You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Create Opportunity

Just as you must establish the run to create the opportunity to pass the ball in football, you've got to take action to open the door for possibility in business and in life. Because it's not just going to fall in your lap. You can't sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. And emailing somebody isn't going to cut it, either. I think email is the great antisocial crutch. The telephone is the second crutch. If you want to get something done, you've got to go out in person and grab it. Think of how much harder it is to say no to someone when he's staring you in the face. That's how you get your message across; that's how you create opportunity for yourself, whether it be getting a job, meeting someone new, or just building a foundation to create opportunity in the future.

Often I hear stories from people who are unhappy in the careers they've chosen and are longing to do something different, but they don't know where to start. I always tell them, 'Look around, see what there is.' By that I mean starting in your own workplace and looking around and seeing what other people are doing. If you see something you like, find out how you could do it, too. Maybe you're the mail clerk who sorts the letters as they come in from the post office. Maybe you'd like to be the guy who takes the letters from you and distributes them throughout the company. Making a change could be as simple as letting your supervisor know that if one of those positions opens up, you'd like a shot at it. Or even better yet, create a position where you could do a little of both and present it to your supervisor as a way to streamline the department.

Often a new opportunity is as close as that. It might not be the career switch you're looking for, but it could lead to other new opportunities as you get out in the company and see what those people are doing.

You don't have to stay pigeonholed in one place unless you really want to be there.

When I was about 10 I really wanted a new bike. But I didn't have enough money to buy a new bike, so I bought a used bike. And then I had transportation. I rode that bike over to Ft. Ord every day to shine shoes. And eventually, I had enough money to buy a new bike. I created the opportunity for myself.

And remember, just because a job isn't listed in the want ads doesn't mean that the job can't exist. Usually it means that nobody has thought of it yet. I always tell young people to diagram their dream job and then figure out a way to make it work in whatever arena they are trying to get into. Most often that means finding a way to convince a potential employer that you can save him money by hiring you. That's okay. In this economic climate, jobs anywhere are hard to get. I find that the most creative people are the ones who get hired. A secretary who also can help with the books because of his minor in accounting is a much better hire than someone who can just type. That person has created a position for himself-assistant to the president, instead of secretary to the president-and he created that opportunity by taking an extra few classes to make himself more marketable.

And know that there are always options to be negotiated. A friend of mine was offered a very good job that was going to require him to move 2000 miles. That wasn't attractive to him in the least, because his family didn't want to move, and he didn't want to be away from them. But he wanted the job. So he figured out a way that he could do the job without relocating by volunteering to take on extra responsibility on his side of the country, which would ultimately save the company money it normally would spend on travel. He made an extremely effective presentation to the company president, who wasted no time in saying he could stay where he was and still take the position.

Sometimes, however, creating your opportunity means simply taking a shot in the dark and hoping someone turns on the light. A high school student I know talked incessantly about wanting his own radio show when he finished college. He was smart and articulate, with a good radio-type voice and a drive to succeed that you don't often see in kids that age. I asked him one day, 'Why wait until after college?'

'Nobody's going to hire a high school kid and give him a show,' he answered.

'How do you know until you try?' I asked.

The kid thought about it and decided he had nothing to lose by approaching several of the stations in his city. He made a tape of interviews he had conducted for a class, wrote down a proposal of what the show would be and how it would be formatted, and knocked on doors, asking to meet with the program director. He was so convincing that it didn't take long before a tiny station that played country music decided to give him a shot at an early-morning slot it was trying to fill. It also helped that he was offering his services for free. But he didn't care that he wasn't getting paid. He had his own show, and he was just 17. He created an opportunity for himself when before there was none.

The postscript to this story is that his show was so successful-he worked long and hard to get some of the top athletes and sports personalities in the country to be his call-in guests-that within a year the show had advertising and he had a paycheck.

Just because you feel as if you are staring at a big wall doesn't mean there isn't a way around it or through it. Learn to think outside the norm, to see possibility when others see a dark hole. Figure out what it is you want and then find a way to achieve it by refusing to accept things just because they've always been a certain way.

Chad Pennington, our quarterback, wasn't highly recruited. The University of Tennessee said it would allow him to walk on, but that wasn't acceptable. Instead, he found a smaller school that wanted him badly, creating an opportunity for himself to play right away and succeed.

The same philosophy works in your personal life as well. If you want to meet someone special, it's important to create the opportunity to do so. If you don't, you might not ever meet the person you're hoping to meet. Join a running club or attend a photography seminar. Be assertive in introducing yourself to people and getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you. You may not find the person there, but at least you've created a productive space in which it could happen.

I find, too, that collecting the business cards and names and phone numbers of all kinds of people can greatly help you when you're trying to create something. A friend of mine wanted to start a charity that would raise money to fight skin cancer. She didn't know exactly where to start, but she remembered that she had met a man who worked for a cosmetic company a few years earlier and had kept his card. She phoned him, and within a few minutes, she had 1000 samples of sunblock to hand out as part of a campaign she began to urge young athletes to be careful of the dangers of the sun. Within a year, she had raised more than $100,000 through a charity fashion show sponsored by several major corporations that saw an opportunity to help someone make a difference in the lives of others.

Collecting cards also helps when you need someone else to create an opportunity for you. Coaches get fired all the time. It's one of the biggest hazards of the job because you're depending on wins to pay your rent. I find that the coaches who have lasted the longest are the ones who have not only collected the most business cards, but made the most phone calls and visits when they've needed a job. They were proactive in finding out who needed what assistant at what position, and then they went out and made a pitch to the head guy. It doesn't always work, but at least they were doing everything they could to create an environment in which they had a possibility.

Sitting home just wishing for something won't get it done.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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