The Tyranny of Opportunity
The thing about opportunity and our relationship to it, is that it is entangled in our relationships to safety, security, and scarcity.
- When you don’t have enough, it feels helpless.
- When you have too much, it feels overwhelming.
This includes new business leads, passion projects to pursue, and relationships to nurture.
Because our culture lacks a clear point of having enough where we can cease fearing for safety and security, we always feel like we need more. We feel as though we are always operating at a deficit. The race to find enough to survive can induce panic. This is why even having too many opportunities can be stressful because it often feels irresponsible to turn away an opportunity when you feel like you probably don’t have enough.
It is on this point where we pivot between two states of busy.
- Busy chasing new opportunities.
- Busy working to take advantage of our existing opportunities.
In Search of Balance
Where most of us want to be, is having enough good opportunities to thrive and enjoy life without taking on too much, and without fear of not having enough.
It’s important to know that if you’re having trouble finding that balance, it’s less to do with the presence or absence of opportunities, and more to do with the system we’re a part of. None of us should have to fear for survival, and none of us should take on more than we have time or energy for out of fear that we still don’t have enough.
Without any guarantee of food, water, shelter, or healthcare, we’re all racing to survive. So, how can we find balance amidst these externalities?
Advice from the Trenches
Let me start this section by saying, I’m not an expert on managing the flow of opportunities to achieve balance. I do have a few checks and balances but today I’m going to share some raw thoughts that I’ve been mulling over recently as I’ve dealt with managing more opportunities than I can handle.
P.S. That isn’t some kind of humblebrag or flex, not long ago, I was on the other side of opportunity — not having enough.
1. Identify Hard Boundaries
I take off Fridays. Period. Full stop.
Fridays are my day to watch my daughter, play with blocks, and watch Encanto or Moana for the 387th time.
This is a hard boundary. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
This hard boundary helps when I’m feeling like I have too much opportunity or not enough. Regardless of the situation, that Friday is for her.
Thankfully, I have the ability to do this. So please don’t mistake the point. The point is to figure out where your boundaries are. It could be:
- The type of opportunities you will or won’t entertain
- How many hours you will dedicate to a certain activity every week or month
- The lowest billable rate you are willing to negotiate
Whatever it is, the point is that the more hard boundaries you have, the less you have to think about those things later. This is helpful because you’ll notice that whether you have too much or not enough, it’s the thinking that causes your suffering around it.
2. Overcome Paralysis with Process
Whenever I get stuck — which happens A LOT as someone with ADHD — I find that focusing on a process is the best way to get things moving.
For instance, are you not turning enough leads into sales? Now might be a great time to rebuild your sales process: create some automated emails, setup your automated scheduler, create a few PDF sales resources, and template your proposals. The next lead that comes in is sure to have a better experience than the last.
Have you fallen off podcasting, blogging, or posting to social media? Now might be a good time to do some planning and building to support your content strategy. Do some competitive research, starting brainstorming topics, write out some headlines, build a content calendar system, and put time on your calendar to create.
Process takes the big nebulous project and turns it into a series of smaller steps. Before you know if, all of those little steps added up to major leaps forward.
3. Quantify “enough”
I’ve written about “enough” before. I’m also a HUGE fan of Wil Reynolds and his take on Living a Life of Enough (Part 1 | Part 2). In a world where “up and to the right” seems to be the only acceptable direction, I believe it is a courageous act to stand for a remarkable, flat line. Even more so, to actively embrace de-growth: down and to the right.
Enough is about taking a step back and asking an important question: what’s is it all for?
I don’t just mean the work, but everything. What do you want your life to be about? Where will you be satisfied? At what point will you allow yourself to feel accomplished?
When it comes to our work, I believe it’s important to quantify those answers. The two factors worth setting a measurement for are time and money.
- After how many hours will you have worked enough today? This week? This month? This year?
- How much money do you need to earn before you can breathe?
These answers are different for everyone but if we don’t know these numbers then we don’t know where we need to make changes in the way things are.
For example, I need to make a certain amount of money for us to cover all of our financial obligations and still have money to feed our family’s sushi habit. I also want to have Fridays off with my daughter. So, that means I need to figure out how to make it all work on a 4-day week. The answer was simple, longer days on the 4 days, and fees for my time.
It was just math at that point. What’s nice about math is that there are right answers. So now, when something doesn’t fit, I can quantify that.
At times, it can feel like the world conspires to leave us feeling helpless. There are so many things out of our control. What I’m suggesting above it looking for opportunities to claw back that feeling of control.
- You can identify and enforce boundaries.
- You can focus on making small gains even when things feel out of sorts.
- You can define, for yourself, when you have enough.
These three things won’t solve your problems, but it does give you tools to be more deliberate in how you manage your life. There will be times where you have an abundance of opportunities and your biggest problem will be deciding what to say no to. Then, there will be times where you feel isolated, alone, and with dwindling hope of ever seeing water again as you cross a barren desert devoid of all opportunity. Neither will last forever.
In either case, work on yourself.
Originally published at Jeff Gibbard.