Opportunity Knocks (Reconsidered)

“Opportunity only knocks once.”

I don’t know how long ago I heard this quote, but it was a long darn time ago. I’d wager just about everyone in the world has heard it. It’s so common a phrase that it wasn’t until just recently that I thought about it…and I’ve decided it’s wrong.

So there, I said it.

I wasn’t always smart enough to open the door every time opportunity knocked, but I’m still doing well. When I look back, I can’t find a single point where I turned down one opportunity and everything else went south. I can say that I’ve made some poor decisions, and most of the hard times were a direct result of those, but those decisions weren’t about ignoring opportunity. They were about not listening to the people around me, being negative, and being stubborn.

But I digress, back to opportunity. It came, it knocked, and I didn’t answer the door. Maybe I wasn’t listening, wasn’t interested in more work, conflicting obligations didn’t allow me, or it just wasn’t the right opportunity for me at the time. For whatever reason, even as opportunity waited at my doorstep and listened for me lurking about on the other side of the door, I didn’t answer.

And you know what happened? A day, a month, maybe even a year later, there was another knock. That’s the reality of it all, so I’m changing the saying, at least for me. Here’s my version: Each opportunity only knocks once.

For the last five years or so, I’ve been the guy who came knocking. I had more opportunity than I knew what to do with, so I tried to share. Sadly, I couldn’t give it away. I was going to rewrite a chapter of a training manual, and I wanted to get more people in positions like mine involved. I went from one office to the next, literally knocked from door to door, and offered people a chance to participate. Some said yes, some said no, and for those who didn’t take me up on the offer, it wasn’t the end of the world. I was frustrated that they didn’t see the same opportunity I did, but that was their choice.

Later, I was rewriting supply inventories for ships and saw a chance for others to do the same. So what did I do? I went knocking again on the same doors. The fact that they said no the last time didn’t mean they weren’t the right people to ask again with the next project.

Even now, I have opportunities to give. I don’t go about advertising all of them because not everyone is ready, but when I do see that person in the right place doing the right things, I’ll come knocking. If he or she declines, it doesn’t change the fact that the person has the performance and potential to take on more. If one person says no, I’ll just move on to the next. When another opportunity shows itself, I’ll approach the people I think are right for the job. I won’t ignore them until the end of time because they said no once.

Instead of the image of a lone opportunity choosing that one special door, yours, and then disappearing into the night if you don’t answer fast enough, consider something closer to Halloween. Countless opportunities: some a little scary, some not well put together, and some a bit confusing, all looking for someone to answer.

Again, corny, but corny works. Don’t judge.

Imagine an endless number of opportunities looking for a door to knock on. Sometimes you’re available and sometimes you’re not, so relax. You missed or turned down an opportunity, but another will come. You can’t say yes to all of them anyway. I’ve tried. Believe me, it doesn’t end well.

If you said no and someone else said yes and did great things with that chance you turned down, that doesn’t mean you would have done great things with it yourself. I know from experience that it sometimes feels like you let your entire future slip through your fingers because you said no. Stop beating yourself up, it’s done.

Opportunity arrived because you were doing something right. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep a positive attitude, and another opportunity will come knocking. There are so many out there, knocking on so many doors, that the right one will come your way when you’re ready.

It might even be me who comes knocking.

– What opportunities have you turned down and are glad that you did?

– Have you ever been the one to come knocking, just to have no one take you up on whatever you had to offer?

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.