Each day is filled with decisions, some more important than others. Sometimes we don't realize that choices we make may cause our situation to head in an entirely different direction. A tiny shift can totally change the trajectory of our lives. These pivotal decisions may be part of our daily routine, which can alter our lives and what we contribute to the world.
The musical performer Sting had one of these simple, yet life-changing experiences. As a young boy, he lived near a small port in England, in the “shadow of a shipyard.” It was a town that had built some of the largest sea going vessels in the world. For generations, the people living there did the same thing: they worked in the shipyards and struggled to make ends meet. Once an important ship was completed it was christened, and usually members of the royal family attended the celebration. On one such occasion, Sting’s small town hosted the official gathering. He had attended these events before. As usual, his mother made him wear his Sunday best and stand on the sidewalk waving the British flag in his hand. As a young boy, Sting sensed the excitement in the air and watched as the motorcade steadily approached, carrying the Queen Mother. As her vehicle drove by, Sting waved with enthusiasm and smiled. Just as he did, the Queen made eye contact with him and smiled and waved back. He said at that moment he was infected with the idea that he wanted a bigger life. One that was out of the ordinary and different from what his family had known for generations. Because he attended that one event as a young boy, Sting was introduced to an idea that altered the rest of his life. He began to think outside of the box on what he could do with his life and his trajectory changed from that day forward.
Neil deGrasse Tyson also had an experience that adjusted the direction of his life. Today Tyson is a well-known astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. When he was first getting started as a young man from the Bronx, Tyson was interested in astronomy and applied to attend Ithaca at Cornell for his first year of study. Carl Sagan, then a successful astrophysicist, noticed Tyson’s application and invited him to spend the day with him. What an opportunity for Tyson! The two of them spent the day touring astronomy faculties, and that evening, Sagan gave Tyson the book, “The Cosmic Connection” and signed it, “to a future astronomer.” It was a cold, snowy December evening in New York when Sagan drove Tyson back to the bus station to go home. Sagan wrote his phone number on a scrap of paper and gave it to Tyson telling him to call if the bus couldn’t get through the storm. Tyson already knew that he wanted to study astronomy, but something changed during the day he spent with Carl Sagan. The kindness and interest Sagan showed Tyson, changed his idea of what kind of scientist he would be and he recognized the importance of including people in science and not just facts.
Russell Shorto is a journalist, best-selling author, and historian who had a question that changed his life. He lived in New York and routinely took his daughter to an old churchyard at St. Mark’s-in-the Bowery. It had a lawn filled with large sycamore trees, a perfect place for a young child to run and get some fresh air. Each day as his daughter played there, Shorto looked at the tombstones that filled the old churchyard. One stood out more than the others; it belonged to Peter Stuyvesant one of the leaders of the early settlement in New Netherland in the 1600s. Shorto’s mind began to question what the original settlement was like. He followed this idea, which led him to a man named Charles Gehring. Shorto learned from Gehring that where his daughter played each day was once the Dutch Colony of New Netherland and Peter Stuyvesant had been one of the directors there. This meeting with Gehring led Shorto to an obsession to learn all he could about the colony and he eventually wrote, “The Island at the Center of the World” about this location. Shorto also became actively involved in the New Netherland Institute (whose director is Charles Gehring), and has taught the public about New Netherland ever since. Shorto’s solitary question led him to an area of history he knew little about and now he successfully shares that knowledge with the world.
I could go on with examples of people who have made a drastic change in their lives because of one small decision. In many of these instances the people ended up being successful in their individual lives, and then sharing their newfound knowledge with all who would pay attention. Their change in trajectory ended up being a chain reaction, which led others to alter their paths also. As you go about your normal day be aware of questions that come to your mind or ideas that you have. Keep them bouncing around in your head and see if they eventually become one of those pivotal decisions which will send you in an entirely different direction.