Lindsay Patience portrait

Written by Lindsay Patience

Lindsay Patience is the co-founder of Flexible Teacher Talent. She is a Teach First Ambassador, a School Leader and a mother.

Opportunities are usually so exciting and positive, but they can also be a cause of frustration and worry.

Sometimes when an opportunity comes along we ask ourselves: Can I do this? Should I do this? Is this the right thing for me at this time? Are the risks too great? Is this what I want?

I’m usually very much of the mindset that opportunities should be grasped with both hands, we should be 10% braver as #WomenEd say. I think it’s important to take opportunities when they arise to develop myself, to show others it can be done, to make progress, to drive change. Sometimes I feel privileged to have access to opportunities and sometimes I feel I’ve worked really hard to get to them, sometimes I have both of these feelings concurrently. I feel a certain sense of duty to embrace opportunities for myself, for others women, for my children. To show that I can do it, they can do it, we can do it.

I’ve recently been faced with a situation where I have a huge professional opportunity, it is everything I could have hoped for, almost unbelievably so. But it has come at a really bad time for me. I’ve just had my third child, a much hoped for and loved rainbow baby after a sad loss the year before. How I work in the next year or two may need to be substantially different and I’m just not sure I have the capacity to take on the new opportunity that I’ve worked hard to secure. What a waste! What frustrating timing! If it was all just six months or a year later! But it isn’t – it’s now.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that saying no to opportunities can be brave too. It can show others healthy boundary setting and set a good example as a role model. I’m prioritising different things at the moment. It wasn’t the right time but I can make an impact in other ways, there are other paths that I can take later on when I’m ready, when the timing is better. It feels hard to make that decision, it seems both selfish and self destructive in a very confusing way.

I think we often say no to opportunities because of imposter syndrome or to comply with gender norms or because the system prevents us from making genuine choices. Because of this there is a guilt and a fear of saying no to opportunities. We must push ourselves, feel grateful for the opportunity, be a role model and a trail blazer. But sometimes the best thing for you, your personal choice in your unique set of circumstances is to say no to the opportunity. Not to grasp it but to let it pass, maybe delay it, maybe give it up forever. Sometimes that is the best thing to do and the right thing to do. But this can feel wasteful, ungrateful, shrouded in guilt and potential regret. It can lead to resentment and anger where the decision is forced by circumstances. There’s also an undercurrent here of unfairness – I’m in this position because I’m a mother, are fathers facing these same missed opportunities? That pressure and guilt I feel about the opportunity, is that largely because of my position as a woman and a mother? As with so many things, when intersectionality is considered there is likely even more pressure to “be what you can’t see”, to take the opportunities because they may not come again, to want to get the rewards you’ve worked so hard for.

Sometimes it’s ok to let an opportunity pass. They say when one door closes, another one opens – even if you are the one to close the door yourself this is still the case. I will have to be brave enough to trust that there will be other opportunities at the right time for me.

But what do we need to change so that people can truly make choices about opportunities that present themselves? Greater flexibility in how we work? Greater flexibility on timing for starting jobs/projects? Better childcare options? Changes to societal norms and pressure? More opportunities for those with protected characteristics? If we want the best people for the job then we need to think differently about the opportunities people have and how to support them in taking them.