Editor's Note | Life Destinations
Greatness for each of us begins in a small moment in time
Have you ever wondered where you'd be in life if you had made different choices? Take a moment and perform the ‘hindsight is 20-20’ exercise and review some of the decisions of your life that were critical in getting you where you are today.
Sure, there are the major moments – your wedding day, graduation day, the day your child was born, the day you signed your first mortgage, and so forth. In the late 90's I faced a serious decisional crossroad: take the decent job managing physicians in Sherman TX, or move here for a more entrepreneurial enterprise which I knew would fail in time. Observably I chose to move here, the company did fail within the year, but I met my current partner and we’ve been having a ball with the CitiHealth education vision ever since 1998.
I vividly remember that serendipitous day when I met my wife. While we were young and naïve, there was a spark and an energy that couldn’t be ignored despite all otherwise rational arguments, including lack of education, income, prospects, etc. It was just one of those moments that I can always fall back on as a time in my life when I just ‘knew.’ Eighteen years and five boys later, we’re still in love and better friends than ever. All because of an instinct.
Those are big examples, but let’s think even thinner than that. Slice your decisions a little smaller and get to those very minute, almost inconsequential moments of decision making and it’s then I believe you get to the root of who, why and what you are today. I just finished a really interesting book – Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell – which highlights the power of the moment and the mind’s adaptive unconscious abilities. The premise is that the mind has a decision-making apparatus that’s capable of making very quick judgments based on very little information. It comes into play whenever we meet someone for the first time, interview someone for a job, react to a new idea, decide how good a teacher is on the first day, or decide whether a magazine is worth reading on a quick thumb-through.
Problem is, we don’t really value this split-second decision making, we prefer gathering information and deliberating. The motto is haste makes waste, stop and think, look before you leap. But Gladwell shows that our snap judgments and first impressions are not only vital and valid, but can be educated and controlled to our advantage. He shows multiple examples of coaches, generals, doctors, musicians and salesmen who have honed their subconscious decision making to the point of success.
What’s my point? Simply that when we try to understand ourselves and shape the future of who we want to become, we focus too much on the grand themes and too little to the particulars of fleeting moments and decisions. We try to map out who we are more than we pay attention to our impressions and instincts. Perhaps, in terms of the examination of our life’s journey, we should put away the binoculars and instead focus in on our decisions and behaviors with the most powerful of microscopes. It’s the little daily decisions that add up to our success or failure.
For example, nobody deliberately decides that they want to become a chain smoker or an obese eater. Yet, if you are an addicted smoker today, there was a very thin moment in time – an urge and an instinct either ignored or indulged – when you smoked your first cigarette. The same is true of alcoholism, pornography, obesity, eating disorders, and so forth. It can all be boiled down to the smallest moment of introduction, curiosity, and minor indulgence.
Of course, on the flip side, greatness begins with a similar, small moment in time. There are so many examples of people who have achieved prominence that can be traced to the roots of experience and decision. There was a time when Michael Jordan shot his first basketball, Babe Ruth took his first swing, Mozart played his first note, or Lincoln read his first book. I believe greatness begins today. Now, with the most basic of instincts. It may be simply to put down the Oreo and lace up the sneakers. It may be to order the Asian Chicken Salad rather than the Big Mac. It may be to take a deep breath and smile rather than lash out and yell. Whatever it is, greatness for each of us begins in this moment in time.