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Lesson 4: When Circumstances, Opportunity and Preparedness Converge

If only you could see what’s right around the corner… Wouldn’t it be great if breakthrough moments were right in front of us, and we could clearly see them approaching? Instead, breakthrough moments are usually right around the corner, just out of sight. Then we round that corner and — boom — game on. In […]

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If only you could see what’s right around the corner…

Wouldn’t it be great if breakthrough moments were right in front of us, and we could clearly see them approaching? Instead, breakthrough moments are usually right around the corner, just out of sight. Then we round that corner and — boom — game on.

In my case, these moments came at the most opportune times…when I was wondering what was next…doubting my trajectory…feeling down about others getting the big jobs. I’m glad, with the help of others, I was able to stay focused and positive to capitalize on “my” breakthrough moments.

Why was that important? Because, you can’t “catch up” to breakthroughs.

I define breakthroughs this way; moments when circumstances, opportunity and preparedness converge in a positive way. Only one of the above is under your control. If you’re not prepared, there’s no breakthrough moment.

So let’s get prepared. Because the future is uncertain, it’s best to build a deep, broad toolbox… that way you’re ready for almost anything that comes your way. When you have a toolbox filled with capabilities and experience, you’ve built an advantage.

Case in point: even though I didn’t want to be an accountant, I took and passed the CPA exam, something I wouldn’t have done without the encouragement of my wife.

Just after passing the CPA exam, when I thought my newspaper gig wouldn’t be a long term career, I was asked to take on a big, difficult assignment. It would require me to be away from my wife and first born. I was prepared…to say no. After a swift kick in the butt from my wife, I accepted.

Immediately, I was thrown into a litigious, highly scrutinized audit engagement. Lawyers, outside auditors, unhappy clients…a very tense environment. Other than that, the engagement was going well. This challenging assignment put me outside my comfort zone…and resulted in me gaining several years of experience in one summer.

Next, MBA or no MBA? I had three kids, a traveling job, high family demands and was just starting to feel “comfortable.” There were at least a hundred reasons I couldn’t make time for the pursuit of my graduate degree. But there were two compelling reasons to do it: preparedness…and yeah, the threat of another swift kick in the butt from my wife.

This is where my leadership gene was ignited. During the pursuit of my MBA, the Chicago Tribune offered me a job. I was so excited to join this big company, this great media brand, my hometown newspaper (even though my dad read the Sun-Times).

Quickly I realized this was the big leagues and I wouldn’t succeed without bringing my A game. I immediately began to adapt and evolve as a leader by inserting myself into strategy and culture decisions. When a major reorganization of the circulation department was coming, my preparedness paid off and I was offered my first operating job.

My voice and vision gained strength and I became known as a change agitator and a leader that delivered results AND focused on people. This positioned me to lead consumer sales and marketing; transportation/technology and then my first department head job leading manufacturing/operations.

What I realize now is that all of us are interviewing for our next job every day. You’ll never know when the circumstances will change…and boy do they change quickly. The opportunities afforded by the changing landscape also come out of the blue, and you better be well positioned to be in the consideration set.

Looking back, a key takeaway for me is there is no way to “plan” for the future. It sure would be nice if there was a big sign with an arrow pointing around the corner to your next breakthrough. Unfortunately that’s not the case, so stay focused on being the best you can be and build your toolbox.

Being prepared is the only way to capitalize on the convergence of opportunity and circumstances. But each breakthrough moment isn’t a finish line — it’s a new starting place. Which gives you the opportunity to do lesson 5: reinvent often.

This article was originally published on medium.com on 6/17/2019.

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