Sorry I have been silent for a while. I have been dealing with one of those life-defining moments we have. Do you know the ones? The moments where your life turns on a pivot, or turns direction, where something inside of you bursts out and shows you the truth, or shows you a potential road ahead, or a possible dead end, so you have to do something about it, or it almost feels like a part of you might die. In a way, these are moments of growth, where all norms are void and you have to journey off the map you have created in the past. And others often won’t understand you.
We recently attended a talk at the Appledore Literary Festival by Cathy Rentzenbrink on the subject of memoir. She raised this question of life-defining moments and how they may come about. For her it was the tragic death of her brother after a car accident at the age of seventeen. You may have had a traumatic event such as this that changes all our perspectives and has ripples for the rest of your life. The loss of our first son as a baby certainly changed some perspectives for me. I knew I wanted so much to be a mother again. I also knew that I no longer feared death. If he was there, what was there to fear?
Then there are less dramatic, yet significant moments, some of which we choose and some of which happen to us. It could be who you date, a career change, whether you chose to travel to a foreign country to live or stay for a period, a death or illness, a new home, new hobby, anything that shifts you from your previous path.
I remember that when, as a mature student, I started to think of a career towards the end of my history degree at King’s London, I could have returned to the work I was doing previously, in research. But my tutor pointed out to me that he had noticed I was good at communicating with the younger students and had I ever thought of teaching or working in a pastoral way with people? I hadn’t, but it sewed a seed that seemed worth exploring and two years later, after a great deal of retraining and a heap of self-doubt, I launched Positiveworks, my consultancy in coaching and training. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, many people around me did not understand what I was doing, but that little bubble inside me was saying ‘this is the way to go. It could be good.” And my goodness it was better than good. It was marvellous.
Holidays and travel can be life-defining too. Many people go on holiday somewhere and end up buying a property. Sometimes, also, you gain a view of life that you would not have had before. I think this happened for me and my teenage sons when we travelled into a village in Zambia and saw how happy the children were playing games in the sand. There was no Lego, no Barbie dolls. Just imagination and laughter.
My trip to Lagos, Nigeria, back in 1995 taught me to follow my gut. When I was invited out there to run some training courses for local Nigerian companies my family were unsure whether it would be safe for me to travel alone. But I had just read Ben Okri’s amazing book The Famished Road and that little voice inside me bubbled up again and said ‘Yes, go. You will be fine.’ And I was, and I met some wonderful people and got a taste for a country I would probably never have seen otherwise.
Of course gut feelings can lead you into darker places sometimes. As they say of investments, things can go down as well as up, but quite often, even when something has not turned out the way you hoped, you have gained more insights into yourself and life than you would have done had you not taken that path.
So maybe go back over your own life-defining moments, write them down for your children and grandchildren. Your experiences might show them a road they hadn’t thought of taking before, or give them the courage to follow a road that their inner voice is pointing out to them. Who knows…