Roy Vaughn, one of my mentors, was once head of the Texas Xs, the University of Texas alumni association. When he spent a few days at our ranch, he asked me, “What do you think the shortest route between two points is?”

I said, “I think it’s a straight line.”

He said, “What if you want to take the shortest route from your ranch to Seattle? If you draw a straight line between the two sites, would that be the shortest route? Look at those rugged Cascade Mountains in between. You would have quite a trip if you stuck to your straight-line strategy. So, if you don’t go in a straight line, what’s another way?”

“I guess I could always drive around.”

He said, “It’s the path of obvious opportunity. You always want to be alert to the path of obvious opportunity. You may opt to take a jet plane, a helicopter, raft the river, or follow a trail. You examine all options, looking for the path of obvious opportunity. When you find it, you seize the opportunity.”

What is the straight line between you and foreign markets? It’s the path of obvious opportunity. It may not be traditional. It may not be the path of least resistance. It’s the one of obvious opportunity.

That’s the way I go into other countries, that’s the way I go into prisons, that’s the way I work with governments.

Once I had an ideal to make a difference in the political leadership. We worked a little bit here and there, and soon we had an appointment in Washington, D.C., to meet Jim Wright, who was then the majority leader. He didn’t know me from a rock. I sat in his office for a 1 p.m. appointment until it was 5 p.m. When Diane and I finally got into his office, he said, “What can I do for you two nice people?”

I said, “You can’t do anything for me. Quite frankly, I don’t know why I’m here. But I think that I’m supposed to do something for you. I don’t know what it is.”

opportunities in life

And he said, “I want you to put on a seminar for me and a few of my colleagues.” And he said, “I want to pay for the whole thing. What will it cost?

I said, “This is what it costs.”

He was shocked.

Then I said, “Or, it’s free. You just take care of expenses and it’s free. I’m not here to make money.”

He then got seven young congressmen together, and that led to several other chances to influence political leaders, including an invitation to give the keynote address to 240 Democratic congressmen at their annual leadership conference.

I’m alert to opportunity, and I seize it. I have the end result in mind. I don’t know where opportunity will surface. But when it surfaces, I get it. I get it in the path of obvious opportunity.

Make an affirmation: “I am very creative, alert to opportunities, and eager to seize them.” Remain calm, alert, eager, and ready. And when opportunity calls (or knocks), you’re ready. Just follow the path of obvious opportunity.

I’m always looking for a way to go to the front of the line without making anyone mad. I look for ways to bypass bureaucracy, forego tradition, find the way. Sometimes, I just show up and let the spirit work through me. I go with the faith and confidence that I can cause good things to happen.

Once I found myself in the castles at Heidelberg with our top generals of the European campaign, talking to them about leadership. “Me?” That’s what goes through my mind. But I know I’m supposed to be there, and I know that I’ll make a significant difference in their lives. Another time I found myself in Anton Rupert’s home in Johannesburg to see if we could make a significant change in South Africa so that they could implement their first New Constitution with a Bill of Human Rights attached to it.

“Me? How did I get there?” The path of obvious opportunity.

You won’t know how you’ll get there when you start the journey, but if you’re alert to opportunity, you will find the path of obvious opportunity. You will know when you’re supposed to go someplace. You may not have the slightest idea what you’re going to do when you get there, but you will discover a purpose.

Most people don’t recognize an opportunity until they see it working for somebody else. If you’re going to get there from here and make a difference, you need to see and seize opportunity. Everything you do doesn’t need to be bold and big. It’s little, everyday things that you do.

Out of the Rain, Off the Plane

Once I went to a concert in Perth, Australia, for Denis Horgan’s 50th birthday. He brought in a Philharmonic orchestra to the Outback. This was out in the middle of nowhere, and yet there were 6,000 people, all dressed in tuxedos. He had one of the world’s best opera singers and Tim Galway, the world’s best flutist. So this big deal was going on, and everybody was dressed up, sitting on lawn chairs and holding umbrellas, because it was threatening rain. All of a sudden, a downpour hit, and everybody put up their umbrellas. Meanwhile, the orchestra played on.

Now Diane and I were sitting on the grass, and with the umbrellas up, we couldn’t see a thing. So I said to Diane, “I’m going to get out of this rain and go where I can see.”

She said, “You’ve got to walk through 5,000 people.”

I said, “I know it, but I can’t see.”

She said, “Why don’t you just shut up? You don’t see music anyway; all you do is hear it.”

I said, “But I want to see and hear it.” So, I got up and walked through several thousand people toward cover under a balcony. Kevin, one of the Horgan brothers, saw me coming, with Diane following close behind. So he called out, “Lou, Diane, come sit here, under the balcony.” And so we sat where we could be dry and see the concert. Kevin even brought us two bottles of chardonnay while we were sitting there.

See, you’ve got to get yourself out of the rain. Take charge of the situation. Feel that you can do something about the situation. You can’t alter the rain, but you can seek shelter. No big deal it’s just an attitude. You don’t sit and let it rain on you.

Now, our daughter Nancy and her friend David were with us, and Diane said, “Do you think we should walk down and get Nancy and David out of the rain?”

I said, “No, let them get wet if they aren’t going to get themselves out of the rain.”

Nancy is a little like me in this way, and soon, she and David came to join us. And now we had four bottles of wine. Jack MacMillan, the chairman of Nordstrom, and his wife, Loyal, were traveling with us, and Diane and I and the kids were sitting there having a bottle of wine and feeling sorry for them. Diane asked, “Do you think we should get Jack and Loyal out of the rain?”

I said, “Let them get wet. If they don’t have the sense to get themselves out of the rain.”

Soon here came Jack and Lyle. They saw that we weren’t around, and looked for shelter. Now we had six bottles of wine. And we were all dry, enjoying the concert, being served hors d’oeuvres, and watching 6,000 people get rained on.

Another time, we went to South Africa. In Johannesburg, we were sitting in a British Airways 747 about ready to take off. But the pilots could not get the engines started. Now, security at that time in Johannesburg required us to stay onboard. The plane was hot, and people were sweating. It smelled bad. Over the PA, the captain said, “Our engines are too hot. We’ll need to wait about 45 minutes before we can try again.”

Now, we couldn’t get off the plane, but the doors were open on both sides and a breeze was going through. So I got up, went out and sat on the stairs, without permission. I was all by myself out there. And the steward came and gave me a glass of wine. He didn’t kick me off the stairs or say I shouldn’t be there. Here I was, in a nice breeze in the shade with a glass of wine, while the rest of the people on that 747 were sweating, complaining, and hating every minute of it.

And I thought, “I’d better get Diane.” So I went back and asked her if she wanted to sit on the stairs. We then had two glasses of wine. She said, “Do you think we should get Nancy and David and Jack and Loyal? Before long, six of us were sitting out on the stairs with glasses of wine. We waited there for about an hour, until the captain got the engines started again.