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Personal Development with Gray Miller

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Part 9: The Defining Moment Arrives

Do it.

That’s all there is to this step. Oh, there’s more stuff to do, but that comes after. In the meantime, you really have run out of excuses. You’ve marshaled your resources, you’ve come up with a plan of action, you’ve not only calculated the risks of failure you’ve also considered the risks of success.

There’s nothing left. There’s nothing else keeping you from it. So it’s time: let your Defining Moment happen.

Don’t Miss Your Moment

One thing you do need to work on, probably, is the ability to be present in the Moment.

  • Don’t tweet about it.
  • Don’t instagram it.
  • Don’t take any pics at all of it.
  • Don’t start blogging/journaling about it in your head as it’s happening (you know who you are)

Just pay attention. Pay attention to everything – the feeling of your body, your emotions, your reactions. Don’t try to predict what’s going to happen – just experience it happening.

Some Defining Moments are easier to do that with than others. If you’re skydiving, for example, then you pretty much don’t have a choice. Gravity works, and this is happening!

On the other hand, using the example of the person picking up my book in a bookstore without even knowing me that is my Defining Moment, well, I have a ways to go, right? And how can I manage to have it happen “spontaneously”? There’s only one way for that to work, and it’s exactly the same as fishing.

The First Step to Catch a Fish

…is to find a lake.

In the “author” Defining Moment scenario, I have to do a lot of things, including writing a book. But even when the book is out I still need to remember to spend the time at the bookstore. Not watching my book! That would be creepy. And a little sad, I think.

No, the point is that I need to hang out in the places that make my Defining Moment more likely to happen. If that’s wanting to see people pick up my book, then that’s the bookstore, right?

No. Not at all. The place I need to hang out is my desk. My computer. The places where I write. I’m going to end up at bookstores anyway – but in order for the Defining Moment to happen, I need to create an environment where it can happen.

That environment is not a bookstore. It’s a bookstore that has books by me. And while technology is a wonderful thing, the books still do not write themselves.

Is your Defining Moment going to happen on it’s own? And if not…then what are you doing to make it happen?



The Defining Moment Part 8: Resources

Whatcha Got?

If you’ve been trying out these various exercises – figuring out what your Defining Moment is, working out the details of it, assessing the risks of trying for it and then also trying to foresee the consequences of success – you may be pretty excited. I hope you’re pretty excited, anyway! When you look at the composite parts, it’s a pretty amazing thing to realize just how close your dream might actually be.

Time to step back.

That’s right. I said step back. Because now you need to take a moment to figure out what things you need vs. what you currently have that can help you get to your goal.

These resources need four pages of their own, each with two columns: have and need. The resources are divided into four main categories: People, Skills, Tools, and Information. Let’s start with the “Have” columns, because they’re going to be much, much bigger than the “Need” column, and that will feel really good.

1. People: Who do you know? Make a list of your family members, your friends, your business partners, your acquaintances. You might want to branch it into people you’ve heard your friends/family/biz partners talk about, too. Basically this is a list of the people to whom you have some kind of access. Don’t let yourself give any “Oh, but they wouldn’t want to help…” answers. WRITE THEM DOWN. They are (I assume) human beings, endowed with free will, and you do not get to decide for them whether or not they’re willing to help. You only get to decide if you’ve got the guts to ask, and if you’re willing to accept what help they want to give.

2. Skills: What can you do? And don’t you dare say “nuthin’ much”, because if you can read this then you are certainly somewhat capable with computer skills. You probably have other skills, as well, and keep in mind that “skill” falls into the realm of “something you can do.” In this case, yes, you probably want to keep it in the realm of your “Defining Moment” – but let your mind wander. One skill that I have that I used today was putting up shelves. How does that relate to my Defining Moment of watching a person pick up a book I’ve written in a bookstore? Well, perhaps the bookstore belongs to an acquaintance, whose agreed to give my book a premium spot on the shelves if I install them. Stranger things have happened; one of the best authors/illustrators I’ve ever read, Nick Bantock, got his start because of a drunken dart game. So if “inebriated cricket” is in your skillset, put it down. Because you never know.

