“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” – Peter Drucker
Starting at a school or job, all kinds of opportunities arise. Social, academic, political, career-related. There is temptation everywhere to jump in try everything. Moreover, there are voices, often loud and definitive, telling us how to spend our time. So, how do we decide?
Remember your goals. Write them down. Refer to them frequently
Connecting with People Always Comes First
I only have one hard and fast rule that applies across the board. The opportunity to meet people in your chosen industry or field always should take priority, even over academic work in many cases. Practitioners will often have inside information that you can use to plan your path and evaluate future opportunities. Plus, while experience and academics can be important parts of success, who you know can often trump all.
Be true to your journey
Remember that your goals are yours. There is no “right” or “wrong” in choosing how to spend your time, only what is most likely to lead to results. Friends, colleagues, and even professors and school administrators may have different goals. Make sure that the results they are touting are the ones you want. Who is telling you this opportunity is a good one? Ask for data. How do they know this opportunity will benefit you? Ask for examples of people who took advantage of this opportunity and achieved goals similar to yours?
Weigh the Alternative
When presented with an opportunity, ask what is the alternative use of this block of my time? Every moment we spend doing something is a lost opportunity to do something else. Time is a zero sum game. Evaluate the options and go with the one more likely to help achieve your goal.
“Merit” is largely an artificial construct
Use whatever legal and ethical means are at your disposal to achieve your goals. This means taking advantage of opportunities based on family connections, alumni membership or membership in an underrepresented group. Using an internal moral compass to turn down certain opportunities is absolutely your right. Just keep in mind that the competition is likely taking advantage of all they can.