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Insights: Defining Moments
July 22, 2008

Defining Moments

“Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.”

A defining moment is an incredibly powerful event – one that literally serves to define or re-define who you are as a person, in some way.

Put simply, who you are before the defining moment is not who you are after the defining moment – at least on the inside where it counts!

The first time I came across the concept of a defining moment (though not the first time I had experienced one) was during my MBA studies – surprisingly late in life.

One of the elective courses that I signed up for, more out of curiosity than necessity at that point, was called Small Business Entrepreneurship in South Africa. It was led by the man, whose name I have since forgotten, that started Capital Radio in Port St. Johns in what was then the Transkei wild coast.

He was sharing an opinion about how business entrepreneurs either start out as entrepreneurs or become entrepreneurs after experiencing a ‘defining moment’ during their career in employment.

I still recall how he stopped lecturing, looked enquiringly at the class of some thirty of us and said with a glint in his eye: “Now, be honest with me. How many of you have experienced such a defining moment?”

That was the first time I had ever considered looking back at my life with the aim of identifying and appreciating my defining moments.

And I really enjoyed it.


I think, because it made my life seem so much more fascinating, meaningful and worthwhile; so much less random and confusing.

We all experience defining moments in our life. These can be wonderfully positive experiences or they can be dreadful, traumatic events. In many cases they are neither awful nor awesome happenings - and can seem almost trivial by some measures - but they remain defining moments nonetheless.

So what’s so special about a defining moment and what are the implications?

Well, my personal belief is that life offers each of us an almost limitless range of possibilities. We are gifted all the potential variety we could ever want or need.

As we walk the road of life we are constantly presented with opportunities – alternative life routes, if you like, all heading in the same general forward direction but some veering off at very different angles to the road we are treading.

Using the road analogy, I believe defining moments can be viewed as major intersections on the road.

Accompanying these defining moments are critical decisions that we must make and which shape who we will become. The defining moments are often presented to us by life (God, source energy or the Universe, however you prefer). The critical decisions, on the other hand, are all ours to take as we see fit.

For many of us, afraid to change and face the ‘unknown’, the choice is a simple one – retain the status quo, stick to the road we know, don’t deviate unless we are forced to. For the more adventurous, the alternate routes can lead to all manner of intriguing prospects, new and exciting opportunities and sometimes daunting challenges.

The fact is that our rate of personal growth is directly proportional to the degree of variety that we are prepared to experience, the new challenges that we are prepared to take on, the new ‘places’ we are prepared to visit, the degree of change that we are prepared to accept.

I’ll share with you one of the defining moments in my life. It certainly doesn’t rank as an earth shattering event – but it was to play a huge role in shaping my future:

After qualifying as a civil engineer in the late 70s, I joined a large construction company and got involved in a number of diverse construction projects in what is now KwaZulu Natal. A few years later I was invited to join a young team who had been selected to run a large and exciting project building three of the biggest dual carriageway road bridges – or ‘viaducts’ on the N2 South between Durban and Scottburgh.

The project was very exciting and immensely challenging – partly because of the young, inexperienced nature of our team – but mainly because it involved the use of a revolutionary bridge building technique imported from Germany.

I can only describe my life in those days as ‘work hard, play hard’. We worked crazy hours maintaining the weekly schedule so as not to cost our company a loss of money – but when the opportunity arose – we partied like there was no tomorrow!

As the prestressing engineer, my role was a pivotal one as there was plenty that depended on the work that my team had to complete each week. When we encountered unexpected problems, there was no option other than to work longer hours to get the problem fixed, or risk delaying the other teams.

I clearly remember one night wrestling with an almost intractable problem caused by over-design and a resulting massive tangle of reinforcing and prestressing steel that would have prevented the required pouring of concrete the next day.

Scratching my head, I stood up straight under the glare of powerful spotlights and looked up at the pitch black night sky. It suddenly dawned on me that we were in the middle of a huge storm. The rain had been pelting down for hours but I had been so immersed in the problem I was dealing with that I had hardly noticed it.

Then I gazed at my watch and another realization struck me – I had been working non-stop now for nearly 48 hours. My wife must be wondering what on Earth had happened to me! Then as I slowly came to my senses, I started to feel incredibly tired, miserably cold and sopping wet – even my rainproof gumboots were waterlogged!

As my mind wandered from the task at hand for the first time in many hours, I took stock of the situation I was in and started to think about who and what I really wanted to be.

This was a defining moment in my life.

The very next day I took the critical decision to set in motion a chain of events that was to culminate in my resignation from the company and my enrollment for full time study towards an MBA. My life was about to take a dramatic and exciting new turn.

As you look back on your life, what do you believe were some of your defining moments? What critical decisions did you take? How did those moments – and the decisions you took – shape your life? What might you do differently if you had another chance?

It’s my hope, that pondering the defining moments of your life so far will bring greater and richer meaning to your life, as it did for me. My hope is that it will help you to recognize future defining moments and act on the opportunities that they present, taking full advantage of the potential for personal growth that such opportunities offer.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about joining the growing group of New Insights trainee life coaches? The New Insights life coach training programme is designed for people who are passionate about helping others realize their full potential while enjoying a life of personal freedom, confidence and growth themselves.
With warm regards


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