In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 5, 2003, I lost control of my SUV on the icy, eastbound section of Interstate 90 near Winona, Minnesota. At 21 years old, I was still ‘indestructible’ and frankly, driving way too fast for the conditions. I came up over a gentle rise and realized I was fast approaching a column of four cars moving much more slowly than I. The left lane hadn’t been plowed or sanded, but I steered into it nonetheless to avoid a rear-end collision.

Then life happened in slow motion.

I lost control of my vehicle and it started to slide and spin. I turned the wheel and managed to stop the spin, only to find myself sliding backwards. As I flew between the rear two cars, I made eye contact with the driver – and I still remember the look of horror on her face. I then turned to look over my left shoulder to see where I was headed, and realized I was going to hit one of those large, green road signs.

 

I caught one of the sign’s steel I-beam posts right in the center of my driver’s side door and sheared it off at the ground. The noise was deafening, and glass and car parts exploded everywhere.  My door was smashed in about 12 inches, pinning my left leg against my steering wheel. As the car slid to an abrupt stop, my Dave Matthews Band CD skipped a few seconds and then resumed play. Though I had been headed east, I was in the ditch facing west, with icy breeze and snowflakes blowing in my face and pieces of my Jeep strewn all about.

Moments later, the gigantic green sign groaned and its bolts snapped like gunshots as it pivoted overhead and came crashing down right next to my vehicle. I trembled from adrenaline, but thanked God and laughed nervously at the ridiculousness of the situation. Blood trickled from cuts on my arms; I knew my left shoulder was bruised and wondered if my left leg was broken.

In the end, I walked away unscathed.

I’m very thankful that nobody was hurt as a result of my indiscretion, and I’m probably lucky I wasn’t killed (i.e., by sliding into on-coming traffic or being crushed by the gigantic sign). You’ll be happy to know, I have driven much more cautiously since the incident – but here’s the catch: Though I hate to admit it, that wasn’t the first (or last) car accident I experienced.

Theoretically, it shouldn’t have taken even one such dramatic event to inspire me to be a cautious driver… So why have I experienced several?

More generally, why is it that we learn some lessons quickly, but never seem to get a handle on others?

And, why do some people seem to grow leaps and bounds from their experiences, while other people just fall into the same pitfalls repeatedly?

Many times, it’s because we fail to recognize the opportunity to change!

Real change always happens from the inside out – but exposure to information doesn’t necessarily lead to insight, nor experience to wisdom. Instead, we must internalize lessons in order to grow from them. Otherwise, even lessons from events as dramatic as that I’ve just described can fall to the wayside, unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Fortunately, there is a simple, multi-step process we can embrace in order to learn and grow from life experience. With the remainder of this post, we’ll discuss the very first step. Next week, we’ll explore the rest of the process.

What better way to bid the old year farewell and welcome in the new?

The first step is recognition!

As mentioned, many times, we don’t grow because we fail to recognize the opportunity to change. In other words, it pays to be aware of how events affect your thoughts, emotions, attitude, and actions so that you can actively organize your response.

Let’s first consider ‘events.’

In English, we use the word ‘time’ very generically, but the ancient Greeks used two different words to conceptualize ‘time’ to recognize the significance of events like my car accident:

  • Chronos’ – The ongoing, sequential passing of time.
  • Kairos’ – An event or moment when time seems to stand still and ‘chronos’ is of little importance.

In order to change and grow, we must first be able to recognize the ‘kairos’ moments in our lives. Whether positive or negative experiences, ‘kairos’ moments always provide critical opportunities for learning and growth to take place. If we dismiss them as insignificant parts of the ‘chronos’ of our lives, we’ll never leverage the opportunity they provide.

That’s when we end up stumbling into the same pitfalls repeatedly.

What are ‘kairos’ moments?

Perhaps I’ve sold you on the idea that it’s beneficial to think of time differently. If so, it’s time to learn to recognize ‘kairos’ moments.

Doing so is actually very easy!

We each have innumerable occasions for change in our lives – every trial, crisis, or problem; every victory – can be a ‘kairos’ moment resulting in learning and growth. The real issue is our willingness to be introspective and honestly acknowledge what’s happening, and why.

The external manifestation of the ‘kairos’ moment – whether positive or negative – is less important than the internal implications:

  • How did you get where you are?
  • What choices contributed to the outcome?
  • When and where were those choices made?
  • Would other courses of action have resulted in a different outcome?
  • Would that outcome have been preferable?
  • Should you have recognized this at the time?

Exploring the ‘why’ behind each ‘kairos’ moment requires a great deal of introspective observation. Absent a willingness to take the time necessary to embrace it legitimately, we’ll never recognize such events as the opportunities for learning and growth that they are.

Though many ‘kairos’ moments are positive and not negative, many people prefer to sweep these opportunities under the rug rather than face unresolved issues in their lives. But doing so only delays the inevitable! The same trial, challenge, or crisis will continue to develop time and again, until we face it, process it, and learn and grow from it.

What’s more, positive ‘kairos’ moments are opportunities for us to acknowledge what we’re doing right – habits we should further hone and strengthen for even more success. The fact is, we can’t effectively recognize the positive and ignore the negative – we will either choose to be introspective, or not. Consequently, ignorance will cost us both the opportunity to further develop our strengths as well as mitigate future shortfalls.

Either way, we choose to be growers or stagnaters.

Having learned to recognize ‘kairos’ events, the question becomes what to do with them.

File them away and ignore them? Or engage in observation, learning and growth?

Next week, we’ll say goodbye to 2012 by exploring the optimal way to engage ‘kairos’ moments and leverage them to reach our full potential!

“Trying and failing isn’t a small part of life, it’s much of life. The rest is just learning how to grow from it.”

- Bob Goff

Leave a Comment: Do you find it easy or difficult to recognize ‘kairos’ moments? Do they tend to make you introspective, or do you find yourself remaining focused on the ‘chronos’ of life?

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