The Difference Between An Opportunity And A Distraction

- March 3, 2016 3 MIN READ

Any entrepreneur who has had even one iota of success tends to be focused on one thing; seizing actionable opportunity. The problem is, when you are open to opportunity you can start taking on ‘impediments’ disguised as opportunities.

I have made this mistake many times. Sometimes I think I really want to work with someone, so I accept a joint venture proposed only to find that it does not work with what my core business goals are; or I just don’t enjoy the experience but am now suddenly ‘stuck’ being a part of it.

Sometimes you join a board or a team thinking that it will enhance your commercial opportunities only to find that it is sapping away your energy and not getting any discernible results. To find this out is often in the initial stages of your career and a process of trial and error.

You may have taken on an opportunity that is becoming costly and it can be hard to untie yourself from it without damaging relationships or further opportunities. After learning the lesson of costly time lost to unhelpful ventures, your focus tends to become more about discerning opportunities which then could potentially lead to missed opportunities due to not understanding what went wrong.

The process needs to be about assessing the value of what you are being offered and the energy spent, and then deciding if it honestly is an opportunity or simply a (nicely positioned!) distraction.

The way I have done this is to ask myself two questions when approached with a new venture:

• Does it bring me personal fulfilment and/or does it compliment an already integrated project in a way that will enhance growth in an area?

• Does it compliment my goals of company expansion (or other commercial goals I may have at the time)?

The personal fulfilment question is the hardest to deal with. Often an opportunity to get involved with something really fun will come along but I know ultimately it will be a distraction and won’t impact my company positively. The thing about personal fulfilment though is, often the very thing that brings you personal joy can inadvertently help you with your commercial goals. Though with great discernment comes fulfilling layers you can add to your career.

A great amount of my time is spent each month on a not-for-profit think tank which I helped launch and I cannot explain how personally fulfilling it has been for me to not only produce what we do but work alongside the calibre of people in that team. This ‘personal fulfilment’ project enhances my own knowledge by allowing me to learn other elements of my business that would seemingly be unrelated and ultimately helps me process my commercial goals more quickly.

The ability to discern should also not be an excuse to discriminate against opportunity and growth. Often, I have seen people not taking on opportunities because, rather than consider the value it will bring to themselves personally or their business, they are focusing on the cost.

The idea of suddenly realising a few extra hours a week needs to be devoted to this new thing can be overwhelming for some people, so they reject it. That is not the same thing as opportunity discernment. It is really hard for entrepreneurs who are perfectionists to feel that taking on opportunities will distract them, rather than help edify an already stretched schedule.

Part of the discernment also, is around flexibility, just because it’s not the right time to engage in a venture, doesn’t mean you need to walk away from it completely. It may just mean that for now your focus and time is better spent building something else.

Ultimately, the thing that matters most is results and if the ship you are sailing is not going in the right direction, it’s not necessarily time to quit but to change boats. The biggest lesson I have learnt in the past month is to really assess where my energy is being spent and ask myself if it’s for the betterment or detriment of my company and my personal goals.

Having to remove myself from some so-called opportunities that turned out to be energy/time-vampires may annoy some people, but ultimately my focus (and yours) needs to be on sailing that ship effectively, regardless of conditions.

What you can do now:

• Understand your commercial and personal goals and decide if an opportunity supports or fits into that

• Take an energy audit to see where your time is best spent and where you are wasting valuable moments

• Make the tough decisions to switch ships if needed – regardless of what others may think

Alexandra Tselios is the founder and publisher of The Big Smoke. Alexandra has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields. Alex is also a regular commentator on leading AM/FM radio stations across the country and expert business columnist.

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