Updated on 09.04.08


Trent Hamm

The Crow by peasap on Flickr!Let me tell you a pair of stories about opportunity.

When I was fifteen years old, I had a long heart-to-heart discussion with my parents. All throughout my childhood, my parents had told me that the door to college was open for me and that if my grades were good enough, they would help me go. What I learned, however, is that our family’s finances were simply too tight. My father had suffered a few extended layoffs from his factory job and his commercial fishing on the side wasn’t bringing in much money, either. In short, there was no money for me to go to college.

I didn’t take it well. I was very, very disappointed, and I withdrew. Prior to this discovery, I had a high school GPA in the 3.8-3.9 range, taking the most advanced classes I possibly could (and in some cases, even more advanced than that, as I skipped a year in the school’s math track). For the first half of my high school sophomore year, I basically gave up. I didn’t turn in a solid portion of my assignments, and I didn’t bother to study at all for any tests. While I never came close to failing anything, I did pile up a bunch of bad grades during that third semester of high school, dropping me far down the list in class rank.

One day, after watching me turn in yet another heartless and mediocre paper in English class, my teacher, Mr. Byrn, sat me down for a few moments before class. He showed me my line of grades in his grade book and flat-out said, “You’re better than that. You’re one of the best natural writers I’ve ever had in my class. You have an opportunity to do some great things with that mind of yours.” I told him that I wasn’t going to go to college, and he said, “The only reason you won’t go to college is because you didn’t try. If you want to go, you’re smart enough and you will find the opportunities you need. Just keep your eyes open and take care of your grades and you will go to college. Don’t worry about little obstacles like money.”

And I believed him.

I got very intense about my schoolwork for the second semester (and thereafter) and pulled my GPA back up to respectability. But, more importantly than that, I kept my eyes open for opportunity. I applied for every scholarship that came my way, and eventually, I netted a big one. I wound up with enough scholarship money to go to college.

Roll the clock forward several years, to a point in time when I was near my financial meltdown. As some of you know, I was once an avid player of Magic: the Gathering, a trading card game, and I still have some idea of what the individual cards and packs are worth on the secondary market.

One afternoon in March 2006, I was helping a friend of a friend clean out the back of a recently-closed coin and collectibles shop. In a cupboard in the back, we came across a box – thirty six packs – of a very old, early set of these cards. I immediately recognized that these cards had some significant value on the secondary market. A single pack of these cards can sell for as much as $200 on eBay.

Unsurprisingly, I got fairly excited about this find. I asked the guy I was cleaning up with what he was going to do with these things. He said he planned on having a lot of it appraised. I was honest – I told him that these cards had some significant value, plus they had some personal sentimental value to me (because just seeing the packs brought back some fond memories). He examined the box and noted that they originally retailed for $2.49 and offered to sell me the entire box worth for $4 a pack if I could pay him in cash right then.

The only problem was I didn’t have the cash. I couldn’t come up with the $150 he wanted for the box in cash right then, and the only friends I had who could easily loan me such cash either had adamant “no loans to friends” policies or had already loaned me money for other purposes. My checking account balance was too low and I didn’t have an emergency cash stash either. I asked him if he could hold onto the box for a little while and he said that he would, but a week later when I had the cash, he had already sold the box for substantially more than that.

If I had easy access to $150 right then, I would have been able to buy $7,200 worth of trading cards in one swoop. But because I was completely unable to take advantage of opportunity,

What’s the moral of these stories? Opportunity makes all the difference in the world, but even opportunity doesn’t matter much if you haven’t prepared yourself to take advantage of it.

In the first story, about my college preparation, I was ready to let the opportunity of college pass me by because of one little setback, and without a mentor to guide me in a sensible direction, I would have allowed that to happen. In the second, opportunity did pass me by, not because I wasn’t aware of it, but because I didn’t have the resources I needed to capitalize.

These stories together point towards a handful of truths about opportunity and how you can prepare for it.

Opportunities come along more often than you think. I have interesting opportunities all the time, from discovering trading cards in the back of a shop to simpler things like getting thirty pounds of Jonathan apples for free. The Simple Dollar itself was an opportunity, giving me a chance to spread my wings and write. Keep your eyes open at all times and many opportunities will come your way.

Mentors and strong relationships are the best things you can have to improve your chances at opportunity. Opportunities usually come your way through the people around you. That means if you surround yourself with good people, then inevitably good things will happen. One big key for me was finding a mentor who knows more about the field of battle than you do – I’ve done this several times in my life, starting with teachers during my school days and continuing to today where I’ve found a few successful writers as mentors. I’m also building a large network of friends in my local community.

Keep plenty of buffer in your checking account – that means actively spending less than you earn. Quite often, opportunities can be best taken advantage of by having an amount of cold, hard cash on hand. For example, if I had had $150, I would have been able to quickly snag $7,200 worth of trading cards. It was my own financial mismanagement that made it impossible for me to step up.

