what made me who I am

The Most Powerful Lessons In Life

by Bernie Swain

We receive and absorb good advice and lessons about life and success from countless resources: business executives, thought leaders, and achievers of all kinds. These lessons go a long way to supplying us with the experience and knowledge of others that we can use in our own lives.  A general sampling of those lessons includes (1) lead by example, (2) focus on what is important, (3) be positive, (4) accept failure and adversity as part of learning, and (5) embrace change.

I have shared these lessons with friends, employees and even my children. These are valuable lessons. But they are also generic and universal lessons, good for all but specific to none.

But are there lessons that are unique and specific to each of us? The answer is a firm yes. These lessons are called turning points and they are the most powerful life lessons of all.

Turning Points
Turning points are the defining moments and powerful influences that come into each of our lives. They are the forks in the road that separate every life. They are the people, the moments in time, or unexpected events that occur uniquely in each of us.

No one in my family ever attended college. When encouraged by my high school teacher to be the first in my family to do so, I could, as a typical 16-year-old teenager might have, dismissed the adult in the room. But I didn’t.  17 years later, pushed by my wife to give up my dream job as a college athletic director and start a lecture agency, I could have ignored her opinion because my first instinct was “I knew better”.

These are turning points. They define our success and accomplishment in life. The key to that success and accomplishment is identifying these turning points when they occur and making good and wise decisions on which fork in the road to follow.

  • Tom Brokaw, who just celebrated 50 years as a journalist at NBC, failed out of college twice. What was it about Tom’s life that separated him from others who fail?
  • Liz Murray, a teenager of drug-addicted parents and homeless on the subways and streets of New York goes back to high school and then Harvard. What distinguishes Liz’s life from the countless others who remain homeless in America today?
  • Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (5’1” tall) experiences a childhood of being bullied. His life is changed by the death of a young boy who protected him. What characterizes Bob’s life from the others who are bullied in school?
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, the great historian, calls for the defeat of the President in a magazine article only to have his friendship change her life and career. What separates Doris from the rest of us who close doors and leave those doors shut.

The answer lies in our turning points, the most powerful lessons in life. For many of us, we can look back and see those turning points and hopefully a life well spent. But the real value of turning points is for those under 40 who can take advantage of them while still young.


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