“Defining Moments have three characteristics: they reveal, they test, and they shape.”
My high school track coach gave me the greatest gift anyone can give. She believed in me.
Defining moments. During our life we all experience defining moments–events or decisions that have the power to completely change the course of our lives. These moments challenge us. They force us to rethink our beliefs and values. They offer us the opportunity to grow and change. They come to us whether we are ready or not. The decision to grasp hold of the defining moment–to show up as a YES to that challenge–or even to understand the potential that moment holds is almost always a struggle. I mean, really, who of us likes change or being pushed outside our comfort zones? But the reality is there is no escaping defining moments. In fact, it doesn’t even matter what the defining moment is. It’s how we choose to respond.
The moments that define us are not the challenges we face, but rather how we face the challenges. The actions we choose carry us from that moment toward growth and future aspirations or carry us back onto the same path we’re fighting to get off.
My first significant defining moment occurred when I was 15. I was a freshman on Saint Hubert’s High School’s outdoor track and field team. I had never run track prior to high school and was actually encouraged to try out for it in high school by my grade school softball coach who frequently emphasized my agility and speed (at least I had something going for me!) My whole first outdoor season revolved around trying out different events–everything from 400m “sprints” to long and triple jump–to see where I excelled most. At the end of the season, the Catholic league holds a special championship that is just for freshman and my coach decided to put me in as many events as she could. As I look through the myriad of events in which I am scheduled to compete, my eyes fixate on one: Hurdles. 300m hurdles, no less! I almost fell over when I saw my name next to the event. We hadn’t even practiced hurdles. My coach simply said, “I know you can do it.”
As I am guided to my starting lane, I notice the other freshman look just a nervous as I do. I think, maybe it’s their first time too. The gun goes off and we all explode out of the blocks. First hurdle in, the girl in lane 2 goes down. By hurdle three I’m one of them. I get up. By hurdle four, I’m down again. I get up. This fall down and get up process continues the rest of the race and I think I’ve taken out nearly every hurdle. However, some girls chose not to keep getting up and look like maimed deer on the side of the road that their coaches are running to. I just tell myself to get to the finish line to save face and be done with this whole hurdling thing. As I near the finish line, I am so glad to simply sprint to the finish without anything blocking my way. Out of two heats of sixteen girls who ran the event, I finish 4th. It’s not enough to get me a medal but it’s enough to get me out of ever having to do this event again…or so I think.
My coach rushes over to me quite ecstatic. All I can wonder is if she was watching the same event I just lived. She’s impressed with my time, but even more so, she’s impressed with my drive and determination. She calls it perseverance. I call it pain. Needless to say, she won the argument in making me a hurdler and I got immensely better at hurdles with practice. Looking back on this event, it’s quite a defining moment and though I recognized the challenge at the time, I didn’t quite fully understand how my choice to get back up, over and over again, defined my character. In every moment I chose to get back up, I was choosing to define the moment and not let the moment define me. In every moment I got up, I could hear Ms.Scary’s voice saying, “I know you can do it.” And I didn’t think much about it at the time…but my coach gave me the greatest gift anyone could give you. She believed in me.
Faith. It’s the real foundation to success. Growing up I always thought hard work was enough to get me there. Sometimes that hard work and drive was enough, other times I still fell short of where I wanted to be. As it turns out, the key to success is faith. Faith–the idea of “I can do it”–is the opposite of fear (“What if I fail?”). Sometimes faith begins with someone else believing in us until we can convince ourselves of the same. Sometimes faith means falling and getting back up over and over again so that we know we really can do it. Faith creates motivation, which in turn leads to commitment, hard work, preparation…and eventually success.
We all have dreams, aspirations and goals. More often than not, what ends up overshadowing our desires and their success is the fear of “What If” rather than the voice of faith saying, “I can.” And, we can choose to view those defining moments as evidence of “What If” or we can choose to (re)define the person we want to be and the life we wish to live.
My defining moment is an important one for me to retell this week as I feel like I’ve fallen over a proverbial hurdle, a very big defining moment for me. It’s a reminder to me that I have the choice to stand back up. Even if I’m not sure what I’m standing up for exactly. Even as I stagger with finding my balance, even as I straddle two lanes, even as I contemplate whether I should be on the track or run this race at all; I know this is a defining moment and the choice is mine what I make of it. Do I know for sure what’s at my finish line? Not exactly. All I know is that I have to run this race for me. All I know is that after each fall, the reason I stand back up has to be for me and what I need; not what anyone else needs, wants or desires. As I’m running for the truth of who I am, I’m sure to encounter my proverbial hurdles, but as long as my faith is grounded in me FOR me, I know that I’ll meet success at my finish line. One hurdle at a time.
If you’ve just fallen over your own proverbial hurdle, if you’re a little lost on your path, if you’re questioning your “What If’s,” if you’re not sure what’s at your finish line…know that it’s OK. The decision to gain clarity or make progress begins with getting up and taking action. Defining moments are what enable YOU to step into your greatness and become an unstoppable force in the pursuit of your dreams. What can YOU say, “I know I can do this” to this week?
May you be guided by an inner knowing that you are stronger than you seem, braver than you think, and blessed with all you need.
To getting up, going and finishing strong….one “hurdle” at a time,