In 1969, James Brown released a song entitled, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing,” which also included the words, “Open up the door; I’ll get it myself” in the chorus. It was a very powerful song with an equally powerful message about opportunity. Unlike the message that social conservatives would like many to believe, every impoverished individual is not looking for a government handout; instead, many people are looking for a chance. Hearing this song and thinking about the current state of the economy, and even my own life, I am reminded of the power of an opportunity.
In the late 90s, during the Clinton era, it seemed like all a person had to do to be successful was to go to school, get a degree, and land a job which came with his/her plot of land firmly affixed within the American dream. Those were the good ole days. Then came September 11th, the Wall-Street collapse, and a host of other economic failures. Suddenly a college degree didn’t seem so sure. Students who were once excited about graduation were now engaged in hotly contested battles with recently unemployed businesspeople 20 years their senior for the final positions in graduate schools across America. Everyone was doing everything that they could to avoid economic ruin, even if that meant hiding out in grad school until this mess blew over.
Suddenly the power of an opportunity became clear to me. It wasn’t that the graduates or even the unemployed businesspeople were lazy or wanting a handout; they were all searching for an opportunity. Opportunity, however, can be a tricky thing, especially in the job market because it’s not about how hard you want a job; it’s about who chooses you. It’s kind of like wanting to get married but struggling to find a significant other. You can work on yourself all day and try to transform yourself into an eligible choice, but until someone finds it in his/her heart to propose to you (or accept your proposal), then you’re left being single, which is only bad if marriage is your goal. Such is the case with opportunity; you have to keep moving, but you may be stuck in the same (or a very similar) situation until opportunity knocks on your door.
People often see those who are unemployed and assume that they’re not working hard enough, must be lazy, or want someone else to do the work for them. Such, however, is not always or even generally the case, especially in this economy. The same thing was true in 1969 when James Brown penned this song. He was talking about African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement, barely 100 years removed from slavery. Contrary to the message from social conservatives, African-Americans weren’t looking for handouts; they were looking for opportunities. 45 years after the writing of this song, it is not only the cry of African Americans; rather, it has been recently etched into the American narrative. From the shrinking middle class to those fleeing their country to find a better life, we are all looking for the same thing—opportunity.