When’s the best time to prepare for an opportunity? Before it crosses your path. Because if one arrives and you’re not prepared, you’re already too late.

The opportunities people hope for vary from person to person. For an athlete, it may be finally getting a shot at the starting lineup or having a chance to impress a scout. For an investor, it may be an opportunity to invest early into a profitable business or real estate deal. For a performer, it may be about getting that audition. For an employee, it may be having an opportunity to move into a specific job or role.

But what do you do when you don’t know whether your hoped-for opportunities will cross your path? If you knew ahead of time, you’d make sure you were ready. But when you don’t know when, or even if, they’ll arrive, it’s all too tempting to put off preparing.

There’s a saying that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. You may have the best of intentions. But if you don’t have the necessary resources when the time comes, the opportunity will pass on by. If you’re not ready when you’re called upon to act, those intentions will do little good.

Still, there’s always the chance that some particular opportunity will never cross your path. And so, you may be tempted to put off preparing. Why spend time and energy on something that may not “pay off” later?

There are two things to consider: First, if something did arise, how important would it be to you to be ready? That’s something everyone has to decide for themselves. In other words, which is worse? 1) To spend time preparing, but never get the chance you were hoping for? Or 2) to get the chance you were hoping for, but not be ready when it arrives?

Second, even if you prepare, and the hoped-for opportunity never arises, everything is not a loss. Preparing entails thinking ahead, disciplining yourself, and living with intention. These are all good things—things that have value in all areas of life. So getting into the practice of acting this way, even if the desired situation never arises, can still be beneficial. You’re developing habits of acting with discipline and living with intention. And these are habits that are valuable in their own right.

The bottom line is if you don’t prepare, you’re guaranteed to not be ready if the opportunity arises. But if you do prepare, you’ll at least have a chance to make the most of it. And even if it doesn’t arrive, you can still gain some valuable practice in living intentionally along the way.

Question: What are you preparing for?