The world is filled with opportunities. People are constantly discovering ways to do meaningful work and new fields to work in.
According to reports, 65% of children in primary schools today will end up working in jobs that don’t currently exist.
So why don’t most people come across such opportunities?
It’s because we look at “opportunity” from a conventional lens.
Rarely does an opportunity appear out of the woods and knock at our door. In most cases, it’s hidden, covered in dust, blocked by resistance of various types. Few people look for such obscure opportunities. Few behave like archeologists, treasure hunters, and pirates.
The vast majority continue to fight over conventional roles and definitions. And with each passing day, they find it tougher to sustain, partly because of the increasing number of humans beings competing for the same resources, and partly because technology is threatening to make us obsolete.
Such a life turns meaningless quickly.
On the other hand, new and unexplored opportunities lay the platform for tremendous improvement. Such people feel more engaged at work. They build perseverance and grit, which are the largest determinants of success. They have greater autonomy and lesser competition, which enables them to get better and progress faster. More importantly, they enjoy what they do.
All it takes to discover such opportunities is a change in perspective.
In his book Ego is the Enemy, author Ryan Holiday shared the story of the ancient Roman culture where artists (painters, writers, sculptors) had wealthy patrons who sheltered them, fed them well and funded their creative work. In return, the artist would perform tasks for the patron like making way, communicating messages and “generally making the patron’s life easier.” Such a person was called an anteambulo.
Until I read about this, I assumed that artists doing the Renaissance had all the time and money from patrons to create their work. But clearly, there was never such a thing as a free lunch or a free opportunity.
Every artist whose work made an impact did more than just his work. He appreciated the opportunities he got to clear the path for patrons which in turn, helped him see how things worked on the inside and opened new doors for him. Rather than getting angry about having to “serve others,” artists saw this as ways to add value to their patrons. In the process, they added value to their own work and lives.
Being an anteambulo is not about making others look good. It’s about providing others with support so that they can be better. It’s about associating with people more successful than yourself and clearing the path for them. It’s about helping declutter their lives so that they can focus on their strengths.
Being an anteambulo is not being a sycophant. It’s not trying to make things look better. It’s not about sucking up to your boss so that you get a promotion or a better salary hike.
It’s about grunt work and humility, two traits that lay the foundation for greatness. It’s about deliberately being in the company of people better than you, and bringing results to ensure that they take you seriously.
Such actions help you learn skills way above your pay grade. You become a proactive person who can get things done, yet stay humble because you realize that there’s a lot that you don’t know. Rather than looking for mentors, you become worthy of being mentored. And you open your mind to a myriad of unexplored opportunities that most other people will never know about because they only do what they’re told.
Some examples of making life easier for successful people are:
- Coming up with ideas and handing them over to your boss.
- Introducing people who could benefit from each other.
- Finding inefficiencies in systems and ways to plug them.
- Producing more than everyone else and giving your ideas away.
- Volunteering to do things that nobody else wants to do.
You don’t get better by demanding that people appreciate your work. You do so by getting results, by pushing yourself to level up, and by adjusting your attitude to remind yourself that you’re not as important as you think. (If you think “my attitude doesn’t need adjustment,” it definitely needs one.)
Most people do what they’re told and expect their work to speak for them. But if all we do is follow instructions, our work will eventually get automated. Do we then have the right to complain that “technology” stole our jobs?
We must go beyond. We must be worthy of opportunities when they come our way. We must be enterprising enough to find rough, shine-less diamonds in coal mines where people are not looking, polish and turn them into diamonds that dazzle others. Only then will we turn into diamonds. As the old saying goes, diamonds are just pieces of coal that stuck to their job.
This is Tough
To not be in the spotlight while people above you take credit for your ideas.
To consider flaws in the existing system as opportunities instead of getting enraged by them.
To not cross the thin line between sycophancy and adding value.
To not feel demeaned by what you do and instead, look at it as a gift.
Most importantly, to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
But the rewards are equally gratifying.
You take up challenges that stretch you, teach you, and enable you to be a better version of yourself. You build a unique combination of skills that make you indispensable. And when you keep clearing the path, you eventually become someone who controls its direction.
Now that’s an authentic life!