I recently spoke before an auditorium filled with engineering students at Case Western Reserve University, my alma mater. The presentation was on the different roles I’ve taken on throughout my career as an engineer, serial entrepreneur, professional blogger, and digital nomad. During the Q&A portion, one student asked me why so many opportunities had come up throughout my lifetime. I told him that I didn’t know if I had more opportunities than anyone else. But because I had spent so much time flinging myself into new experiences, researching and preparing, meeting new people, and taking on new roles that when an opportunity presented itself, I was able to take full advantage of it.
One issue I’ve observed is that so many people are waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself. I’m guilty of the same thing. Before I had thrown myself into a nonprofit leadership role, I had spent years waiting for the promotion at my engineering job that would launch me into a challenging and meaningful career. Life wasn’t presenting itself the way I had foreseen it playing out. I was growing discontented and losing hope.
All of that was before I started a national nonprofit in my leisure time from my full-time role as an engineering trainer. This involved, amongst many other things, recruiting a Board of Directors and filing for a 501(c)(3). As the nonprofit leader, I led the board meetings, facilitated public fundraising events, and gave informational speeches at colleges about our nonprofit’s mission.
Starting this nonprofit was the right thing to do, as I truly believed in the cause and had the time and ability to support this mission. But altruistic reasons aside, this experience was also incredibly beneficial to my own personal development. My work as a corporate engineering trainer was a good job, but I was only responsible for teaching my classes and developing curriculum. Without taking on this nonprofit role, I never would have experienced overseeing a team’s work, rallying people around a cause, or holding a group accountable to the organization’s goals.
How often do we wait for life to give us what we need to make our dreams a reality? What concrete steps do we take so that when an opportunity arises, we’re in position to seize it?
I learned to lead by taking on a new opportunity in a different area and making myself a leader. I didn’t do this in the traditional way of gradually moving up the corporate ladder. Instead, by becoming a volunteer I gained an entirely new skill set. This put me on a different career trajectory which I found both challenging and personally fulfilling. None of which would have been happened if I was still bemoaning my lack of opportunities or waiting for a promotion.
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.