I Almost Missed An Opportunity That Changed My Life

I’d like to tell you a story of a man named Jacob. Jacob is a devout man, and his entire life, faith has told him that if he is honest and good and kind to others, God will save him.

That’s why he’s not worried when a great storm strikes his home town. Even when the flood waters have risen so high that he’s forced to seek refuge on the roof of his house, he is confident in his ultimate salvation.

Over the next several hours, three rescue boats pass by. But Jacob turns them away each time. “No,” he says. “I’m not leaving. God will save me.”

A few more hours pass, and a helicopter flies up. They drop a rope ladder down to him, and they yell for him to grab it. But again, he refuses to budge. “No,” he insists. “God will save me!”

The waters continue to rise, and before long, Jacob is swept away and drowns.

Naturally, he ends up in Heaven. He is, after all, a devout man. But now, he’s also a frustrated man. He can’t understand why God just left him to die. So when he finally comes face-to-face with God, he looks up at him, and he asks, bitterly, “My Lord. All my life, I have been an honest and good man, and I believed you would save me. Why? Why did you not save me?”

God looks down at Jacob, and he shakes his head and throws his arms up in the air. “What do you want me to do? I sent you three boats and a helicopter!”

Wait for it….

Wait for it….

Okay, that’s it. That was the punch line.

On the surface, this joke is making fun of religion, but over the past six months, I’ve started to get a different message from the story. I realize now that this joke isn’t about religion. It’s about opportunity – more specifically, recognizing opportunity. You see, on some level, we all spend our lives waiting for opportunity:

I’m just waiting for my big break.

I can’t believe how lucky he got. That guy gets all the breaks.

It’s as though opportunity is this giant metal claw, and we’re toys at the bottom of the carnival machine of life, each of us hoping to be the next lucky one to get snatched up to a better life.

But, this isn’t how opportunity operates. Whether you believe that God, Darwin, or just random blind luck is responsible, opportunity doesn’t just fall onto our lap and whisk us away. More likely, opportunity falls 20 feet away from us. And the secret to life is noticing when opportunity has fallen 20 feet away, and walking over to dig it out of the dirt, and polishing it up until it’s in recognizable form.

In case the metaphor is lost on you, let me explain. For eight years, I was a high school teacher. During the last four of those eight years, I blogged as a hobby. This site is the product of said hobby. It started as something I did for fun in my free time, and it evolved into something I did pretty seriously (still in my free time).

But not anymore. As of September 2013, what was once a hobby is now a career. That’s because I landed a job with Automattic, the company behind WordPress. Today, my job is to help people build their own websites and dabble in all aspects of blogging, from writing posts to learning how to code.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime. But, it didn’t just fall on my lap. In fact, I almost missed the opportunity completely. It all started a year before, in September 2012. That’s when Automattic had a meetup in San Diego. And that’s when my girlfriend and I decided to have brunch one day, at the very same hotel that the entire staff of Automattic was staying.

As we sat down at the hotel restaurant, I noticed a large gathering on the lawn outside. It took all of two seconds for me to recognize that big W with the circle around it everywhere – emblazoned on t-shirts… bags… laptops… tattooed on arms and calves… shaved into haircuts…. (Okay, maybe not those last two.)

I turned to my girlfriend, and I said, “You know what? I think that’s WordPress over there.”

And she smiled and replied, “Wow, that’s a funny coincidence.”

“Yeah, totally.”

And all through lunch, I kept looking over and thinking, “Yeah, funny coincidence.”

It wasn’t until we had finished eating… and had paid our check… and were just about to leave, that I suddenly thought to myself, “Wait. Maybe I should go say hi to them. I love WordPress and use it every day. I can’t just walk away, right?”

So, I pried myself from my seat, slapped on the most extroverted face I could muster, and walked outside to where a small group of people were finishing up their lunches. And I introduced myself and told them what a big fan I was.

One of the Automatticians I met was named Peter. He gave me his card, and I decided to follow him on Twitter later that week. Three months after that, Peter tweeted that Automattic was hiring, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I think I can do this!”

So I applied. And I was offered a trial, and then a contract. And now, here I am, an Automattician. Today, I get paid to do what I once spent countless hours of my free time immersed in. I also get to travel all over the world to meet up with my coworkers.

