This article is excerpted from Entrepreneur magazine editor in chief Jason Feifer's monthly newsletter, The Feifer Five. Each month, he sends out five insights to help you think bigger. Subscribe here.
What is opportunity? Oftentimes we treat it as something to find, like a nugget of gold underneath the soil. But in truth, opportunity is something we create. It's in the way we approach something, or the permission we give ourselves to lead. That's what this edition of the newsletter is about, in ways big and small: It's about recognizing and seizing opportunity.
And here's your table of contents:
1. The thing all leaders have in common.
2. When the problem is also the victory.
3. Our problem managing our time.
4. Where to find new opportunities.
5. An ancient consumer need.
Let's get to it!
1. The thing all leaders have in common
I had lunch this week with the CEO of an enormous company. Like, he oversees billions in revenue. And he said something every entrepreneur at every level needs to hear.
We were talking about management, and I told him that, because I came from the creative side, I never really felt prepared to be a manager.
"I'm just making it up as I go," I said.
"Everyone is," he replied. Everyone is. Including him.
This coming from a guy -- let's say it again -- overseeing billions in revenue. May we all remember that at times when we feel intimidated, or worry we're not up to the task. In truth, nobody inherently belongs. Nobody is ready. Nobody sees you as an impostor any more than they see themselves as an impostor. Everyone is making it up as they go. Everyone.
All we can do is to appreciate that, have the courage to step into the arena and learn as we go.
2. When the problem is also the victory
Millions of people have watched comedian Nicole Arbour's videos. But few know the suffering she was in when she began making them. She'd been in a car accident years earlier, and it left her in chronic, debilitating pain. When she began making videos, she performed in her usual peppy style -- but hid the fact that she could barely stand up.
I talked to Nicole for an episode of my Entrepreneur podcast Problem Solvers, because I wanted to understand how she fought through the pain and built a comedic career. The answer is long and complex, but this part really stood out to me: She eventually made a mind shift. Pain became a point of pride. She stopped looking at herself as a victim and was now looking at herself as a survivor. With every accomplishment, she grew prouder that she was doing it all despite the pain.
She explains: "Being on shows -- that wasn't the achievement. The achievement was being in that chronic pain and still going. I got an honorary star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for special achievement in social media. Cool -- I did that in chronic pain! I was invited to the Oscars and ended up at Kevin Hart's after-party. That's freaking cool -- girl's in chronic pain."
Nicole perfectly captures the opportunity there: It isn't just in what you do -- it's in the story you tell yourself, and the way you can use even the greatest of pains to your advantage.
3. Our problem managing our time
Chris Bailey recently wrote a very insightful piece on productivity in the New York Times, and his opening really stood out to me. It's worth considering:
<< When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues -- these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it.
This idea isn’t a popular one, especially with those who feel they’re already working at capacity. That’s a growing number of us these days, when busyness -- at work and at home -- is seen as a kind of status symbol. But this busyness is often a guise for something else: We procrastinate by doing mindless, distracting tasks that make us feel productive, but in reality accomplish little. >>
Our work expands to fit our time. I've found this to be especially true in the past few years, as I've piled more and more work onto my head -- the magazine, a novel, two podcasts, speaking and more. How? One of the big answers is to simply devote my day to work. I remember showing up at prior jobs and spending the first hour on Twitter -- the first hour! What a waste. Use your time with intention, and challenge yourself with work you love, and it's amazing how much more valuable each minute becomes.
4. Where to find new opportunities
A few months ago, my wife and I were brainstorming ways to market our novel. We spent three years writing it together -- it’s called Mr. Nice Guy, and it comes out Oct. 16. As any author knows, publicizing and marketing a book is tough. It’s a crowded space, few publications cover books in any meaningful way and readers are hard to reach.
We stared into the air for a while. Then I thought, What would happen if I stopped looking at this like an author, and started doing it like an entrepreneur? And with that, a new world opened up.
I don’t see entrepreneurship as a career choice. It’s a mindset. That’s the thing I marvel at most when spending time with brilliant entrepreneurs, and it’s the skill everyone should continually hone. When you think like an entrepreneur, it’s like wearing augmented reality glasses. You see the same things as everyone else, but you see them differently. They appear as inactive opportunities, just waiting to be activated. All you need is to find a new way for something old to be useful.
The above is the opening to an Entrepreneur magazine column I wrote on the subject, about the ways I rethought my book marketing and the ways every entrepreneur can begin to see opportunities around them differently.
5. An ancient consumer need
Have you ever sent something to a customer who was no longer there? A shipment to where someone no longer lives? An email to a long-abandoned email address?
Usupisqum feels your pain. It happened to him a few thousand years ago.
"Tell Amur-ili and Puzur-Istar: I keep hearing reports that you have sent merchandise to Ina-Sin and to Inarawe. Both these men are dead!” he wrote on a clay tablet thousands of years ago. “Although I searched for evidence for the arrival of any silver, there isn't any. One of you should come here from where you are, or else the silver belonging to your father will be lost."
(Yes, this is real. I read about Usupisqum in an amazing Twitter thread I recently came across, in which writer Paul Cooper compiled translations of some cuneiform tablets. "The most incredible artifacts from the ancient world," Cooper wrote, "are the letters people wrote on clay tablets & sent to one another over 1000s of years in Mesopotamia. They contain recognizable humanity, warmth & humour, & I thought I'd do a regular thread on my favorites.")
Imagine it: Thousands and thousands of years ago, and people like Usupisqum were dealing with the same inconveniences and errors we are today. Our problems are human, baked into the experience. And what opportunity that is for entrepreneurs! Solve a lasting problem, and you've built a lasting solution.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors