Finding myself in a somewhat fluid state in terms of how I’m spending my time, I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I’ve been with the many things that have been presented to me over the years under the label of opportunity. I can’t say that I have always been the best of judge of what separates the good ones from the not-so-good ones, but I am pondering what a great one would look like for me right now. I have to. I believe that because I have made space and time for it it’s bound to come knocking. And I am heeding the warning, “Be careful what you wish for or you just might get it.”
So what is it about this loaded word? Its origin is the latin word opportunus. The Middle English version is actually opportunity, just as it is today. It is an old word. This makes sense to me. It’s strangely comforting to think about human beings needing to have a word that recognizes good fortune, and to have it expressed so aptly that the word is used often enough to becoming dated or obsolete. Perhaps this constant presence in everyday language indicates that recognition, pursuit and commerce of opportunity is part of the human condition. We have certainly been talking about it for a long time. I looked up its meaning via dictionary.com and three definitions came up:
1. An appropriate or favourable time or occasion
Timing is everything. If something comes your way, but it’s not the right time, you really have to consider whether a move or a change is the right thing. I’ve tended to put pressure on every single decision I’ve ever made concerning opportunities on both the day job and arts fronts. I have an ingrained belief that saying no to something means that nothing else will ever follow. I have not considered whether it was the right time for me for that opportunity. I didn’t really think about whether it was a good fit for the other aspects of my life or who I am as a person. If it was going to arrive at some sort of success or advancement, that was all I needed to know, and, sadly, this was because I didn’t think I deserved the opportunity and that soon everyone would know what an imposter I was. Not surprisingly, this pattern of belief has added stress to my decision-making, and pushed my decisions into the realm of the head rather than the heart. Simply put, there’s been too much thinking and not enough listening, because logic and intellect have been ruling the roost. Having just made some pretty big changes in my approach to life, working from a place of intuition, rather than intellect, feels a lot different. It’s certainly more holistic.
2. A situation or condition favourable for attainment of a goal
Because I’m reading these words as a definition of opportunity, the first image that cheekily jumps into my mind is “corner office with a window” or “lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster”. Fortunately, there’s much more material to mine here. The environments we create for ourselves and that we choose to spend time in feed directly into how we work and what we work at. I’ve been going on about needing mental space around my creative work, but the physical space is important too. For me, I simply do better when I have a sense of the natural world around me. Plants are good. Bird feeders. My garden. I also don’t like clutter, or too much visual stimulus. I feel better in cozy candle light or a sunbeam through a window. I like inviting spaces that seem to ask you enter. By making the work seem easy to start, the right space helps create the right conditions to start a project and see it through. It all sounds very obvious, but functional spaces help you to function.
I’ve done without good work space in the past, and, in the thick of it, it’s been easy for me to dismiss its implications. I have a tendency to over-focus that has enabled me to block out any distractions around me. It’s helped me to succeed in a lot of different situations, but the act of focusing has also taken energy away from the work I’ve been doing. Going forward I envision being in conditions that inspire integration and flow, rather than the obstacles and barriers I’ve grown accustomed to. It’s early in the game, but I’ve already noticed that it’s satisfying to have energy moving efficiently.
3. A good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success
Of the three definitions of opportunity that dictionary.com provides, this is the one that I think best represents how this word is used today. In fact, one could argue that when people or organizations are putting opportunities for others together, they quote directly from this definition. I’ve heard many of these phrases as a performing artist, as a temp and in my full-time permanent positions. They come up every time I’m asked to perform for the ‘exposure’ at event that has no budget, or when a colleague is short-staffed and thinks I can possibly be of help.
I have noticed that many requests tend to be framed as opportunities by the person or party making the request. I think this approach is taken because it just doesn’t work to say, “I/we need help and I/we am hoping you can come on board.” Perhaps there’s just too much soft underbelly exposed. Better for the object of the ask to come in thinking there’s something wonderful in it for them, other than the satisfaction of being of help by doing a day’s work and any remuneration for it. Is the thinking that the person approached will be more likely to come on board and do a better job because they are now motivated to advance their position/status? Or, is there a fear that this person is so wrapped up in pre-existing obligations and responsibilities that doing something just to do it or to help someone out isn’t enough of a reason? Does ego make the presence of an opportunity a mandatory requirement? It makes me wonder if most of us don’t enjoy working just to work, or, worse yet, helping others just to help. If so, what does that say about the time we live in and how our communities function? If this is true, why is the thought of working so terrible?
Fundamentally I believe that human beings are wired to want to be of service to each other and thrive when they have a feeling of belonging. But there’s no denying that it’s easy to lose this thread. We get distracted by the shimmer of more money, prestige or the promise of advancement. I know that I have been drawn into this web, and in the past the word opportunity would make my ears perk up. But now, as I’m restructuring my life, I’m finding myself shying away when I hear it. I don’t think it triggers the kind of impulses I need as I go about this process of creating a new life.
As I go through the opportunities that I’ve taken hold of and those I’ve let fall by the wayside, I recognize that some of the most transformative experiences in my life have been those I’ve made for myself.