One of my best friends, Shirley, and I took a long walk last week and came across a picked over yard sale. The family was trying to pare down their junk and was loading a truck with the last vestiges of kids toys, mismatched drinking glasses, and other odds and ends collected in drawers and closets over a lifetime. One of the items on the table was a cardboard box full of cards. It turned out to be a game called “Food For Talk: Bringing Families Together One Conversation at a Time.” The family ended up giving us a few cookbooks, a deep dish pizza pan (!), and this game.
I hosted a pizza party at my house the next night and my friends and I decided to try the game. One of the prompts asked us to describe a pivotal moment in our lives. One of my dinner guests has recently lost over 100 pounds as a result of diet and exercise, and he named joining CrossFit LA as a pivotal moment in his life. Two other guests became CrossFit coaches as a result of joining CrossFit LA and their lives changed dramatically, as well. One guest stated that when he played football his freshman year of high school, he learned about camaraderie and it helped shape him into the man he is today. Without thinking too deeply, I also said that joining CrossFit LA was a pivotal moment in my life.
Cut to a later conversation and I was speaking to a friend on the phone who challenged my response. He could not fathom that an exercise regime would be so deeply transformative for me, when I’d already accomplished many other things and experienced more “serious” or traumatic events. This gave me pause. Over the last week, I’ve been exploring this idea of a “pivotal moment.”
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
This pivotal decision “which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism” grants same-sex marriages in all 50 states. It came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of the unions. Given that the Supreme Court and so many Americans finally support gay marriage; it’s about time!
So what does it mean to pivot, anyway? Wikipedia states that a pivot is “the point of rotation in a lever system or more generally, the center point of any rotational system.” I think of pivoting primarily in terms of basketball, and asked my brother, an NBA superfan, how he describes it. He says, “it’s when you have the ball and one foot is firmly planted and you are changing directions in order to pass or shoot.” Pivoting is a fundamental footwork movement and is done on the ball of the foot. The ball of the pivot foot must be in contact with the floor at all times and must not slide sideways. When one pivots, he or she actually spins around on the ball of the pivot foot. Another friend told me that pivoting is a way to change directions or create space so [in basketball] you have more room to act.
Thinking about pivoting from a basketball perspective is similar to thinking about life’s transformational moments. We have a foot planted on the ground and the other foot is finding better placement for the next best thing. To elaborate and apply this to my life, I’m thinking in all seriousness about some of the pivotal moments in my life.
1. Attending college (Penn)
In my family, going to the best college possible (and even simply going to college) was not a question. It was part of our culture. Getting good grades, studying for the SAT, writing thorough essays, and interviewing were all part of my plan for myself. However, this was all in preparation for the actual attendance and experience of my college education. Going to Penn and everything that came with it was pivotal for me during all four years. There, I really learned how to think more critically, how to write better, how to live on my own, and how to make and keep lifelong friends.
Living in Philadelphia was transformational; I grew up in a working-class, coal-mining town in Northeastern New Mexico. We were the only Jewish family. Raton, my hometown, has a population of under 6,000 people, half of whom are Hispanic and the other half, Caucasian. At Penn, there was racial, religious, and class diversity, true city life with public transportation, and really smart people who challenged my beliefs. It was a different world. I learned that I could work hard and achieve the things that I desired AND that there needs to be certain timing in order for things to work out. Going to Penn was four years of privilege; it has had far-reaching effects on my development and even the people I know.
2. Yes, CrossFit was a pivotal moment for me, I’ll be honest, but not in the way you’re thinking.
I’m not talking about losing tons of weight, getting leaner (which I did), getting stronger (I did that, too), or being able to deadlift an ungodly amount. Rather, I’m talking about the whole five-year process. For some people, walking in the doors to a gym is transformational. Not for me. I’m good at trying new things, especially if it’s exercise related. I’ve done pole dancing, krav maga, Thai kickboxing, belly dance, spin, yoga, running clubs, and tons of other trendy workouts. The pivotal “moment” for me was realizing that I would stay with it, and grow. Just like Andy Petranek (the Founder of CFLA) used to say, we would “chop wood, carry water.” Going to CFLA was part of my routine. There were lots of days that I didn’t feel like going to the gym but I showed up anyway. I practiced all of the movements I despised, amidst my friends and also with myself. I cried through a horrific wall ball workout and felt better for having completed it (rather than quitting), laughed doing animal walks, and sweated amongst my peers. I met amazing people (whom I’m honored to call dear friends) and found a new community in LA as a result of my gym membership. I don’t think I’d have done all of this if I were training on my own. As Coach Kenny Kane discusses, I “put in effort and showed grit”. I faced physical movements that related to emotional memories (in much the same way that yogis experience growth in the pigeon pose). In sum, I felt myself physically and realized that I am an athlete.
