Defining moments are events that influence the way we interact with the world around us. These experiences give context to the landscapes of our lives by shaping the prospective paths we travel. Though we try to map out directions that lead down perfectly paved roads, defining moments are the inevitable detours we face along the journey. Sometimes they cause us to lose our bearings, and other times they guide us to bridges and tunnels that connect to beautiful uncharted territory. Though bumps in the road influence the lay of the land, ultimately we are the navigators who dictate where we go, how we get there, and who to bring along for the ride. Simply put: defining moments put us at a crossroads where we are challenged to choose our course. The decisions we make at those crossroads don’t merely build character; they reveal character. These are important lessons I’ve learned from defining moments in my life:
My best friend and I were riding the school bus home in sixth grade. We had gotten a test back that day and I was playfully teasing her about how smart I was because I received a higher grade. She was a good sport about it and shrugged off my comments by lightheartedly boasting about how many extracurricular activities she did and how she still found time to study. Not to be outdone, I immediately snapped back to remind her how many clubs and teams in which I participated and that I didn’t use them as an excuse for my grades. In an instant, I had managed to turn a tongue-in-cheek conversation into the Sesame Street equivalent of a dick-measuring contest…and all before we reached the first stop on our route! She replied calmly in a firm tone I had never heard her use before. “There are other ways to show you’re smart, Kayla…like knowing when to stop.” Then she moved to the seat in front of me, leaving me to sit by myself and reflect upon what she said. I called her to apologize as soon as I got home, and thankfully this valuable lesson didn’t come at the expense of our friendship.
Moral of the story:
A smart person cares about the spelling and definitions of words, but a wise person cares about the impact and consequences of words.
I had been elected student council President by my peers annually ever since elementary school. By the time my sophomore year of high school came around, I was comfortable representing my class and since I hadn’t done anything particularly offensive during my terms, I didn’t feel a beseeching urge to convince anyone to re-elect me. I coasted through campaign season with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. It’s not that I didn’t want to be President anymore; I just didn’t want to have to keep working for it. My opponent that year was not only extremely bright, motivated, and qualified, but she was also among the most likeable, sincere, considerate girls in our school. Moreover, she brought a fresh perspective and eagerness to prove herself that my campaign devastatingly lacked. She was Catwoman…and I was Garfield. Needless to say, democracy prevailed and the better candidate won. While losing the election was a blow to my ego, instead of being defeated by defeat, I took it as an opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything. If we want something, we must work hard to earn it. Moreover, even if we earned something today, it’s not promised tomorrow. In our careers, friendships, and marriages, we must never settle or get too comfortable. Greatness isn’t achieved by those who passively wait for it to come to them, and nobody gets an award just for participating.
Moral of the story:
Wanting something does not make you entitled to having it.
My final defining moment wasn’t an epiphany as much as it was a transformative phase that taught me many lessons worth taking to heart, so to speak. In 2013, my father was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and needed a heart transplant to survive. In addition to the complex regulations that restrict transplant candidates from even being waitlisted, there’s a vast shortage of viable donors with hearts to give. With statistics showing 22 people dying every single day waiting for organ transplants, my family did our best to remain hopeful that my father wouldn’t become a statistic. After a year of waiting, he miraculously received a match. Meanwhile in a paradoxical turn of events, shortly after my father’s heart was fixed, my heart was broken by someone I loved. When it first occurred, I had to retrain myself to operate without my best friend by my side, as he had been an integral part of my existence for many years. This was especially challenging amidst the fragility and uncertainty of my father’s condition because the reassurance of having any constant variable in my life would have been comforting at that time. Moreover, I felt guilty burdening my parents with my sadness since my father’s recovery was far more critical than my non-life threatening problems. I found myself at a crossroads where I was faced with two options: I could be miserable about what I had lost, or thankful for what I had gained. And when I framed it in that light, I realized no one was important enough to make me lose perspective that the first man to carry a key to my heart was back in my life; my father.
Moral of the story:
Hearts are not a dime a dozen, so take care when someone gives you theirs—figuratively or literally.