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Commentary: Seizing Opportunities

Startup Grind

Daniel Pink, best-selling author, gives a presentation during the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, California, Feb. 14, 2018. Startup Grind is a global community designed to educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

Startup Grind

Senior Airman Ashley Gardner, 9th Intelligence Squadron aerial imagery production technician, poses for a professional portrait at the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, California, Feb. 14, 2018. The squadron sent nine members to attend the two-day conference. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

Startup Grind

Derek Andersen, Startup Grind founder and chief executive officer, gives opening the remarks at the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, California, Feb. 14, 2018. Startup Grind hosts monthly events in 250 cities and 100 countries featuring successful founders, innovators, educators and investors who share personal stories and lessons learned in building companies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

Startup Grind

Members of the 9th Intelligence Squadron meet for a group photo on the final day of the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, California, Feb. 14, 2018. Startup Grind is a global community designed to educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

Startup Grind

Attendees of the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference wait in line to enter the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, California, Feb. 13, 2018. The 9th Intelligence Squadron sent nine members to attend the two-day conference which showcased different entrepreneurs and technology experts from around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

Power of influence discussion

Ashley Tisdale (right), actress and Blondie Girl Productions founder, and Stephanie Horbaczewski, StyleHaul chief executive officer, discuss the power of influence at the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, California, Feb. 14, 2018. Startup Grind is a global community designed to educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Parsons/Released)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE. Calif. --

In February, I was given the opportunity to go on a temporary duty assignment to Silicon Valley to attend the Startup Grind Global Conference. The two-day conference showcased entrepreneurs and technology experts from around the world who are paving the way in the startup sector.

 

Before I go on, I want to go back to one word:  Opportunity.

 

Recently, it was explained to me by a co-worker that opportunity can sometimes be a buzz word, or another way of being “voluntold” to do something.

 

Maybe you can relate. Has there ever been a time when a friend or co-worker approached you and said, “I’ve got a (insert volunteer, training or TDY here) opportunity for you.”

 

What was your first thought? Was it excitement and eagerness or was it self-doubt and dread?

 

If it was the latter, this is for you.

 

While there were many takeaways from the conference, I want to share three things I learned from Marc Tarpenning, Tesla co-founder, that I hope will impact your perspective.

 

“Oh, I can do that”

 

Tarpenning recounted to the audience a moment in 2008 when Google showcased a self-driving car. Up until that point, he wasn’t sure it could be done, but once he saw it, his gut reaction was, “Oh, I could do that.”

 

He challenged that sometimes you don’t think something is quite possible up until the moment somebody else does it. After that, it all sort of makes sense.

 

My husband and I are both trained photojournalists by Air Force Specialty Code and had dreamed of starting our own wedding photography business. We always had a reason not to start one, whether it just wasn’t the right time or we didn’t have enough money. We attended a wedding last summer and had the opportunity to watch the photographer work throughout the day, and it was after that day that we both had our, “Oh, I can do that,” moment.

 

A single moment of empowerment was all it took for us to dedicate ourselves to our passion. Now, not only are we accomplishing personal goals, but it has helped us tenfold in becoming better photographers for the Air Force.

 

What was your moment of realization? Do you have one? If not, I would challenge you to find your passion.

 

Be an expert

 

The next point Tarpenning made was to know your craft better than anyone else. He worked with Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk and said it was easy to work for him as long as you could always explain the why and how behind things.

 

When we don’t dedicate ourselves to an opportunity, a job or a goal, we only shortchange ourselves, he said, adding that we often make assumptions for why we can’t do things, which are sometimes valid, but sometimes they aren’t.

 

We’re all familiar with the excuse, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.”

 

If you become versed in your field, these assumptions will slowly disappear and allow you to not only avoid mistakes, but make improvements.

 

Think big

 

Tarpenning’s last bit of wisdom was to think big. He said entrepreneurs go looking for problems. However, I don’t think it only applies to entrepreneurs, but to anyone across any part of their life. It doesn’t mean to walk around your workplace and nitpick every small thing, but to ask if the problem you’re solving has meaning. If you look for meaningful problems and find impactful solutions, you can begin to impart change in a big way.

 

The Startup Grind Global Conference was one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve had in a long time. Getting to network and learn from others outside of my field of expertise was invaluable, and it’s the type of event that Airmen can always be on the lookout for to take advantage of on a local scale.

 

The next time someone offers you an opportunity, remember to never write yourself off, find a part of it to be passionate about and become an expert in, and think big. Opportunity is a state of mind. You never know when that next “opportunity” could inspire you to create something special, or what some may even deem impossible, like electric-powered cars.

 

Even if you don’t want to be the next co-founder of Tesla, there is always room for growth and mentorship. To quote a line in one of my favorite movies, “Mean Girls,” “The limit does not exist.”