Timing is an important part of opportunity, and that while we need to do our part, we can trust God's hand in the timing of what He has for us.
Millions of viewers have watched the YouTube video of Scotland's Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables on the television show Britain's Got Talent. One reason that this video has received more than 200 million views is the unexpected contrast between the 47-year-old Boyle's beautiful, operatic voice and her rather plain appearance. At first glance, neither the judges nor the audience expected much from this seemingly unremarkable contestant. But as soon as she opened her mouth on the talent show stage, Simon Cowell and the rest of the judges had to admit that they had wrongly judged this book by its cover.
Boyle's performance made her an instant international celebrity, receiving attention, as the New York Daily News pointed out, "ordinarily reserved for those who meet a carefully promoted standard of elegance and glamour" ("The Susan Boyle Story: If Only She Could Freeze-Frame This Moment," May 4, 2009).
Few of us have a beautiful singing voice like Boyle's. So, what lessons can we learn from her seemingly sudden rise to fame? Is it just a story of a "plain Jane" made good? Is it about the fickle nature of fame? Amid all the publicity—a few may realize—the truth is that Boyle teaches us a far more fundamental lesson. Her decades of hard work and preparation laid the foundation that allowed her to seize the opportunity when it came.
American inventor Thomas Edison famously said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls, and looks like work!" Contrary to the romantic notion that Boyle's lovely voice was a deeply hidden secret before her appearance on Britain's Got Talent, the truth is that she showed it off frequently, and worked on it for decades. And it was hard work. Because of a difficult birth, Boyle had a learning disability as a child, and was often teased by other children. As the youngest of ten children—six years younger than her next sibling—she found comfort alone in her room, singing along to records such as Donny Osmond's "Puppy Love." Her mother encouraged her to join the church choir at age 12, and she took part in a few school musical productions. As a young adult, Boyle took advantage of opportunities to sing at family gatherings, at a local hotel, and at karaoke pubs around Blackburn, her hometown.
Boyle took voice lessons, and attended the Edinburgh Acting School. Though her worldwide fame came suddenly, it came about after a lifetime of hard work that allowed her natural ability to shine. Her performance took millions by surprise, but it was no "lucky break" for this dedicated and persistent singer.
Of course, we do not find any biblical accounts of contestants wowing the judges by surprise at a talent competition. But the Bible offers many illustrations of the principle that we should develop our God-given talents and abilities to prepare for future opportunity. Even from childhood years, Joseph and Esther went through events that trained them for adult experiences they could not in their youth begin to imagine. Both Joseph and Esther encountered an amazing God-given opportunity after spending long years in preparation. This reminds us that timing is an important part of opportunity, and that while we need to do our part, we can trust God's hand in the timing of what He has for us.
Scripture also reminds us that we should not delay in developing our abilities. In Matthew 25:14–30, read Jesus' parable of the talents. The word "talent" here is a Greek unit of currency, but the principle Jesus gives us does apply directly to our talents—our skills and abilities. Christ told of a wealthy man who gave his three servants different sums of money to care for while he was away on a long journey. Two servants understood that their master expected them to use the money they were given, and through their diligence they doubled the worth of their master's investment. The third servant, however, simply buried his talent in the ground, to protect it from loss.
When the master returned, each servant was called to give an account of what he had done with his talents. The two who had doubled the wealth were called "good and faithful servants" and received generous reward. By contrast, the servant who "played it safe" was condemned as "wicked and lazy" and his talent was given to the servant who had turned five talents into ten.
One of this story's many lessons is that each servant was expected to increase what was given to him. Similarly, though God has given each of us varying abilities, He has also provided opportunities we should use to develop and use the unique talents He has given us.
Whether you realize it or not, you have unique talents and abilities that you can develop. Perhaps those talents are yet to be discovered, so you believe you have none—or none of any worth, anyway. But I do not believe it! Everyone I have known has been given something, and usually quite a few things, for which they have natural ability. One of the ways to discover what you are good at is by analyzing what you love to do. In other words, what is it that you could spend hours doing without even realizing it? And is it something that you are naturally good at? As you analyze your talents, try not to limit yourself to just the areas that typically are rewarded in our traditional school system, such as ability in words or numbers. According to the book Seven Kinds of Smart, author Thomas Armstrong shows there are at least five more areas of ability in addition to working with words or numbers. Armstrong lists music, pictures (abstract and conceptual ability), muscles (physical ability), people (ability to work with others) and the self (ability to know and understanding oneself) as other natural inclinations in most people. The point is that there likely are talents within you that can be developed. Taking the time now to explore what those are can lead you to extraordinary opportunities at the right time.
Boyle's example shows us that talent and preparation, plus the right opportunity, equals success. However, "success" most often does not mean fame and fortune. What it does mean is the personal satisfaction of a job well done—of having worked hard to develop your natural abilities in ways that others appreciate. Most opportunities do not occur on national television, nor do they bring financial wealth, but the reward of doing something well is worth a lifetime of preparation.
Many adults look back and regret opportunities not taken in their youth—piano lessons, learning a new language, developing a skill. If you are a young person reading this article, now is the time to take a close look at yourself, and decide what special skills and abilities you would like to develop. This may mean trying something you have never tried before—to find out what you would like to do—or it may mean working hard to increase a talent you already recognize in yourself. Either way, if you start preparing now, you will be that much more ready when God gives you the opportunity to showcase your talent. Maybe that opportunity will come decades from now, as it did for Susan Boyle—but, if you start preparing now, it may come sooner than you think!