The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s another way of saying we make our own luck. What surprises me is how many people prepare and prepare and prepare….and wait and wait…for the “right” opportunity. They wouldn’t recognize a good opportunity if it slapped them in the face. And then there are those people who see opportunity everywhere, in everyday situations and in every chance encounter. They are equally remiss. Truly good opportunities are not hanging in the breeze, free for the taking.

So what is a good opportunity? How do you recognize one and how can you test it for authenticity and upside potential against what may only be a fanciful whim? A good opportunity shares at least three of these attributes:

It is Limited to You or a Select Few – for a Limited Time
A good opportunity is not available to everyone, everywhere, anytime. Just about everyone has the opportunity to go to college, start a business, pitch an investor, or wait in line to meet an influential person. Those are equal opportunity opportunities. And while all those things could lead to some great opportunities in the future, they are not in-and-of-themselves limited or special. Recognize a window of opportunity that is only available to you, or a select few, for a limited time.

It Gives You More Control and Independence
A good opportunity puts you in charge. It gives you more freedom to become someone better, to pursue multiple options. Lots of people jump at the opportunity to take a new job or a promotion, only to find it is a dead end. If the opportunity gives you more responsibility, does it also give you the authority and “freedom” to succeed? The ultimate opportunity is to work for yourself…answer to yourself, spend your time as you wish, and never be limited in how much you can earn.

It Surrounds You with Remarkable People
A good opportunity puts you in the cross hairs of remarkable people. Their success depends partly on what you do or don’t do. It creates an interdependence that forces you to be on top of your game…to do your best work. They push you, and you them. Success is contagious, it does rub off. While it may seem intimidating at first to accept an opportunity that puts you in the inner circle, embrace it. You will only ever be as good as the people you surround yourself with.

It Stretches You, Gets You Out of Your Comfort Zone
A good opportunity puts you at risk. It does not just give you something special to gain. It could also give you something of significance to lose. You may already be the best at what you do – which is why you can no longer spot a good opportunity. If you’re too comfortable being comfortable, you will never spot it. If it doesn’t scare you just a little, it probably isn’t that good of an opportunity.

It Offers Exponential Gain
A good opportunity does not offer incremental gain, but exponential gain. Life is full of incremental opportunities. Incrementalism is the playbook of the well-meaning, but misguided: “keep your nose to the grindstone,” “save a little each month,” “don’t rock the boat,” “stay positive…” and on-and-on ad nauseam. These are fine and good platitudes, but they can obfuscate a good opportunity because they are often the antithesis thereof. A good opportunity dares you to reach for the big prize.

It Takes the Long View
A good opportunity positions you for a better future. It may require you to take a few steps back, in order for you to leap frog to the front of the pack. Few people see those opportunities because they only see what is right in front of them. Moving to a new city to pursue your passion, quitting the cushy corporate job for a startup, or jumping to an entirely new career, are all examples of the courage required to take the long view — in pursuit of a good opportunity.

A good opportunity is in alignment with who you are and where you are going in your career and life. It forces you to imagine yourself ten years from now and see where it has led you. If you don’t know who you are, what you want, or where you are going, then it will never matter how many good opportunities present themselves. When you do get a good opportunity — and you will — these attributes can help you test it for authenticity and long term potential. Enjoy the journey!

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