3. Tools: As I mentioned, you’ve already proven your ability to leverage one of the greatest tools ever: the Internet. But don’t stop there. Vehicles are tools. Rooms and houses and furniture can be tools. Clothing, machines, silverware…make a list of all your available things that might help with your Defining Moment. I’ve got a computer, a keyboard, a lot of books on writing, and a schedule that I can use to motivate creation. I’ve got WordPress, which enables me to write this book. What do you have? Cars, roller skates, that weird doodad you got from IKEA that looks so cool if you could only remember what it does…they all count. Write them down!

4. Information: This time do not mention the Internet. Why? Because the Internet is where you go to recall or acquire the knowledge you don’t have. What do you know how to do now? Again, put down everything. Juggling. Pancake flipping. Stripping an M16 in less than a minute. Stitching a wound. Wiring a porch light. Prepping a cigar. What do you know how to do? I know how to write a book; notice I did not say I know how to write a good book. So maybe I’ll put the former in the “Have” column and the latter in the “Need” column on the INFORMATION page.

When it comes to needs, don’t worry about it much. First of all, by doing the “HAVE” pages first, you’ll probably find out you already have most of what is required to get to your Defining Moment. As I mentioned, that’s a good feeling. Any time something does go in the “NEED” section, take a moment to ask yourself “Do I really?” Just once, no need to belabor it – but it’s worth double checking if you’re making up “NEEDS” because what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance” is trying to keep you from your goal.

I confess, this whole exercise is something that I love to do in group sessions, because invariably someone comes to an obstacle of some kind and someone else in the class – often a complete stranger – will raise their hand and say “Oh, is that all you need? I can give you that.” I’ve seen it happen with everything from private tutoring in Portuguese to the loan of an isolated cabin in the mountains outside Seattle.

If you’re doing this exercise solo, it might be a little more difficult to arrange that kind of kismet. But you might be surprised if you put it out there that you are working towards a Defining Moment – something you are passionate about, something you love, something that will make you smile so widely – at how many people want to help you make it happen. I’m not one of those people who believes that the universe will re-align on a quantum level to adjust to your wishes. I do, however, believe that Fortune favors the bold and Of course the game is rigged – but if you don’t play, you can’t win. Or, as one of my idols puts it better:

…the threads of circumstance that lead to tomorrow are so tenuous that all the fussing and worrying about decisions is futile compared to the pure randomness of existence.

I must admit I like that.

- Nick Bantock

Note:I didn’t get any feedback the last time I created a worksheet to go along with an entry like this. If you would like to have some “Resource” worksheets created and distributed, just let me know.

Defining Moment Pt. 7: the consequences of success

What If It Works?

“You could go with this. Or you could go with that. Or you could go with us!” – Fatboy Slim

Risks are one thing. They are mishaps that can happen along the way to your defining moment. If you want to skydive, the obvious risk is that your chute might not open. But then there are also the risks of the airplane malfunctioning, the pilot making an error, you tripping as you climb the ladder into the plane, having a car accident on the way to the airport – all risks.

But the thing is that our inability to accurately foresee the future makes us forget that even when things do go according to plan, the result is rarely what we expect. The next step in your Defining Moment process is to try and figure out what the results of success might be.

Succeeding is not Success

The purpose of this step is to try and prepare yourself for at least some of the possibilities. For example, let’s suppose that you have a dream (as I have) of going to Paris. I would like to be eating beignets and sipping espresso as I watch the pretty French people walk by with their noses in the air at the scruffy Americain in their midst.

Let’s ignore all the steps necessary to get there and say that I was there. What are some of the possible outcomes?

  • I will discover I don’t like Paris as much as I’d hoped, and lose that dream of a city that never was.
  • I will discover that I love Paris far more than I expected and leave everything behind to live there, probably over the Moulin Rouge.
  • I will miss so much work during my trip that I lose my clients and my living.
  • I will get enough material on my trip to write the definitive memoir of this millenium’s American in Paris.
  • I will contract food poisoning from undercooked beignets.
I won't look anything like this. But I'll FEEL like this.

I won’t look anything like this. But I’ll FEEL like this.

This is a simplistic list, but as much as it varies, it all is a possible outcome of my making it to Paris. Stranger things have happened from milder events. For example, in spite of having many friends who skydive, I have never had the urge – until I recently, on a whim, watched an episode of a spy show where the heroine jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gleefully, and cavorted around in the sky.

