Yes, everything. Every. Little. Thing. This current pandemic, the time I spent on unemployment, the death of so many people, all of this. Everything is an opportunity.
I don't mean to be crass. And I don't want to be misunderstood. I'm not focusing on exploitation or marketing. The center of my attention is on a set of circumstances, usually constraints, that make it possible to do something new for yourself and for others. A situation that forces you to be better. An opportunity for growth.
This whole concept is a never ending dialogue in my head. I wake up thinking about how I can seize the day. Hours of the day routinely circle back to the question, "What should I be putting my energy toward?" I go to sleep replaying how I could have done things differently. I dream about learning something new.
Carpe Diem. Seize the Carp.
~ Out Cold movie ~
Inside my head I'm always planning, iterating, building, growing.
Through all of the struggles I've encountered in my life I've found myself in situations that give me opportunity. Sometimes it's to try a new job, other times to help someone. But mostly to live another day and explore a new opportunity.
Using my way back machine I'd like to take you on a brief tour of some pivotal opportunity-moments in my life.
I had the delightful fortune of graduating from both undergraduate studies and a masters degrees during the height of the Great Recession. Not only was the economy in the tank but I was living in one of the poorest cities in the country, Buffalo, NY. A place where the people needed most, teachers, were being axed left and right. Oh yeah, as were librarians.
I'm being specific about those careers paths because I graduated with degrees in adolescent education and US History, then I continued on earning a Masters of Library Science. My career paths were shrinking before my very eyes as I moved through my course work. And upon my graduation there was nothing for me. I could think of, maybe, a dozen classmates from undergrad who were able to secure full-time teaching gigs. And the librarians? Forget about it.
So you see, I had an opportunity. The opportunity to use my imagination to apply my skill sets to anything that could make me enough money to cover groceries and rent. I consulted, worked in a bicycle shop, sold items on eBay and Craigslist, and I trained as a triathlete. I refined my web design skills, did video production work, exercised a lot, and tried to do something every single day that might have provided me another opportunity I could not yet see (I even started this blog).
At the time, if I was asked what my five year plan looked like I probably would have told you to make it to the next day and be a professional triathlete. I just needed to pour my energy into something. And along that process I would have the opportunity to gain a number of skills that bring me immense joy to this day.
It was during this period of my life I learned to how to value the opportunity for work. No work was beneath me.
Through the second half of my graduate education and for a number of years after, I battled through severe bouts of Meniere's disease. The disease came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass so hard I wasn't allowed to drive at one point. I couldn't make it through days of work and I went to sleep each night wondering how sick I'd be within the next few hours.
When I graduated during the recession I knew what was ahead for me. I learned to game plan and strategize on how to make enough money to pay the bills. I could stay prepared.
Meniere's disease was a different opportunity. An opportunity to be able to deal with ambiguity and the unknowns of the world. My first major attack happened while out on a training run with a local distance run group.
I was in solid shape. In my early 20s and a strapping young lad. On a typical Saturday distance run with a group of running peers who were all seasoned marathon runners, I began to get really, really dizzy (it was actually vertigo but I didn't understand that concept at the time - dizziness is typically recognized as you spinning in space while vertigo is characterized by the world spinning around you) and eventually hit the deck. Hard.
While it was a warm day I wasn't overly sweaty at the time. That changed in a hurry. I began to sweat profusely through my clothes. I was getting more nauseous by the minute. The world was spinning. Faster and faster. I could speak but it was extremely difficult to gather my faculties. Everything was so blurry and I was feeling so terribly awful. What in the hell is happening to me? That day started my familiarity with the back of Buffalo-area ambulances.
The first few times I went to the hospital for a Meniere's disease attack the doctors started with an EKG, because... heart attack, and proceeded directly thereafter to administer a myriad of drug tests on me, because... stupid kid? Both came back negative. Yet here I was puking my guts up and curling into a sweaty ball of misery and confusion.
