LCpl Raw in Northern Ireland a year after a conversation about seeking opportunities

Have you ever had one of those conversations that completely changes your direction, one of those conversations that you remain thankful for decades after it happened?

I was 19 years old, and it was another hot day in the summer of 1976. I was walking aimlessly around Depot 90, an ammunition depot in Sennelager (Germany) when I started chatting to another young soldier about how bored I was and unsure of how my career in the Army was unfolding. My friend suggested I catch up with Corporal Jimmy James* and talk it through with him.

Jimmy James was someone we all looked up to – an elite sportsman, excellent soldier, someone who was wise and was happy to share his wisdom with those of us starting out on our career. 

Jimmy: what do you want out of life? 

Me: adventure, excitement and experiences that will stretch me. 

Jimmy: those opportunities are not going to be handed to you on a plate. You need to actively look for them, then put yourself forward when they appear, and this is how:

This article is about:

  • Testing your abilities, capabilities, and gifts
  • Leading a fulfilling life and one without regrets, “if only I had done this when I had the opportunity”
  • Having a thirst for life – let’s face it we only come around once. 
  • And what I did next after my conversation with Jimmy.   

My 5 top tips for seeking out opportunities

  1. Making your own luck. “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” Seneca. I found that by preparing myself in all aspects of my work and life, I was ready to take on any awesome challenge that presented itself, often when least expected e.g., completing qualifications in a chosen field of work enabled me to do a specific job.
  2. Positioning yourself. This can occur from a combination of circumstances e.g., being in the right place at the right time, becoming known for a particular expertise and having a ‘can-do’ attitude and reputation. 
  3. Knowing where to look. During my conversation with Jimmy, he told me about some of the Army publications that regularly posted opportunities for adventure training, courses, exercises, operations, and qualifications.  I later qualified as a Hang-Gliding Pilot in the Brecon Beacons after seeing one of those adverts. 
  4. Being Open minded. Don’t limit yourself. Something I often say to those who I mentor, don’t say to yourself “I only do this”. 
  5. Build your network. Having ‘referability’ – your network refers you on to those who need to fill those exciting opportunities and initiatives. It really is all about who you know:

RelatedNetworking: it really is all about who you know – Leadership in the Raw

Richard Branson

My 5 tops tips for acting on an opportunity:

  1. Back yourself! You are better than you think.
  2. It takes time, so don’t rush it. 
  3. Check in with your coach and/or mentor on your progress
  4. Go into an opportunity believing that not all opportunities will be successful – this will help you manage your expectations.  
  5. Reflect and evaluate – especially the opportunities that had a successful outcome (we often spend too much time analysing what when wrong).  If it ‘fails’ move on to your next opportunity

Related:  Fail and fail big! – Leadership in the Raw

1984 at ‘John Ridgeway’s School of Adventure’ somewhere north of Inverness. An opportunity I found on the last page of my running magazine. 

And 5 things leaders should do to support others seeking opportunities

  1. Take the time to find out their aspirations
  2. Share what it is possible based on your own experiences and those of others.
  3. Share your networks.    
  4. Play your part in sourcing opportunities. If you are their manager, what project, challenge could your colleague take a lead on that will develop them and utilise their talents? 
  5. Offer to coach and mentor them as they tackle their opportunity.    

What I did next shortly after my conversation with Jimmy? Within months I had volunteered for a four-week deployment to Cyprus; an exercise in Bavaria; a special expedition in Norway of trekking and kayaking; a week in Berlin and I was then posted to Northern Ireland (NI) on promotion for a two-year tour. (I can’t remember volunteering for NI though!). 

I was no longer bored as one exciting career led to another (in social care) and I continue to look for new opportunities.

* Footnote:  Jimmy James

Last heard of several years ago living in Bicester where he worked for the Ministry of Defence and was at one of our Corps Reunions 4 years ago.

Jimmy thank you for the time you spared to a cheeky youngster nearly 50 years ago. I have benefitted from that conversation in both my careers. 

Corporal Jimmy James pictures courtesy of: Tom Dobbing and Dave Burton (RAOC FB Group) who also appear in their respective pictures

*          Picture one.  Jimmy James is second left front row courtesy of Tom Dobbing

*          Picture two.   Jimmy James is in the middle courtesy of Dave Burton