Opportunity | The Warrior in the Garden 5

Opportunity | The Warrior in the Garden 5

Making Success Inevitable

by Alberto Mella

In the late ’90s, to bring the Olympic spirit to developing nations, the Olympic Committee decided to allow a small number of athletes from those nations to participate in the Games, by giving out what they called “wild card” entries. These “athletes” did not have to go through any qualifying rounds in order to compete, as a consequence some arrived woefully unprepared. One such athlete was a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea named Eric Moussambani. When the call for athletes went out he was the only person to turn up to represent his country in the sport of swimming at the Olympics.

When Eric arrived at the 2000 Sydney Games (Australia), he'd only been training for the 100-meter freestyle for about eight months on a private swimming pool 13 meters long. He'd also never been in an Olympic-size pool and had never raced. Everything that needed to be known about Olympic swimming he learned the day he landed in Australia. Regardless, he was determined to represent his country, to make the best out of the opportunity.

Along Eric swimmers from Niger and Tajikistan (other wild-card qualifiers) were given their own heat. When the official called the swimmers to their marks, both of Eric's competitors were disqualified because of false starts. Eric had to swim alone; he dove in and for the first 50m seemed to be doing okay. Then he started gasping for air, arms and legs flailing (seriously you have to YouTube this). He eventually stalled out 10 meters from the end of the race, then something incredible happened. The crowd rallied behind him, clapping and cheering him on as he inched toward the finish. As he finally pulled himself from the water, the applause thundered. His final time was 1:52.72—more than twice that of swimmers in the previous heat. But Eric couldn't have been happier. Ecstatic to have finished his first 100-meter race, he told reporters, "I'm going to jump and dance all night long in celebration of my personal triumph." And it was a PERSONAL triumph. Eric’s perseverance made him an Olympic celebrity, and his newfound fans dubbed him "Eric the Eel." He kept training for the 2004 Games and even got his time down to a respectable 57 seconds and brought to his country a new desire to participate internationally in the sport. In March 2012 he was appointed coach of the national swimming squad of Equatorial Guinea. All of this because when someone asked “free trip to the Olympics, you want it?” he said “YES.” More on this guy later.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines opportunity as a favorable juncture of circumstances. In essence, an opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. Some say that these circumstances are a matter of luck or happenstance. While true it does not tell the whole story because you can also make these circumstances happen. It’s like walking around and finding a penny on the ground, lucky right? But if you are walking around a place where a lot of cash is changing hands like, let's say, a farmer’s market, I’m very confident that your chances of finding a coin of some sort will be exponentially greater. For regular people, an opportunity is something that happens, just luck. The warrior in the garden makes luck (opportunity) happen.

In order to make an opportunity happen you need to follow three simple rules: recognize the opportunity, create an opening and act on it. 

Recognize the opportunity

Opportunity happens around us all the time. The reason that most people do not notice this is either because it is not an opportunity they are interested in or if it is they don’t know how to recognize it. 

Let’s go back to Eric for a second. Eric wanted to join the Olympic team of his country for track and field, but all those slots where filled. He was told that there was only one opening for swimming. There were others like Eric who wanted to go to the Olympics but swimming was not their thing. And while they might’ve said “oh well, next time” Eric recognized the opportunity and took it. I need you to understand how remarkable this is because when Eric said “yes” he didn’t know how to swim. The Olympics were going to be held in 8 months, that’s all the time he had to become an Olympic swimmer.

When a random event occurs you need to ask yourself, how can I benefit from this? Now, I am not suggesting that you gain from some else’s pain, that is anathema to what the warrior in the garden stands for. I am saying to take advantage of what is presented to you. For example, someone from work approaches you and tells you in confidence that they are taking a position somewhere else, retiring or quitting period. The position being vacated would be a promotion for you. Could you use the advanced knowledge to get your resume ready? Angle yourself so that you are the first one out of the gate when the position becomes vacant? Of course, you can, but it all starts with you recognizing the opportunity. Be aware. Look to the upside for you in what might seem a random occurrence.

Create an opening

Words like “fake” or “faint” describe actions during a game that are done with the purpose of creating an opening, an opportunity. Think of your favorite sport. They all have feints, fakes, and tricks that are geared towards gaining an advantage. It really doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters is that you are applying action to produce a wanted outcome. 

Now bring it to your own personal battle. Ask yourself these questions: what can I do to CREATE an advantageous circumstance for me? If you need to meet more people for your business to grow, where should you go? If you wanted to get promoted, who should you be speaking to? With? If you want to change careers, what should you be learning? 

When my business is based on networking and meeting people I create opportunity in rooms with hundreds of people versus just staying home. If I want advancement I can create opportunity by speaking and befriending people who would become my peers if the advancement occurred. You don’t know if you will meet your next business partner in that wine festival that you might miss because you don’t like wine. You might learn of that job opening that might be a step up for you during that company outing or you might miss out because you “don’t do bowling”.

Act on it

You’ve recognized an opportunity, you created an opening to take advantage of that opportunity, and now all you have to do is act on it. Simple, right? Far from it. This is the hardest part because you have to DO something about it. 

Let’s take Eric’s story once more. Yes, he saw an opportunity, and yes he said he would take it even though he didn’t know how he was going to make it happen, but it would take him 8 months of grueling training by himself to swim the required distance.  That will prove not to be enough. Once in Sydney, when he saw a 50m swimming pool for the first time he was shaken. In his mind, there was no way he could swim there and back. Watching other swimmers practice did nothing to bolster his confidence. When they saw him practicing other coaches laughed at him, except for one. The coach for the South African team was upset at his lack of refinement and berated Eric for even being there. Along with providing Eric with some swim trunks and goggles the coach gave him some needed technical advice. With this Eric found the confidence to continue what he started.  It was his action that made this a story worth telling.

Some of us will order our business cards, make it all the way to the event and sit on a side table nursing a beer. Go out and Do! Do not become a victim of inertia! Accept that networking invitation, read that book, sign up for that class. You know what you need to do, you know what will give you a leg up. It is in the action that the miracle of an opportunity can be found. 

Add this sharp tool to your toolbox. When in doubt about what to do regarding opportunities just remember ReCA: Recognize the opportunity, Create an opening and Act on it.

With this last piece, we complete the set of tools that a warrior in the garden needs to be successful in winning his/her fights. Knowledge and Skills, Choices and Opportunities. Being proficient with these concepts will make you a powerful individual, mastering them will make you unstoppable.

Warriors, don’t leave success to chance? Make it inevitable.


Alberto Mella is an award-winning speaker characterized for his inspiring message, dynamic and humorous presentation style. Alberto is an Army veteran and has been a martial arts practitioner for the past three decades. albertoemella@gmail.com

Photo Credits: "Portland Japanese Garden" by Christina Sjogren

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