When I was an undergrad I worked for the school’s property management department. The job was to be a middleman between students and the repair personnel; students submitted requests to have things fixed after their drunken rampages, and we passed the work orders along to the guys who had to deal with the broken mirror or the sweatshirt-clogged toilet or whatever the problem was.
I took the job for two reasons: it was one of the highest-paid jobs a student could get on campus, and it gave me preferential treatment in housing choices. And being an embarrassingly standard college kid, I did the bare minimum of what was expected of me to keep the job and no more. Consequently, while my bosses liked me well enough, I didn’t learn much on the job or develop any real skills. The job never became more than what I allowed it to be for me: a stupid little campus gig.
A good friend of mine held the same position as me, but treated it very differently. She did more than was expected of her, volunteering for extra responsibilities and figuring out how the operation worked. She put in full-time hours on top of her classes and got promoted as high as a student could. When she graduated she took a job at a private property management firm, where she continued to develop her expertise, develop skills, and get promotions. Now she works during the day and goes to business school at night for a degree in real estate development, with her company footing the tuition bill. Her future is bright.
As I see it, my friend has done everything right. And she did it because she had the maturity and the presence of mind to realize the opportunity being presented to her in the moment and not in hindsight. She saw the campus job as more than just a chance to make some extra money and get a better dorm assignment; she saw it as a springboard into a career and a free graduate degree. Of course she didn’t see all this coming when she took the job, but that’s the point: she kept her eyes open and figured it out along the way.
We’re often presented with disguised opportunities like this: the throwaway project the boss delegates to us, for example, or the blog post we don’t feel like doing but have to because we haven’t posted anything in a while. Each of these is an opportunity to either phone it in or to tackle it with everything we have and exceed expectations. Choosing the latter is almost always the better bet.
The presence of mind to see opportunities in everything you do is the gift that keeps on giving. If you don’t have it, start cultivating.