In 2003, Mercedes Benz and McLaren Automotive teamed up to develop the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. While some cars are ‘cool,’ this car is spectacular – a masterpiece that demoralizes every other car on the road.

But this feat of automotive engineering comes at a price: $400,000.

The production run was understandably small, and they needed to be certain that each car built was sold. In order to justify the asking price, every inch of the vehicle had to scream ‘high performance.’

As you’d expect, much of the car’s design is dramatic. The fluid styling is sleek, strong, and sexy, and literally steals your breath. The doors open up and out like wings on a bird of prey, gateways to adventure with pragmatism left far behind. And acceleration? Try 0 to 60 in less than 3.5 seconds…

But the most significant thing Mercedes and McLaren did was actually very small…

They added a hinge

You see the driving experience begins with the ignition – and when you’re asking almost a half a million dollars for a car, you need something more than just a satisfying rumble when you turn the key. Push-button ignition used to be novel, but now you can get that on a Toyota Camry.

Mercedes and McLaren needed a whole new paradigm.

Their solution was brilliant: First, they moved the ignition button from the dash to the gearstick. This changed the feel of driving the car almost instantly. Then, they put a small, hinged cover over the top of the ignition button. That’s right, you have to open the cover to press the ignition.

Now, you’re no longer starting a car – you’re launching a missile!


Your Hinge Moments

There is something galvanizing about this example.

The design change probably cost Mercedes less than $100. And, in light of all the SLR’s theatrics, it’s a small detail – but somehow it makes all the difference in the world.

I think the reason I find it so impacting is because life is like this too: We look for big, dramatic, defining moments to justify all of our hopes and hard work. But, in the end, it’s the subtleties that are the most significant, just like the hinge on the SLR’s ignition.

Think about it: You’re going about life, doing the things you always do when you run into a small detail that just changes the dynamic. Perhaps it’s a news story, a new acquaintance, an experience, or a passing comment. Whatever the cause, there is some lasting appeal with which you inherently seem to identify.

These small ‘hinge moments’ hold the key to launching our lives – our hopes and dreams – like a missile. Therefore, we must identify them in order to press the ignition, and I think a handful of key questions can help us do just that.

Key Questions

If you want to launch your life, you must allow your hinge moments to inform your decision-making because they lend significant insight into your dreams and talents. Start by exploring these questions:

1) What do you love enough to do for free?

I know – we both heard this cliché from our high school guidance counselors. Nonetheless, it’s still a legitimate question. How would you occupy your time if nobody paid you for it?

The answer is significant because it provides insight into activities that you find both enjoyable and inherently meaningful. For instance, I enjoy jet skiing, watching movies, and playing video games, but I find no meaning in any of those activities. However, I also enjoy writing inspirational non-fiction and believe it changes lives. I’ve dabbled in it for almost a decade and I’ll never stop, regardless of how much money it generates. Thus, that’s my answer to this question.

2) What activities cause you to feel ‘different?’

When is the last time you were so engaged in an activity that you simply lost all track of time? What were you doing? As Marcus Buckingham and Dr. Donald Clifton describe in their groundbreaking book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, when you’re employing a genuine talent, a unique sort of resonance results and you feel ‘different.’

  • First, the activity comes so naturally to you that you find it puzzling when others have difficulty with it.
  • Second, you demonstrate consistent, near-perfect performance.
  • Third, you become so engaged that the temporal universe seems to shift and you lose track of what’s going on around you.
  • Fourth, when you stop, you may feel tired but you also feel energized.

Have you experienced this? The only way to identify these areas of greatest potential is to “step back and watch yourself for a while.” If you want to launch your life, it’s very important that you look for ‘hinge moments’ to identify your strengths.

3) What do you enjoy doing regardless of the opinions of other people?

Affirmation is important and we all need encouragement, but your ‘hinge moments’ may not garner such from those around you.  In fact, as you begin to be more intentional about exploring your ‘hinge moments’ be prepared for criticism. For example, I remember sharing my desire to write and speak with a very successful member of my business school cohort. At 30, this guy had already made millions with a car wash business in China.

His response?

He said my dream is a waste of time, and questioned whether it’s even possible to generate a living as an author. Until that point, I hadn’t faced such staunch opposition, so it was quite deflating. And, frankly, he made a few good points. But just as our dreams cannot be powered by affirmation alone, neither can exploration of our ‘hinge moments.’ Expect criticism so that you don’t feel tempted to abort the launch sequence when it happens.

4) What do you daydream about?

We all find ourselves lost in thought from time to time. Where does your mind wander? If you daydream about being rich and famous, there are a few questions to consider regarding your ‘hinge moments.’

Namely, what if you never become rich or famous?

Some people don’t struggle with this, but the rest of us need to do ourselves a favor and check our motives so that we can evaluate our ‘hinge moments’ more honestly. Launching your life is not about becoming rich and famous. It’s about identifying the intersection between your unique talents and passion so you can invest your time in a fulfilling pursuit that overlaps both.

5) What patterns do you see in your behavior?

Your ‘hinge moments’ may seem to be isolated events, but they will also be congruent with one another. So, look for patterns! Make a list of a few of the most significant experiences you’ve had that might be ‘hinge moments’ and then use each as a point of reference. Try to identify similar experiences where you felt energized, fulfilled, or exhilarated. You’ll start to see clusters of similar experiences form around each point of reference. When that happens, it’s time to try and figure out what aspect of each experience moved you, and where each cluster overlaps.

Launch your life

I believe that every person experiences ‘hinge moments’ that lend insight into the overlap between their talents and passion. More importantly, I believe that anyone can learn to interpret these ‘hinge moments’ to help identify vocations and avocations that are inherently fulfilling and meaningful. No matter where you are in your search, I hope these thoughts help you identify your ‘hinge moments.’

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