Don’t let little setbacks derail you from anything. It’s easy to give up because of a setback, especially one that looks at first glance to be devastating, like my news about college money. But did it really change the fundamentals? I still had the tools I needed to actually get into college – what I was lacking was an understanding of how I could get financial aid and scholarship money to help me attend. By getting past that one obstacle, I was able to keep on my path towards college and take advantage of other opportunities along the way.

Live an opportunity-heavy life. That means keeping a constant focus on your goals, having a large social network, and keeping your eyes open for situations that are strongly advantageous for you. If you sit at home, rarely contact anyone, and then feel as though opportunities don’t happen for you, it’s likely because of you.

Give opportunity plenty of chances to come knocking, and be ready to answer the door when it does.

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  1. Kevin says:

    Good post. Very cool that a teacher affected you that much.

  2. Moneymonk says:

    Ohh I like the microwave water bittle trick.

    But how long does the warmth lasts?

  3. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    This is so true. I personally don’t believe in good and bad luck, or fate, but that as long as one keeps a positive attitude and seeks every opportunity for positive change possible, there is very little room for dissapointment.

    I, for one, am in the process of starting my own business, and I’m making sure that I save enough money (6 months salary) in order to ensure that I have enough buffer to tackle any “bad luck” before I launch the company. I’m taking the OPPORTUNITY I have now with my current steady paycheck and using it to leverage my success in the future.

  4. Four Pillars says:

    Some good tips – I like the water bottle.

    So you offered a ‘friend’ $150 for $7200 worth of cards? Isn’t that kind of taking advantage of him?


  5. Someone says:

    @Mike– did you miss “I was honest – I told him that these cards had some significant value, plus they had some personal sentimental value to me “?

  6. Jules says:

    I need a ladder to take care of some of the opportunities growing on the road to my workplace–apples, growing by the side of the road :-)

    But you really need to know what you want before you can take opportunities to get it.

  7. Very well written post. You have really drawn appropriate conclusions from the events you’d described. Something to keep in mind always.

    Louise Pasteur claimed that he had discovered vaccines by an accident but all through those years he was preparing for that accident to happen.

  8. Another excellent article, with great advice brought to life by your compelling examples.

    I printed this for my teenage kids to read.

    Thank you.


  9. Bettsi says:

    Oh what a good post! Such true and good advice! I am experiencing some financial setbacks right now- basically, not enough money to get through each month, but instead of giving up, I will view it as a setback. In fact, yesterday, by talking to part of my network, several possible opportunities presented themselves, proving your point about mentors. Thanks for this!

  10. Jeremy says:

    Great post. I made the mistake of letting my first opportunity at college slip through my fingers over, in retrospect, a petty issue.

    But, the idea is not to dwell on your setbacks, but to evaluate the experience and learn from them.

    I remember someone telling me that there are no problems in life, only “issues.” Problem equals a negative in many people’s minds.

  11. FirstAgain says:

    What an uplifting and motivational post. It’s funny how so many people think they can just sit back and wait for the universe to make their life grand. You said it best, it takes “a constant focus on your goals, having a large social network, and keeping your eyes open for situations that are strongly advantageous” to open the door to opportunity.

  12. James says:

    Basically, you’re awesome. I’ve been reading your blog, off and on, since you started it, and I think it’s been life changing, in subtle ways.

    Did it ever occur to you that by encouraging frugality and sensible living, you’re making the world a better place? Less waste, better people.

  13. Jan says:

    This is a very strong post. Bravo!

  14. Sandy says:

    Loved the stories. My husband, as an undergrad, had a similar opportunity that he said he really learned from. A friend of his at the time had been planning a trip to England with another friend. The other friend backed out, and couldn’t get a refund on the ticket, so he told his friend to pick someone else in his stead. Well, the friend asked my husband to go, but, unfortunately, he had never applied for his passport, so the opportunity went to someone else.
    He went out and got a passport soon aftr that, jjust in case the opportunity came around again.

  15. Wess Stewart says:

    It seems we have much in common, on both of your points…heh.

    Except that I’ve managed to slip into a position where it’s neigh impossible for me to get myself able to take advantage of opportunities.

    For example, I’m job hunting. I have two prospects. One will meet my financial needs, but I’ll be stuck in that career for who knows how long (driving 18-wheelers).

    The other option is to take a restaurant Associate Manager position, not make very much money, but get experience in management, which can benefit me more in the long run.

    I’m really looking for some good advice here.

    M:tG is the best game ever, by the way. My wife gave my folder of rares to some kids…I miss them…heh heh.

