When Li Cunxin was seven, for no more reason than a look and a glance he was given the opportunity to audition for the Beijing Ballet Company. The rest is history and if you’re not sure who I’m talking about yet he’s popularly known as Mao’s Last Dancer, from his book and movie of the same name.
Meeting Li this week I discovered a man with all the same stuff we all have: worry about the kids, how to earn a living and strain on the relationships during tough times. But he’s also a man who’s learned and reflected on what leads to personal and professional success. And importantly what you might do if you want to make a change for yourself.
Li was the sixth of seven children growing up in poverty in rural China in the 1960s when the freak moment changed his life forever and he grew to take the world stage in ballet.
He had lots of messages but by far the most powerful message was about recognising that moment of opportunity and going for it. Seizing the moment and giving it your all. MCing a Gala Dinner of 300 last night I relayed a little of Li’s story and asked those present to reflect on moments of opportunity they have been given. Did you take it? I recall as an eight year old playing rugby for Linwood Rugby Club (Fergie McCormack!). Well to be honest I was on the pitch with the jersey on but I was way too scared to go near the action! The ball somehow come towards me and the try line was within sight. I guess the offside rule wasn’t strictly enforced but that’s not important. Should I pick up the ball and all the fear that went with that? I didn’t, I kicked it cos I was too scared. I can still remember the utter look of disappointment on the coach’s face. Stayed with me that look, for forty years. And troubled me occasionally, until this week.
I never did do that again I’ve realised. I’ve always grabbed the things given to me and hopefully made a reasonable go of it. Quite a few opportunities have come my way and I’m pretty sure more will and I’ll grab them too.
Which is what Li has always done. Leaders can see the future and recognise outcomes that other’s fail to see. Personal leaders recognise opportunities for what they are. They won’t usually be wrapped in a gift box or with flashing lights. And that’s the challenge. Seeing what’s in front of you, picking it up and running hard. Like it’s the one big chance you have.
And if you didn’t take it, you’ve got a valuable lesson to not repeat that mistake again.