“Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.” – Orison Swett Marden
I have to admit that as much as I like the above quote, I’m a bit at odds with it. I am all about seizing the moment and creating my own opportunities but I also know what it’s like to work my butt off and never really be given a chance. As amazing as it is to be the architect of your own journey, there are just some things that call for a door to be opened and many are still working to break the barriers that are systemically placed in front of them. Some see those barriers a lot more than others.
For me, the difference was that someone told me that my job wasn’t just to be a teacher…not even a good teacher…but a GREAT teacher everyday that I put my feet on the ground. I was told that people would deny my abilities but to make them so loud that their denying would be an afterthought. I was also encouraged to join organizations and be active in them…to continue to grow and learn. I was groomed to share, lead and make my own paths. I knew that opportunities would never be given to me unless I made them.
Even when you work like crazy and do great work, sometimes doors are still slammed in your face because there are still people in this world who would much rather not see you succeed. I learned this too…the hard way.
When I read the quote above, I thought of the kids in my own community…the ones who are held to the standards of their upbringing or stereotypes than of who they can potentially become.
For these kids, where they live is a place void of opportunities. Without fitting the societal mold of “articulateness” or having athletic dreams, they have minimal chances at anything within the realm of an opportunity beyond a minimum wage job because someone has to work those jobs…right?
I remember sitting near the theater arts teacher as she spoke about the talented black kids that she had who did great playing background roles in her shows but could never be lead characters because her lead parts weren’t written for “their type”. I remember having a conversation with another math teacher, who taught AP courses, about the young latino boy in her class who was “actually pretty smart” contrary to what she thought when she read his name. The other day, I heard of frustrated teachers who were angry at changes to the SAT test that would “in theory” allow ANYONE to get into college because clearly a college education isn’t meant to be something for ANYONE. We talk about a changed society yet we still give the DAR (daughters of the american republic) award in school to a brunette or blonde haired girl. That always bothered me.
I was different. I grew up different. At some point, someone gave me several platforms (common occasions) and a more powerful weapon than I could have imagined…more powerful than what these kids are getting in school today…the ability to think for myself and choose who I wanted to become.
Truthfully, as long as a person can think for himself, choose for himself and have the platform to be who they want…there’s not a door strong enough to hold them back. However, even with an opened door, preparation is still needed and that is where those “common occasions” come in. When we deny those, we are in essence denying future opportunities.
To get back to that quote, the weak aren’t those that are waiting on opportunities but those that are denying others to have them.
However, we are stronger in our abilities to create the opportunities that we desire in spite of those that hold us back.
The problem lies when we are unaware that we can still do so which is an even bigger problem when the unaware are our children.
PS, please don’t insult kids by adding “grit” to the conversation because if you knew these kids like I do, you’d know just how much grit that they had.