How Passing on Good Opportunities Will Propel You in Life.

In my early days of being a graphic designer, all I wanted to do was to break into the industry. Get some jobs under my belt to beef up my portfolio, start making a little bit of money, and eventually work my way up to being a recognized name in my field. I was the ripe age of 16 and had some experience already thanks to Anthis Career Center, a vocational school I was fortunate enough to attend during high school.

Turns out that getting noticed in the real world was a lot harder than I thought it’d be. Yikes.

Not only was it hard to get noticed in a sea of designers who were better established, and quite frankly, better designers than me by a longshot, but my age was a factor in people taking me seriously. I had to fight hard to get taken seriously while developing my skills further to compete with those out there that were way ahead of me.

It was a time where I was desperate to get any opportunity I could get. Every client significantly improved my portfolio and honed my skills. Every paycheck I got (or didn’t get) made a significant impact on my morale. It was a time where the money, time invested, or difficulty of the job didn’t matter, I just needed to get work.

For many years I held the mindset of being starved for opportunity and was eager to take in anything that felt like a chance to further my career. However, as the years passed and I grew my expertise, not only design but digital marketing, photography, and a range of other areas, a shift happened in my body of work. Through experience, I learned how to see things in a different way. Naturally, I got better and started producing some great results in my work thanks to the things I had learned over the years.

The problem was that despite the continuous growth in my work and range of skills, my mindset had yet to make the shift. In my mind, I was still that young novice who had so much to learn and should be grateful any work was being thrown his way. I was still clinging on to any opportunity to keep busy.

As time went on, I began to get praise for my knowledge and ability to produce results regularly. I was being celebrated by those I worked with due to my ability to make connections others couldn’t. This was in part due to my natural curiosity and inclination to learn a variety of different things that interested me. It was easy for me to brush all of this acclaim to the side because I wasn’t taking the credit that I deserved.

However, something interesting started happening in my mind.

I started to notice that these “good” opportunities were having more of a negative impact on me than a positive one. Client work that once would have been beyond my grasp no longer seemed as appetizing. My time began to become more scarce and I found myself feeling overworked and underpaid. These types of projects no longer had the impact on my career they once did. For a long time, I thought more of those opportunities would further my work, but that wasn’t the case.

During this time, I began to get a few really awesome invitations to be a part of projects that really did excite me. Not only was the pay better than I was used to, but the people I met and the connections they had were phenomenal. I got introduced to new people who were really making an impact and doing incredible things. I was still shocked I was even invited to be in the same room as these people, but quickly I befriended them and found people who were as ambitious in their craft as I was in mine.

Through these experiences, I expanded my network to a pool of more experienced and passionate people, my clientele grew (as did their budgets), and I saw a significantly larger impact with everything I did. These were not good opportunities but great ones. This realization helped my mind make that necessary shift for me to perform on a higher level and stay there.

In a previous article, I spoke about the importance of giving yourself credit. This is what happened once I actually did.

I recognized that as my value and performance grew, so did my status in the eyes of others. People began to recognize my value and the quality of my work. However, since in my eyes I was still that young, inexperienced designer who was frantic for a chance to prove himself, I grossly undervalued myself. I never took the time to evaluate where I was in my career and how far I’d come as a professional. This led to me continuing to take opportunities that weren’t as valuable to me as they once were.

But when you’re in a scarcity mindset, you’ll take anything you can get, even if it’s not worth your time.

As these great opportunities came, I realized that it was time for me to focus my energy on bigger fish. I had to start to pass on projects and collaborations that I was interested in but didn’t make a significant push to get me where I was trying to go. This was partly due to the fact that I didn’t know where I wanted to go. Once I had created that roadmap, it was easier to see in which direction I should be headed. I had to reclaim my time and direct it towards those things that would send me leaps and bounds forward in the right direction.

The difference was staggering, I’m regretful that I didn’t realize it sooner.

Me interviewing Paul Singh for Founders Spark September 2017.

This constant and honest reevaluation of my position made it easier for me to move intentionally. I focused my energy on those things that moved me towards the right people, the right opportunities, and the right energy. My circle shifted to those who were equally ambitious, passionate, and were able to help me go where I wanted to go. Being around people who inspired me through action lit my fire to become a better me.

As a result, I started to value myself and my craft more, I reclaimed my time and became less overworked on things that weren’t important to me and was able to devote more time towards those things that fueled my fire. As a way to pay it forward, I started passing good opportunities to others who in their career had a much more significant impact. To them, these were great opportunities that I was happy to connect them with as many mentors had done for me in the past.

I started to see the ecosystem at work. As we rise, we must play in bigger arenas and at the same time help those beneath us level up as well. I fell into one of my favorite traits; becoming a connector. I was able to focus more of my time on those things that were worth my time while helping both professionals looking for opportunity and those who had an opportunity and needed to connect with those professionals.

Take moment to think. Are you playing in the area you should be in or are you holding on to good opportunities and passing up on great ones?

We cannot take on “great” if we’re filled to the brim with “good.” Part of growth, in anything we do, is letting go of the good to make room for the great. One of the biggest shifts in this self-discovery was reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It teaches us the idea of less but better, meaning that while we will do less, the things we do will ultimately be better, a concept that is crucial to becoming a master in your craft. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.
This graphic from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism shows us how much farther we can get when we focus our energy on a singular direction.

When we take the time to focus on great opportunities and focus on performing at a higher caliber we reach levels that we never thought possible. Make sure you’re spending time getting the right things done and learn to pass on good opportunities to those who really need them.