How Children Can Invite Opportunities into Their Lives

by ChristinaPilkington on December 10, 2011 · 4 comments

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In my last post, The Secrets of Expertise, I discussed Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success.  In that book, he points to two main reasons why many people have become super successful – putting in an enormous amount of practice in their area of expertise- 10,000 hours- and being born into extraordinary circumstance.

I had a great comment from my friend, Julie. She brought up an important point, and it made me think even deeper about the topic of success and expertise. There was always something a little unsettling to me about the book. The more I thought about it, I realized that there was an important point missing in the book – a middle point that connects practice with extraordinary opportunity.

I’d like to share with you Julie’s comment and my response.

(If it’s too long of a read, scroll down to the bottom and check out my three suggestions for how to encourage your kids to deliberately invite opportunity into their lives.)


Dear Chris,

 I read the book, too, and we discussed it at a book group. One of the criticisms of the 10,000 hours was this–what happens if you put in those hours and then the opportunities don’t come? Two real life examples came up and both were in the field of music. These people poured themselves into music, thinking that it would be their life, but the doors closed in their faces nonetheless. The caution was that we should always have a backup plan.

What happens if our children (or ourselves, for that matter) have poured their lives into something, hoping it will be their life’s work, and their timing is not the best? (He talks about the importance of being born in the right year). I sure don’t advocate the whole school at home thing, but it probably is not a bad idea to encourage our kids to cast a wide net.

My oldest is now 13 and has always had an interest in art. Many people think of art as painting. I have tried to help her cast a wide net in art so that she has a variety of artistic skills, such as computer animation, web design, drawing and cartooning, t-shirt design, jewelry making, company branding, etc. She will certainly have10,000 hours of artistic practice, but maybe not in one particular area of art. I feel this is where the parent as facilitator and coach comes in. I believe that God gives each child talents and passions that, over time, are honed toward how He would have each child use those general gifts.

One of the key principles I got out of the book is that outside of the 10,000 hours, we have very little control over our success in terms of worldly success. Many of the things he talked about that contributed to worldly success had to do with birth date, cultural legacy, ethnicity, lucky opportunities, and social class. The best we can do is to give our best effort toward what is in our hearts and pray for God to open the door to the opportunities he has pre-ordained for us.


Dear Julie,

Not everyone who is an expert at something is going to be super famous or wildly rich.  But I firmly believe from hundreds of examples of people that I’ve met online and in real life, that those people who have put in about 10 years or more of consistent practice into something and, most importantly, sought out and took advantage of every opportunity they were given, were able to make a living doing something within their area of expertise. They were able to do work they loved and were good at.  

Those who have achieved a certain level of mastery will begin to attract attention. Others will learn about them and that will bring even more opportunity into their lives.

Yes, some people are born into amazing opportunities. The super lawyers that Gladwell described in his book certainly were blessed to be born into a great time in history for their area of expertise, a wonderful family situation and even into a particular race. Some people do have opportunities seemingly dropped into their laps.

But if they don’t take advantage of those opportunities than it doesn’t matter if they were handed to them or not. I’m sure there were plenty of other hockey players, computer programmers and others who were born into similar life circumstance who also had natural talent, too; they simply stopped pursuing their original passion because they didn’t love it enough to continue putting in the work it takes to get truly great.  

I think the research Gladwell did was interesting, but I believe there is still a larger number of people who put in the hours of practice and actively and deliberately invite opportunity into their lives even though they weren’t born into the ideal circumstances.

Actively inviting opportunity into your life & Taking full advantage of what you already have

Homeschoolers have the incredible advantage of achieving 10,000 hours of practice in a topic or skill because they have incredible freedom in their lives to direct their learning and time. Like I said in The Secrets of Expertise, not many children have that opportunity, so they are already born into an extraordinary life circumstance.

 I’d be curious to know if the people you described in your comments had that life opportunity to begin with. When you can put in a lot of those hours as a child and young adult, that’s going to make a difference in what series of opportunities come into your life as you reach adulthood.  

You’re right. It’s probably not enough to just put in all the hours becoming good at something if you don’t have the right doors opened up to you. But, I’d have to argue that I do think we have a lot of control over what we make of our lives. I personally believe that God did design us for a purpose, but he also gave us responsibility to make the most of every opportunity, and that means purposefully taking advantage of everything that comes in our lives, no matter how little it seems at the time, and being deliberate in making opportunities.