I suddenly realized: I want to cavort in the sky. And so begins the saving of money, the lessons, the tandem jump, and eventually, the cavorting. I’ll let you know how it goes (or, I suppose, someone else will). It wasn’t the military, or a lifelong love of thrillers, or dating the daughter of a U.S. Ranger Parachuting Instructor, or anything else that made me want to take up that risky goal. It was simply the fact that I set, a long time ago, a goal of being a “Location Independent Professional” – that is, able to work and relax anywhere I was.

So when I found myself in an airport, having just finished an article for a client, I treated myself to an episode of Covert Affairs on my iPad. And boom, I now have a new, completely unexpected goal as a result of succeeding at a past one.

Success is a myth, anyway - success as a result of succeeding, that is. Anytime you work towards a goal, you automatically move the goalposts. The moment you arrive, you see somewhere else you want to get to, and the journey continues. Strangely, the only way to reach “success” (the noun) is to stop “succeeding” (the verb). It’s that moment when you say “Ok, this is enough. I can make my place here.”

I think that’s also called “being happy.” Sure feels like it, anyway.

Defining Moment Part 6: how to assess risk productively

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There’s a great podcast out from the Guardian’s Science Weekly where psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer talks about risk. He makes the point over and over again that first, people spend a lot of time worrying about the wrong risks, and second, even the ones we should worry about are just about impossible to predict.

I’d like you to try and remember that as you go through this next step in the Defining Moment process. You see, now that we have an action plan of getting what we want, it’s time to figure out what are the risks of actually putting it into action.

What if I wrote a novel and nobody read?

We can still use my own D.M. to show this process. What could be the results of actually writing that book so that the person in the bookstore could pick it up? In no particular order,

  • I could go broke because writing kept me from a “real” job
  • I could lose touch with family and friends because I’m writing/talking about the writing all the time.
  • I might get carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing.
  • I might forget to bathe, contract a skin-eating algae, and die in a puddle of green goo still trying to fix that one verdammt paragraph.

Ok, so that last was a little ridiculous. But go for the ridiculous! Write about all the possible risks you can think of.
Planning session

But don’t stop there. Write about the “good” outcomes as well, and extrapolate them. Maybe I write the book, and it becomes a bestseller, and I become the next Stephen King! But then he got his dream house, and ended up getting run over…but that gave him a better perspective for finishing The Gunslinger saga…but that is something he’ll likely never trump, so it perhaps means the end of his epics…

See what I mean? Try to think of all the possible results. Don’t worry about how to deal with them-as much as possible, anyway. I know that for everything you put down your brain will say one of two things: “Well, that’s not very likely!” or “Well, if that happens, then I’ll…”

We can’t help it. We make plans, and a good portion of what seems to be “people handling stress well” is more “people prepared to handle stress.” Creating this fun Risk List conditions your mind not only to anticipate outcomes but also automatically starts you out on how to solve them.

Prepare to be Surprised

Just don’t forget that second principle: life is inherently unpredictable, from the flip of a coin to the stock market. What that exercise in coming up with the risks of attempting your Defining Moment Action Plan is doing is conditioning your brain to handle new results…and that increases your resilience when that thing that you weren’t expecting happens. Next week we’ll take a look at the strategies that can help you when that happens.

The list is also going to come in handy after you take action, as a possibly entertaining look at how different reality can be from what we plan.

The Defining Moment Part 5: Action Plan!

Make it so!” - Odysseus

In the past few entries we’ve talked about refining that thing that you want – that experience, that achievement, that moment when you feel you will get what it is that’s been driving you. This refining process is a fun one – it’s imagining a fantastic time that you want, then taking it apart to see how it works, and refining it. It’s a distilling process, boiling it down until there’s just the essential parts of This Is What I Want.

So then what? Simple: it’s time to make a plan of action. It’s time to take that thing and say “I’m going to make it happen.” Except that as we all know, just saying it doesn’t do that. I mean, I said, over a year ago, “I want to make the Defining Moment into a book.” But it didn’t get done – even when a table of contents was written, even when I gave the workshop dozens of times, the book did not happen.

