“The opportunity of a lifetime only lasts as long as the lifetime of the opportunity.”
It was not a quotation I had heard before Anthony Joshua’s IBF world championship fight this week. But in the aftermath of that bout, a BBC commentator attributed it to a former Olympic athletics coach*. It struck me as a pretty significant thought.
Within 24 hours, the British golfer Danny Willett had become US Masters champion. Conventional wisdom would dictate that neither man should have achieved these amazing goals. Joshua became heavyweight world champion after only 16 professional fights: fewer than almost anyone else in boxing history. Willett had previously finished in the top ten of a major tournament only once in 11 attempts.
Fortunately, both disregarded the doubters and listened to the positives. More importantly, they both worked hard to put themselves in a position to seize the opportunity when it came along. Neither man had long to take advantage: Willett had an hour to exploit Jordan Spieth’s meltdown; Joshua’s opportunity came suddenly when Tyson Fury – another opportunistic champion – was stripped of his belt for administrative reasons.
So, apart from my love of sport, why does this resonate with me?
Well, in an interview this week, a candidate told us that, although the opportunity we were discussing was attractive, he wasn’t sure the timing was right. He had been in his current job for one year, and he didn’t want to be seen to ‘job hop’. A fair point; but he had worked for his previous two employers for six years each.
So I talked to him through the lifetime opportunity / opportunity lifetime paradox: opportunities like the one we were discussing do not come along often, and will certainly not be available when he decides the timing is right. The lifetime of an opportunity is invariably brief. He stayed, and became interested. And he could do a great job.
Still, at least he came to meet us and hear about the job. It is not uncommon for candidates to say ‘the timing isn’t right’ before we have even told them about the role. It is the equivalent to blocking your letter box against direct mail, only to have the pools cheque returned to sender.
When I am asked to give careers advice to younger people, I usually tell them to ‘just say ‘yes”. How else do you find out what you are good at? Certainly, the career of many successful people can be attributed to the willingness to explore new avenues.
The attitude shouldn’t change as you become more senior. In a media market that is changing fast, other people are often more aware of your talents than you. Typically, if we approach you – if any good media headhunter approaches you – it is because you have been recommended. At least listen to what the headhunter has to say. Maybe those people who recommend you have recognised a talent that you haven’t yet seen yourself?
Here’s a thing: I can name dozens of people who, when I first called them, told me “no”, and yet ended up taking the job. In many of those cases, the decision to disregard the inner chimp has created life-transforming opportunities.
The old adage is that ‘opportunity only knocks once.’ While this may not be entirely true, it certainly doesn’t knock for long. At least make sure that, when it does, you haven’t locked the door too firmly.
Note: *I can’t find an attribution to an Olympic coach; the earliest attribution I can find is to the British preacher Leonard Ravenhill. Still, the point stands.