Chapter 82

  1. Opportunity

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

— Shakespeare.

Many fail in life from the want, as they are too ready to suppose, of those great occasions wherein they might have shown their trustworthiness and their integrity. But in order to find whether a vessel be leaky we first prove it with water before we trust it with wine. The more minute and trivial opportunities of being just and upright are constantly occurring to every one. It is the proper employment of these smaller opportunities that occasion the great ones. It is one of the common mistakes of life, and one of the most radical sources of evil, to wait for opportunities. Many persons are looking for some marked event or some grand opening through which they hope to develop what may be in them, and thus make potent a character which now, for lack of motives, is barren and unfruitful.

The real materials out of which our characters are forming are the hourly occurrences of every-day life. Every claim of duty, the employment of each minute, the daily vexations or trials we are called upon to bear, the momentary decisions that must be made, the casual interview, the contact with sin or sorrow in every-day dress—all, these and many others as small and as constant, are the real opportunities of life. These we are continually embracing or neglecting, and out of them we are forming a character that is fast consolidating into the shape we gave it for good or for evil. If we watch through a single day we shall doubtless discover hundreds of opportunities of both doing and receiving good that we have, perhaps, hitherto passed by with indifference, and by diligent assiduity in seeking for and embracing these we shall be prepared to encounter the fiercer storms of life that may await us, or to take advantage of future opportunities that may offer for our good.

A man’s opportunity usually has some relation to his ability. It is an opening for a man of his talents and means. It is an opening for him to use what he has faithfully and to the utmost. It requires toil, self-denial, faith. If he says, “I want a better opportunity than that; I am worthy of a higher position than that,” or if he thinks the opportunity too insignificant to be embraced, he is very likely in after years to see the folly of his course. There are scores of young men all over the land who want to acquire wealth, and yet every day scorn such opportunities as our really rich men would have improved. They want to begin, not as others do, at the foot of the ladder, but half way up. They want somebody to give them a lift or to carry them up in a balloon, so that they can avoid the early and arduous struggles of the majority of those who have been successful.

The most unsuccessful men are usually the ones who think they could do great things if they only had the opportunity. But something has always prevented them. Providence has hedged them in so that they could not carry out their plan. They knew just how to get rich, but they lacked opportunity. A man can not expect that great opportunities will meet him all along through his life like milestones by the wayside. Usually he has one or two; if he neglects them he is like the man who takes the wrong course where several meet. The farther he goes the worse he fares. In the life of the most unlucky persons there are always some occasions when by prompt and vigorous action he may win the thing he has at heart. “There is nobody,” says a Roman cardinal, “whom fortune does not visit once in his life. But when she finds he is not ready to receive her, she goes in at the door and out through the window.” Opportunity is coy. The careless, the slow, the unobservant, the lazy fail to see her, or clutch at her when she has gone. The sharp fellows detect her instantly, and seize her on the wing.

It is ofttimes not sufficient to, wait for opportunity, even though improved when it has come. We must not only strike the iron while it is hot, but make it hot by striking. In other words, if opportunity does not present herself we must try our best to compel her attendance. Opportunity is in respect to time in some sense as time is in respect to eternity; it is the small moment, the exact point, the critical minute on which every good work so much depends. Hesitation is in some instances a sign of weakness, and an exhibition of caution instead of an aid is a hinderance. At the critical moment there is no time for over-squeamishness; else the opportunity slips away beyond recall, even as the spoken word or the sped arrow. The period of life during which a man must venture, if ever, is so limited that it is no bad rule to preach up the necessity in such instances of a little violence done to the feelings, and of efforts made in defiance of strict and sober calculation, rather than to pass one opportunity after another. It is not accident that helps a man in the world, but purpose and persistent industry. These make a man sharp to discover opportunities and to turn them to account. To the feeble, the sluggish and purposeless the happiest opportunities avail nothing. They pass them by, seeing no meaning in them. But to the energetic, wide-awake man they are occasions of great moment, the improvement of which contribute in no small degree to his ultimate success.

, In, pager

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