How Can I Choose the Right Opportunity?
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
— Thomas Edison
Open doors for success are everywhere, and we overlook many of them. But should we say yes to every high-yield opportunity that requires hard work?
My wife, Jody, and my kids always feign surprise when I tell them of a chance meeting that sparked a deep conversation. So they groaned and rolled their eyes when I came home with a story about some interesting people last Monday.
At sunrise that morning, I visited the beach for a few minutes of solitude and dropped in at a local restaurant to work on a writing project. The happy background chatter of a busy restaurant calms my mind and allows me to focus. But all the tables were full, so I found a large table with some empty chairs and asked the gathered company if I could sit with them. They assured me I was welcome.
But this was not a table for writing. I shared it with retired entrepreneurs and local leaders engaged in conversation. As is my pattern, I leaned in. To my right sat a funeral director, and to my left was a serial entrepreneur who started a waste collection company and a computer service business. These people knew all about hard work. They have chosen paths dressed in overalls.
Turning to the funeral director, I said, “You have chosen a business that others would avoid. What is it that has kept you going?” He smiled. “My dad was a funeral director. I tried other things, but I fell into the family business.” Over his long career, he derived meaning and joy in life by supporting people through their most difficult moments. The reward of this pastoral care offset his job’s heavy emotional labor.
The serial entrepreneur’s response to the same question was brief. “I like the service industry. You make simple promises and do what you say.” She added that the thing she enjoyed most was building and flipping businesses. The built-to-sell approach to business is a challenge that fills her with delight, and the paycheck at the end doesn’t hurt.
Their stories inspired me, and they support the idea that even unappealing work can be rewarding. But not every difficult and lucrative challenge is a wise choice for your career development. The work also must align with your interests, strengths, and values.
If you are at a career crossroads, here are some suggested resources to help you navigate a transition:
Assess your interests.
- When I was six, I saw someone play the guitar for the first time. I thought, “I wish I could do that!” I went on to play the guitar for quite a few years. Did you have a similar feeling for something as a child?
- Every once in a while, we all feel a twinge of envy. Take note of what you envy. It may be a clue to your calling.
- Do you feel pulled toward something and held back by fear? Take note! Fear indicates that you care a great deal.
Consider your strengths.
- Take an MBTI personality assessment. With those results in hand, read the book, Do What You Are.
- Make use of the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. Those results can help you identify the work you find motivating.
Understand your values.
- What do you feel is wrong with the world, and how should it change?
- Who do you want to serve?
- Do you value autonomy over collaboration?
As you think through your motivations and skills, take note of the work that might fit. There is a career or business that matches your unique personality. Keep your eyes open, and you will find it. Then, bring a strong work ethic to tasks you value. When your work aligns with your values and interests, you will be more likely to have an impact while avoiding burnout.
I left the restaurant conversations with some excitement. Two things about these people encouraged me. First, they found delight in their work. If you think success requires drudgery, think again. It takes work, and some of that work is very difficult. But successful people have a purpose that outweighs any suffering their vision might entail. Second, measured by money, they were successful. Our meeting place is a stone’s throw from some of the most expensive real estate in the United States, and some of them had walked or biked to the restaurant. When they say they find joy in lucrative work others despise, they do so with authority.
A Call to Action
Take a few moments to reflect on this question: “Am I holding back from a challenge because of fear of the hard work involved?” If you are running from your calling, it’s time to put on some work overalls and get busy doing what matters most to you. Take the next step. You know what it is. You’ve been avoiding it.
If you put your heart into work that delights you, you will leave a legacy of changed lives behind you. Are you up to the challenge?