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Is there an opportunity right in front of you?

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A man was shipwrecked during a violent storm and could only keep afloat by clinging to a small piece of wood and treading water as though his legs were egg beaters.

“Oh God, save me!” he cried out in his despair.

In a little while, a life raft came by with other survivors. “Climb aboard with us!” they shouted, reaching their arms out to him.

“No, no, I’m a believer! I know God will save me!” he called back to them.

“Then at least take this life ring!”

“God will save me! Use your raft and life ring for yourselves,” the man sputtered between crashing waves.

The people in the life raft reluctantly moved on.

Soon, a Coast Guard vessel came by and rescuers jumped into the water with him. “Put on this life jacket and we’ll haul you up onto the boat!” they bellowed above the roar of the storm.

“No, no, I’m a man of faith – God will save me! There are people ahead of me in a life raft, maybe you can help them.”

So the rescuers moved on.

As the skies darkened, a helicopter came overhead and dropped down a harness. “Put the harness on and we’ll lift you to safety,” said a voice through a bullhorn.

“God will – glub, glub, – save me!” gasped the man as water filled his mouth, “I’m sure there are others out there you can help.”

The helicopter and crew flew away.

The seas became even wilder and the man, his legs finally exhausted, sank under the waves and drowned.

When he arrived in Heaven, he said to God, “Lord, I have been a faithful man all my life. Why did you not save me when I needed you?”

God smiled and gently said, “My son, I sent you a life raft, a life ring, a Coast Guard boat, and a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

Opening of opportunities

I’m sure you’ve heard that story before. It’s a funny way to be reminded that sometimes opportunities are right in front of us, we just need to see them for what they are.

And it turns out that seizing on opportunities is a great resiliency skill. Researchers Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith followed the entire cohort of children born on the island of Kauai in 1955 from birth to age 40. They found that some of these children were in high-risk categories for not succeeding later in life: perinatal stress, chronic poverty, parents who had not graduated from high school, and family environments that were engulfed in the chronic discord of parental alcoholism and/or mental illness.

However, about a third of these high-risk children did very well in spite of the odds and, as the study went on, the researchers found that, as the cohort aged, even more of the sample became productive members of society and led lives that were satisfactory to them.

How did this happen? There are many protective factors that I’ve discussed in earlier posts, but the one that has stood out to me recently is the idea of the opening of opportunities.

Werner and Smith:

One of the most important lessons we learned from our follow-ups at ages 31/32 and 40 was that the opening of opportunities in the third and fourth decade of life led to major turning points among the overwhelming majority of the teenage mothers, the delinquent boys, and individuals who had struggled with mental health problems and/or learning disabilities in their teens. Among the most potent forces for positive change for these high-risk youths in adulthood were continuing education at community colleges; educational and vocational skills acquired during service in the armed forces; marriage to a stable partner; conversion to a religion that demanded active participating in a “community of faith”; recovery from a life-threatening illness or accident; and –to a much lesser extent – psychotherapy.

These people took the life ring that was thrown to them and found it to be life-changing. How about you? Do you look for opportunities that present themselves in your life?

Yum, that crow sure tastes good

The other day I was thinking about how I’d really like to increase my practice as the economy has taken its toll on my business as it has for many others. I went on about my day and later I received an email from an insurance company that wanted me to be a part of their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) panel.

“Insurance?” I thought to myself, “I don’t want to work with insurance companies.” And I deleted the email.

Lying in bed that night, musing about the events of my day, I suddenly started laughing. I was being just like the man who begged God to save him but turned aside every rescue opportunity provided to him. Here I was thinking about how to expand my practice and a “life ring” in the form of an insurance company had come along, only to have me ignore the opportunity because it was slightly out of my comfort zone.

The next day, I filled out the application for the EAP panel.

Takeaway points: Opportunities tend to be all around us, we just need to keep our minds open enough to see them. Sometimes, they are life-changing.

Werner, E.E. and Smith, R.S. (2001) Journeys from Childhood to Midlife: Risk, Resilience, and Recovery by Emmy E. Werner and Ruth S. Smith. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Photo by mikebaird


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.