Answering One Question Could Change Your Life

In the context of being inspired, doing purposeful work and subsequently becoming an authentic leader, there is one question that is sure to give insight to anyone that answers it. Better, it could literally transform you, if you let it. It comes from a fantastic little book called, “Find Your Great Work,” by Michael Bungay Stanier, and it is this:

What are your Peak Moments?

Stanier writes, “The Power of the Peak Moment: When we think about what we can do and what’s possible for us, we’re often trapped by the past. We consider our education, we consider our training, we consider our work history. Peak Moments get us beyond that. They tap into the power of subjective experience rather than objective accomplishments. When you think about your Peak Moments, it is about how you felt and not what was actually happening.”

What Exactly is a Peak Moment?

Stanier describes Peak Moments as moments of triumph, not necessarily public, or even the most successful.

“What it is, however, is a moment of private certainty, a moment of insight where you say: yes this is something to remember, this a moment of me at my most essential, me at my most authentic and best.”

Next, Stanier instructs readers to write down three-five Peak Moments (those first that come to mind, don’t think too hard about it) and write a short description of what happened for each, considering things such as:

  • Were you alone or in a crowd?
  • What was the type of challenge you were facing?
  • What made it a Peak Moment for you?
  • What was your role?
  • How did you overcome any challenges?
  • What are you particularly proud of?
  • What skills did you use?

My Unexpected Peak Moment:

Five years ago when I completed this exercise, I held a senior HR position with a large organization and team. I was quite happy with my pay, and pleased with the several “key accomplishments” to include on my résumé, despite many challenges.

The first Peak Moment that came to mind was a complete shock, and had nothing to do with any of the tangible things I just described. But I wrote it down anyway.

About 15 years ago, a “100-year” storm hit where my husband (then fiancé) and I were camping. It changed our lives forever in an instant, and received state-wide media attention. As I struggled to heal physically and both of us to heal mentally that year, the first anniversary of the incident was looming and bringing back all sorts of memories. One night around this time I couldn’t sleep and got up in the middle of the night. I opened my computer and like something had taken over my brain, just wrote and wrote and wrote about this experience and how it changed us.

That same week, a reporter from a major newspaper called and asked if he could conduct an interview for the paper’s first anniversary coverage of this event. I said, “No, I’d rather not do anymore interviews, but I wrote something about it.” They were under deadline and asked if I’d be willing to send it that day. So, I did, unedited except for spellcheck. After all, I didn’t actually think they’d print it. They printed it verbatim.

Why was that was a Peak Moment? I was almost outside myself, the very deepest and central part of me came out to relay the event in such a way that was unique, almost without trying. I was proud. Getting “published” in a major newspaper doesn’t happen everyday, at least without great effort, as PR people can attest to. Finally, the feedback we received was humbling. It really touched people and at least for that day, helped them be thankful for what they had.

What I realized from this Peak Moment is that I need to write more because I enjoy expressing ideas and insights through the written word with the goal of helping others.

Fast forward to today: back then I never dreamed I’d be more than a year into writing a blog, with followers growing each day. Like a ripple in the water, a former trusted colleague and regular reader of the blog pitched the idea to co-author a book, which we’re working on. And who knows what will happen next. All I know is, I’m doing something that is core to me and has purpose, which inevitably helps me be a better leader.

And all I did was answer one simple question. What great things are in store for you?

“A person’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., US Supreme Court Justice

Dedication: Thank you, Nancy, for giving me that book just when I needed it most!

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