You Never Know...

by Ron Rosenberg

One of the problems facing us in these uncertain times is that we fail to recognize the opportunities that constantly surround us unless they hit us square in the face.

In fact, sometimes we're so caught up in the day-to-day craziness that we become lazy and complacent about what's happening around us.

So what can you do to find these opportunities? You can start paying attention and engaging with your surroundings.

It's Vacation Time!

Many years ago, we were on vacation at Club Med - Sandpiper Bay, in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Club Med is the original all-inclusive resort, and all of the sports activities - including instruction - are free.

But it's not just the normal activities you might expect, like tennis, sailing, or water skiing - most of the clubs in the North American zone actually have a trapeze program the guests can try. And I'm not talking about a little "swing" here; it's a full-size, regulation trapeze that's 24 feet off of the ground.

It can be quite scary at first climbing up the very narrow ladder. Once you get to the top, you step from the ladder onto a platform that's roughly the size of a board approximately 8-feet long, 10-inches wide, and 2-inches thick. The circus person then hooks you up to the safety lines and then positions you in front of him facing the swing that is hooked in place in front of you. You lean forward and grab the swing with your right hand as he holds onto your safety belt.

Then, when the circus person shouts, "Ready? HEP!" you reach out and grab the swing with your left hand as you step off the board...and you're FLYING.

Your goal on the first try is simply to swing, and if you get past that, you can try to get into a "knee hang" position. To do this, you pull up your knees and wrap them over the bar. Then you let your hands off the bar, arch back, and reach out with your hands. When you can do that reliably, you get the ultimate rush: another circus staff member on the other trapeze swing will catch you - just like in the circus!

It's a "Community Thing"

Climbing up a ladder, jumping off a board, getting into strange positions - while swinging in the air - and getting caught by another person...well that's not for everyone.

So naturally, it's kind of a "badge of honor" if you can do it. People have been known to become "circus junkies" during their vacations, and they even have a big circus show at the end of the week that features the circus team and the guests.

Depending on how many people want to try the trapeze on any given day, there's a line that can take up to 20 minutes to work through, so there's plenty of time to talk with the other guests. Basically, an ad-hoc community is formed in the staging area at the bottom of the trapeze.

What Do You Do?

The conversations follow expected patterns. Where do you live? Is this your first Club Med? What do you do for work? Then, as you spend more time with the same people during the week, you get into a wider range of topics.

At that time, California Proposition 227, which more or less outlawed traditional bilingual education in the state, had just passed overwhelmingly in the recent election.

I was talking with another guest about this, and he couldn't understand why bilingual education wouldn't be something to be embraced in the educational system.

The guest, Carlos, was born in Columbia, living in Louisiana, and was also vacationing at Club Med with his family.

We talked with him a bit about the differences between our two countries in terms of bilingual education - and foreign language in general. Carlos revealed that he spoke four languages fluently. Then the conversation turned to work.

It turns out that Carlos was an engineering director with Dow Chemical. As I explained what I did in our business, I could see the expression on his face change to one of increased interest. He said he definitely wanted to talk with me further after the vacation, and we later exchanged contact information, since neither one of us had business cards with us at the trapeze. (it was vacation, after all!)

Switzerland Anyone?

Carlos and I stayed in contact after that week, and then he got a promotion and a transfer to head up an organization just outside Zurich in Switzerland. Once he got settled into his new role, he reached out and invited me to deliver a series of training sessions to his leadership team.

SkiingOver the course of the next two years, I presented programs for his group ranging from traditional strategic-planning sessions to team-building exercises involving skiing (with lessons from an Olympic silver medalist). We did snowshoeing, and even had fondue laced with alcohol. (Yes, some days I really love my job!)

When my wife and I traveled to Switzerland for a vacation in 2006, our first stop was Zurich, where Carlos welcomed us to his adopted country, treating us to a fantastic dinner, and helping us plan our time in that beautiful city.

It Starts by Reaching Out

I could have easily spent the time waiting for my turn at the trapeze reading a book or sitting by myself. Instead, I engaged in conversation with the other people who were there, and this developed into a mutually beneficial relationship. It turned into business for our company, and insights into Switzerland that we simply wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

And just so you don't think this is an isolated incident, I could write about four or five other times where paying attention, engaging other people, and taking action generated opportunities that would otherwise have gone unrecognized and untapped.

That's why it's so important to pay attention, be aware, and be present so you see the opportunities other people miss.