Team meetup in Cyprus, January 2014

Team meetup in Cyprus, January 2014 — Now, I’m the one with the big W on me

And I still think about how close I came to missing this opportunity – how close I came to finishing lunch and just walking away that day. Like Jacob, I certainly didn’t recognize opportunity for what it was at the time. I’m just glad I didn’t let it pass me by.

Every day now, I think about where I would be – or not be – if I hadn’t walked those 20 feet to where opportunity had fallen for me.

By the way, if you yourself are waiting for opportunity, we’re still hiring.

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  • Very happy to have you onboard. Even more so knowing the back story!

  • Pingback: Recognizing Opportunity | Dennis Hong's Attic

  • Dennis, your posts, as always, are spot on, and entertaining in the process! (Did I use the appropriate commas in that sentence?) Anyway, I agree with you. I used to pimp myself, er I mean work as a telemarketer and we were often offered extra cash incentives to offer credit cards or other things to our customers. So many people would just ignore it and wonder why their paycheck wasn’t so great. To me though, that seemed like someone just put (for example, some offers paid $20) $20 on the table a couple feet away and all you had to do was reach over just.a.teeeennyy. bit. and grab it – but people were too lazy or whatever to even bother. I was actually kind of surprised. But many people do think like that. They don’t see opportunities right in front of them.

  • First of all you are missed over here in the flood zone, but I totally agree with you. I apply for 4-6 opportunities per year: grants, teacher exchanges, etc. I might get one every other year. Nothing drives me crazier than people telling me I am “lucky” and “get everything.” They ignore all the time I spend seeking opportunity.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I glossed over how much work it was to actually land the job after applying. I consider myself lucky for having run into the company in San Diego, but I definitely had to work my ass off to get the job.

  • I love this story, Dennis. Some of the best things in life are products of recognizing an opportunity and having the courage to pursue it. Incidentally, I heard a pastor tell a similar version of that joke during a sermon once (his version involved an old lady), so I don’t think it’s making fun of religion – it’s more of a poke at people who expect God to intercede in a supernatural way and therefore ignore the normal, human interventions that are often sent our way. To that point, it can also apply to people who are waiting for something “big” to come along and downplay the possibilities available in small interactions and choices.

    See ya at work tomorrow! 🙂

    • Yeah, totally. I think way too many people just kind of sit around, hoping for things to happen, without ever taking initiative. Believe me, I know. I worked for eight years at a school full of kids like that.

  • I’ve got a pretty good idea where you’d be, and Carly’s right, you’re missed. This too shall pass, but some of those opportunities are calling a lot louder than I ever thought they would when I started this journey. Seeing you escape this seemingly degrading orbit makes me smile, and that still enough, for now…

  • What an awesome story, Dennis! So glad you shared it 🙂

  • This really made me think – thanks Dennis. Glad you saw a possible opportunity, then put in the hard work. Great lesson – reminded me I need to keep seeking opportunities and put in that work for good results.

  • I love stories about how serendipity leads to opportunity when someone takes action. You just never know.

    How I landed here? I’ve used WP every day since 2007; it’s transformed my life and career, and I wanted to see if there was some way I could give back, perhaps by being a Happiness Engineer. I took a look at the Automattic staff page and liked this line in your bio: “He’s also a relationships and comedy writer (which can be either an oxymoron or redundant, depending on your perspective).”

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Careful, I might just take you up on that offer 😉

  • Thanks for that article Dennis. Needing to take that leap of faith. I have been doing the same thing for 17 years and fear the change

  • I sort of wish I’d come across this post earlier, or rather, that it was written earlier. It took a shitty breakup to get me to the point of recognizing opportunities right in front of my face. Long story short, I allowed myself to slide a bit in that relationship and when we broke up, I swore I’d get back to me. And this is cheesy (but I don’t know how to word it in non-spiritual terms), but I opened myself up to the universe, and my life has become more my own than ever.

  • Great post Dennis! My favorite part “opportunity doesn’t just fall onto our lap and whisk us away. More likely, opportunity falls 20 feet away from us. And the secret to life is noticing when opportunity has fallen 20 feet away, and walking over to dig it out of the dirt, and polishing it up until it’s in recognizable form”. It’s up to you to grab that opportunity and make the most of it. I’m glad it worked out for you and I hope when I recognize an opportunity I have the courage to go after it.

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