  16. K.J. says:

    Another really wonderful post, Trent. Reading this post reminds me of how much I value opportunities like this — free houseplants or a chance to go out for an evening or everything in between. Chance does, in fact, favor the prepared. : )

  17. Todd A says:

    2 of my favorite sayings:
    (1)”the harder I work, the luckier I get”
    (2)have an “attitude of gratitude”

  18. Lurker Carl says:

    “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

    Never stop learning. As you learn more things, you’ll realize how little you know. Every little nugget of knowledge helps.

    Money gives one the ability to take advantage of opportunity. With money AND knowledge, the possibilities are endless.

  19. Four Pillars says:

    I told him that these cards had some significant value

    That’s not quite the same as telling him they were worth $7200.

    I’m not saying you were wrong – I’m just curious as to where you draw the line in business deals – what is good business and what is ripping someone off? If there isn’t outright fraud (which clearly there wasn’t in this case) then should there be a line at all?


  20. Battra92 says:

    Well, sadly I never had the scholarship despite having a very high GPA. I didn’t get it because I went to a Vocational High school instead of the run-down failing unsafe public school. I had to work two jobs to get through college.

    Opportunities never come my way. I have to make my own.

  21. Great post. Your teacher was write. You are a fantastic writer. I was a horrible writer in high school and I hated english class, yet now that I am 20 I have a love for writing, for words and for communication. This took me by surprise as I was always good at maths.
    Now I am looking for every and any opportunity to be a writer. That is why I am a blogger. I have an opportunity to write and earn more for it…so I am taking this opportunity (no matter how hard it is).

  22. shahrul azwad says:

    Great post!

  23. Drew says:

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve reached my own personal financial meltdown, and I am actively applying the debt snowball method to bring myself back under control.
    Recently I missed out on an opportunity similar to your card story because my personal finances were so tight that I couldn’t raise the capital I needed to take advantage of it!
    Now I have myself strapped down and I am forcing myself to save at least something from each check that comes in, so that in the future when these opportunities come along I won’t lose out.

  24. RTrain says:


    Ripping the guy off would have been telling him, “Nobody plays that anymore, but they have sentimental value to me. I’ll give you $50 bucks to cut your loss on it.”

    Telling the guy that they were actually worth a few bucks allowed him to make an offer to Trent (who was helping him clean). Unfortunately, the moral of the story was our man didn’t have access to the cash.

    Or something.

  25. plonkee says:

    I’m thinking that we should be making opportunities for other people, or at least pointing them out. If someone hadn’t made you believe that you still had the opportunity to go to college, where would you be now? How can I show other people their opportunities?

  26. bacall says:

    Trent, thank you. Sharing your story has reenergized me to continue to persist in something that I am currently finding extremely challenging. Please keep these types of stories coming – inspiration is always needed!

  27. getagrip says:

    With respect to the cards a simpler method, and perhaps an alternative to trying to come up with the money, might have been a 20/80, 25/75 or 30/60 split, whatever you felt was appropriate. He provides the cards, you do the work in selling them, and you get the bulk of the profits. That is more the way I prefer to make offers for these kinds of things with friends and family. I’ve done it for coin, baseball cards, football cards, etc. from family and friends.

    However, that said, more often than not I still get, “Nah, just give me $X and I’ll be good.” In which case, they’ve made their decision and you can move forward with a clear conscience.

  28. Marcin says:

    You are right on the money Trent.

    I tell you, there are more opportunites in this world than we can handle. We expect for others to take us by the hand but it doesn’t work that way.

  29. Sally says:

    Great post. Your teacher was write.

    I hope that was a typo!! LOL! I like “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” There is no shame in being a “worker”. Bill Gates may have the most money but he didn’t get that way by being a slacker.

  30. Carmen says:

    Nice one. :)

  31. Good article, I see opportunities every day. This bear market has provided me with excellend opportunities to buy quality dividend stocks at bargain prices..

  32. partgypsy says:

    I have a story about a missed oppourtunity. We bought our house, and there was an empty lot adjacent to our lot. We actually “squatted” on it as my husband made a small garden there. The person who owned both our and the other property then offered us the piece of land for 35K. We declined, 1) out of fear of debt; we would have had to take a loan to get it, and 2) I researched and it seemed that it didn’t conform to building codes so I thought noone one could build on it. Why buy it when we can use it for free? Sure enough the owners appealed to build, was approved, and they built this huge mcmansion overlooking our house. There are virtually no empty lots in our neighborhood now due to rising property values inducing alot of building, and certainly none that would be available at that kind of price, let alone one that was along our own property line. I hope the next time something like that happens I am not too risk averse.

  33. Lona Woodward says:

    Good post,guess the old saying is true,when oppertunity knocks be ready to open the door.

  34. shadox says:

    Magic rocks – I was a big player myself once. Still have most of these cards somewhere… not selling them for $4 a pack though… :-)

  35. Jamie says:

    There’s a saying in my family: “Luck is when opportunity and preparation join together”. Nice post Trent, it’s spot on

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