“Why can’t the laundry do itself?” – my partner, Natasha Bounds

The problem was, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a particular method for getting it done. And like laundry, marathons, and gardening, it’s not going do itself. Then I hit on the right method , and here we are, several thousand words into the book. I hit on the plan that finally worked, that is finally making the book get written.

Let’s be real: I’m the one writing the book. But it’s necessary to create the plan that lets me feel as though it’s less a chore and more an inevitability. The fact that you’re reading this right now – whether on my blog, over my shoulder, or on the pages you’re browsing in a bookstore – means that it’s working.

But that’s my dream. My defining moment. We’re talking about yours, right? That shining diamond of experience that you have finally polished up. It’s time to give it a setting and show that puppy off.

What’s Your Plan?

Here’s the thing: I can’t tell you how to make the plan. There are so many ways to do it, because everybody has their own. That Table of Contents? That was a plan, and it seemed like a good one – but it didn’t work.

One of my favorite planning methods comes from Barbara Sher, who wrote many inspirational books such as I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. She recommends a big blank wall and a lot of sticky notes and working backwards from your finished goal. That is, put your Defining Moment on the wall at one end, and then write another sticky note with the thing that had to happen just before that. If your D.M. is “Sipping MaiTais in Tahiti on the Beach” then the thing before was probably “Order mai tais.” What happened before that? “Walk down to the beach.” What was before that? “Check into the bungalow.” Before that was get off the plane, before that get on the plane, you get the idea.

Her technique has you break it down like this, backwards, step by step until at a certain point you get that That Special Sticky Note. You know it’s special, because you look at it and say to yourself “oh, hey. I can do that now!” And then you do it. Then you look at the wall, and you know exactly what your next step needs to be.

I’m not saying that’s your way to make the plan. I’m saying that’s one way to make a plan from a pretty neat lady who’s been helping people achieve their dreams for longer than most of us reading this has been alive. So it’s a good bet she’s got some good ideas. Try it out, and if it doesn’t work, you can always try a zillion others.

Don’t Worry About Resources

This is very important: 

When you’re making your plan, pretend you have infinite resources.

It’s really easy to second guess yourself. To get to “Get off the plane” and think “I’ll never be able to afford a plane ticket or get the time off; this is silly.” THIS IS NOT SILLY. THIS IS YOUR DREAM.

I promise you: we will take a very serious look at resources, both those you have and those you need, later on. This is not that time. This is the time where you simply lay out the steps that you need to do to get to your plan. What concrete things need to happen to reach that Defining Moment?

I’ll tell you what one concrete thing is: you need to get out some paper and write at the top: My Defining Moment Action Plan. Here, I’ll make it easy for you: Print this out. Or scrawl it on the paper closest to you and put it in your purse or wallet or whatever.

Step one. Done. What’s Step two?

The Defining Moment, Part 4: How Far?

If you’re late to the party, you can read the rest of the series using the links in the sidebar. It will be updated as the series continues. As usual, any feedback you feel like tossing my way would be very much appreciated, as this will eventually all get refined into the first Love Life Practice book!

Now that we’ve worked out the pieces of the Defining Moment, there is one important factor left to work out. In some ways, it’s the most important factor. It’s the thing that is left out of far too many plans, schemes, goals, and more. Yet it’s simple enough a question; most people just don’t bother asking it.

How will you know when you’ve had your moment?

Depending on what your moment looks like, there could be several different ways you know that it’s enough. It may be a duration of time: I was able to endure this long. I was able to get it done this quickly. It may be a concrete goal: reaching the peak. Making it all the way down. It may be something more ethereal and abstract: This is now a part of my character.

Whatever it is, though, it’s important to know what the benchmark is that lets you know that you’ve had your defining moment. In some cases it may be simply the effort of achieving it that is enough. That’s a nice luxury to have, knowing that you tried, you gave it your all, and regardless of the consequences you have that experience to draw on.

Why Is That So Important?

There are two reasons why this is essential to achieving your Defining Moment. The first is simple: if you don’t know what it is, you might miss it as it goes by! Wouldn’t that be a shame? A big part of the whole process is not only experiencing it, but observing it, analyzing it, using it as a base to move on to bigger and better things (though that’s something we will get into much later).

