April 12


How to stop opportunity guilt from ruining your life (11 tips)

By Harry Heijligers

April 12, 2021

We all know what it's like to have opportunities presented to us which we're not really sure how we feel about.

We get the sinking feeling in our stomach that comes with opportunity guilt — the feeling that says:

"I should be grabbing this!"

But at the same time you don't want to because you're not sure what will come of it.

In this article, I will walk you through a few ways to deal with opportunity guilt and make peace with the past.

Next time when opportunity is knocking on your door, you will be ready for it


The lie that opportunity is earned and deserved can be misleading.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Opportunities don't just come out of nowhere; we make them happen.

An opportunity can be found anywhere, whether it's at school, at home or even in the grocery store. It's also important to know how to turn whatever opportunity you find into something positive.

Opportunities can be good and bad. Some can help us develop as a person, while others can hinder our development.

Finding an opportunity isn't always easy. We might have to put the time and effort into it in order to find something that will benefit both us and the person we're helping. Once we look for opportunities, we need to decide if they're worth our time or not.

There is however one thing that stands in our way. Finding an opportunity is made very difficult by something most people suffer from.

It's called Opportunity Guilt.

Opportunity Guilt

What is opportunity guilt?

Opportunity guilt is the feeling that occurs when you find an available opportunity but don't take it. You might feel you don't deserve it or that you're not deserving enough.

Opportunity guilt is something we all suffer from at one point or another.

It tells us to keep our heads down and to stay out of other people's way. That we can never go beyond what we were born into. That the rich and powerful are better than us, and therefore they deserve opportunities we don't deserve.

Opportunity Guilt - quote 1

Opportunity Guilt is like stirring your soup forever without ever eating it.

Trying to change things without any success.
It causes you to give up on a lot of opportunities. It's the ultimate form of procrastination. You are busy doing nothing.

Even though it is easy to get swept away by the current of life, you must learn to swim upstream. You must sit on the shore and notice the opportunities that come and go.

Sometimes, all you need is one moment to realize how amazing life is.

And as soon as you do – wow!

Suddenly everything looks so much clearer. Having a good outlook on your life will help you overcome opportunity guilt and give you more enjoyable experiences.

Who is susceptible to opportunity guilt?

Opportunity guilt can affect anyone, whether we call ourselves a "success" or not.

We may feel it whenever an opportunity presents itself. It might be a job we see advertised, or a place we hear about that needs to be filled. But instead of feeling excited by the thought of having more opportunities ahead of us, we feel defeated and even resentful toward the person who has what we don't have.

In this way, opportunity guilt makes us feel incapable. It tells us that other people have something going for them that we can't ever achieve.

Opportunity Guilt - quote 2

Opportunity guilt is like seeing a pro with a golf club and not being able to ask for help.

Seizing or missing an opportunity has everything to do with how you feel when the opportunity arises.

If you know what you want and why you want it, your chances of achieving it will increase.

Be positive that you'll be able to achieve it, and make decisions that will get you there.

Types of opportunity guilt

There are 3 types of opportunity guilt:

"I will never have that."

We feel as though other people have something we can never have.

Even if the opportunity is right in front of us – and if we're really honest with ourselves, it is – we still feel this way.

It almost seems like a sign to us that we've been wasting time trying to achieve what others can just get by being born into it.

"I can never do that."

We feel inadequate or unworthy of an opportunity that comes our way.

We still think we can't do it or that it would be too much for us.

We might think the person who has the job is better than us.

We might think that what they're doing is not really a good use of their time and that we would just be taking up space.

"I can never be that."

We feel as though the opportunity is out of our league.

We might think someone else can do it better than us or that we won't do it right.

Opportunity Guilt - quote 3

Opportunity guilt is like watching a movie over and over again expecting a different ending.

The best way to deal with opportunity guilt is to focus on what you're currently doing and not worrying about the past.

If you're focusing on the past, you have no control.

You can't change what happened in the past, so don't dwell on it.

Instead, focus your attention on how you can create opportunities from today forward.

