Monday, April 19, 2010

Fate and its role in innovating ourselves

When I think about where I am in my life today, I often think back to the critical moments when fate seemed to put me at a fork in the road and simply said...choose. It dawned on me earlier in my life to recognize when a choice would have implications as to how the rest of my life would go. If we can recognize this is happening to us, we can make a more informed decision which ultimately helps us move forward without looking back.

So how do we know when we are there?

Its about introspection. Its about knowing yourself, and getting closer to your base emotions: fear, anger, happiness and sadness. If you can be touch with these things you will be able to recognize what is going on for you at that moment and learn to say to yourself, "This choice is important and I need to know that whatever choice I make, things won't be the same.".

One might say, so what? So I choose and life goes on. But does it? I learned this thinking when I was finishing college. In fact, I use this story in any interview I have because it shows convinction, willingness to take risk, and a willingness to live out of the box. And this is not my opinion but what I have been told over the years when I tell this story. And I believe it shows the point best.

The Story: In college, I majored in Chemistry something I had a great deal of passion for as a high school student. It was something I really loved. During my senior year, it became clear to me that I needed to go to graduate school, but I have to say I wasn't sure where to go or better yet where this would lead me in my future. I met with my advisor, who helped me select a group of schools to apply to. As is turns out half of them were on the west coast and half of them were on the east coast. For geographic irony, I was going to school smack in the middle of the country in St. Louis. For context, I grew up on the east coast in Phladelphia and many of my close friends in college and high school were mostly heading back east to live. So simply put, the easy choice would be to do what was comfortable.

One night I was sitting in my room (probably having a beer) filling out my many applications for graduate school. As I sat there looking at schools on the west and schools on the east, I was pretty confused on how to decide. And out of nowhere (this is absolutely true), a voice came flying into my head and said quite clearly, "if you want to grow up and face yourself you cannot go back.".

This may sound like a movie or alien hokey, but those were the exact words I heard. Now as you read this post you will expect me to say that was fate talking, and that you should listen to crazy voices in your head, but it was not. That was me talking. But what I did learn at this moment was that I was at a critical juncture in my life. And while it is obvious that going to school in a far away place would be shape my life, it is the fact that this moment helped me know that when a critical decision comes up you must know it.

So the next thing that happened was I picked up all my east coast applications and threw them away. Essentially, I made the decision that would shape my life right then and there. I listened to the voice, which was critical, but I chose a path that would reshape things. This is knowing and going forward. What I didn't discuss here is the second thing I started to say to myself after I made this decision.

About a week later, when I started wearing shorts in February (because I had gotten into UC-Santa Barbara), someone asked me if I was excited to go to graduate school. My response was this, "I want to finish what I started, and even if I never practice chemistry again, it won't be a waste of my time". And this is how we not only recognize the fate forks in the road, but also how we can take control of our choice and walk that path prepared for the downside potential our choice can cause.

Fast forward....

Did I grow up and face myself as the voice said? Absolutely. I did go to California. I did finish my graduate degree. I did grow an entire life away from my family and spent 15 years there. I did learn during graduate school that I hated working in the lab and that doing bench science and even pure chemistry was not for me. I am now working in the innovation field (something not that far from my training...because I do human experiments and develop innovation theory). But every single day I am so happy I made the second statement when placed at that fork in the road, because when we recognize we are there, we recognize what we must do, and most importantly set our own expectations so we can remember why we chose. It is this last thing that makes you successful at the fork. If going in, we can get on the balcony and understand what's most important when we choose. We have set ourselves up for success because we are innovating ourselves personally. And with this type of growth, comes the chance to produce astounding results in whatever we do either personally or professionally.

So ask yourself this...

1. Am I making a decision that will fundamentally change things going forward?
2. If it is a moment like this, what is important to me?
3. What do I want to achieve with this decision
4. What key thing must I assure myself that this is NOT a bad decision no matter how it goes?
5. How I can be sure to look back at this moment later with no regret because I learned no matter what?


  1. Great story of conviction. The first part of your story--the voice in your head part--reminds me of a great book called the Rise of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. The author believes that one of the loaves of our brains "talks" to the other one and we hear that loaf as a voice in our head. Maybe that's the voice you heard. It was your own voice, from a side of yourself that you can't quite identify as yourself, but is you nonetheless.

  2. is true...but when you put it with the need to recognize what is happening to you before it happens, it helps create strength in yourself over time...because you can handle what ever happens...

  3. Malcom - interesting story because I too hear the voice (a male and I am female) whenever there's an important "knowing" just about to happen in my life. It is great to know I am not the only one hearing this voice of reason and of promise. The voice has never steered me wrong. Thank you for posting this.

    Karol McCloskey

  4. Very informative and helpful. I was searching for this information but there are very limited resources. Thank you for providing this information

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