How to Be Ready When Opportunity Knocks

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One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, is Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Sometimes during our career journey, we may feel “stuck” in a particular role or wonder why others seem to move forward at a faster clip while we remain in place. The truth is that opportunities don’t just fall into our laps, asking us simply to pick them up and run with them. Rather, the key lies in our ability to capitalize on opportunities whenever, wherever and however they arise. And that, as Seneca wisely said, requires preparation.

Related: The Dream Job Is a Myth. Focus Instead on Living Your Best Life.

Be proactive.

It can be really frustrating when you catch wind of a juicy new project but aren’t asked to be part of it or learn of a coworker’s rise to a more senior position you would’ve loved for yourself. Putting aside the myriad external reasons why these opportunities may have passed you by, it’s worth taking a hard look inward at what you could’ve done to better position yourself for consideration.

Here’s another insightful quote from Seneca: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.

Managers can’t read your mind, so unless you make your aspirations clear, they’re not necessarily going to know what you consider a dream opportunity.

More than ever, you need to take ownership of your career and have a vision for your future. Careers rarely follow a linear, predestined path. This opens up exciting possibilities, but it also puts the burden on employees to define where they want to go and then to pursue that path proactively.

Let your manager know what you aspire to and what new responsibilities you’d like to take on. You are your own best advocate. Don’t be shy about sharing these goals with others across the organization as well. Let colleagues in other departments know you’d love to contribute to their projects, assuming it doesn’t interfere with your existing workload, and find out how others have gotten opportunities you hope to have.

Related: You Are Your Best Investment

Be ready.

Once you’ve defined your career goals, you will need to equip yourself with the skills it’ll take to achieve them, i.e., the preparation part of Seneca’s equation. But even this isn’t so straightforward in our modern workplace, where emerging technologies are changing job descriptions and the half-life of hard skills is accelerating.

You won’t be able to pounce on a new opportunity with outdated skills, but you can’t predict what tomorrow’s sought-after skills will be either. The answer is to always be learning and to cultivate a growth mindset so you find value in the process and not just the payoff.

Here’s what I mean. If you only consider learning HTML as a means to an end (e.g., to update a specific webpage element), you’ll be frustrated when you find out you also need to know PHP and JavaScript to maintain the site overall. And you won’t be in the running when it’s time to build a new website.

However, if you embrace the reality that programming languages are always evolving, you’ll understand why your coding skill set must always evolve too. With a growth mindset, keeping your tech skills current becomes your default approach to work. You will then be well-positioned to respond to opportunities that involve newer technologies, whether the knock comes next month or next year.

Lifelong learning is arguably the most valuable “soft” skill you can possess in a workplace environment characterized by rapid change and future uncertainty. Once you have a reputation as a quick and enthusiastic learner, you’re far more likely to be tapped by decisionmakers at your company for worthwhile opportunities, like that juicy project or open management role. And you’ll be ready to take full advantage.

Related: 7 Ways to Make Yourself Indispensible Without Being Overworked

Be open to new opportunities from outside.

Of course, opportunities knock from outside your current workplace too, and you need to apply the same preparation principles. If the knock comes from a recruiter, for example, you’ll still need to demonstrate your fitness to the hiring manager. And if you get the job, you’re right back to maintaining readiness for those internal opportunities.

It’s natural to be in opportunistic mode when you’re job hunting. You spruce up your resume and LinkedIn profile and make sure your portfolio and website are up to date. You reconnect with your professional network and attend industry events so you’ll be top of mind when something opens up.

But, those activities only increase your chances of hearing a knock at your door. They can’t help you seal the deal so that opportunity turns into success. To recall Seneca again, you still have to be prepared to answer the call, which brings us back to lifelong learning.

When you’re presented with a great opportunity, you have to be ready to tackle it head on. That requires confidence. You’ll be much more confident if you’ve been investing in yourself, learning and building your skill set all along.

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