Depending on your political leanings, Rahm Emanuel is either a no-nonsense go-getter, or Satan incarnate. The mayor of Chicago has always said what is on his mind, and one of his more famous quotes caused quite the stir. While on some Sunday morning news show like Face the Fox News Press, Rahm said, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
Think of the biggest crisis you have ever had in your own life. For many of us, myself included, it was a medical crisis. A medical crisis puts things into acute focus like few things can. It's a humbling, fearful experience to realize that while we are all going to die sometime, sometime can be way quicker than you think without intervention.
While a few people try the daunting and sometimes futile effort to find the retrospect of something that hasn't even happened yet, most just try to make it out alive... burying the experience once it's over. It's almost like the ostrich syndrome: with your eyes closed, if you don't see it, it never happened.
To those of you who fall into this category, I want you to exhume it just for the next two minutes.
Like him or not, Mr. Emanuel is right. Before cancer paid me an uninvited visit, I would never have thought to try use what I know to change the world for others. Hell, right out of film school, I made a short about a guy who ran out of smokes, only to build one from butts right before he realized he has nothing with which to light it.
And then I get cancer. Oh, the irony.
But by the time it was all over, I realized that I was given a rare gift to share my own miserable experience in a funny way. I wrote a screenplay loosely based on my own stupidity, and how love, faith, and hope helped me survive in spite of myself. Writing led to a purpose. Purpose led to a mission. Mission led to building a website. Website led to writing a blog. Writing a blog led to The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post led to me writing this at 12:31 a.m. CDT on a school night. My idiocy knows no bounds.
My point is that my dance with cancer has afforded me so many opportunities to help others, and I would be a fool to throw them away.
The latest best example of sucking the marrow out of an opportunity has been what most of you have probably seen circling the web: the Asthon Kutcher acceptance speech from the Teen Choice Awards. The star of such fare as That '70s Show, Two and a Half Men, and Dude, Where's My Car? showed a side of himself that no fan, save for those of us who watch Real Time with Bill Maher, has ever seen.
While clutching the Ultimate Choice Award, Ashton gave one of the most memorable, touching, poignant, and blunt acceptance speeches of all time. In pains me to condense it, but in a nutshell, he said three things: hard work with humility is synonymous with success, nothing is as sexy as intelligence, and don't just live your life... build your life.
It was a speech that made even Rush Limbaugh devote an entire hour to it on his radio show, while promoting Kutcher's new movie Jobs. You seriously couldn't afford to buy that much advertising, but Limbaugh gave it to him gratis because he was so uplifted by what he heard. Imagine a Democrat getting an hour of free airtime on that show; it makes about as much sense as a Republican in a Prius.
But if you break it down to its core, Ashton did not really give an acceptance speech; he gave a TED Talk. He had a lot to say, and he realized that this venue would give him the platform on which to stand.
I've come to realize over the past few years that real opportunities are few and far between. Sometimes you can see them coming and can prepare, but most require a decision that can be uncomfortably quick. No matter what the situation, they all require one simple thing: you need to see them when they come.
Everyone on this earth has multiple stories and experiences and lessons to teach. The problem is that there are not enough teachers. We all have the ability to guide others if we take the opportunity to do so. We owe it to each other to share them with each other. Because you just never know when something you say will spark an opportunity for someone else to find their voice for the first time.
And that someone may just do something they've never had the courage to do before.