What are the causes of opportunity guilt?

The causes of opportunity guilt are:

1) Lack of perspective.

When we don't have much experience under our belt, it can be difficult to see opportunities for what they are. Instead, we see them as a way to earn our keep, or even just "get by" in life. Even if we get the job or get the place, we might think we're not really worth it and that it's not something that can work out for us in the long run.

2) Lack of confidence.

If we're not confident in our abilities (and why would we be, if no one's ever given us that confidence), it can be difficult to find an opportunity and try for it.

3) Need to be right.

When an opportunity presents itself, we might not want to take it. We might think it's below us or that it would just make a mess of everything. Instead, we hold back and talk ourselves out of taking the opportunity.

4) Lack of courage.

It can be hard to stick up for ourselves and set goals for ourselves when we're afraid that people won't like us if they know what we want. People might criticize how we live or what we do without thinking twice about it. This is very hard on our self-esteem.

5) Lack of foresight.

We might not know how to get from where we are now to whatever opportunity we want to work towards and end up missing the chance altogether. We might not think ahead enough to see the positive opportunities in front of us.

Opportunity Guilt - quote 4

Opportunity guilt is like a dishwasher that has never been used.

Not because it's broken. But because you feel resistance using it.

Maybe you think it's different to operate.

You have the opportunity but you don't take action.

Then you feel guilty later for not taking action and try to fix the mess by starting to use it, but then leave again when things get too complicated.

What's the problem with opportunity guilt?

There are several problems with opportunity guilt.

Not only does it hold us back, but it causes us to feel as though we're not capable of doing what other people have already done – even if they're just born into it. Here are some of those problems:

It makes us believe we can never get ahead in life.

If we never go for opportunities when they present themselves, then we'll never get ahead in life. We'll keep doing what we're doing, which isn't likely to change. We'll never learn anything new or accomplish anything.

It causes us to stay stuck in life.

We might be living the way we are now instead of trying to learn and grow. We might be stuck with a job we don't like, a house we can't afford, or an attitude that isn't really us. We think we can't ask for a raise or move to another job because our boss would never give it to us. And since we're stuck in this place, it's difficult for us to grow and improve in other areas of our life.

It breeds negativity and discouragement.

We might think that people with the opportunity we want are somehow better than us, or that they're not as good as we are. It can be discouraging to see people with what seem like better opportunities than us. But we might end up becoming negative and discouraged without really trying, which is the worst thing for us to be.

It makes it difficult for us to move on from our past.

We might feel that we could never get over the things that happened to us in the past. We're afraid that if we leave a bad situation, it would just come back and hurt us again. This kind of thinking can hold us back from doing what we want.

Opportunity Guilt - quote 5

Opportunity guilt is like a genie in the bottle. But you can't get it out.

Finding success comes with obstacles and negative emotions.

And then the first thing that comes to mind are the things you are missing out on. You feel like there is something holding you back but you don't know what.

Then, opportunity guilt does its dirty work and causes you to question everything about yourself and your life circumstances.

11 Tips to overcome opportunity guilt

Finding ways to move past opportunity guilt is important because, otherwise, we'll never be able to reach any of our goals or do what we want with our lives.

Here are 11 ways to overcome opportunity guilt:


Accept that you can't have it all.

It's time to stop insisting that you can have everything.

To stop demanding more and more.

To stop feeling like you're entitled to it all.

You have to accept that you can't have everything, but that it doesn't mean you can't have anything.

Instead of focusing on the things you could have...

focus on what you DO have in life!


Be open to opportunities.

Be open to opportunities when they are presented to you.

Even when they are not exactly what you would expect, give it a fair chance.

Investigate it, see the positive side of it.

Dare to take a risk. Dare to take mistakes.

But in any case... don't close yourself off from opportunities.


Start appreciating what you have.

A great way to overcome opportunity guilt is to start appreciating what you have.

Realize that there are people in the world who don't even have the things you have. Don't take everything for granted. Instead, see the value in everything you have.


Know your worth.

