Your Job Is to Make Opportunity, Not Wait for It
Small wins are the only breakthroughs we need
One time, a Hollywood agent emailed me out of the blue. Somehow, he had landed on my newsletter, and boom, there he was, sitting in my inbox. Then, he asked to have a call.
At first, I couldn’t believe it. I double-checked the photos. Yes, that’s him with Mariah Carey. And Elton John. And Lionel Richie. Jesus! I wonder what he wants from me.
On the call, he wasted no time in introducing me to a senior editor at Deadline Hollywood. I was floored. I could barely scrape together my elevator pitch. Eventually, the connection broke. I followed up with her via email but never heard back.
After that, we stayed in touch via email. Then, we had another call with his business partner, who runs — get this — a publishing agency. “I’m pretty sure he wants to sign you,” the partner said. “You could write a book with us.” I also heard some variation of “We’ll make you rich” in there. Maybe I just imagined it, but the result was clear: My entire life was about to change.
The partner was supposed to have a layover in Munich, and I was meant to meet him at the airport. I crawled out of bed at 6 AM and hopped on a train. This was it! I would shake his hand, have a 9€ sandwich, and then — hopefully — ink a book deal. Or any other deal that would skyrocket me to fame and success.
Halfway to the airport, the phone rang. “Nik, I’m not gonna make it. My plane got delayed.” Okay, no biggie. I got off the train, swapped platforms, and took the next one — right back into mediocrity.
We kept emailing. Slowly, the collaboration talk faded. I kept waiting. “They must bring it up again soon.” By the time the “poof” sound of my shattering dreams arrived in my ear, a few months had passed. Eventually, it dawned on me: This was not my big break and, actually, just like that plane, that break would never come.
If you’ve gone through any form of traditional education, from kindergarten to college, from high school to piano lessons, you’ve had your natural desire to create opportunities systematically trained out of you.
All children are creators. They make things. It’s the only thing they care about. They make things in their minds, with their hands, and with whatever those hands can grab.
Then, they get to kindergarten, and we tell them to wait. Wait until it starts, wait until it ends, wait their turn with a toy, their turn to speak, and in between, wait in queue for lunch.
High school is a big waiting party too. Wait for the test, the results of the test, and the teacher’s year-end review. Wait until you can choose subjects, wait your way through college lectures, and then wait till you get to throw the hat.
No wonder no one asks for a promotion. By the time we arrive at our first job, waiting is all we know! Work hard, keep your head down, stay quiet. Someday, someone will spot you. A senior manager. A mentor. A Hollywood agent. Except someday never comes. Even if it does, it won’t change a thing — because your job was never to wait for opportunity.
Your job is to create it wherever you go.
When a lion is hungry, he walks until he finds something to eat. When we have a dream, we sit around and wait.
“When I retire, I’ll take great care of my garden.” “Once I get promoted, I’ll make enough to start my business.” “When the kids are out of the house, I’ll write my book.”
We dream up these perfect conditions we secretly know will never materialize, and then we feel a little less bad at never having to make an effort that might fail.
Life is not a classroom. Nothing happens if you just sit there. Every day is a test, and the question is how much can you make happen? If the lion doesn’t get up, he will be eaten. So will your dreams.
No one is coming to save you. No one will hand you the things you most desire. Everyone is waiting for someone to hand them theirs.
For a lazy, entitled Aladdin, even a genie won’t do any good. Strangely, once he sees life is in his hands alone, he won’t need the genie at all.
Somewhere along the way, you’ll have to save yourself.
Letting go of my waiting mentality was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t tell you when it happened. It’s probably still ongoing. But at some point, I realized: Every opportunity you’re waiting for is one you could create yourself.
You don’t need a publisher to write a book. You don’t need a coach to learn dancing. What you need to do is to not let the absence of these things put you in a state of passivity.
In the time you wait for your publisher, you could write two books instead of one. While your boss strings you along, you could start a new job. This isn’t to say good things don’t take time, it’s to say big changes don’t happen by accident.
Life only gives us small breaks, but small breaks are all we need. Today, you apply to a talent show. Tomorrow, you apply to another. Once one invites you, you go there and do your best — and if you fail, you go right back to applying.
We think of opportunity cost as the missed reward for choosing only one of two options, but, actually, it’s the combined reward of all alternatives that’s missing — even the ones we haven’t created yet.
What could you achieve in the time you’d otherwise spend waiting? That’s the real question, and often, you’ll find what you’re currently waiting for can’t possibly be big enough to keep you from working on those things.
Don’t let the randomness of your inbox dictate your life. Don’t make your happiness someone else’s responsibility. Most of all, don’t wait.
Opportunity will find you, it’s wonderful when it does, and it’s never too late for an old connection to bloom — but unlike these things, whether you’ll realize your dreams or not in this life won’t be an accident.
Your job never changed. Your job has been the same since you were born, and it will be the same until you die. Your job is to make opportunity — because if you do, for yourself and others, opportunity will never be short in supply.