Gift or Conquest?

File this under “unexpected insights through journaling.” Except it wasn’t an insight about my life path or anything like that. Instead, it was a phrase.

I was writing about being rushed and missing out on an opportunity to spend some time with a friend. I wrote, “I wasn’t able to take advantage of…” and stopped. Suddenly those words seemed very predatory. “Take advantage”? What exactly did that mean? It brings to mind articles like “Six Ways to Snap Up Opportunities Your Competitors Might Miss.” It’s a very adversarial position to take, and using it in the context of a friend was making me uncomfortable.

Of course, I wasn’t writing “I wasn’t able to take advantage of my friend…” It was “I wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity…“, falling into the same biz-speak that fills the listicles of the entrepreblogosphere. Looking at that, I realized that it still wasn’t really a healthy way to look at thing. It put me on an adversarial footing with the entire concept of fortune itself, needing to scramble to greedily grasp whatever gems of opportunity were coming my way. It was a scarcity mindset, as if there were a finite number of chances out there being doled out by some gleeful sadistic joker in the sky.

Wishes Are Not Horses

Let’s take a look at that idea. I’ve written before about how we like to take the chaos of the universe and turn it into our own personal narrative. That’s great; it’s a fine survival trait for our species, and recognizing connections and relationships (or the lack of them) is how great innovators have spurred human progress.

But that doesn’t mean that these “opportunities” aren’t constructs we make up, and the business world is littered with people who thought they saw a pattern when one wasn’t there. I’m among them; I’ve had businesses fail and deals fall apart and gigs disappear because I misread the “opportunity.” Part of the problem with that “take advantage” mindset is that it leaves you more prone to things like confirmation bias or just plain old “magical thinking”. I’m sure it’ll all work out is usually said with a silent …the way I want/expect it to which is completely unheard by uncaring reality. Yes, it will work out – just not necessarily the way you want or expect.

Preparing to Receive

A Gift Received
A Gift Received

Back in my journal, I crossed out “I wasn’t able to take advantage of…” and replaced it with “I wasn’t prepared to receive the opportunity to see my friend.” Suddenly instead of being predatory in a land of scarcity I was instead moving through an abundant landscape. I was taking responsibility for my own lack of planning at the same time, aware of how I could change things so that the next time I recognized the pattern I would be in a place to let it happen.

By changing it from “take” to “receive” I also was removing the sense of time pressure from it, and that helps protect from those biases and fallacies which we are prone to. It has an immediate application to business: instead of jumping at something and figuring I will just “make it work” I could instead examine the “opportunity” and look more clearly at whether I was in a place to really receive it. This is not hypothetical; during the writing of this post I had a brief text negotiation with a community liaison for a group in Rochester, and re-framing the offer as “receiving” as opposed to “taking advantage” led me to negotiate a far more favorable deal than I would have otherwise.

More importantly to a “love” theme, though, I think there is some benefit to not “taking advantage” when it comes to family and friends. I would rather position myself so that when I have an opportunity for love in any of the myriad forms I would be in a frame of mind to receive it completely and joyfully, and give it back with gusto. For example, I moved back to Madison a couple of years ago so that when my daughter says “I’ve got the boys over here tonight – want to come over and say hi?” I can just take an hour and go read them a few Shel Silverstein poems, play catch, and have that be the highlight of my day.

I’ll leave “taking advantage” to those who enjoy the scarcity game. Me, I’m tired of it. I’m going to enjoy this garden of abundance and the gifts it brings my way, because there’s always plenty more.

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