THE BLOG
04/30/2013 06:26 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2013

The Elusive Moments of Opportunity

How many times in your life have you hesitated about doing something and later been filled with remorse that you missed your golden chance? Of course, different people have very different types of hesitations some for very good and prudent reasons.

The crucial question, obviously, is how people process the information that leads up to the opportunity and surrounds the decision making considerations.

Let's take, for example, a quite simple as well as frequent situation. You have a job which you have held for several years quite satisfactorily and reasonably happily. Out of the blue you get a call from a headhunter who suggests that a competitor of your company, who knows you and your work, is very interested in recruiting you into a similar but more advanced position for a modest increase in your base pay. The immediate flaw in the idea is that company is in a different state. You have three kids in a school they like and your husband has a job he likes a lot.

What do you say?

"Well, that is an interesting idea but a lot depends on facts, circumstances and prospects both for their company and the job they have in mind." Good, that is the right answer for a starter.

What should you do/think next?

One way to begin the thought process is to ask yourself to list both the possible downsides and upsides. There are always plenty of both: DOWNSIDES: new people you barely know; the devil you know is less evil than the devil you do not know; the problems of uprooting a husband and kids for only a modest enhancement of responsibility and pay; unexpected expectations; and signaling that you can be moved for too little. UPSIDES: change is a great agent of growth in life; you have felt unappreciated and the fact of an offer sounds more attractive than being taken for granted; perhaps this move might open opportunities to move further up in the new company; the new city has great schools and a thriving community of arts and theatre; life had gotten a bit humdrum and you feel ready for something new.

Well that is a good start on a list of considerations. But what is missing?

Perhaps you need to look over the horizon further. What do you want out of life when you 'grow up' -- which is at least 10 years beyond where you are now? What means more to you than your job? How important is "success"? How important is money? How upset might you be if you do not take the chance and later learn that they had you marked for much bigger things? How relieved would feel if the other company goes broke two years later?

And, finally you need to ask yourself about the elusive moments of opportunity and just plain chance and luck about being in the right place at the right time?

Typically, the upsides vs. downsides will pretty much balance out and not provide much useful guidance. If you are a person that believes in serendipity, you may validly lean toward taking a chance. If you are person who tends to see uncertainty as a dark hole, you may validly lean away from the opportunity.

But, if you put yourself through these several levels of internal due diligence -- as well as external due diligence -- the odds are that whatever decision you reach, after listening to the screeches of your family, will be the right one for you.

Not all opportunities are as complex and profound as in our example. A lot of them are pretty small like an opportunity to attend the launch of the first men to the moon. I took a couple of days off work and it has long been remembered. It was an easy choice. But there always are trade-offs that people have to process rationally and quickly.

And, at the end of the day we all must remember that more often than not the best opportunities are the ones we generate ourselves by putting ourselves in the right places and keeping our eyes and ears open.

Moments of opportunity, large and small, are elusive because they come to most people fairly infrequently and they tempt people's sense of balance and perspectives of themselves in the arc of their lives.