Alan's Blog




Opportunity or Gamble?


JP told me a story about an interview he'd seen on YouTube the other day. It went like this:

A very wealthy man was being interviewed on television.

The TV presenter asked him this question:

"You started from nothing and became a very rich man. What can you tell the viewers about the way that you achieved your success."

The rich man replied by pulling out a huge wodge of money from his pocket. He asked the TV presenter how much he'd like. The presenter replied that he didn't want the rich man's money, just some advice that he could pass on to the viewers of the interview.

The rich man replied "This is why I'm a rich man and you aren't. You failed to take your opportunity by telling me that you didn't want my money. If you'd taken that opportunity, you'd be a rich man too".

It's all about taking the opportunities that life presents you with or those that you can create.

A couple of days later Grace and I were talking to JP about a possible opportunity that he may be able to take regarding his future career. We've mentioned this to him a number of times previously without him being anything other than dismissive of it. This time, he showed some interest. He now wants us to follow-up this opportunity and see if it is still available.

Later, I told him about the most important opportunity that I'd been offered during my career; one which I'd grabbed with both hands as I realised how important it was and how much it would benefit me in the future. Without boring you with the details, it was the opportunity to improve my qualifications towards becoming an engineer, rather than a 'not-quite' technician. Without this qualification, and the one that immediately followed, I wouldn't have qualified as an engineer or had anything like the level of career I've had in the years since. How pleased I am that I grabbed that opportunity when I had the chance as it would never have been offered to me thereafter.

It is interesting to observe that life presents all of us with opportunities from time to time and it is up to each individual to decide whether or not to take them. That said, how many times have we seen individuals that haven't taken opportunities end up with a very mundane career or life when compared to someone who has grabbed opportunities as they've come along and been pleasantly surprised at how well their career or life has worked out. Of course, many people are content to settle for a mundane career or life whereas others aren't. Maybe there is something in the saying that some people create their own opportunities whereas others are content to stay where they are and not do anything to create a better life for themselves. I'm pleased to report that I'm in the former group!

Many years ago, I was chatting to a colleague who mentioned that he'd like to have a wife and family (he was single and never went out socialising or mixing with other folks). I said something along the lines of:

"Well, you'd better get out there and find a nice girl because I can guarantee you one thing: A nice young lady isn't going to knock on your door and announce to you that she's going to be your wife. For one thing, she doesn't even know you're there and looking for her. You've got to get out into the world and do some serious looking around".

Now nearly 60 years old, the wife he'd like still hasn't knocked on his door and he's still single. He didn't get out into the world and thereby failed to create the opportunity he needed to change his life.

Now, I'm not suggesting that turning down an opportunity is 'wrong' any more than taking an opportunity that comes along is always 'right'. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' in this situation (except criminal opportunities, which are always wrong). The sad fact of life is that there are people who are considered to be 'opportunists'. These people are usually criminals or 'gold-diggers' and are not the type of people I'm referring to at all. These people, and their 'opportunities' and activities should be avoided at all costs.

I've managed to get myself into all sorts of situations in life where people have remarked to me in such a way as "I couldn't do what you're doing, Alan" or "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"  To me, taking on a challenge, or an opportunity, is what life is all about. That said, I too have turned down opportunities that I've been offered – but only after serious consideration and with what I felt were good reasons.

Many years ago, I attended a course to qualify as an English language teacher. Like me, most of the students wanted to change their life in some way and this course presented them with the opportunity to do so. One young lady had worked in a dead-end, mundane job for a number of years. When she passed this course, she was offered the opportunity to go and teach English in Italy. She grabbed the opportunity and off she went – her life was changed in the way she wanted. Another young lady, who'd recently graduated from university, attended this course in order to escape from her family who were insisting she went through with an arranged marriage. She also was offered, and took, the opportunity of a job overseas to live the life she wanted instead of being stuck in an unhappy marriage she didn't want.

I well remember a conversation at work with a couple of my colleagues after I'd just announced that I was resigning so that I could accept a contract in another country. It went something like this:

David: "You're a brave man, Al". "Don't you think Al's a brave man, Steve?" Steve grunted, which could have been interpreted in any way you chose. He didn't say anything. Both of these guys had worked in the same place since they'd left school. Steve was a highly intelligent man with a B.Sc. degree in engineering. He could have made huge progress in his career but had been contented to stay at the relatively low level where he was for all those years until the company went pear-shaped and he was kicked out along with almost everyone else. David, being somewhat younger and who looked up to Steve big-time, followed my advice and example and left the company at almost the same time as I did and never looked back. He is doing exceptionally well as a contractor. Steve never took, or created opportunities whereas David did (with a little encouragement from me). That is the difference between individuals and how we go through life in our different ways.