Tired of Crossfit? That's What You Think!

Tired of Crossfit? That’s What You Think!

The second reason is a matter of safety. You need to know when to stop so that you know that you can. This is something that I find out the hard way, over and over again. For some reason – whether it’s the work ethic instilled by my parents, or some left over “At all costs, accomplish the mission!” from the Marines – it’s a character flaw that leads to diminished returns at best and nervous breakdowns at worst. It’s part of why I find crossfit training to be a dangerous addiction – they promote an environment of “Just one more rep!” and “Play through the pain!

That’s a great philosophy if you are smart enough to know what “just one more” really means. Me, I have this little voice inside my head that goes “Is that all? You really think that was enough? Come on, you know you have more. Keep going!

No Pain, No Brain

This is why I have a brace that I’m wearing on my camping trip. While training for what I had hoped to be my first half-marathon – a dream of a Defining Moment that’s been with me for decades – I pushed myself too far, aggravated an old knee injury, and now I can’t walk without pain. It slowed me down – didn’t stop me, mind you, but slowed me down – and so the Defining Moment has changed from “Run a half marathon” to “Be my daughter’s support team while she runs a half marathon“.

All because I didn’t know when to stop.

Take the time. Envision your defining moment, and ask yourself How will I know when it’s done? With a little reflection, a little analysis, you should be able to work it out to a precise moment. You just have to take the time.

Target acquired? Excellent! Next week we will begin a plan of action…

Defining Moment, Part 3

If you’re late to the party, this series is a technique for getting what you want out of life. If that’s something you’re interested in, you might want to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Dissecting Dreams

When we last left our intrepid imaginary protagonist* he had expressed the following fantasy of a “Defining Moment”:

I imagine walking into a bookstore, just for fun, ready to browse and pick up a book or two that might catch my fancy. Like any author, I subtly move to the vicinity of the shelves where my book is on display. I see a young woman walk up to the display and smile as she sees my book, picking it up and eagerly reading the back blurb. She holds it close as she walks towards the checkout, right past me, not knowing who I am.

We had begun the process of dissection, taking the various elements of this dream and ripping them down to their specific components. It looks something like this:

  • Leisure time
  • Disposable Income
  • Voluntary Solitude
  • Published Book
  • Popular Book (on display)
  • Local Fans
  • Visible anonymity, literary celebrity

Those are the surface level requirements. You can also go a bit deeper – for example, if you’ve got a popular book on display, you must have an agent, and probably have had to navigate the sinking-ship bureaucracy that is the 21st century world of printing. For that matter, there are not a lot of egos that could resist saying “Y’know, I wrote that…” when they see someone reading their book. Cultivating a sense of modesty, and the related skill of security in your identity, could also be a component.

But you may not need to actually go that far. The Dissection Process is combined with a valuation of each component. Simply put, you look at each separate component and ask yourself “How important is this to me?” Don’t think about it too much – remember, you’re listening to that lizard brain, trying to see what things make you go “Yeah!“.

20140611-134629-49589170.jpgIt can surprise you what you find out. Maybe it is important that it’s an attractive woman who finds your book – why is that?

    • Perhaps this is an expression of wanting a partner who values your creativity?
    • Perhaps you are just looking for a date and “Y’know, I wrote that…” is the best conversation starter you can think of.
    • Perhaps the book is targeted at that demographic, because you were writing a book that you hoped would help their resilience against rape culture.

Now, I’m aware that at least some of my readers look at that list and have objections or reactions to each, ranging from “Eewwww!” to “Privilege!” to “Huh?” That’s why this is a very personal list. This is your Defining Moment, and even if it looks, on the surface, like many others, this one is yours.

Maybe – if you have a friend who is really good at hiding their own reactions, who can function as a good sounding board to get to the bottom of your motivations – you can share this list and valuation process with them. But honestly, it’s going to be hard enough to get past your own inner monitors, that tell you that this thing shouldn’t be important. Or the Arbiter of the Possible, who tells you the odds of some schmuck like you landing a book contract or even an agent are slim to none, so why are you even trying?

