I have found there are always opportunities in life, there for the taking. The only difference is that in some time periods there are more opportunities than in others. The question is, when opportunities come along, will I be able to recognize them, and take advantage of them? Usually not, but I can change that.
This is my fish story about the one that got away. One fine afternoon I went to a rock show, looking for geodes my girls could crack open- black volcanic hollow balls of rock often filled with quartz crystals. While there, my wife wandered over to one of the rock bins and retrieved a large chunk of what I guessed was lavender quartzite. She wanted it, but the dealer wanted about 15 dollars for it, and we had no place to display it, so I dropped it back into the bin. The next week, in the paper, I saw a picture of that rock. It turned out to be a star sapphire worth 1.8 million dollars. And I could have bought it for less than 20 dollars. It seems that life is like a river of opportunities flowing by us. Every once in a while something really precious momentarily comes within reach. But I just let it pass by. I suspect that many more wonderful opportunities pass us by, and we do not even notice their passing. Usually they do not make it to the local paper as news events, so we do not even realize it. But do not doubt they are there. Their possibility is part of what makes this life worth living, and this future worth fighting for.
The first lesson for me is to respect my networks. As often happens, if I had listened to my wife, I would have made a better choice. Research affirms that in many areas, such as choosing a career or a spouse, friends and loved ones come in handy, and make better predictive decisions than individuals can make by themselves. In my career, the working friendships I have developed with colleagues not only help me find opportunities, those friends coach me on how to take advantage of them. In my church, the principle of seeking advice from inspired counselors before making important decisions goes with every responsibility from the bottom to the top – when in doubt, talk it out.
The second lesson here is never stop developing new skills. I like going to rock and mineral shows, and had intended to learn more about raw gems for years. If I had studied gemology, I could have recognized the sapphire. I was an unwise steward who never developed his interests and talents in geology, and it cost me (see the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30). I made better use of my college degree, which gave me some wonderful tools I needed to take advantage of opportunities. All of the analytical skills, evaluation techniques, and problem-solving strategies I learned there have come in handy in my life and career. I am a lifelong learner now who would rather stay fresh than become stale. In fact, there this is scripture – the Lord will teach us “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts.”
The third lesson here is to listen to your inner voice. Even when your knowledge, training, and networks prove inadequate, you have another resource to draw upon. Call it intuition, or conscience or inspiration, you are not alone, if you bother to stop and listen. I did not. The guy who walked away with the lavenderish stone did – he said a personal prayer and followed his “gut feeling.” I am not saying that if I only listened to God we would all be rich – Jesus did not seem to care about accumulating wealth at all. Similarly David O. McKay noted that in the final judgment God does not care what job we hold or what church duties we receive – He cares about whether we pursue them with integrity and spirituality. However, if I had prayed maybe I would have felt something. That would have been nice, to say the least.
As long as you keep trying, odds are you will eventually be able to jump on a choice opportunity. You never know when, so never stop looking. Odds are, as long as you keep trying, you will eventually master one of them. The key is to consistently do something constructive so your mind and spirit are sharp and ready when the time comes.