America is another name for opportunity.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

A s we head towards the celebration of the founding of our nation, it seems a good time to revisit the concept of opportunity. The United States continues to be the Land of Opportunity. Headlines aside, we’ve got some great things happening in our country on so many fronts. First, I must confess: I have my newly acquired “grandparent goggles” on and am quite enamored with the experience of watching this little person being brought into the world. How can you not be bullish on the future when looking at a young family pursuing their American dream?

But I digress. The truth is that in spite of the challenges of a large, complex, and perpetually changing social, political, and economic environment, the United States is still THE hotbed of possibility. Yeah, we often trip over many of these opportunities and get in our own way but I’ll take it. Freedom is still the coolest thing around and it fosters an energy and possibility that is unmatched in our world.

Now, let’s explore the journey toward opportunity and the process for creating and seizing it through momentum. I continue to be fascinated with the role of momentum relative to opportunity. Of course, opportunity exists independently of momentum, but we often encounter (or create) tremendous noise that tends to obfuscate our own possibilities. Let me count the ways…

  1. Financial barriers hold us back.
  2. Fear holds us back.
  3. Bad habits hold us back.
  4. Lack of discipline holds us back.
  5. Other people hold us back.
  6. Health holds us back.
  7. Education hods us back.
  8. Pride holds us back,
  9. Negativity holds us back.
  10. Geography holds us back.

Opportunity is there, but WE hold ourselves back. Now, back to momentum. Momentum is the fuel. Momentum must be built. Momentum can roll in two directions – toward and away from opportunity.  We find it helping or hindering, sometimes in frustratingly unequal proportions. Momentum is the key and we have to foster it, create it, seize it.

Let’s revisit the list of barriers above. They are very real, very detrimental, and very manageable. Putting our optimistic attitude on, we can turn those barriers into momentum by focusing on aspects that fall within our sphere of influence. When we focus on what we can control, we make our first leap toward building momentum.