Ignore these voices. That’s where a friend might be happy – to keep putting you back on track, so that as you say “Oh, that shiny mylar cover feels important, but I know that’s never on first novels, so it shouldn’t be important…” At that point they need to hit you with a clue-by-four and tell you to stop.

Procrastinate Your Pragmatism

There will come a time for logic, for reality, for wake-up calls. This is not that time. Now is a very simple decision: is this important to you? You don’t even have to justify why it is important. Instead, when you find something that is important, immediately see if that thing can be further dissected.

Again, taking part of the above example: “Voluntary solitude,” the process might go something like this:

How important is this for you?

“Pretty important, actually. It feels good to think of myself free to move about and do my own thing in the book store.”

Only in the bookstore?

(thinking) “Well, I guess I’d like to have freedom in the rest of my life, as well.”

(not judging that statement) “OK, how far do you want to take it? Does the idea of being a hermit appeal to you?”

(going with gut reaction) “No! I like my family, I like my friends, I just like some alone time.”


(thoughtfully) “Y’know, it kind of does. Plenty of time to write, no need to worry about anyone’s schedule but my own, peace and quiet…huh, I never thought about that.”

Remember, the only thing that qualifies as a “right” answer, a true valuation, is that it be authentically from you. There’s no way to really completely keep yourself from reflecting the conditioning and prejudices of your upbringing, but do your best. Even making the effort is often the stimulus for epiphany.

It ain’t easy. Most of the work I’ve done in workshops and coaching with this method has been simply to be a guardian against those external values and motivations – encouraging the person to accept that it’s OK to dream about these things.

It’s always revelatory. And while it may be scary, keep in mind that you’re still just doing research; you don’t actually have to change anything. Well, except for one thing:

Once you’re aware of what your dreams really are, what your motivations for your Defining Moment are really made of – you can’t un-know that. The bell won’t un-ring. But come now, what’s the harm of a little more self-knowledge?

(Ignore the evil laugh of fate you hear in the background).

Dissect. Valuate. Repeat. Give it a shot! Let me know if you find anything surprising. Let me know if you don’t! After all, this is you being a guinea pig for my rough draft. Be brutal!

See you Friday…


The Defining Moment, Part 2

Breaking It Down

The first part of the process of getting what you want out of any experience is figuring out what it is that you want. As I mentioned last week, we often mistake the map for the territory; we think “I want to be a competitive tango dancer!” when what we actually want is to be connected with a partner. Or applause. Or fancy shoes.

I like to think of this process as a dissection; we are taking that Defining Moment that we imagined and we are tearing it apart, looking at it qualitatively. Now, let’s be honest: things don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s entirely possible that it’s the “fancy shoes + applause” that’s making our hearts go pitter-pat.

That’s ok; we’ll deal with that later. Meanwhile, I’ll open up the vulnerability box and put in my own “Defining Moment.”

I imagine walking into a bookstore, just for fun, ready to browse and pick up a book or two that might catch my fancy. Like any author, I subtly move to the vicinity of the shelves where my book is on display. I see a young woman walk up to the display and smile as she sees my book, picking it up and eagerly reading the back blurb. She holds it close as she walks towards the checkout, right past me, not knowing who I am.

That’s it. As fantasies go, it’s not all that complicated. The task now is to separate the parts that are meaningful and look at their components and implications.

Playing Sherlock With Your Dreams

courtesy Alba Estevez via Flickr CC

The Curious Case of the Author in the Bookstore?

In some ways you need to become the dream-version of Sherlock Holmes, paying attention to details and extrapolating from them while at the same time noticing what is not there. It might help to interview yourself, or have a friend help out:

Gray, I notice you don’t specify where the bookstore is. Does that matter? Do you picture a certain city?

It doesn’t really matter. It is a large bookstore, though, like B&N.

I see. You also mention “on display”. I take it you’re picturing a stand-alone display?

Yes, with fancy artwork and shiny covers and maybe a NYT Book Review quote in a big red star…

So it seems that you don’t want to be published, you need to have some pretty notable success.

Yes. I suppose in my mind “notoriety” is a component of success.

Notoriety, but not celebrity; you didn’t have the young woman recognize you. 

No, I don’t want the hassle of dealing with everyday recognition. I want her to like my work, not me.

