Many people believe opportunity is another word for luck. They envy the friend who “got lucky” when she landed a new job, or they think “some people get all the breaks” when their college roommate takes a month-long vacation in Bali.
This “opportunity = luck” attitude is based in two core beliefs: (1) we don’t have control over whether or not things go our way, and (2) favorable circumstances are rare.
But we do influence whether or not good fortune shows up in our lives. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” as the Roman philosopher Seneca said. It’s clear we have power over our level of preparedness–we can do the work to be ready for our dreams. The other half of that equation is opportunity, which seems to show up infrequently at best.
But in truth, opportunity is everywhere. Many people can’t see it, though, and that’s because opportunity is often an “invisible gorilla.”
“The Invisible Gorilla” is based on an experiment done at Harvard. Participants are asked to watch a video of six people quickly passing a basketball and are asked to keep track of how many times the ball changes hands. But in the middle of the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks into the circle of basketball players, waves his arms, and then walks off stage.
Guess what? Most people count the number of passes correctly, but fully half do not see the gorilla!
This experiment highlights what is called inattentional blindness–when we fail to notice what’s right in front of our eyes because we’re laser-focused on a particular task.
The prehistoric human brain developed inattentional blindness as a survival skill, and it’s still useful today: when a basketball player is on the foul line, he tunes out the noise, the announcers, and even the cheerleaders. He is completely and utterly focused on making the shot. He sees nothing but net.
But when it comes to recognizing opportunity in our lives, inattentional blindness can be a huge drawback.
That’s because opportunity almost never looks like what we think it will, and many times it doesn’t show up where we think we’ll find it. It could be right in front of our eyes, but if we’re overly focused on the tasks of reinvention or we’re expecting our lucky break to come from a different source, we’ll miss it entirely.
In the beginning stages of a career reinvention, it’s better to have a broad framework for what you’d like to accomplish (in other words, to watch the video overall) as opposed to a very specific goal. If you start your reinvention by saying to yourself and to others, “I want this job and this job only. This is the job that will make me happy,” you’ll miss many related opportunities that could provide you with an equally–if not more–satisfying life.
I do a lot of work with journalists, and I once had a client who wanted to reinvent herself into a network TV talk-show host. And this wasn’t some wild fantasy like “I want to be a princess”–she had the right skills, some experience interviewing on camera, and a ton of media contacts. But we all know those jobs are few and far between. So even though she’d committed herself mind, body, and soul to her reinvention, she soon became frustrated.
I encouraged her to expand the definition of her dream–to look at the whole gorilla video, so to speak, instead of just the basketball. And once she began defining her goal more broadly, ideas for new opportunities started pouring in.
“Why don’t you do it on cable?” one media insider asked her. “How about a blog?” a writer said. “Do you really want to be on camera all the time?” suggested a friend who worked in television. “I think you’d make a terrific producer.”
By widening her focus from a laser pinpoint to a wide spotlight, my client was able not only to cure her own inattentional blindness, but also to give her friends and contacts the latitude to add value from many different angles. Suddenly, she saw her reinvention path filled with many opportunities, not just one.
She learned–as I hope you will–that the world is filled with opportunities. Do what you can to be prepared, cure your own inattentional blindness, and pretty soon you may be the one to get all the lucky breaks!