The more you can accept and know your worth...

the more you'll be able to overcome opportunity guilt and be open to opportunities with an open mind.

No matter how good the opportunity is...

it's up to you to decide whether or not it's the right thing for you.


Set Goals.

It's important to set goals in life and work towards them.

Make sure that they are in line with your values and what you want for yourself.

If you do this, then when opportunities come along that are a good fit for where you want to be in life, it will make it easier for you to see them as a positive and say yes to them.


Realize life moves on without you.

If you like it or not, it's a fact that you are going to miss out on parties, events, friends, and so on.

There is always more to experience in life than you have time and energy.

That's a fact of life. And it's okay because the world will go on anyways.

It's up to you whether you choose to focus on the past or look forward to the future. There are many ways of looking at this, one is that life is a race and because of opportunity guilt, we stay in our comfort zone and miss out on what could be.
Another way of thinking is that we live in the moment and are not afraid of loss because we know it's temporary. Everything will be okay because it's not forever.


Make peace with your past.

You can’t change the things that have happened to you in the past. But what you can do is learn from them, grow, and become a better person because of what has happened to you.

You have the power to create opportunities from a tragedy.

You will no longer be holding back from fully embracing what is in front of you.


Hone your skills.

The more you hone your skills so they are top-notch the more you will be able to notice opportunities that are a good fit for you.

Every skill has multiple facets.

The more facets you have developed, the more points of opportunity you will have.

Having a wide range of skills and knowledge will allow you to look at more opportunities and better evaluate them.


Create a vision for your life.

Create a vision for your future that is bright and shiny. This will open up your mental filters so that you will be much more aware of opportunities when they present themselves to you because you will be looking for opportunities.

When you do see a new opportunity and feel the guilt over having other options that you are not currently exploring...

remind yourself of your vision and how you can use this new opportunity to achieve your goals.

For example:

Say that you are a doctor, as an undergrad you double majored in political science and business.

You feel like your grades suffered because of the addition of the extra major.

Now you are getting out of school and you feel guilty for not having pursued the political science degree.

Now here comes a job opportunity as a politician: you will be working in the local government, with laws that affect your community, and you can work your way up to city government.

This would be a good opportunity for you, but it is not how you envisioned your life after college.

So instead of getting sucked into the guilt trip, remind yourself of your vision for after college.

Visualize yourself as a city council member or even mayor. Then the new opportunity is no longer a distraction from your vision, it is part of your plan to achieve your vision.


Stay positive about your situation.

If you stay positive and look for positives in every situation...

it will be easier for you to understand the positive things that might happen to you.

This will help you to appreciate the opportunities that are presented to you.

For example, if you are in a difficult situation today, you can see the opportunity in that situation to get a better job tomorrow.

And vice versa, if you have a good experience today, it is helpful to understand what you did right so that it will be easier for you to do things right again tomorrow.

Not everyone can see the positive things in every situation, which is why it is important to make an effort to stay positive. Do not let one bad thing or one negative experience ruin your day.


Ask for help when you need it.

There are a lot of people who might want to help you with your goals.

Sometimes you don't feel comfortable asking them for advice or asking them for help with something. Maybe you don't know who might have the answers you are looking for... yet.

But they are out there!

Start looking for them and expect to find them. And then... you will find them!

Start asking, even if you feel stupid. You will never know who is able to help you and make your life better. Maybe all you need is one conversation. Or maybe that one conversation lead to another and another until you will have your answers.

And, hey! Even if you don't get any answers, you will have learned something!

So ask!


Thinking about our experiences and the opportunities in our lives can be both a positive and a negative. It all depends on how we choose to think about it. For example, when we experience heartache, we can have two different reactions: feeling sorry for ourselves or thinking through how it happened in order to learn from it and improve on what is important to us the next time around. We can be the ones who are in control of how we think about our experiences.

Our past experiences and the opportunities that have arisen out of them can be relaunched. We can take charge of our lives again in order to create what we really want for ourselves. The more we learn from our experiences, the better off we'll be.

Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here: HarryHeijligers.com.
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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