Missed Opportunities

John Glenn was a true American hero. As the first American to go into space orbit, it gave Americans a sense of pride when there was a fear that Russians were winning the race to space. In spite of Glenn’s historic achievement, he missed an opportunity.

Young girls were inspired by Glenn’s flight and wrote to him asking for advice on how to get involved in the space program. They were committed to STEM majors in college. When a Russian woman went into space, girls were even more enthusiastic about their chances of going into space.

John Glenn typically avoided directly replying to specific questions about women in space. He provided no encouragement. Was Glenn doing what the leadership of NASA wanted him to do? NASA had a position that women were unsuited for space flight because of the lack of training and physical demands of flight. Glenn backed up NASA’s position in testimony before Congress and missed an opportunity to encourage the ambitions of young women.

When Glenn left NASA, he became more accepting of women in space. But the moment had passed when his voice could have made a difference in the acceptance of women in space. It took roughly 18 years from the moment that Glenn spoke out in favor of women in space for Sally Ride to become the first woman to become an astronaut on a space flight.

All of us have experienced missed opportunities to bring about change. Often these became our greatest regrets in life. They may have been missed opportunities in our own personal lives. Or they could have been missed opportunities when we could have helped others with our support.

When presented with an opportunity, we tend to view it in the short-term. We decide on what’s in our best interests in the short term. We give a lot of attention to personal risks. We are fearful of how others will view us. We don’t give much attention to the long term; and when we do, we focus on benefits to ourselves. Rarely do we think about the long term regrets of not pursuing the opportunity.

As persons approach their final years, they often reflect on the regrets of missed opportunities. While some of those regrets may be focused on our personal well-being, the most consequential regrets are often how we could have supported others.

Missed opportunities are failures to bring about change through actions we failed to take. Change is the life blood of society, and change rarely occurs without decisions of individuals to act on an opportunity.

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“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

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