Monday, November 19, 2012

Imagining Opportunity

I can't believe that it has been over three weeks since I have made an entry in this blog.  But I feel compelled to write.

The past month has been busy.  One reason has been a four week Coursera class that I managed.  That was one opportunity that has turned out to be a lot different than what I imagined, but it has been a great one nevertheless.  There is a lot to be taught and a lot to be learned from interacting with as many as 20,000 people in an online class in a four week time period.

The past month has also been busy with slightly longer FB entries as I have tried for the past three weeks to come up with something truly new to be thankful for.  Today, I wrote that I was thankful for my imagination.  I commented that imagining possibilites (or opportunities in the heading for this entry) is at least half of what is necessary to make them come true.

Certainly, without the ability to imagine new opportunities, I would need to rely on someone else to create them.  I have clearly benefitted over time from other people creating opportunities for me. And I am sure I will continue to do so.  But as my career matures, I have had to learn to imagine and create more opportunities for myself and to sometimes be the one who either creates opportunities for others or at least helps others to imagine opportunities they might bring to reality. .

There are also many times that I imagine things that will never come to pass.  Part of maturing is learning how to separate those that are likely to be a reality from those that are not more quickly and to pursue only those that are likely to become reality.

As a final thought this morning, I'll share a quick example of finding opportunity where none may have been apparent and creating what may be a new opportunity.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to mentor or at least share insights gained through years of personal and professional experience with many over time.  In addition to the standard mentoring of graduate advisees and sharing life lessons with younger runners, this has been largely facilitated by my undergraduate institution (Penn State) with numerous formal mentoring programs.  The last person I was formally linked with has now graduated from Penn State, although we stay in touch.  Of course, I remain open to other opportunities Penn State may create.

After a race last week, I reached out to someone I had watched and heard make a brief speech in the post-race ceremony.  The post-race ceremony was mostly about distracted driving issues. Why?  This was the Fourth Annual Heather Hurd 5K, organized in honor of a young woman with so much ahead of her who was taken from this world much too early in an accident caused by a distracted driver.  The topic of distracted driving had already led to one opportunity for mentorship of a master's student last year.

The race raises money for a book scholarship at Harford Community College.  The prior recipient was the one whose speech caught my attention as she mentioned what she is interested in studying and it is close enough to my own interests that afterwards I got in touch and offered to share insights on health promotion and public health as she plans the her early career around these topics.  Would I ever have thought when I left to race on a Saturday morning that I would come home with a new opportunity to give back professionally?  Probably not.  But part of imagining opportunities is being ready to imagine them at any time and in any place where they might present themselves.

Perhaps it will only be a single conversation with someone looking ahead to graduate school.  But I know from my own experience that even a single conversation can sometimes help to shape a person's outlook on professional life and the opportunities that life presents (in other words, the opportunities a person imagines).  Thus, regardless of whether there is just a single conversation or we stay in touch, sharing of professional insights and the issues of work/life balance has the potential to make a real difference in where a person turns next.

As I imagine possibilities ahead (in parenting, my profession, and my running) I'd like to close with some congratulations and a wish.  First, a public congratulations to the Hurd family for a great event.  Second, a public congratulations to the previous winner of the scholarship from money raised by the race.  I am sure that regardless of any insight I may provide you will have a great career ahead, although I hope that my insight may help.  And a public wish that my mentoring will help those who I am asked to mentor or have the serendipitous opportunity to mentor in the future.  

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