You imagined a young woman. Are you looking for some kind of romantic fangirl? 

No, the gender and age are not important to me; I think I’ve just seen more young women in bookstores. It’s the act of seeing someone I don’t know grabbing my book and being happy about it, that’s what I like.

…and so on. Take some time to really examine all the details and question them. Our brains like stories – they like them a lot – and so when we’re imagining our Defining Moments they can tend to include details that aren’t really all that important. The purpose of the interview is to work out the bits that really resonate on a deep level and ignore the parts you don’t really need to focus on.

Look at the Larger Picture

Sometimes there are implications that can be construed from bits and pieces of your Defining Moment that might not at first be obvious. Take that first line: I imagine walking into a bookstore, just for fun, ready to browse and pick up a book or two that might catch my fancy.

  • This implies free time to just wander around a bookstore.
  • This implies disposable income to spend on books that I might find.
  • I didn’t mention going into the bookstore with anyone else; possibly I’m anti-social, but it’s more likely that it expresses a desire for solitude mixed in with the kinds of socializing I already have.

We have economic and social parameters that weren’t really stated but which can be construed. It’s important not to just assume them, however; questioning them is enough. I know that those three elements are, in fact, important because I’ve done the self-reflection. In the same way, I know that I didn’t imagine a young woman picking up the book because I wanted to date her; putting in any other demographic keeps the Moment just as happy for me.

It’s actually a really fun exercise. One young man in my class expressed his Defining Moment as being part of some ritualistic sacrifice where the fate of the universe hung in the balance, something out of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. Upon dissection, he realized that the only part of the whole imagined moment that really resonated for him was the chanting multitudes. Another person in a class pictured herself mountain climbing, clinging to a rock face, rappelling down glaciers and such. The more she examined the feelings and motivations, the more she found that what really appealed to her was the swinging around in the air – something she’d not been able to do since she’d outgrown her childhood swingset.

If you haven’t figured out your Defining Moment, I challenge you to do so, and to take it apart and figure out what makes it tick. It is yours, after all; don’t you think you owe it to yourself to understand it?

The Defining Moment, Part 1

High on my list of things I’ve put off is writing down a class that I’ve presented all over the world: The Defining Moment. Every wednesday we will be featuring the written version of this class towards the end goal of it being a book. But you, dear reader, get it free! Comments and editorials and sharing is highly encouraged.

I’d like to invite you to close your eyes in a moment. When you do, I’d like you to clear your mind as much as you can – maybe a deep breath will help, let it out – and then I’d like you to think of something that brings you joy.

Not just “Yay, dessert!” kind of joy. I mean the deep-seated kind of joy that bubbles out of your tummy, that makes the hair on your neck stand up and catches your breath and speeds up your heart until all you can say is “Oh!” That kind of joy.

Go ahead. Close your eyes, and picture that.

Did you catch it?

If you did, you’re one of a lucky few. People are notoriously bad at picking out what it is that actually brings them joy. It’s not their fault – with so many messages and books and radio hosts and songs telling us what should make us happy, it’s easy to lose track of what actually drives us.

But it was there. Right before the rationalization, the “oh, that’s silly” or “oh, that’s impossible” (or even the “oh, that’s not right!”) there was a glimpse of that thing. That one idea or image or experience that touches you on a deep, visceral level.

That is your defining moment.

And the rest of this series is going to provide the tools to get it, if you want it.

Projected Desires

I’ve been teaching people various forms of movement arts for over a decade. Contact improv dance, yoga, stage combat, aerial performance, lots of technique and safety and body mechanics, that kind of stuff. Most of the time people come to classes like these because they saw something.

imagePerhaps it was a pair of dancers doing the Argentine tango. They see the dancers moving together with a kind of grace that seems almost telepathic. They see the connection as the dancers focus on something internal between them, they see the flash of feet flicking up and legs weaving around each other and a sultry, predatory movement across the floor along with pulsing musical lyricism and they think: “I want to do that.”

What I’ve learned, over the years, is that they don’t actually want to do that. What they actually resonating with is the feeling that the dancers communicate through the dance. It’s not a matter of learning a series of steps – they could care less about an ocho! It’s what they see happening when the dancers perform that draws them. What they are actually saying is “I want to feel the way they feel.”

