Opportunities can spring up in the most unexpected places. Any chance meeting can lead to some surprising outcomes. And sometimes you are not even present when those opportunities appear. Allow me to explain.

Just recently I received an update from a sales trainer I’ve been working with. She was reading my book The Relationship Edge in Business on a plane trip. This prompted a conversation with the man sitting next to her who was a computer technology sales manager. After their discussion, he took a picture of the book saying he planned to read the book and have his sales people get copies too. That led her to wonder how many books have been sold on planes and not just by her.

That question prompted me to consider a deeper thought. How often do we neglect to take advantage of opportunities? Are we so focused on what we are doing that we overlook possibilities that might exist right in front of us?

Taking advantage of opportunities is how Kat Cole got ahead (as described in the book Give and Take.) Cole started working at age 15 to help provide for her family, working 2 jobs while in high school and in college. Though she was a waitress, she offered to help out when the restaurant was short a cook. When one manager left, she stepped up and created the work schedule. She was so busy at work that she wound up flunking out of college. Yet this didn’t stop her from becoming one of the youngest CEOs of a major corporation (Cinnabon) at the young age of 32.

At 19, she was given the opportunity to open the company’s first restaurant in Australia. Although other candidates had more education and experience, Cole was the only one who had worked at virtually every job. She viewed each opportunity as an experience to grow and develop.

How you react to what life offers really matters. It’s likely that other coworkers could have stepped in as Cole did and learn more about the role of the cook or the manager. But they didn’t. And I think that’s the key to creating your own luck. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca (Roman philosopher, statesman and humorist in the 1st century AD).

So be on the lookout for those precious moments. Take advantage of that serendipitous encounter. Actively search for opportunities to help others. Look for occasions to be a giver, not a taker. If you have any doubts that you’ll get more out of life by being other-focused, read Adam Grant’s book Give and Take which is subtitled: Why Helping Other Drives Our Success.