Life events can change careers quickly
Most great leaders can look back on their careers and pinpoint the pivotal moments, or events, that changed their careers or made them who they are today. Our choices in these moments determine the outcome.
For instance, Nelson Mandela described his pivotal moment as follows:
“We began to feel that the time had come to actually challenge the power such as the government of South Africa with all its army and police force and jails. It was felt that somebody should go underground and lead the movement. I accepted the challenge.”Nelson Mandela
The backdrop to this period in the 60s was an increase in demonstrations against the South African government, a state of emergency, and the arrest of hundreds of opposition leaders. His decision at that moment ultimately led to the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy in South Africa – actions for which he was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Imagine how different Mandela’s life would have been, had he made a different choice.
Pivotal moments can occur anytime and be prompted by positive, negative, or simply random events.
For many, life events are often stimulated by events we would describe as negative. Serious illness, divorce, death, or job loss. That said, it is important that we retain an openness so that we can capitalize on all pivotal moments that arise. How do we do that?
See life’s pivotal moments clearly
Seeing the opportunity requires an open mindset. Moments of real change can appear at the least expected time. It is usually when we notice something unique and rare unfolding in front of us. Pivotal moments, personally or professionally, follow from events that tend to prompt us to do some soul-searching. In other words, reflection leads to outcomes where we feel driven to do something that we would not normally do. These events might include starting a new role, missing out on a promotion, getting married (or divorced), or losing a loved one.
So, how should we react when these moments present themselves?
React to pivotal opportunities
When that burning need to do something unique and meaningful surfaces in our lives, we need to hold onto that feeling. In those moments, putting pen to paper, we capture our feelings and outline our ideas and visions so that we can act to make them happen. This is where it can get tricky – what we want sometimes involves making difficult decisions. Pivotal opportunities are not risk-free, so it is important to choose a path forward that considers relevant risks and trade-offs.
A Practical Example
Josefina is a superstar parent, spouse, and Head of Sales at Acme Widget Company. She goes that extra mile for everyone, often putting their needs ahead of her own. Josefina is widely seen as a brilliant person; she feels good knowing she is appreciated. On Monday morning Josefina wakes up and doesn’t feel well. Her chest feels like the cat has been sleeping on it, her back is sore, and she feels nauseous. She chalks it up to Dusty, her cat, doing just that – sleeping on her chest. Brushing it off, she gets up and gets on with her daily routine until the moment her body sends a clearer signal.
She clutches her chest and collapses behind the wheel of the car. At that moment, serendipitously a traffic jam had the car in park and a doctor in the car behind her. Paramedics get her to the hospital in record time. At the young age of 36, she has just had a heart attack. In this split second, everything changed including Josefina’s priorities. She used what she saw as a second chance to think about and then do what she really loved – help animals in need. After weeks of cardiac rehabilitation and careful planning, she quit her high-pressure sales role and set up an animal rehabilitation facility.
This example makes it easy to see how and why individuals may make significant changes in their lives, however, it doesn’t need to take something drastic to do it. It is more a matter of recognizing the signals and deciding to do something about it.
The good news is that pivotal moments are more than merely a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They occur throughout our lives as a reminder of the things that are important to us. Our journey always starts with an open mind. A willingness to seize the opportunity, and then the bravery and stamina to see it through.
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Cartoon credit: Author unknown