Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Every day, opportunities are present in the lives of society. However, it is society’s choice of whether or not to take these opportunities and run with them. Often, people resist change and avoid situations rather than taking advantage of new opportunities. The decision of evading circumstances could potentially lead to dissatisfaction, regret and unhappiness in the long run. Peter McWilliams states, “To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.” According to this quote, not taking an opportunity that requires work instead of pulling through and facing the risks of making mistakes along the way is the greatest fault. Peter McWilliams’s quote is accurate and could be proven through the play, Death of a Salesman, and through opportunities not taken by slaves in order to escape during the 1800’s.
There are various examples where the characters of Death of a Salesman are left sorrowful after rejecting exposed opportunities in their lives. Willy Loman, a salesman in the late 1940’s, is a character that sets high standards for himself and especially for his sons. He never realizes his personal failure nor can he fully understand his own self. In the midst of the inability to provide enough for his family through his career and attempting to maintain a relationship with his sons, Willy finds himself in an unhealthy mental state. Willy has had a profession as a traveling salesman for most of his adult life and he constantly discusses the missed opportunities he had in his past. One of the most prominent missed opportunities was when his brother, Ben, invited him on a journey to Alaska. Not going on this promising venture caused lifelong regrets for Willy. Not taking a risk and straying from the world of business left Willy with regret and left Ben with luck and financial success (what Willy finds himself lacking). This supports Peter McWilliams’s quote because Willy never takes the opportunity of starting a prosperous life, which leaves him in misery as he struggles to provide for his family and live a mentally stable life. Hence, Willy’s greatest mistake was avoiding a situation that involved some risk.
Many slaves held under masters throughout the late 1700’s and early 1800’s suffered greatly under inhumane conditions and failed to seize opportunities to escape. Although it is understood that the idea of escaping slavery required special courage and strength, the fear of not being successful often led slaves to avoiding situations that could escort them into freedom. Josiah Henson, for example, had a clear opportunity to abscond him and others from bondage, but failed to take advantage of it. After his master was charged with dishonest mismanagement of property, he ordered Josiah to take all his slaves to his brother who was located in Kentucky, without his supervision. On the journey to Kentucky, Josiah and the slaves from his master’s plantation passed through Ohio– a free state. When passing through Ohio, he was frequently told that they were free if they chose to be.
This happened again when he passed through Cincinnati. Josiah could have made the decision to abandon his master and break free while passing through these states, turning away from the harsh mistreatment and brutal conditions that he lived in forever. However, he threw away an opportunity of obtaining freedom because of fear and possible consequences. Josiah continued and lived the majority of his life under slavery. This proves that his biggest mistake was avoiding opportunities in which he could be brave and take chances in order to live under a better life. Many other slaves, like Frederick Douglass, were determined to escape slavery and did not avoid these opportunities because of risk or fear. Instead, he took the chance when he saw it most suitable, and succeeded in his plan. Therefore, avoiding situations in which a person might make mistakes may in fact be the biggest mistake of all, considering that the outcomes could be positive and worthy.
Not taking opportunities that are presented to one only leads to “what ifs” and unknown answers to questions concerning one’s future if the opportunity was taken. According to Peter McWilliams, the biggest mistake of all is avoiding situations in which one might make mistakes. This quote is accurate and can be proven correct through the play, Death of a Salesman, and failed opportunities to escape during the slavery time period. Therefore, if new situations and opportunities are exposed, one should not be afraid of making mistakes or taking risks along the way, because the results could certainly be beneficial.