I’m not doing CrossFit now. I needed a break. I carry this memory deep within my heart and am so grateful for these five years.
3. Grad school>Therapy>Coaching
“Having an idea and being passionately committed to it is important. But so is being clever enough to realize when it is not working,” says Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist.
I went to graduate school thinking I would become a Marriage and Family Therapist. That was the plan. I completed my classes, all of my hours, worked in multiple different community mental health centers, and even had a private practice. I worked with over ten supervisors and trained for seven years in the Gestalt modality. Some of it was amazing (all of the Gestalt stuff) and some was horrific (one of the sites). A year ago, after a series of difficulty in my personal and professional lives, I decided to leave my therapy practice and start fresh as a Gestalt Coach. I had been working with a supervisor for over five years and the relationship was tenuous. For years, I wanted an ounce more warmth and positive feedback and felt like I got pounds of criticism instead. Feeling worn down, I adopted her suggestions and didn’t feel better in my role as a therapist.
It didn’t occur to me to leave and find a better fit. Rather, sticking it out is what I thought I “should” do. And then the universe basically conspired against (with!) me and I had to leave. I had an intense, honest discussion with my supervisor and was able to speak to everything that hadn’t worked for me. I felt a surge of growth in that moment and major confidence for the decision I was making to transition into coaching.
I have not looked back with regret. I know what is expected of me, where I need to be, am nimble, agile, and feel comfortable with where I am.
4. My move
I lived in Los Angeles, primarily on the Westside, for twelve and a half years. Six months ago, I moved to Long Beach, a city about 30 miles away but with traffic, can take an hour and a half, making me occasionally lose my mind. Making the decision to move felt okay, but actually moving has been pivotal.
I thought I needed a change, a break, a reset. I also thought a relationship would “work out.” Ha! I needed a reset from my patterns, and now know the relationship was hinged to a rusty, tattered, broken belief system. Basically, I tried my best and it didn’t work. Well, after now living here and trying to make friends, build community, and start a life here, I realize my pivotal moment is still happening. I’m not where I want to be and am in the process of learning what’s next. I have a foot planted and my pivot foot is creating space for the next best thing. I’m looking for my teammates to pass the ball and am ready to get clear and make the basket when they pass it back.
Reflecting on pivotal moments this week has been incredibly thought-provoking, and has led to deep, authentic conversations with friends and clients alike. My mom and dear friend Stephanie both agree that we make decisions, even if they’re risky or scary, thinking that things will only be better. They posit that we would not make decisions if we thought, going into the decision, the outcome would be far worse than what we’re already experiencing. It’s certainly easier to stay in status quo mode than to take a risk. However, I believe that a pivotal moment is actually something that has been reflected on after the fact. I don’t typically know that meeting a new person or trying something different will be pivotal. It’s truly only pivotal when acknowledging the work that has gone into getting there and then sticking with it long enough for it to make an impact. In the afterglow of the experience, we realize that a “moment” has been pivotal.
Finally, it occurs to me that most pivotal moments are actually setups for comebacks. Many times, a pivotal moment comes after defeat. In the Supreme Court, it’s taken years for marriage equality to be sanctioned, and tons of people have felt defeated, disheartened, and oppressed as a result of the lengthy process. With the recent NBA draft, all of these young men have spent their entire childhoods preparing for the “pivotal moment” of being drafted to the LA Lakers or any other amazing franchises. They typically had support from families and coaches, as well as personal determination mixed with good timing. My pivotal moments have not occurred when I’ve walked through door number one; instead, they’ve been a mixture of timing, willingness, a little luck, and preparation. I usually recognize them after they’ve happened, rather than in the midst of the event. It’s only later that I realize something “big” just happened.
Clearly, I haven’t had just one pivotal moment. I’m agile and continue to assess decisions based on the information I have, enabling me to turn and move with the turning events in life.
Please share your pivotal moments in comments.
For more information on me, please visit Coaching By Nina Rubin.