Opportunity : Its value & Use
The value of opportunity is well expressed by the familiar English proverb, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. The proverb seems to be a very old one, since it points to a time when the gathering of the hay-harvest was one of the important agricultural operations of the country. The wisdom of the saying lies in the fact that hay is greatly injured by exposure to rain and fog, and therefore a wary husbandman will avail himself of the earliest opportunity to gather in his hay crops, lest the fine weather should not continue. The spirit of this proverb is, however, applicable to all people who are in the habit of putting off things, of winking at opportunities and allowing them to slip away. It reminds us of the fact that favourable chances of doing or gaining a thing are as uncertain as an English sky, and should be embraced as soon as they offer themselves.
There are many other proverbs inculcating the same truth. “Strike while the iron is hot” is taken from the blacksmith’s craft. Poets have preached the same truth in the beautiful garb of poetry. Every reader of English literature is familiar with the following lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser—
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the current of their lives
Is bound in shallows and in misery.”
The same lesson is also conveyed in that famous line of Young’s Night Thoughts, which has passed into a proverb ‘Procrastination is the thief of time.’ A well-known couplet of Congreve teaches the same truth in more homely language : –
“Defer not till tomorrow to be wise,
Tomorrow’s sun may never rise.”
Dr. Franklin used to say, ‘One today is worth two tomorrows’
Now, why are delays dangerous ? Why have sages so strongly insisted on the value of opportunity ? The first and most obvious reason is that human life is uncertain, and no man has a guarantee that he will survive the morrow. Hence if a thing can be done today, it is wise not to postpone it. A second reason that forbids us to neglect an opportunity is that health is as uncertain as life. A man may be in the enjoyment of full health and strength today, and tomorrow he may become a helpless cripple. Then again, opportunities themselves are in their very nature fleeting and evanescent in the same degree in which all worldly things are liable to change. There is yet another reason why we should not miss an opportunity, namely, that, even supposing a second opportunity does present itself, the time lost during the interval is lost forever; or it may happen that on the second occasion certain untoward circumstances might intervene to frustrate our purpose and defeat the opportunity. More reason still can be adduced in sup-port of this great lesson. In the old days before the Flood, when human life used to extend over thousands of years, it did not matter perhaps if opportunities were allowed to go unavailed; but in the modern world, competition is so keen that a man who adopted a waiting policy is in danger of being out-stripped by more vigilant and active rivals; and the chance that is thus lost may prove to have been the chance of a lifetime.
Nevertheless, it is possible to imagine cases in which, even in the modern world of keen competition, delays, instead of being dangerous, may turn out to be profitable. Suppose a new invention is put on the market; it will be some time before a regular demand for it will arise; and the manufacturer of that class of commodity, who cannot afford to wait, will have to accept what price his customers are prepared to pay for the article, and not what price he may ask for it. But such cases are very rare : they are really exceptions that prove the rule, and the rule is that in delay there is nothing but risk.
History, both sacred and profane, is full of illustrations of the truth of the maxim ‘Delays are dangerous.’ When the Athenians declared war against Syracuse, and were reduced to the last extremity, they deferred their departure from Syracuse for nine days on account of an eclipse of the sun. The delay was fatal; for during that interval of waiting, the Athenian armies were forced to an engagement and suffered a most disastrous defeat. The Roman historians say that if Hannibal had marched to Rome immediately after winning the battle of Cannae, hewould have been master of the city. When the Scotch had incurred the anger of William III, a proclamation was made requiring all the chieftains to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereign before the first day of the new year, 1962. Mac Ian of Glence delayed to comply with the demand till the end of December, when the roads were rendered impassable by snow. The unfortunate chief could not by any possibility reach the palace where the oath was to be taken in time. The period of grace expired, and poor Mac Ian and his clansmen were massacred without mercy. Just over a hundred years ago a big battle was lost and the destinies of an empire upset by the neglect of an opportunity. On the eve of Waterloo, Napoleon had instructed one of his marshals to occupy Quatre-Bras, a town quite close to Brussels. The French marshal, on coming to the place, found it clear of the enemy, and instead of stationing his troops there immediately, marched on Brussels, thinking he could occupy the ” town any moment. He waited at Brussels, where there was a brilliant ball that night. The same night the Allies marched upon Quatre Bras and occupied it before the French troops could arrive; and the successful seizure of this town was only a preliminary step to the victory at Waterloo, which followed two days later.
A story is told of a traveller riding on horseback. His horse had lost a nail to one of his shoes. The traveller deferred to supply the nail, and lost his horse’s shoe. He then delayed to supply the shoe, and his horse became lame. He still deferred to regard this lameness, and ultimately the poor animal stumbled and fell, and both horse and rider were killed.
Instances could he multiplied to any extent, from history, from fable, from personal experience, to show that the neglect of an opportunity might be followed by serious consequences. The history of all wars is at bottom the history of chances gained and lost. The story of the hare and the tortoise is well-known to every boy, and furnishes an illustration of the same truth from the world of fable. Everyone can experience cases in which the seizure of an opportunity has been productive of gain, and the neglect of it a source of loss.
The loss may be of a trifling nature, but it is still a loss that may be followed by worse loss later on, if once the habit of letting opportunities slip by, takes firm hold of our character. Human nature is so constituted that every single action per-formed by a man leaves a permanent mark on his nervous system, which facilitates the performance of similar actions in the future. This is the psychological explanation of what is called a habit, and the stern fact about all habits is that they have an irresistible tendency to repeat themselves. It is of the utmost importance therefore to take care what habits we are unconsciously forming; and of all habits the most dangerous are those that make an insidious entrance into our nature; and of such insidious habits the most fatal is the habit of procrastination.