Saturday, May 23, 2009

Defining Moments

There's this really nice movie with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo called "Tin Cup" which is ostensibly about golf, but actually about something else...

My favorite line from the movie is said by the main character, Roy McAvoy, an almost-was golf pro who is now teaching pretty much anyone, golf.

I'm not going to fill in the whole movie for you, but at one point Roy says, "I hit it again because that shot was a defining moment, and when a defining moment comes along, you define the moment... or the moment defines you."

You'll just have to watch the movie to get the context, but for me, this line has had profound consequences in my life. Since then, time after time, I've encountered really challenging situations, and the simple awareness of the moment defining me, or me defining the moment, has lead to wonderful results.

For example, not all that long ago, I received a call from the hospital that my mom had had a stroke. It was just prior Thanksgiving and we'd been planning to have all the family together at our house near Boston. My brother and sister and there families, as well as my mom and dad all lived near each other in New Jersey. They were all planning to come to Boston to be with me, Rene and the kids.

So, I got in the car and drove from Boston to New Jersey.

At the time, I was the CEO of an Internet start-up that I'd founded. It wasn't the greatest time for Internet start-up companies and I had a lot on my mind. When I got to New Jersey, I found myself in the most interesting situation.

First of all, it was all a bit befuddling for my family that it was my mom who was in the hospital and not my dad. She was 70 years old, but was still teaching aerobics classes. She'd lived most of her adult life eating organic foods, whole grains, low fat, etc. As a little kid in the 60's I desperately and unsuccessfully would try to trade my vegetarian meatloaf sandwich on sprouted wheat bread for nearly anything else that someone had for lunch (but that's another story).

Meanwhile, my dad had a favorite pastime of buying a bottle of vodka at the liquor store and seeing if he could consume it on the way home before anyone found out.

So... I arrive in New Jersey to find my dad under house arrest (so to speak), my mom in the hospital, and everyone else a bit out of sorts.

I can remember driving to the hospital to visit my mom with my dad in the passenger's seat. He had recently returned from one of his liquor store outings and wasn't quite recovered. While driving, I was on the phone with a reporter for one of the networking magazines conducting an interview about my company.

We pulled up to a stop light that happened to be in front of a liquor store parking lot. As I spoke with the reporter, I noticed my dad making his move to exit the car and run towards the liquor store. I can viscerally remember, grabbing dad by the shoulder of his coat while pressing on the accelerator to shut the door while steering with my knees while maintaining the conversation with the reporter as I forged onward to the hospital.

For me, this was a defining moment. There was part of me that just wanted to run away... to duck the situation... to get the hell out of there. But, the simple realization that it was a choice whether the moment defined me or I defined the moment changed everything. I decided, bring it on!

I ended up getting my dad into alcohol detox at the psychiatric ward of the same hospital where my mom was. I was able to escort him to and from my mom's room for visits. My daughter Joy and I visited my mom with my guitar and we all sang together. It was all a really special time that I remember positively (though I imagine many of those around me remember it differently).

In the end, it turned out that my mom's stroke was the result of advanced pancreatic cancer. She died before Christmas. It all happened quite quickly, unexpectedly and so on. For everyone else, it was a very sad and (I believe) defining experience.

For me, I think it was also defining, but not in the same way. I feel really, really good about the whole thing. I found the challenges to be empowering and the time with my mom to be rich and loving.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the experience itself. It's all about what we do with the experience.

Lately, I've run into many people who seem to be stuck in one past experience or another. In some cases, they seem unable to move on because of that experience. In essence, that experience has defined them, who they are, what their potential is, and so on. They don't seem to exist outside the experience. When you talk about their future, they seem unable to consider it without also considering their past.

Seeing all these people has caused me to look back to Tin Cup, my mom's death and the whole concept of defining moments.

So, are you someone who has been defined by the defining moments of your life? If so, what are they? Is it time to start being the definer rather than the definee? Or, are you someone who has learned the cosmic jujitsu that transforms defining moments into a moments defined? I would love to hear about how you've done it.

Have a wonderfully defining day!

1 comment:

  1. My hat is off, oftenly to the incredible skill and gift of movie makers. The theme and message is often a multi-layered concoction, that sometimes takes a second view to pick-up on. It often amazes me how superficially some look at these gifts. It delighted me how Bears shared in his initial tapes of being so enamored with noting beliefs being jumped on by actors, and jumping in on them developing his dialogue skills. Thanks for sharing your moving experience.


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