Life has a habit of bringing all kinds of unexpected opportunities our way - the problem is that most of us don't notice them.
This week's prompt is about helping us pay attention and take action on the opportunities that present to us.
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A few years ago, I attended an online photography webinar where the teaching photographer made the following statement.
"Within ten steps of every person listening to me right now is the opportunity for an exceptional photograph."
He went on to say that he bet most of us were probably doubtful of his claim because most of us were probably sitting at home in what we considered 'un-photogenic' locations.
The problem was that we were not seeing the opportunity right in front of us.
The teacher then said that he would give us all ten minutes to take a photo that had to be taken within ten steps of where we sat.
The challenge began and we all set out with our cameras to get a shot.
I wasn't too positive about the task at hand because I was sitting in my living room looking after my toddler son.
The place was a mess and my son had just woken up from a nap in and a cranky mood and with a very heavy cold (and as a result a face full of snot).
I started making excuses for myself immediately.
I didn't have the right camera with me, my son was a distraction, I didn't have enough time, I wasn't in a creative mood, and I wasn't in a photogenic location...
Despite all this, I didn't want to be the only one who didn't submit a photo, so I decided to give the challenge a go and stepped out into the backyard (the only place within ten steps not covered in toys) and right on the limit of 10 steps found a snail sliding across our back deck.
I wouldn't have typically seen a snail as a photographic opportunity but the pressure was on and so I threw myself into trying to find an interesting angle for the shot.
While I shot, my son - who was dressed in his buzz lightyear costume - came to find what I was doing and got curious about the snail.
I got a shot...
Was it perfect?
No - but it had potential.
Five minutes in, I was seeing all kinds of creative possibilities and had taken 50 or so images.
None were what I would call exceptional, but quite a few were keepers, and I was buzzing.
At the end of our ten minutes, everyone uploaded their photo to share with other webinar attendees - I was amazed at the results.
Despite us all being located in pretty ordinary places and with very limited time - everyone had taken good images.
In fact, some of the shots taken were amazing, and none of them hadn't existed 10 minutes earlier - and wouldn't have been created if we'd not gone looking for them.
Opportunity Knocks - But Are We Listening?
This is a great lesson to learn as a photographer, but I think it's a lesson that has a much broader application.
You see, there are opportunities of many types around us all of the time - if only we opened our eyes to see them.
Opportunity is knocking... but are we listening?
This week's prompt is about creating a little space to notice and perhaps even act upon the sparks of opportunities presenting to us.
Remember - by definition - a 'spark' is a small thing that has the potential to grow into something bigger - so a spark of an opportunity may not present as life-changing thing.
Perhaps the opportunities that present themselves to you this week might look like some of the following:
- a chance encounter with a stranger on a commute
- an invitation from a friend to attend an event
- a goofy idea that comes in the shower
- a random conversation with a work colleague
- seeing a note on a community noticeboard
Each could be nothing - all could be a life-changing opportunity.
How to Notice (and take) the Opportunities
As I've reflected on this prompt over the last week, I have realised that four things tend to stop me from noticing and acting upon opportunities.
- Lack of contemplation
It's so easy to be distracted.
One of the distractions is my phone.
I still remember the day when my eldest son (who was four years old at the time) was trying to wrestle my attention away from my phone, and he shouted at me:
'Wake up, daddy!'
It struck me that with my attention on my phone, I might as well have been asleep - and I was missing the opportunity to be with him.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are good things in moderation - but can easily creep up on us to take our focus away from what matters.
Often my days are so busy - rushing from one thing to another - that even when I notice opportunities at the moment, I am rushing on to the next thing before I let it sink in.
Before I knew it, the noticed opportunity was a faint memory and even if I did remember it - who has time to act upon it anyway!
To amble instead of power walk.
- To savour instead of gulp.
- To dawdle instead of rush.
- To be present instead of moving on to the next thing.
Lack of Contemplation
Perhaps a result of the busy and distracted life that I've already touched on is a life without moments to reflect upon and lean into the opportunities that come.
A simple exercise I try to do most nights before I go to sleep (something I've written about numerous times) is asking myself a couple of questions.
- what gave me energy today
- what did I do that gave others energy today?
When I am intentional about creating moments in my day to contemplate these questions, I'm amazed at how much I notice that would otherwise have passed me by.
Perhaps another question might be to ask, 'what opportunities did I notice today?'
There have been times I've done this as a written journal and other times where it's something I've done as I drift off to sleep.
The question you ask, the method or even how often you do it isn't the real issue - what matters most is carving out some time be intentional about reflecting upon what's happening in your life at that time.
The reason I doubted I could take a great photo within 10 meters of where I was sitting years ago was largely due to my mindset.
Even though I had a 10-minute window to go looking for opportunities, I very quickly came up with a list of excuses why I couldn't find any.
Doubt crept in so quickly I could quite easily have sat there inactive. Thankfully the fear of looking stupid was greater than my fear of failing, and in that opportunity, I opened my eyes to see the possibilities right there in front of me.
This is not always the case.
Sadly I know that doubts, fears, insecurities, and excuses have kept me from noticing opportunities on many occasions.
And not only have they stopped me from seeing the opportunities - they've also, on numerous occasions stopped me from acting upon the ones I did see.
I don't have all of the answers for you on how to change your mindset, but I know that naming the mindset that I need to change can be a good place to start.
I also find it helpful to have people around me that keep me accountable too.
Your Next Big Thing...
Your next big thing might be the little spark of an opportunity that is staring you in the face today.
It struck me a few years ago that all of the big important things in my life today started as tiny little and seemingly insignificant sparks of opportunity years ago.
- The relationship with my wife began with a simple 'hello'. So did all my most meaningful friendships.
- My blogging business started with a spark of interest when I came across someone else's blog.
- My love of photography started when my dad offered for me to take our box Kodak Instamatic camera on a school excursion.
- My passion for public speaking began with an invitation to stand up and give a 3-minute talk as a 15-year-old at my church.
These small opportunities slowly blossomed and grew into bigger things, but they all had humble beginnings.
They each came with moments of doubt and excuse-making, but somehow, I took action upon them anyway and ultimately, doing so changed the course of my life.
My hope this week is that we may each find a way to find similar opportunities and have the courage to take action on them.
I'd love to hear what opportunities you spot - big or small. Drop by this thread in our Facebook group to share your stories, observations, questions, feelings and lessons learned!
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