Do We Ever Look Back and Ask, “What Might Have Been?”

Of course. It happens countless times over the course of our lives. At home and in our careers, we have said “yes” to new experiences, and “no” to so many more. This post is all about deciphering the secret to recognizing and grasping the right opportunity when it comes knocking.

The key to this is not to cling so tightly. I’ll tell you what I mean, starting with a short story.


Rich Stearns, President of World Vision, and his wife Renee tell a story of a little boy they met in Malawi.

When they first saw him, he was playing with a soccer ball carefully molded from trash and held together with string.  Offering him a new shiny soccer ball in exchange for his handmade one, the boy seemed confused and he ran off to confer with his friends.  After much deliberation, he returned and gave up his handmade treasure for the new soccer ball that Rich and his wife offered.

Why was it such a hard decision to make a trade that seems like an obvious improvement for the boy?

The original soccer ball was created by the boy and he enjoyed what he had handcrafted.  He knew how much fun it was to play with that ball.  He made friends sharing the ball and he knew that what he had was good.  It was difficult to see that anything could be better than what he already had, especially something that he created himself.

Sometimes, we all look at life that way.

We don’t want to let go of what we know and what we believe is good for what we don’t know that can be better.

The principle of stewardship is based on the ability to hold on loosely to those things of value to us. None of it belongs to us anyway.  We have been given opportunities and relationships to steward, but we do not own them.  It may be a career, job or a particular role we cling to tightly believing it is good.

While we are holding tightly, the best opportunity is slipping right by us. Click To Tweet


Sometimes, we can even see it, but unsure of its outcome, we keep holding tightly to what we have, afraid to let go for something that is much better.  Wrapped up in the idea that we have built and grown something, we can hold on too tightly and miss the chance to build and grow something new.

One of the highlights of my year was speaking to a collaborative group of women who belonged to two different networking memberships.  Simply put, these memberships could be competitors, but the leaders recognized the growth available to both organizations and the individuals within them and the synergy created through collaboration.

It would have been easier for both of the leaders to continue to modestly grow their own member network than to collaborate with another organization.  Collaboration meant losing some control, possibly even losing members to the other networks.  While each leader was very different, they recognized the multiplier effect of their collaboration.  They held their own organizations loosely and traded good for great.

Just like the little boy with his soccer ball, we sometimes want to hold on to our possessions, too – those material items that we hold so tightly afraid that someone else may take it away from us.  With closed fists wrapped around our “things,” our hands are not open to receiving anything else.

When we uncurl our fingers and hold those things loosely, our hands are open for anything better that may come along.

Better does not necessarily mean a bigger house, a nicer car or more fashionable clothes.  In fact, better can mean giving up those things, for a very different kind of joy.

A man I know tells the story of giving up his material success and finding a deeper, better joy from serving others who are without a home, car, clothing and even food and water.

When our hands are open, we can receive something very unexpected.


How often do we cling to our own dreams? 

Leaders plan and strategize for a future they want to create, but when we hold too tightly to those dreams, leaving little room for altering the plan, the best can pass right by us.  Closed hands holding tightly to the dreams we know, do not allow us to be open to the dreams that have yet to be discovered.

Not only can we hold our own identity, possessions and dreams too tightly, we can hold on to relationships too tightly as well. When we hold people we love loosely, we give them the freedom to grow and flourish and the relationship can usually do the same.  When we hold on tightly to relationships, we literally squeeze the life out of the other person and then there is no relationship at all.

Are you still unsure of your willingness to trade in what is good for what is better, even in the face of the unknown? 

Consider the butterfly.

It has to want to fly badly enough to give up being a caterpillar. Its well-known metamorphosis cycle is total transformation from something that is good to something that is much better. Most caterpillars may have 12 eyes, but they are primitive and can do little more than sense light and dark. Some butterflies have thousands of eyes and can see color and even ultraviolet light. A caterpillar can travel 48 miles in a day. A butterfly can fly 30 miles per hour. Even in nature, something good is sacrificed to be something better.

The most recognized tool of the cowboy is a lasso.

Cowboys using the lasso to herd steers were taught to hold the rope loosely in their hands.  If they held it too tightly, the rope would not spin and rotate effectively to wrap around the target.  In fact, it would fall weakly far short of the target if held too tight.

Grounded leaders hold loosely to all that they lead and influence. It is how they avoid missed opportunity every day. Holding on tightly will cause their organizations to atrophy and eventually die. Too firm a grip will prevent them from hitting the target.

Hold loosely all that you value with an open hand in anticipation of something better. Click To Tweet


Do you hold on too tightly to the things you value? Share your own story in the comments below!