Preparation is critical. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. This lesson is hardwired into individuals from the time of elementary school on, when projects requiring weeks or months of preparation are assigned with increasing frequency. In the early years of schooling, there is often little agency, a limited amount of initiative, that is required. Little, if any, homework is assigned and most projects take place under the direct supervision of the teacher or an assistant, often providing step-by-step prompts and instructions. As the years progress, assignments and projects become less and less supervised, allowing for, or requiring, a greater amount of individual responsibility and preparation. Yet even though high school and undergraduate years, the final goal, whether a presentation, a paper, a manuscript, a speech, a recital, a picture, or art installation, is due in a specific form on a specific day. This allows students to prepare over the course of many weeks or cram all the work into a few short days or even hours before this due date. Whether a better result occurs by playing the long game or whether the pressure of time provides the motivation for the best work continues to be hotly debated amongst students, with some swearing by one method whereas others maintain a strict adherence to the other. Regardless, the specific goal and day of reckoning is known from the start.
As one moves into the workforce, interviews, projects, and deadlines all continue, with deadlines or incentives encouraging a particular form of preparation by a specific deadline. Yet many of the greatest inventions, findings, teams, and results in history have been brought about not because there was a specific deadline everyone knew to prepare for, but because a select few prepared detailed contingencies should unlikely opportunities arise. Perhaps preparing for opportunities is just as important, if not more important than preparing for known deadlines.
On the personal level, preparation for opportunity should start with some mundane but important basics. Whenever possible a base level of physical fitness and economic flexibility should be maintained. If there is an opportunity to go on an unexpected trip, help someone out, or even take a brief hiatus from the current occupation to pursue a once in a lifetime opportunity, one does not want these small but often binding constraints of a small amount of money or the ability to walk, hike, or jog to limit a new adventure. In every epic, the protagonists must have a baseline level of preparation from which to build. Imagine if Gandalf arrived and asked the hobbit for aid in a journey and it turns out he couldn’t walk more than a mile because of all the eating, drinking, and smoking for which hobbits are known? What a short story Lord of the Rings would have been. Or imagine if every time 007 was needed on a spy mission, he had to turn down the assignment because he needed his day job to cover the mortgage? This boringly basic preparation is the foundation for a broad range of future success.
Everyone has great ideas, many of them simply need to be articulated and heard by the right people before being presented in final form to the public. Whatever one is passionate about, whatever gets one out of the bed in the morning, whatever raises one’s heart rate and gets the blood pumping, should be able to be articulated in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, with the natural enthusiasm to garner the support of others. There is no deadline to prepare for, and no guaranteed interview, but there is a high probability that given time, a chance meeting with someone who can help, someone excited about the same thing, a new collaborator or conspirator will occur and the preparation will pay off many times over. In a brief meeting, say the length of an elevator ride, one must be able to communicate a key idea as well as the enthusiasm to succeed. This elevator ride conversation is not of course the end, but rather the beginning, the entrance fee, the ticket to more discussions and further exploration.
At a bare minimum one should be able to tap into the enthusiasm of another with one of two inquiries: 1) What do you do for work? or 2) What do you do for fun? These are open-ended conversation starters to allow the individual to tell you what they are excited about professionally or personally. Unfortunately many individuals either have no true enthusiasm in either of these categories or are unable to articulate this enthusiasm. These two questions invite the individual to pick the best part of any aspect of life, the thing that lights them up and share that with another individual. Whether this is their work, a particular project at work, their children, their hobbies, a trip they recently took, a restaurant they recently went to, or a personal project they are pursuing, they are being invited to share that passion. Everyone should be able to answer one or both of those questions in a succinct but impassioned manner as this is often the door to finding new collaborators, fellow sojourners, as well as new opportunities. The reason that communication is absolutely critical in every area of life, is that this allows for the preparation and dissemination of ideas and passions. However, great articulation of ideas is rarely if ever extemporaneous, but rather requires many repetitions before it has matured into a fully formed concept. By crisp, enthusiastic communication, new ideas are created, new plans are made, new resources are discovered, and progress is made.
Unlike many of the projects of the early school years, the greatest things in life are rarely known and prepared for in a predictable and systematic fashion. Rather deliberate and detailed preparation is diligently conducted in hopes that an opportunity will present itself. As the saying goes “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity1.” Diligently prepare for opportunity.
- Often attributed to Seneca, although the certainty of this attribution remains low