  • Financial. What can you control in your financial life? Your choices. We often miss opportunities because we aren’t in a financial position to take advantage when they come along. The strange thing about opportunity is that it is often not opportune. We often aren’t ready when it rears its head. There are two sides to the financial element: preparation and risk management. First, you have to be in a position to move on an opportunity; second, you must have the nerve to make the move. To build momentum in the financial sphere of your life means to deliberately discipline yourself before opportunity appears. Seems obvious enough yet most of us don’t do it. The brutal truth of it is that, given the massive availability of financial resources, money should be the smallest of our barriers when building momentum to possibility.
  • Fear. What is fear? It is the doubt we feel when confronted with the unknown. It is our mind creating a world of worst-case scenarios. On one hand, this is a survival technique. The worst-case scenario generator may be helpful in preparing us for possible outcomes but it is horrific when building momentum. We can either allow ourselves to be consumed with the “what-ifs” or we can train ourselves to let go. How do we do that? Confronting the worst case by looking at it directly and then past it. My personal approach? I focus on the most important things in my life: my faith, my family, my health. After that, everything is on loan for the time I’m here. Fear will never go away completely. Managing it is a discipline, a skill, that can be learned.
  • Bad habits/lack of self-discipline. We can foster habits that help us build momentum or we can embrace habits that impede momentum. We all know and understand how this works. We are born creatures of habit and addiction. In our smallest choices, we move toward or away from possibility. Choice is both blessing and curse; it is an awesome responsibility. In this way, momentum is also a choice. Small moves made day-in and day-out. Self discipline is your most intimate choice, appears in the most innocuous decisions, and has the greatest influence on your ability build momentum and seize opportunity. There is no quick fix or easy formula – it is daily hand-to-hand combat with your best intentions and worst inclinations.
  • Other people. Politicians. Regulators. Bankers. Family members. Employees. Customers. Friends. Strangers. The list of those who get in our way is endless. Momentum builds when we see people and their possibilities, not as barriers, but as fellow travelers; not for what they inflict upon us but for their importance in preparing, leading, or challenging us along the way. Again, it is a choice. We choose to allow people to discourage us or we choose to find ways to collaborate, leverage, believe, enable, and embrace the unlimited potential that comes packaged in another human being.
  • Health. Like any machine, we break down. However, routine maintenance goes a long way toward keeping us functioning as we should for as long as we are able. When we are struggling with our health, everything becomes a struggle: our attitude, our energy, our happiness are all intertwined with our overall wellness. When our body breaks down – we often follow it mentally. Overcoming or coping with health problems requires an enormous amount of will. To prevail, we have to call upon all of our reserves of hope and faith. Though things will happen to us, many of our ailments are self-inflicted. When we neglect the care of our bodies, we are attaching an anchor to our possibilities. Momentum can be built even when coping with a health challenge but it is far more difficult than if we are perfectly healthy. See bad habits/lack of self discipline above.
  • Education. Given the sheer volume of educational opportunities surrounding us within the United States, knowledge should never stand in the way of opportunity. However, we must seek it. To allow ourselves to be held back because we are lacking education is a travesty of the highest order. We have developed pathways upon pathways for those seeking virtually any degree, certificate, or program. Whether your interest is technical or philosophical, there is an educational opportunity waiting for you. No money for education? We have endless supplies of books, authors, speakers, blogs, newspapers, magazines and the almighty internet at our disposal. What does it take? Time and effort. Like everything else on this list, it begins with a choice. Education is THE enabler. Knowledge is a momentum catalyst because it allows us to see the possibilities. One idea can change the world. If your one idea is not a world changer, it might be enough to change YOUR world or the world of those around you.
  • Pride. Pride is a curious barrier to include in this list but we all suffer from it to some degree. Our pride may reinforce our fear of failing: “how mortifying for others to see me stumble!” Pride may hold us back from good ideas: “what if they laugh at me?” Perhaps pride is not attached to our fear; maybe we’re too proud to ask for someone else’s input. Maybe we suffer from stubbornness – refusing to see beyond our own conclusions. Managing pride requires us to find humility. Not a “I’m not good enough” kind of humility. We need a humility that opens us up. A humility that says: “I don’t have all of the answers” or “there might be a better way.” Maybe we simply need to ask for help. Pride can keep us from reaching out to others and an extended hand can be a great start to momentum. Fear often masquerades as pride and we are wise to heed its voice – there are powerful self-protective elements within. However, we must recognize that fear and arrogance can be equally detrimental to building momentum and pursuing the opportunities that await.
  • Negativity. We all know it hampers us but negativity comes so naturally. It is easier to destroy than to create. It is easier to criticize that improve. When we shift into a negative gear, we are effectively putting our momentum engine in reverse. Put another way, negativity causes us to build momentum in the wrong direction. Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be going wrong? You break a shoe-lace getting dressed, then you spill some coffee on your shirt, next the kids aren’t getting up so you’re running late, then someone calls a meeting that puts your morning schedule behind, suddenly your computer is choking on something, and on and on. Did all of these things conspire to ruin your day? No. The only connection between any of them was the negative energy you brought to each encounter. Once we get into this mode, it is self-fulfilling. We become convinced that the universe is simply going to rain on our parade – we talk ourselves into it. Negativity is simply a reflection of attitude and attitude is our choice. Building momentum requires us to choose positivity; to choose to be upbeat. Start small and let it build. Find the small wins and the bigger ones will follow. That is momentum and if you want it to go in your preferred direction, you need to choose optimism.
  • Geography. Opportunity can pretty much be found anywhere. It is troubling to hear an entrepreneur say that “no money is available” or a new graduate say “no one is hiring.” Even in a slow-growth economy, big things are happening all over the country. The entrepreneur or graduate above are suffering from discouragement but that doesn’t mean there is no opportunity. Their location isn’t the problem. Some geographies may have more activity than others; some markets are bigger and more dynamic. However, there is always an opportunity and geography is no excuse. Start with yourself, your idea, your effort, your energy, and your attitude first; then look at your geography. If you don’t have the first ones in that list on track, changing geography isn’t going to help build momentum. Unless, of course, it helps you change your attitude.

We still live in the land of opportunity but it is our responsibility to make it happen. It’s never been easy and it shouldn’t be. The key is to build momentum through the choices we make every single day. We get stuck in our ruts when we fall into self-restraining patterns and choices. We are held back when we allow ourselves to believe the world is acting upon us and convince ourselves that we are helpless in the face of it. Momentum hides within the little things: a smile, a silly idea, a dream, a conversation, a phone call, an email, a post, a prayer, a question, a walk around the block, a drive to the office, a decision. Momentum is the bridge to opportunity and possibility happens when we choose to take positive action.

This Independence Day, celebrate our Amazing Land of Opportunity. Don’t be discouraged by division or negativity fostered by those who make a living dealing in such commodities. We all still want pretty much the same thing: live, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness. Choose the optimism that breeds positive momentum. Then take the actions that move you toward those opportunities on the horizon and the happiness that lies along the way and beyond.