make opportunities fit you The Lakewalk in Duluth, Minnesota.

You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. — Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

How well should a shoe fit?

Perfectly, of course. Or really close. Blisters are no fun.

What about a new opportunity?

If you’re considering taking on additional responsibilities at work, starting a side business, or even changing careers, how well should the new situation fit you?

How close is close enough?

We Can Mold New Opportunities to Fit Us

Here’s the thing with shoes: they always stretch less than we expect.

We buy a slightly-too-small pair of boots on sale, thinking they’ll adapt to our feet. They don’t. Six months later, they’re in the donation pile. End of sad story.

New opportunities aren’t like new shoes.

Over time, a job adapts to the person who’s doing it.

This is why it’s so hard to replace a top-notch employee who’s leaving his position after a long tenure: it’s hard to tell where the basic responsibilities of the job end and the “bonus material” begins. The extra tasks that employee took on because he was good at them? They were attached to him, not the position. The next person (maybe you) will have different skills.

From a hiring perspective, the challenge is to clearly see the line between the job and the person doing it. Failing to do so is common, and it results in an unrealistic list of “preferred qualifications” that scares off potential applicants (maybe you).

The result? People who’d be a great fit never even apply.

Finding Perfect Takes Too Long

The closer to perfect we demand, the longer we’ll have to look.

Musicians are especially guilty of this when it comes to our gear. Oh man, we’re the worst.

I’m a trumpet player by training. We will spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars chasing the perfect trumpet mouthpiece for our lip shape, our style of playing, our aesthetic preferences, and our budget.

We’ll obsess over rim size, cup depth, alpha angle, backbore shape, throat size and length, overall mass, and plating material.

One piece or two piece? Screw rim or screw top? Solid shank or cut for sleeves? Reeves sleeves or Stomvi couplers (or are they the same thing)?

And we haven’t even gotten to the trumpet itself.

Here’s what we forget: a good player will adapt to her equipment, too.

If we insist on perfect, we’re likely to wait a long time. Better to grab a good opportunity, learn from it, and grab another one.

Initiative Trumps Skill Set

For most positions, having the perfect skill set is secondary. What’s more important is initiative.

You know, drive. Get-up-and-go. Gumption.

There are exceptions. Here are a few:

  • heart surgeon
  • nuclear power plant engineer
  • airline pilot
  • pacemaker quality control specialist

These jobs are safety-critical, and they’re exceptions to a bunch of rules. But you’re probably not gunning for one of these jobs.

Here are three truths:

  1. It’s very likely that your new opportunity requires a lower degree of specific skill than you imagine.
  2. It’s also very likely that you can learn more of the required skills on the job than you think.
  3. It’s almost certain that your innate strengths and current skill set will help you more than you predict (and in ways you can’t imagine).

If you’re considering ignoring, turning down, or hiding from an interesting new opportunity because you think you’re not qualified, I’m asking you to do one thing: