Life And Career Coaches Explain How To Harness The Power Of Hidden Opportunities

"If your first instinct is to explain why you can’t — blurt out the opposite."

The world is full of hidden opportunities just waiting to be discovered... even in an airport. But it's not just knowing where to look for them; you also need to know what to do when you've found one. By challenging people to make a meaningful connection with a stranger, JetBlue and Coca-Cola's Shared Plate restaurant surprised them with a new, and totally unexpected, opportunity to enrich their lives. 

Through this experience, each person learned how a chance encounter can uncover a hidden opportunity to make a new business contact, forge a lifelong friendship, or even spark a romantic relationship. In doing so, they turned an ordinary day at the airport into an extraordinary one. Because the second you start to embrace hidden opportunities, one often leads to another... and another. 

Certified career and life coach Allison Task likens searching for new opportunities to foraging for wild mushrooms. "If you've ever been hunting for mushrooms, you start looking, you find one, and then it seems like you've found dozens," she tells A Plus. "It happens quickly." 

But it only happens once you've put yourself into that "hunting" mindset. The decision to enter into this mindset is one we make all the time, according to Anna Bray, a career coach at Jody Michael Associates. "Every moment of the day, we have the choice to be either mindful or mindless," she tells A Plus. "When mindful, and using our senses to perceive the world around us, we can awaken to these new and sometimes hidden opportunities. When mindless, this is when we tend to slip into autopilot mode, not always picking up on new or interesting opportunities." 

Photo Credit: Austin Chan / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Austin Chan / Unsplash

 To practice this kind of mindfulness, Task says, "The first thing to do if you want to find a hidden opportunity is to get clear about what you're looking for." Whether you're looking for a new job or a new relationship, you can begin to train your brain to search for and recognize new opportunities that relate directly to that desire.  

Both Task and Bray advise people to jumpstart this process by asking themselves powerful questions that will lead to vital answers. "There are many factors that could lead to a rut and taking an honest assessment of these factors is important," Bray says. "Questions to ask yourself include: are you bored, afraid, or not being truthful regarding what you want?"

For example, if someone wants to get out of a job rut, but is unsure of their next career step, Task recommends looking inward to recount past successes that may highlight hidden opportunities in the present. Task encourages job seekers to ask themselves, "What were you good at in high school? Did you ever win an award? What for? How did you spend your summers? If you're stuck in a Barnes and Noble on a snow day, which sections would you go to? Who has the job you want?" Again, by nailing down what you're looking for, you can more easily grab it.

Photo Credit: Thomas Serer / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Thomas Serer / Unsplash

Besides actively looking for hidden opportunities, embrace the ones that fall into your lap, even if they're not the most glamorous ones. "Say 'yes' to everything, especially those things that seem scary," Task explains. "When an opportunity comes your way that seems unexpected and out of the blue … but it could change your perspective and give you new experiences you'd never have, give it a whirl. If your first instinct is to explain why you can't — blurt out the opposite." This goes double for those starting out in their careers. "When given an opportunity to take a business trip, sit in on a meeting, take on extra work (especially for freelancers!)," Task advises. 

Taking advantage of these seemingly insignificant opportunities will eventually add up, explains Bray. "While the change itself may seem big (a new job, different home, improved health), the actions needed to get you there can be an accumulation of smaller behaviors," she tells A Plus. "When an unexpected opportunity comes up, follow the thread and see where it leads." Changing your routine even slightly — by walking or driving down a different street or trying a different coffee shop — can become a surprising catalyst for change. For example, while taking a chance on a new walking route, you could encounter someone new with something new to offer. 

While the encounter may be nothing more than a quick "Hello," challenging yourself to connect with a stranger can help build the confidence you can later use in job interviews, on dates, at events, and everywhere else. "Most of life is about connecting yourself to opportunities, so meet people. Your network (that's people who like you, not people who you know) will propel you," Task says. "Be the person that other people root for. They will help you get to the situations you want to be in." 

Photo Credit: rawpixel.com / Unsplash

You'll thank yourself once you've found these opportunities because, as both Task and Bray note, it's all about how you show up to them. Task believes in the old adage that "90 percent of life is showing up." She adds, "So if you're there, you're way ahead of the game." Bray concurs, citing the statistic that "more than 70 percent of people obtain new jobs through networking." 

Make the most of every in-person opportunity by preparing yourself ahead of time — both mentally and physically. "People thrive when they have opportunities for mastery … [They're] are at their best when they are reaching for something that is slightly out of reach and perhaps, with a little more effort, attainable," Task says. "Embracing new opportunities is the essence of pursuing mastery." 

Often, hidden opportunities can be found in new connections. Whether it's a formal networking event or a gathering of friends, Task encourages people to get a good night's sleep the night before so you wake up feeling healthy, refreshed, and ready to show your best self. It also doesn't hurt, she adds, to put a little extra effort into looking your best. "Style isn't expensive. It's healthy skin, clear eyes, and a buoyant personality," she says. "Show up like you mean it; be memorable." When you feel prepared, you can walk into any room radiating confidence that will attract others to you. 

Photo Credit: Brooke Lark / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Once you've got their attention, make sure to reciprocate. "...When speaking to others, listen attentively," Bray says. "Hear what they are really saying. Make eye contact." Practice this with everyone you meet, not just those in your industry or social circles because, Bray adds, "You may meet someone who at first, does not appear to be someone who is presenting an 'opportunity,' however, that introduction may open doors in the future that change the course of your journey." 

It's important to remember that your focus should be on this journey, with each new opportunity serving as a pit stop. "Happiness isn't a destination; it's your ticket out of Dodge," Task says. "So to get out of a rut, we cultivate happiness, which opens your creativity which leads you to see options." To do this, Task helps her clients work on owning their attitude, cultivating awe, gratitude, a little bit of meditation and a whole lot of healthy sleep. All this, she says, takes "a relatively small amount of time each day," but the powerful results can last a lifetime. 

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