How to Gain Opportunities to Make a Significant Difference

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 14, Issue No. 9a
January 1, 2016

By Dan Coughlin


The Any Person Mindset says any person can make a significant difference. However, to make a significant difference you have to get opportunities to make a difference.

Abraham Lincoln was largely the same person in March 1865 as he was in March 1860. The difference was he had the opportunity to be president of the U.S., and he made the most of his time there from March 1861 to April 1865. He had actually lost elections for lower offices, but he moved on from the opportunities he didn’t get, he prepared himself for the opportunity to be president, he reached out for the opportunity, he received the opportunity, and he fully engaged himself in the opportunity. And therein lies the five steps for gaining opportunities to make a significant difference:

  1. Know your purpose.
  2. Prepare yourself for opportunities to fulfill your purpose.
  3. Reach out for those opportunities.
  4. When you don’t get the opportunity you want, handle the moment with class and move on.
  5. When you do get an opportunity to fulfill your purpose, fully engage yourself in the opportunity.

Know your purpose.

Not every opportunity means the same thing to everyone. If you don’t know your purpose, you won’t know what constitutes a meaningful opportunity for you. You won’t know how to fulfill your purpose if you don’t know it.

When I was a senior in college in 1984, I bought this little red notebook and I wrote down, “My purpose is to work with other people to help them achieve whatever they want to achieve.” Pretty simple and pretty idealistic.

What is your purpose for any activity that you take on? Write it down.

Prepare yourself for opportunities to fulfill your purpose.

Once you know your purpose start to do things that will help you be ready if the right opportunity ever shows up.

During my senior year I started to volunteer to help coach youth teams and the Women’s Club Soccer Team and to work with people who had physical and mental challenges at a nearby organization. I wanted to actually see what it was like to try to help people achieve what they wanted to achieve.

Reach out for those opportunities.

Let people know the kinds of opportunities you want. You never know who might open a door for you or how big the room might be.

During my senior year, I told my college soccer coach, Dennis Grace, that I really wanted to be a college soccer coach because I thought it would be a way for me to recruit people and to work with them to achieve what they wanted to achieve on an individual and group basis. He immediately said there was a job opening he knew about, and he guided me to it.

When you don’t get the opportunity you want, handle the moment with class and move on.

In life, you will not get some opportunities to fulfill your purpose that you really wanted. Handle those moments with class and move on.

When you have a clear purpose, you will see all kinds of opportunities that would be a good fit for you. Pursue those opportunities, but know that many of them will not come to fruition.

In 1992 I was a high school teacher, and I wanted to become the head soccer coach for the high school. I thought I was going to be at the high school for the next 30 years, and I thought the position of head soccer coach would be the perfect way for me to help other people to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I had been the assistant varsity coach for three years. I interviewed for the job, and I didn’t get it. For about a month I was really devastated. I actually thought this was going to be the last great chance I had to make a significant difference with my life. After a month, I woke up. I realized that there are a continuous number of opportunities that pop up. Some I will get, and others I won’t get.

We can never predict with absolute certainty which opportunities we will get and which ones we won’t get. Last week I reached out for two opportunities to help other people to achieve what they want to achieve. One was for a corporation, and I was going to charge a fee. The other was for a not-for-profit organization that I believe in, and I was going to volunteer several hundred hours over the period of twelve months for free. I got the opportunity with the corporation, but I didn’t get the opportunity with the not-for-profit organization. We can’t predict which opportunities we will actually receive. I sent a thank you to the officers of the not-for-profit group with a copy of a book I thought they might like, and I moved on to look for other ways to make a difference.

When you do get an opportunity to fulfill your purpose, fully engage yourself in the opportunity.

Even if only 10% of all the opportunities you pursue become a reality, be sure to fully engage in each of those opportunities. That’s how to lead a meaningful personal and professional life.

When I look back on the more than 30 years since I wrote that purpose statement in that little red notebook, which I still have by the way, I realize now that out of all the opportunities I have been interested in only a small fraction have come to be a reality. But it was by engaging fully in the opportunities I did receive regardless of whether they were paid engagements or volunteer efforts that they brought meaning to my life.

When you actually get an opportunity that connects to your purpose, jump in and embrace it. Be fully engaged in that opportunity. Make the most of it. Carpe diem, and you will make a significant difference in the lives of other people.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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