Making space for opportunities

by | Nov 29, 2016 | Blog, Flourishing Female, Workplace Psychology | 1 comment


In my Sixth Form days I had a wonderful mate who was a bug*er for leaving homework until the last minute. There were too many missed Monday night quizzes at the Brown Cow (with free chips!) because she’d not done the German translations due in next morning. Oh, the first world frustrations I experienced as a girl geek! Come with me in this month’s Flourishing Female for a four-minute deep dive into opportunities – making space for them, missing them and making the most of them.

Making space for opportunities

This school day story is on my mind because a couple of Thursdays ago a producer on the Victoria Derbyshire Show – a BBC 1 daytime news magazine show – called to ask if I’d come on the following morning to discuss childcare costs along with Lucy Powell MP. I could only say yes because I was 90% finished preparing for work with Anglia Ruskin University on Monday and could push the final 10% ear-marked for Friday morning, into the weekend.  I learned as a child (perhaps in reaction to my mum, the self-styled ‘last minute Linda’) that it’s much better to get things done at the first opportunity than let it linger. This approach pays so many dividends as a self-employed person and I share not because I’m smug and self-satisfied (though I can be this, I’m human!) but because I’ve seen just what great things can come from being on the front foot and making a fast start with projects (if you missed my post on the psychology of a fast start-slow finish approach, read it here).

Making the most of them

Re-wind five days earlier and I’d been invited onto BBC Breakfast ostensibly to talk about childcare costs in response to a British Chambers of Commerce report showing UK businesses are losing staff with young children because of them. I say ‘ostensibly’ because in my mind this was a prime opportunity to bang the drum for flexible working rather than get into the nitty gritty of the very real problem of childcare costs. So here’s the second thing I’ve learned about opportunities: when one comes your way you need to take a moment to think through how you can make the most of it. Dig a little deeper and something that doesn’t look impressive on the surface could be a diamond and vice versa. In my case this meant taking 20 minutes to reflect on the talking points I felt would be interesting to viewers and tick the boxes that would make it worthwhile my schlepping up to Salford, then calling the researcher back.

Here’s how the BBC Breakfast conversation panned out:

Jessica Chivers, BBC Breakfast, discussing childcare costs and flexible working from Jessica Chivers on Vimeo.

In contrast to this there’ve been tons of times when I’ve said yes to things, especially in my early business days, because I’ve had diary space and then regretted it. Turning things down because they don’t tick many or any important boxes for us is vital, because every opportunity comes with a cost. For instance, I’m now really clear with people who approach me about speaking opportunities what I’m likely to say yes to.

Missing and making opportunities

I worked with some great people at Anglia Ruskin University last week in a series of workshops for line managers on ‘managing flexibly’ and another on career progression for people who work flexibly and/or part-time. Angela, (not her real name) is doing a cracking job, and although she gets some satisfaction from it, is going a little stale. It turns out it’s probably been within Angela’s gift to make a positive change for quite some time, starting with letting her line manager know what career progression she’s looking for, the timeframe and things Angela thinks she could be getting involved now to help her get there. Angela had been waiting to be noticed, which is not usually a good strategy for career progression, and when it comes to making opportunities it’s crucial to consider what would get the people you need to persuade, to a yes. I call it the WIFM factor – What’s In It For Me?

Conflicting opportunities

On a self-deprecating note, I’m absolutely shocking at using all the small opportunities for piano practice that come my way each week. I’ve got a hand-me-down keyboard in the kitchen deliberately stationed there for maximal usage and I frequently say to myself “now would be a good opportunity” (6 minutes until the broccoli is steamed at tea time for instance). I then generally fill those six minutes with picking up the children’s socks/hoovering up crusty bits of food from breakfast/checking my Twitter feed. I guess I’m just more motivated by order and an ego rub than I am by practicing the Blue Danube!


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