I believe he does put unexpected opportunities in our path, opportunities that came with our position in time and history, but I believe, for the most part, if we have a deep passion for something and work hard at it, he also wants us to do the hard work of seeking out opportunities every chance we get, not just seeing a list of what we believe to be failures and thinking we’re not meant to still go after our dream. We may not have the passion any longer, and that’s fine, but if we do or feel a less of loss in our spirits about that passion we let slip away, than to me it’s a sign to keep working towards the dream that’s in your heart.

Do Homeschooler’s Need Back-Up Plans?

You also spoke of a back-up plan. I believe that homeschooled kids usually are able to pursue many different interests in the 18 or more years they live at home. They usually become very good at many different things since they have more time than most children.  In that way, that allows many more doors to be opened to them, and it gives them a larger range of options to consider when deciding on how they’ll make a living one day.

I do believe that it’s important for parents to help their children see how their passions can be pursued in many different ways. You’ve helped your daughter a lot already in this area. I think it’s so important that you’re presenting her with many different ways she can use art as a way to live out her dream and contribute to the world.

If her heart is set on becoming a painter or whatever else she wants to do, I would encourage her to do that. At the same time when she becomes financially independent, she can see that if her preferred medium of art isn’t bringing in the income she needs, than she might need to take on a different art job while she continues to work towards her bigger dream.  And, she just might come to love the new job even more than she did her original passion. 

So, as I write this, I’m thinking, how can I encourage my kids to actively and deliberately invite opportunity into their lives?

As they pursue a topic and it becomes clear that it’s not just a passing pursuit but something they are serious about, I want to show them how to seek out experts and develop strong networking relationships.  They can send these experts e-mails with questions, ask to visit them at their work, attend conferences, and join organizations.

I want to encourage them to pursue opportunities to put their work out to the world as soon as they can. They don’t have to wait until they’re 18 to earn money from their passions. They can set up their own website and sell things. They can even set up a service-based business. There’s often ways for kids to volunteer in the areas they are interested in, too.

And, I want to encourage them to give of their talents to others without always seeking something in return. I believe when we give of ourselves to others unconditionally, most people are open and willing to help us in any way they can.

 Photo Credit: Ell Brown

What are your thoughts about inviting opportunity into your life?


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  • sarah in the woods

    I want to thank you for your encouraging comment on my blog today. I have been reading a lot about unschooling these last few months.
    This post provokes a lot of thought. My 9yo daughter’s passion is art. I absolutely want her to do what she loves and firmly believe her talent is God-given. However, we have artists in the extended family who are drowning in debt. I don’t want her ending up in that situation. I think you gave some good tips and will have to work on developing those opportunities for my daughter while she is still young.

    • Anonymous

      I’d be curious to know why members of your family are in debt. If it’s because of school loans, I would encourage you to think about why it might be necessary for your daughter to go to school for art, if it would mean accruing a large amount of debt. Not that art school wouldn’t be a good idea (especially if great connections could be made there) if there’s enough money to cover this.

      But being dedicated to her art throughout her childhood and young adult years, sending her work out as early as possible to sell (through a website) or to show others, will help bring her closer to her goal of being a paid artist without being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

      If it’s because it’s just very difficult making money doing it or because it’s hard to get a job right now in that field, than that’s more difficult. I do know the younger you are when you go for what you want, the more time you’ll have for opportunities to come your way. Many kids are not open to those opportunities because they have so much unnecessary obligations in their lives (school work that will not positively impact their adult lives, pressure to build up a list of extracurricular activities that will look good on an admissions letter to colleges), and take on unnecessary stress and pressure.

      I think giving her the time she needs to work on her craft, encouraging her to look for ways even now to sell her work, introducing her to as many professional artists early on and seeking out their advice and showing her the many ways she could make money with her art, will be the most important things you can do for her in the years to come.

  • Jessica

    I have been thinking and thinking about this post. It reminds me of an episode of Oprah I saw years and years ago. She said that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. We can prepare and prepare but sometimes we need to seek out the opportunity.

    • Anonymous

      I think too many people think that the direction of their lives is largely out of their control. They focus on their disadvantages instead of what they currently have. With social media, it’s so much easier to make the connections and relationships you need to bring those opportunities closer to your reach.

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