pass. Hesitation turns into cowardice and reveals your own lack of preparation. It stops you from being the point man of your team or family and puts everyone under you into jeopardy. To overcome the hesitation, all you must do is overcome the “waiting.” The simplest way to overcome the hesitation is to GO. MOVE. Assault the hesitation and take or bypass the opportunity. Prepare and be able to predict what happens when opportunity presents itself so you are ready. Prepare your team and family on what the possible outcomes would be depending on your decision of any opportunity you choose to take or dismiss. I feel that once you have learned the skill of creating opportunities for yourself and others, you have significantly improved a large portion of your “bubble” of influence. Your “team” sees that you care enough to work hard to create the opportunities for them and will respect what you have done for them and will be grateful. You allow them to work on not hesitating and to have to start planning for when these opportunities arise. You teach them the consequences of their actions when you can create situations and opportunities in which they need to make a decision. I do this constantly as a parent.

For example, if my son needs to take a bath at night, I may say “you can take a bath tonight and wake up at 0700 OR you can take a bath tomorrow morning and I’ll wake you up at 0600.” I created an opportunity for him to see the consequences of his actions. I know 9/10 times he will choose to take a bath in the morning. For kids they are concerned with instant gratification. Then when he is ticked off in the morning that he is up before anyone else, I can take that moment to mentor him in the choice he made and how he can choose more wisely next time. That now leads into time management lessons simply by giving him the opportunity to choose his bath time. You can be the example of how you work to create your own opportunities and to attack them. Your “team” is watching you.

5 thoughts on “If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build A Door

  1. I like this post. It feels especially impactful to me, especially the GO and MOVE piece. That is something I have been trying to get better at over time. I almost always over-analyze things and get in my own head and end up hesitating to act. I did have a couple questions to pick your brain for curiosity’s sake if you’ll entertain them. What is an example of an opportunity you passed up and DIDN’T take that turned out to be the right choice in retrospect? Do you always plan everything in your life out step-by-step? Or do you ever just “go with the flow” and let the opportunities come to you? Do you think that ever works? Let me know what you think. Other than that, I liked in your example that even though you didn’t feel particularly qualified to be an Observer/Controller trainer you did it anyway. It sounds like it worked out for the best and now you have a great example of how seizing the opportunity benefitted you in a positive way. I also like how you explained networking isn’t necessarily a negative thing. I think a good leader does network and it doesn’t always have to look like or involve “kissing up” to the boss. I think the difference is huge but that often gets lost and can hold some people back. Good stuff man.

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    1. Well Robert I sent a lengthly reply back but it looks like it didn’t save and send? Or at least on my end it doesn’t look that way. After I calm down and have a good night sleep, I’ll rewrite it. Stupid electronics…

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    2. So the over analyzing thing is something that the book I mentioned previously tackles is the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s the book that he argues that making decisions on that gut feeling or instinct can be more useful and effective that a decision based on tons of info and in depth analyzing. So stop right now. Go on Amazon.com. Buy the book. I’ll wait…….

      So these responses will be not as lengthy as prior. Still irritated about losing all the content. An example I chose about opportunity that was passed on was our decision to home school. My wife had to work hard for her teaching degree since my job slowed her college down with kids and her moving to Germany. Once she got her degree, she taught for 2 years. That was our opportunity to live comfortably with the two incomes. But we realized everyone else was raising our kids except us since we both had jobs and the kids were in daycare. So Cassidy brought up the idea of homeschooling (offering an opportunity that I didn’t know what I’d benefit from). I was reluctant because I didn’t want our kids to become “weird”. But she slayed out her plan. Gave me all the info (making the opportunity a little more clearer). And we moved on it. And its been the best thing ever. So it was an opportunity we took at first, but realized it wasn’t in our best interests. And we noticed it and wasn’t stubborn about it.

      I tend to plan my days out yes. I do the rubber ball, wooden ball, glass ball analogy. I plan my glass balls first for the week (the ones that if dropped and doesn’t get done they would shatter and can’t come back from). Then my wooden balls (these are the ones that if dropped, they leave a dent on the ball. Minor bounce back. But can still be used again). Rubber balls would be last (these bounce back if dropped and have not effect on anything.) Now as they say for mission planning and operations that any great plan falls apart after the first round is fired. As long as you know the mission and how to get to it, that’s all you need. You have to allow for interruptions. In the end, ultimately it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get done (only if its due to unforeseen circumstances and not due to my own laziness). But you have to plan the days ahead. And PLAN FOR NOTHING. That is ok also. That time is used for family.

      If you have the option of letting an opportunity come to you or you going after it, you have to go after it. Never wait for them to come to you. How can you be 100% sure it will come to you the way and time that you want it to come? The only thing that you can be sure of is YOU! You have to go set the conditions. Thats the only way.

      But as much as you should be planning and outlining your days, I’m not foolish enough to think that things can derail everything. But you have to have the presence of mind to make those “rudder corrections”. Navy terminology for when a boat drifts off course you don’t need to make drastic corrections but just minor rudder correction to keep you on azimuth. But if you are thinking and planning 2-3 steps ahead and determining possible courses of actions when different issues arise, then the corrections should be minor.

      Sorry you got short changed on the response. I’m going to be on the road for two days going home and wanted to get something back to you. I’m working on a write up right now for a blog in response to the Texas church shooting tragedy that happened recently. After that will be. book review of a book I just read about raising sons (but lots of good principles for daughters also). Then we’ll see what happens after that. Thanks for your comment brother!

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  2. Ha! I will try to get that book “Blink” for sure. I went to the library for the other one that you reviewed but they didn’t have it in house. I put a hold on it! You guys homeschooling is a good example. Even though we DON’T homeschool Kelsey decided to be a stay-at-home mom for the exact same reason, so we could raise our kids and be less influenced by others. The glass, wooden and rubber ball analogy is pretty clever too, I’m going to try to incorporate that into my life and give it a try. Thanks a bunch for all your insights man they really do help. Can’t wait for the next blog post!

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