What makes a person change for the better or for the worse? What makes someone realize they were wrong? Or that they acted poorly? How do you realize that you need to make a change? Is it gradual, or does it hit you like a ton of bricks, creating an instantaneous change? For me, most of my big changes in my life have happened in an instant. One second, I’ll be rolling along through life, then something happens and everything changes. Sometimes these changes are good, sometimes they are bad.
The first time I remember instant change was in 2nd grade. My soccer team was in the intramural championship game, which was during our lunchtime recess. In music class in the morning, I tripped a friend of mine, just for fun. He tumbled down, knocking down a ton of chairs in the process. I got a detention, my first ever. It was during recess. I was going to miss my soccer game. In my 2nd grade head, I said “screw it, I’m skipping detention and playing.” It took three quarters of the game before a teacher came out, grabbed me off the field and gave me detention for the rest of the week. I didn’t care. I had scored a goal and we won the game. Detention didn’t matter. In that instant, I became a terror. I realized that teachers and school authority couldn’t really hurt me. Everything changed, probably for the worse.
It took 8 years before an instant snap changed my behavior again. It was freshman year of high school. I was bored in class and pretty much made teachers’ lives miserable. I was in a class and I was goofing around with one of my best friends. I’m pretty sure we were trying to draw on each other with pens. The teacher had tried to get us to stop for a few weeks, but we just didn’t care. Finally, the person sitting in front of us turned back, looked me in the eye and simply said “stop.” I don’t know why it clicked then, but in that instant, I realized how poorly I’d treated some of my middle school teachers and realized it had to stop. I had one of those “rapid fire montages” of all the bad things I’d done and felt horrible. From then on, I never disrupted a class ever again.
I got self confidence in an instant on the soccer field as a 12 year old referee. In my first game, a coach ran onto the field and cursed me out, with just about every name in the book. I’d gotten the call right, but he thought I should have given the 10 year old a yellow card. I was scarred. I called my referee assignor and he told me I had to stick with my calls and that if anyone did it ever again, I had all the power and should throw them out. Two weeks later, another coach swore at me over a call he didn’t like. I threw him out and stood my ground as he threatened me. In that instant, everything changed. I knew I could handle pretty much any situation.
Another example came from business. When I was selling my first company, the final six weeks of the deal were incredibly stressful. The deal almost fell through multiple times, there were tough negotiations and there was a bunch of shady stuff that happened that caused a ton of stress. I got more and more involved in the deal and started to turn inward, become less involved with my friends and let my business spill over into other aspects of my life. I was spending more time on the phone, in front of the computer and let it affect my life. I was angry at the buyer and I started to take it out on other people. I didn’t realize it any of this at the time, but looking back, everything was obvious.
I went on a business trip and enlisted one of my friends to help. We drove to Michigan and I was on horrible phone call after phone call. We were eating lunch at a diner and I got another phone call. My friend started to playfully mess with me, just like he had for all of our friendship. This time, I took my anger at how the deal was going out on him. I hit him really hard in the leg (sorry Ken). In that instant, I snapped back to reality. I was disgusted with myself. I instantly knew I’d acted like an idiot for the past six weeks and vowed to never let my business affect my friendships.
For me, realization and change comes in an instant. I don’t realize I’m acting poorly (being mean to teachers, acting without confidence, taking my business frustrations out on friends), until something hits me like a ton of bricks and causes me to realize all of the things I’d done wrong or need to change. I look back and can’t even imagine how I acted that way in the first place. I look at my prechange self and see someone else.
I’ve had at least 9 of these in my life so far, 2 for the worse, 7 for the better. I’d love to be able to find a way to accelerate the changes for the good at the expense of the bad, but I think that’s probably asking too much. I think it’s human nature to have both. At the very least, I’m hoping as I learn lessons from these ton of bricks moments, I’ll need to have fewer of them. I’m just glad that so far my changes for the better outweight the changes for the worse.