Except they aren’t actually saying that, either. Dancers are performers, after all – they are trained to emote a given feeling, usually some combination of the music and the dance and their own personalities. They don’t emote the blisters on their feet, the ache in their knee, the rent that’s due next week or the fight they had with their sister the day before. Even when all of those things might be present in their minds during the dance, a professional performer won’t show it.

Instead, they’ll show something else. If they’re really good, it won’t actually be a direct feeling. Like an abstract painting, they’ll show a quality, a tone, and let the audience derive their own meaning from it. One person sees anger; another sees passion; another sees sorrow, or reconciliation, or sex. All while the dancer is thinking “Wow, I shouldn’t have had that last coffee; I really need to pee.”

The person watching doesn’t want to do what the dancers do. Nor do they want to feel the way the dancers feel. What they want is to feel the way they believe the dancers feel.

It’s a big difference. It’s an essential difference, because over and over in my classes I would see people learn the technique, learn the steps, and then be confused when the result of doing those steps didn’t lead them to the transcendent states of ecstasy they had imagined.

The Defining Moment series was created to help avoid this kind of problem. Technique is important, make no mistake. But more important is intention, and knowing what it is you’re actually working towards.

A few paragraphs back you imagined your defining moment, and caught a glimpse of it before the world of rationalization took it apart.The good news is that when you take that Moment apart and examine it, you’ll almost certainly discover that it’s much more attainable than you thought.

The bad news is that it’s been long known through fable and fairy tale that there is often nothing more dangerous than getting what you want. That’s ok; we’ll come up with some tools to handle that as well.

It’s possible that you’re saying “Well, I don’t need any more tools! My Defining Moment was a memory; I’ve already done it!” That’s AWESOME! I’m genuinely happy for you. In that case, what this series can help you with is having that kind of moment more often. Or perhaps you can find another one; there are certainly more than one Defining Moment in any life (at least, I hope so!).

If you’re having all the Defining Moments you want whenever you want them, then yes, you’re right, there’s no need for you to be reading this. I highly recommend either Bird by Bird or anything by Joe Abercrombie.

For the rest of us, next week please bring your safety goggles and latex gloves. We will begin with a dissection…

you get the life you make

69018_163241227031119_3690938_nBe careful what you wish for…

It’s not irony, exactly, but it’s that thing that people often call irony.

A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to get involved in the Ignite Madison that happens on May 21. I have to run a similar event in July, and I thought it would be good to get my feet wet. I emailed the organizers, offering to volunteer, and also put in a proposal to speak.

They had all the volunteers they needed, and also all the speakers, but they were gracious and offered to give me a guest pass to observe. I played around with the idea of creating my proposed presentation anyway, but elected not to on the grounds that I’m busy enough. I looked forward to going to the event, though, especially after seeing some incredible presentations on the main Ignite Website.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Ignite presentations are 5 minutes – no more, no less – with 20 slides each advancing after 15 seconds, whether you’re ready or not. Enlighten us, but make it quick! is the basic mantra, and it makes for some pretty energizing talks.

Fast forward to Tuesday, May 20th. I get an email: We’ve had a speaker back out. Are you still interested and able to present? Without hesitation, of course, I said “Yes!

When in Danger or in Doubt…

I then panicked. It turned out, I discovered over the next few hours, that it’s hard to create an Ignite talk. Especially since I first ignored their advice of Start from Scratch! and attempted to modify an old presentation to fit in the 5-minute format.

That didn’t go so well. Nor did it go so well when I tried to start from scratch. In fact, I felt a bit like Don Music trying to create a songI’ll never get this! Why did I say Yes? 

And of course in the back of my head was this chuckling, wry voice: Be ready for anything, you said. Improvise, you said. How you like it now, boyo?

In about an hour I go to my one and only “rehearsal”, and I can tell you that it’s come together. I have a story, I have slides, and I will be ready to go on the stage to talk about how pancakes saved my children and my sanity. Here’s a sample slide:

Pancake Lessons

Pancake Lessons

Not much of a lesson here, except to say that your life is as exciting or boring as you decide to make it. Me, I decided to make today pretty exciting.

How’s your day going?

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