Of course, there are those who relate taking an opportunity to taking a gamble.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary (8th Edition):
opportunity: 1. A good chance; a favourable occasion. 2. A chance or opening offered by circumstances.
gamble: n – 1. A risky undertaking or attempt.

As you can see, there is a connection; the main difference being the degree of risk. An opportunity is deemed to be a GOOD chance, rather than a gamble, which has a much higher degree of risk.

Grace and I took a huge gamble by getting married and zooming off to another country where I had the opportunity of a job. At the time, we hardly knew each other and certainly didn't know if we could live with each other happily. Twenty years later we're still happy together so our gamble was successful. Even the job was a somewhat risky proposition as it was step in a different direction, career wise, for me, and many far more experienced people were fired early in the contract. I was retained and worked right through my contract with two extensions and was asked to continue for an additional period.

In 2008, I turned down an opportunity regarding a job I was offered because the degree of risk (of it going wrong) was, to me, too high, and therefore it would have been a gamble for me to accept this role. I have no regrets about that decision as I know it was the right decision for me. Every person has their own level of risk that they deem to be unacceptable to them but which may well be acceptable to others.

One of the greatest changes in opportunities are in education - both positively and negatively. Without going into the detail of what I think of our current education system, which I believe is far worse than it used to be when I was a young person, there is, it seems, a lot more variety in the courses available now than there were in those far off days. That said, it also means that many of the courses are of no great value at all and some are entirely useless when it comes to choosing a career after qualifying with a worthless degree.

Of course, there are many other opportunities in life other than work and marriage. Just think of our non-working life. There have always been leisure opportunities, of course, but when I was a young lad, born fairly soon after WWII, they were very limited - unless you had class and big money - which has always been the case. Working class people rarely had holidays as they simply couldn't affford them, and, as for holidays abroad, well, they were only for the rich and famous. Working class people couldn't even dream of such things. Leisure activities of almost any sort cost money and the lack of it was the one factor that stopped working class people enjoying their lives. All they could do was survive, and even that wasn't easy. Not only that, but the whole of Europe was in the process of being rebuilt after the death and destruction of two, fairly close together, World Wars (and the Spanish Civil War). Working class people were POOR! No luxuries in their lives at all, let alone foreign holidays.

This didn't change until well into the 1960s for many working class people and later than that for even more people. This was when it was possible to think about going abroad for a holiday, especially with the entering into service of the Boeing 747 in January 1970. My first trip abroad was a weekend visit to an audio-visual exhibition in Paris in either late December 1974 or very early in January 1975. I crossed the Channel on the ferry and travelled to Paris by train. My first commercial flight was on or about 1 October 1977 which was to Copenhagen - not a holiday, but to join a ship in Kalundborg, Denmark and paid for by the company who employed me, of course. It almost put me off flying forever as there was bad turbulence for the whole flight.

Apart from business flights to join or leave ships, I didn't fly for a holiday until about 1993, when I visited Dubai, my other foreign trips being via cross-channel ferry, mainly into Belgium where I received discount prices on accommodation as well as a free crossing with my car, once a year. My next flight was for a few days in Madrid which was probably in around 1994 or 1995. In January 1996, I flew to the Philippines for the first time, for a 3-week holiday.

More than 25 years later I marvel at the opportunities there were until the current pandemic wiped out the tourist and aviation business. I wonder if we will ever be able to make the most of these opportunities again. I've been planning a bicycle trip along the 1800 mile route of the great River Danube for the summer of 2021. It seems unlikely that this will now happen. When I was a young man these routes didn't exist because no one had the time or money to enjoy such trips. Now I'm old and have the time and can afford to even consider this trip as a possibility I don't even know if I will be allowed to travel. If I fail to make it in 2021 I don't know if I'll ever be able to ride this route, after all. I'm getting on a bit (soon to be age 72). This year would have been ideal as my son, leaving high school this summer, could accompany me before he gets into further education or a career. Let's hope these opportunities don't fade away and die because of the great reset. Our freedom to travel needs to be fought for if the powers that be start to take it from us.

As Napoleon is creditied with saying "Good politics is to make people believe they are free". Our evil leaders don't even pretend that nowadays.

Whether or not you should take the (genuine, non-criminal) opportunities offered during your life, or try to create them, is not for me to say, but they should always be considered seriously as they may never come your way again – and you will never know the alternative path through life that your decision has made. The pathway through life is a series of stepping stones. Which stones we tread on decide the route we take – and the opportunities that may arise along that particular path.

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