Blind Chance and Creating Opportunity

A man stands on the roof of his house while water is rising around him in the worst floods he’s ever seen. Along comes a boat, and the boatman says “Come with me, I will rescue you.””God will save me, I do not need your help.” the roof bound man replies.

Later, the water rises more and along comes a helicopter from which a ladder descends, and the emergency services man calls out and says “Come with me, I will rescue you.”

“God will save me, I do not need your help.” the roof bound man replies again.

And the water rises above the roof of the house and the man drowns.

He goes to Heaven, and before God he asks “Lord, why did you not rescue me when I asked?”

And God replies “What do you mean? I sent a boat and a helicopter.”

Blind chance is not something we can control. It just happens. It’s the $2 you find on the footpath or the sunshine on a Saturday morning. You can’t control it and whether or not you take advantage of it, it will still occur. The culminating actions that lead up to the event are (usually) based on the laws of physics and it’s something outside the control of the people that it affects.

Opportunity is different. It is an event where the affected party has some control in the process and the actions leading up to it are generally decided upon by people not fate. Generally you create opportunities: apply for that job, attend the networking seminar, volunteer for a project, say hello to someone.

Sometimes they combine. Chance is the random encounter with someone. Opportunity is striking up a conversation.

機会 (きかい) (n) chance; opportunity;

In Japanese the word kikai means both chance and opportunity. So to explain the difference between chance and opportunity took a little effort.

Chance is the roll of dice, the drawing of a card, the toss of a coin.

Opportunity was always harder to explain. It’s something we make or create, we’re involved in and expect an outcome.

Missing a chance at something however, is no great loss. If the coin doesn’t come up heads, you don’t roll a 7 (or do) then there’s no great loss. Unless you’ve placed a wager on the results, and then you’re an idiot.

But a lost opportunity is worse because you know that it may have been due to your actions. But much like a soccer game, you have to keep creating opportunities to take a shot at goal. It might miss, but you have to keep trying.

And it’s the sense of loss over the failed opportunities that I find hardest to deal with. In a world stacked against me, worthwhile opportunities seem to be few and far between. When one slips through my fingers, I have to go through a period of deep introspection to determine if I was as fault, or if it was always meant to be.

Was it just blind chance that I thought was an opportunity? Or did I really cock it up?