Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Defining Moment

My old friend Tim discovered, recently, that he has a Wikipedia entry for "Odd Jobs," his webcomic. Reading his Wikipedia entry, I discovered something about him I hadn't known-- that a basement flood in the late '90's had destroyed years of output of his artwork. It must have been heartbreaking for Tim, who is a gifted graphic artist and cartoonist.

Rather than despair, Tim turned lemons into lemonade: the disaster was impetus for Tim to launch "Odd Jobs." Past editions of "Odd Jobs" have also been published as graphic novels and are still in print.

I'd been thinking lately about a thing I call a "defining moment." I'd been thinking a lot about two acquaintances who were handed defeats-- one in a romantic matter and another in a an professional matter-- and seem never to have recovered from it. They are bitter and don't seem to want to move forward from it.

This stands in stark contrast to my longtime friend Tim, and also to my friend Joe, who was recently relating the story in a blog post memorializing a mentor, how he got into a career of police work, a job he both loves and excels at, after losing a photography job.

A couple of days ago, as I sat in my nursing class getting ready for my test on Monday, deep in discussion with several classmates about material we had covered, I had a moment. I suddenly realized that the 20 of us had taken 20 wildly different paths to that moment there in the classroom, I thought back to the second week of June, 2006. I've alluded to this week as the worst week of my life. I'd been told I was being "RIF'ed," teacher slang for being laid off, and so a black cloud hung over me-- the knowledge that a job I loved and had planned to do until retirement was about to end. In the midst of that, my father was diagnosed with cancer-- a huge tumor in his abdomen. And of course, the third and most awful part of it-- the murder of my close friend Mark Evans. It was a very bad week, easily the worst in my life.

Looking back to the year that followed, I took a couple of steps back and looked at my life and asked some hard questions about my life and future.

Some years ago, I read an article about the guy who computerized the Chicago Board of Trade. He was considered a kind of wunderkind and was, of course, quite rich. When asked about the secret of his success, he replied that the secret was failure-- that for every success he had, he had at least ten failures. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I've seen a couple of times, that I suspect is related to AA-- "If you get up one more time than you fall down, you are a success."

I've come to the realization that your defining moment in life is your choice. You can take a failure in two ways: a license to accept defeat and the consequent self-pity, or as an opportunity to back up, brush yourself off and try something different.

My defining moment could have been that week in June of 2006, filled with pain, disappointment and failed dreams. I've chosen instead to let my defining moment to be the afternoon this past April when I got back from my Anatomy class and opened an envelope telling me I'd been accepted into Truman College's nursing program.


Bubs said...

Brilliant post.

I am a big fan of failure, having done it many, many times.

I'm in awe of your dedication and work ethic.

Erik Donald France said...

I'd like to hear more about the bitter. Or to steal from Gore Vidal, it's not enough to succeed. Others must fail. Also, something along the lines that life hapens wile we're making other plans and, One is sorry one could not have taken both branches of the road. But we were not allotted multiple selves.

In any case, as some believe, "everything happens for a reason" and cheers to all of you. It's a great arc. Better to change professions every once in a while than to rust in the same one within any one bureacracy.

Mnmom said...

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in getting up every time we fail.

Feel like my life has been awash with defining moments lately. But onward, outward, upward, whatever-ward, just don't want to wallow in the lose - it's not much fun.

lulu said...

If you had told me four years ago that I would be living in Bangladesh, traveling all over the world, seeing amazing things and meeting amazing people, I would have laughed at you.

Getting fired was a blessing.

Churlita said...

that is so perfect and so true. I'm glad you made something out of the badness, You are a great example for your kids.

bubbles said...

I agree with you, JY, having failed a few times along the journey. These days I think the economic downturn has made it difficult for many to feel that there is hope - and that is sad. For me, it has mostly been a test of my patience - but some days that nagging old feeling of doom sneaks up on me, I must admit. Then, I look around and see that I have so much to be thankful for, and pull myself up and brush off...
I'm so happy things are working out well for you!

Jess Wundrun said...

If you haven't yet read Ted Kennedy's memoir, I highly suggest it. The theme of perserverance resonates throughout. He reminded us that he began the fight for nationalized healthcare over 45 years ago. Each loss didn't make him bitter, it just doubled his resolve.

I'm suffering a hangover from my own pity party, so you and Ted are great inspirations to me. Thanx.