This began my 5+ year journey of dealing with, accepting, and embracing the insane notion that at any moment I was going to be laying on the floor, hyperventilating and reintroducing (puking) all the foodz back into the world. I suffered massive attacks while running, while sleeping, while eating, in the swimming pool, while at work AND WHILE DRIVING. My attacks typically lasted 6-12 hours while I slipped in and out of consciousness. If this wasn't an opportunity to grow then nothing else ever will be.
During this period of my life I had the opportunity to intimately understand my body. I gained the understanding of how I felt down to the millisecond. I also built up the unrelenting courage to fight through the worst kinds of mental discombobulation a person can experience. There was no controlling these attacks. It was time for me to understand focus and managing what I could.
After 5ish years of trial and error I was gifted with a string of years with out any attacks. I thought I was light and fancy-free (is the a thing?). But I was wrong and would be given the opportunity to suffer again. And learn from the opportunity.
Just two years ago, on the eve of celebrating my 32nd year on this planet, Christa took me to the emergency room. Once again the nurses and doctors ran ALL THE TESTS on me. Hours went by. Frustration crept in.
Doctor: "You have pulmonary embolisms."
Me: "Who was a what?"
Let's rewind. The days and a few weeks preceding this diagnosis I was experiencing an elevated heart rate while on my bikes and runs. Maybe I had a cold or might be training a tiny bit too hard? I was, after all, gearing up to take a shot at racing in the professional triathlon field once again.
Then the day before our visit to the emergency room I was out on a run, doubling over with chest pain, and, at times, crawling back home. I was in excruciating pain. More pain than torn shoulder ligaments, more pain than broken fingers, and more pain than kidneys stones causing me to blackout (all delightful experiences I've enjoyed over the years).
This was different pain. The kind of pain that makes breathing feel like you have a knife in your chest and someone just knocked the wind out of you while you're underwater. A hot compress made it worse. Cold couldn't touch it. Doctors didn't understand. And then in the ER the news came, "you have blood clots in your lungs, take these blood thinner needles to your belly for the next few days and everything will be ok".
After two trips to the ER, a trip to my my General Practitioner, and a trip to a Pulmonology Specialist I was granted the opportunity to spend a week in the hospital on a cocktail of narcotics with a morphine button to be able to breathe. Opportunity. My lung function fell under 10%. Opportunity. I had over 2L of blood and fluid pumped from around my lungs. Opportunity. I had to learn to pump enough oxygen through my system to be able to walk again. Opportunity.
I had the opportunity to appreciate what I had. To be able to wake up every morning. To be grateful and useful and driven to not waste my time on this planet and to think more about appreciation, listening, sharing, and teaching. I also had the opportunity to learn from my wife how important an advocate is in situations like this when she had to fight our medical provider to stick a chest tube in me to drain my lungs (they didn't think it was necessary... grumble, grumble).
Opportunities aren't necessarily about doing more. Being currently holed up with your family (or by yourself) does not mean you need to fill every minute of every day with a productive endeavor. To the contrary, our current pandemic can be an opportunity to really lean into a mindfulness practice that does not require you to stay busy. Maybe you're like me and could really use a day of being bored. Productivity for the sake of productivity is not the answer.
Opportunity is the answer. We are all in a horrible, terrible, no good situation right now with the opportunity make something happen. All my stories of mental, physical, and monetary suffering, they all brought me an opportunity. Graduating during the recession took my work ethic and put it on steroids, Meniere's taught me me how to have a laser-like focus, and pulmonary embolisms gave me an opportunity to ditch triathlon and run grueling ultramarathons that break my groin.
What is your something opportunity?
What are the tools around you right now? You have the opportunity to do anything (even if you're currently working 80 hours and need to tuck the kids in at night still).
I say all of this not to preach or pontificate but to express a dialog that's been simmering in my head for a few weeks now. This dialog was given a nifty concept this week too when I came across the idea of no zero days. The idea that even the smallest thing today can continue a path of progress for you tomorrow. The stone dropping in a pond creates a ripple that spreads far wider than the initial moment of impact. You don't need to know what is to come to exercise your opportunity to grow.
Today is a good day for an opportunity.
March 10, 2021