40 by Tom Field

April 5, 2016
Forty Chances by Howard Buffett

Inspiration comes in many forms – chance encounters, friends and family, comedic and tragic moments alike, stories and tales told through the lens of sermons, books, films, music and art. Two such stories have recently invaded my thinking – Howard Buffett’s book Forty Chances and a little known Scottish film On a Clear Day. Each work is a perspective about opportunity and the realization that in our time on earth we are given a finite number of chances to have an impact. Buffett addresses the great challenges of global food security from the lens of a farmer who has 40 chances during a lifetime to profoundly impact a harvest while On a Clear Day examines the life of a middle aged man in conflict with the demons of missed opportunities, frustrations about work without purpose nor autonomy, and the pain of relationships left to simmer only on the surface.

These two stories beg us to ask a tough question – so what are my 40 opportunities? A variation on the question is to ask it within a variety of time frames – what are my 40 chances this week, this semester, this year, during the productive years of my career and in those years that follow? We ding the universe in ways both small and large and each mark we leave has both intended and unintended consequences with outcomes known and mysterious.

The undergraduate experience will be fleeting and on graduation day it will seem as if the four years were no more than a moment. The speed of time’s passage demands intentionality if we are to make the most of our days and hours and minutes. To be sure, choices involve trade-offs (perhaps the greatest lesson of the university experience) and not choosing is every bit as powerful as deciding on a course of action. To make the most of our opportunities and to discover the path that transforms our view of possibility, self, and community requires a certain synergy between discipline and spontaneity.  Unfortunately there is no detailed instruction manual or recipe to guide us along but there are perhaps a couple of “suggestions” that have value:

  • Don’t ignore the opportunity to learn from someone beyond our comfort zone;
  • Fulfillment depends on taking risks, daring to reach for greatness, and as Steve Jobs reminded us – to trust that somehow the dots get connected;
  • Sweat, pain, hard work, disappointment, and set back will be involved – if not on the front end then certainly at a later date – so embrace these elements as part of a life well lived; and
  • Relationships are the foundation of all sustainable success.  Who we choose to travel with is so very important.

What are the 40 chances that lie ahead of you this week, this semester, in your lifetime? Do you have the audacity to cast off the frustrations and limitations that anchor you to the shoreline? Are you willing to invite others into the story and to take the plunge? Will you settle or will you reach for the opportunity borne in your 40 chances?

What you decide will change history.