How I learn to see and seize opportunities.
I believe that opportunities exist everywhere. Even today's global recession represents unprecedented opportunity for growth and innovation. Behind a crisis is the greatest opportunity, and endless possibility. Taking the opportunity is hired-wired into many of you, and often emerges at an early age. One of my all-time favorite quotes by John F. Kennedy is, "The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke is for 'danger;' the other is for 'opportunity.' In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity."
My father taught me to see and seize opportunities, even the small ones. And sometimes perhaps a small one will lead to a larger one.
It was December of 1991 in Leningrad, Russia. It all started with a loaf of bread that didn't even exist. I stood waiting in a bread line at the local bakery for the third day in a row. It was just three short months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Little did I know how much my own life was about to change.
A black Mercedes had pulled up to the curb. The driver rolled down the window and yelled, "People! Do we have bread or do we have to eat potatoes?"
Who did I see at the wheel of this fancy car but my old classmate, Vladimir! Even though it was a gray winter day, he was wearing oversized, too-cool-for-school Versace sunglasses. The expensive car, the expensive glasses—all at once, I knew: He was Russian mafia!
Vladimir was selling airline tickets to America on the black market. He said he had one ticket to New York City. Regardless of the price, my first impulse was to say, "I'll take it!" But immediately, my mind flooded with concerns and fears. Where could I get the money? How could I abandon my family and friends, and the only life I knew?
But I was suddenly determined to pull it off. "I want the ticket," I told Vladimir, projecting a bravado I did not fully feel. "It's a done deal," I told him, not even knowing where I would find the money. But I knew that I would find it—this was the opportunity of a lifetime! How did I know? I listened to my intuition—it's the closest thing to my creator. Even today I follow the same principle.
To my surprise, Vladimir said in an unfriendly voice, "The deal is not done until I have the cash in my hands."
I raced off on my mission to somehow collect the money, pack my clothes, and pray for a visa. I borrowed money from my parents and my friends. I was waiting for Vladimir three hours before the flight, with cash in my hands…and he wasn't there. He was running late! Finally, he showed up, and I handed him a pile of cash. He counted it.
"You are one thousand rubles short," he said.
"Oh, no!" I cried. "Vladimir! No one else will buy your ticket—the flight leaves in three hours! How can you do this to me?"
He was cold. "I need the rest of the money if you want this ticket."
I was in tears. Finally, I promised that my mother would give him the rest. He had all the money I had borrowed, and he rolled up the window and drove away. After all of that, I had one dollar left to my name. Just one dollar, and a dream.
I believe that opportunities exist all the time, no matter where you live. In fact, I hope you see the opportunity right here at this moment.
You and I—we are people who believe that dreams do come true. We work hard, and that hard work pays off. Trust that anything that happens, happens for a reason. The reason is to learn a lesson. You and I are meant to be together today. There is a reason.