Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Life's Defining Moments

It seems to me now that there was a critical period in my life , with it's starting point to be found when I met my first love in the summer of 1975. Well, it is poignant now to see in my minds eye the girl - myself - as I was at that first meeting as a 17 year old teenager in the Kepnock School grounds.  I feel for her, I understand her; and if I could speak to  her now as I wish to do, she would not understand me the journey I have traveled to reach the destination that is my current existence.  I want to offer her some sage advice and be her friend, but that is not possible. She must live the years.

 "Perhaps everyone looks back to such a moment, but most likely not. I rather think that there are many worthy and contented people who never enter their other lives, who are never forced so far into themselves that they enter a strange country, and on balance I pity them though there are few of them I find I want to know. I think I subscribe to the dreary philosophy that it is suffering of one kind or another that makes us interesting.  Not that I believe in any duty to suffer or virtue  in mere endurance, but we must suffer in order to fully to live."(The Good Doctor, Groom, C., Phoenix House, London, 1995, p.17)

What do you think about critical turning points, the value of reflection and the premise that suffering is a prerequisite  to interesting character development and to fully live?

It is my intention to explore these concepts in more detail over the next couple of posts.I'd like to begin with turning points or defining moments.

Defining Moments 

What is a Defining Moment or Critical Turning Point?  It's the idea that at a certain point, something of significance occurs that shifts our way of thinking, being or doing and is likely to influence future events or actions.  Events or experiences that are transformative have the following characteristics:
  1. We suddenly see our current situation as no loner tenable.  We wake up to the reality of our existence and recognise it is not how we envisaged our life to be.
  2. We sense an underlying in-congruence between our attitudes and beliefs and actions
  3. We suddenly see our world/existence through a different lens 
Defining moments include a wide range of experiences across the life span. They could be the result of chance occurrences (those over which the individual has no control over) or those we have engineered  ourselves (those subject to individual choice and actions).  For example a car accident leading to a new career as a public speaker, a chance meeting at a cafe culminating in a marriage proposal or meeting a mentor who encourages you to pursue a new career in a different field to the one you have trained .  

According to theories on human nature our lives are scripted from early childhood to follow a particular path or life plan. This occurs subtly thorough the messages, both negative and positive with receive from the world around us, particularly the important adults in our lives (parents, teachers, ministers, coaches and other role models). These messages tell  us who were are and who we should become.  I remember as I child being told I was no good at math so I never considered any career that involved this as a part of the skill set, yet my brother became a highly regarded research scientist. He was bought chemistry sets as a child and encouraged to experiment. My father thought education was wasted on women as they would only get married and have children anyway.  I know, a dated view, but still prevalent in the world today subtly if not overtly. Therefore, subconsciously children make decisions based on these implicit and explicit messages which in turn form a life plan or script.  Turning Points occur when our personal life script is challenged and we have to decide whether to "lean into the new information or run away from it".  What turning points have you "leaned into" and which "have you ran away from"?  How do you feel about the choice you made ?

 Gini Graham Scott in the blog post "Do Life's Turning Points Make A Difference" argues that critical turning points may not result in life altering changes. She suggests they might just be an alternative route to reach the same place in life.  "In other words, if you have a strong goal, maybe turning points are really alternate routes along the way rather than being the only life-changing event to get you there. " This also means that obstacles or turning  points that might derail you can be seen as detours or short cuts or just "another memory of what happened while you were on that path." For example, as a teenager I wanted to pursue a career in the welfare sector, but meeting and being with my "first love" took me in a completely different direction. However, years later, after several detours (including marrying and raising a family) I ended up achieving this goal. 

Moment Mapping

An activity I would recommend to assist in  reviewing the significance of a critical turning  point is "Moment Mapping".  This activity will give you a chance to think not only critically but creatively about a particular life event and how it has featured in you life script.  

Sketch Paper
Art Supplies ( up to you how much or little - paint, pencils, crayons, brushes, scissors, glue, magazines etc)

1. Take a moment to sit quietly and think about the following:
  • What have been the critical moments in your life?
  • What moments in your life have helped define who you are? or
2. Which moments in your life do you think have been important in forming who you are?Now spend 20-30 minutes to artistically represent one of those moments in whatever way you see fit. 
3. After you have completed the Moment Map, write a letter from your future self to your  past self during that moment - it can include support, advice or what you have learned about your own life script and the significance of that particular event/person/choice. I love to scrapbook so I did a page including a letter to myself as a high school senior .

 I'd love to see your own Moment Mapping Masterpiece. 

If you enjoyed this post please share with your friends and keep an eye out for  the "Value of Reflection" in the next couple of weeks.