Writer Hailey Gates talks about the highs and lows of opportunity
Essay: On Opportunity
Opportunity is a bittersweet thing.
This may seem paradoxical given its inherently positive connotations. Opportunity is almost universally understood as an additive — a conduit for potential which can only expand one’s life.
This seems to me to be the general understanding of opportunity, and for a long time it was my understanding as well. It was only recently when I looked up and found myself unknowingly carrying the weight of opportunity that I saw its insidious underbelly.
Let me be clear. Opportunity does contain the auspicious promise and encouragement it’s regularly associated with. But what often goes unseen is the nuance of opportunity. It isn’t strictly an additive — with every opportunity comes an opportunity cost.
This semester, I’ve felt the costs of opportunity more profoundly than in the past. Coming into the semester with a year in Chicago under my belt, I was excited to dig in and explore with more intention. I had internally dedicated this semester to curiosity. Especially where writing was concerned, I wanted to push my limits and lean into doing what I love in a non-academic capacity. I wanted to write in any way I could.
This is what prompted me to start writing for The Phoenix — it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The Phoenix has given me exactly what I was looking for. I’ve discovered a passion for storytelling and a deep appreciation for expanding others’ voices through my own words. There is a sense of pride attached to my involvement with The Phoenix, from the sticker on my laptop to the link in my Instagram bio.
I love the work I do. Everything about it creatively resonates and motivates me to grow — and there’s something clarifying and self-confirming about seeing my name in print.
But dedication to The Phoenix has, in many ways, eclipsed my other goal for this semester — to deepen my relationships with those I’ve met at Loyola. Although I can’t imagine writing less, I always feel a twinge of guilt when pitching story ideas, knowing all my spare time over the week will be spent writing and reporting.
I’m not the only person attempting to reconcile the paradox of opportunity. My roommate Lexi, for example, is balancing course work with research opportunities, wind ensemble, model United Nations and her job as a peer advisor.
Although we love what we do, there’s an inescapable air of encroaching burnout in our apartment which suffocates similarly to the burden of opportunity. Most days, Lexi and I’s only conversation involves asking the other if they can turn out the lights.
This is the cost of opportunity. Pursuits of personal success demand time-consuming reflection and attention which can often only be accomplished alone.
Does this mean we’re doomed to opportunistic isolation? Is the only way to find ourselves to leave everyone else behind?
For much of the semester, I resigned myself to these questions, figuring in order to be myself I had to actively be separate from everyone else. However, one early October morning, in the predawn darkness of my living room, I had an epiphany.
I realized that although diverging opportunities do almost demand physical separation, they also foster a different kind of opportunity — the opportunity to support.
On this October morning, I was sitting in my apartment, drinking coffee and watching the sun start to rise through the windows. In the background of my quiet start to the day, my friend Ben’s voice rang through my headphones via the WLUW radio station.
Ben, a self-proclaimed music connoisseur, applied for a time slot on Loyola’s radio station this semester, thrilled by the prospect of curating playlists and sharing his passion for music with WLUW’s listeners.
That fall morning, listening to Ben’s cheeky commentary between carefully-selected songs, I let myself sink into the sweet side of opportunity. Even if I only hear Ben’s voice once a week through my headphones, I’m still preserving our connection through supporting him in something he obviously takes pride in.
One’s 20s demand incessant opportunity—it’s a seeming expectation that every endeavor with potential for growth be met with a resounding “yes.” It’s difficult to hone who you are while also honing relationships — especially when shared experiences are often the most personally transformative. But there’s beauty in leaning into this convergence of individualism, in connecting with those around you through your distinct passions and pursuits.
It’s hard to miss people who aren’t around because they’re doing something they love.
I still have difficulty determining which opportunities are worth the cost of less time with those who are important to me. I still slightly cringe on the inside every time I pitch a story, even if it’s one I feel strongly compelled to write.
But when I get home from class on Wednesday afternoons and see my latest articles posted on the living room wall by my other roommate Lucy, I know they’re with me. We’re all leaning into the nuance of opportunity — supporting each other from an unavoidable distance in the small ways we can, whether it’s listening to the radio or simply turning off the lights.
Feature image by Daphne Kraushaar / The Phoenix