A time at which a decisive change in a situation occurs.
We often recall past moments or phases of our lives when something happened, that may have affected the way we think, the way we are or even our life situation. Examples of changes could involve anything from relocation, meeting new people, starting or ending friendships or relationships, changes in our overall health and so on.
Change is inevitable, and arguably some momentum could be good for us to make the most of our lives on Earth. But often, we could find ourselves powering through changes and not always reflecting on what we gained from them. How did we grow from an event? Did we learn anything? Did something about the direction of our life, our way of thinking, or who we are, change after these turning points?
As mentioned by Mo Gawdat, a former Chief Business Officer at Google [X], there's something he calls the "butterfly effect" which stuck with me. It's about looking at all the events and interactions with people and turning points as the reason why we are where we are today (including "negative" ones). For example if it wasn't for that bully in school who said you weren't 'cool' enough, you wouldn't have worked on building up your courage and strength to accept yourself as you grew up to make you the self-assured and confident adult that you may be today.
So even negative events could result in turning points in say, your attitude towards yourself or your life, which could be a positive outcome.
Sometimes we could look at (gradual or drastic) life events as turning points. Everyone defines a ‘life event’ differently, relative to the level of importance they give it and perhaps the impact these would have had on themselves.
Life events which leave us with positive feelings such as: joy, confidence, excitement, gratitude are those that we remember as good events, such as the first time we plucked up the courage to travel with others or solo, decided to climb a mountain, jumped off a plane (with a parachute...) and event milestones like big birthdays, having a baby, getting married, graduating, driving your first car, and so on.
This is not to say that events or phases of our lives that were less pleasant can't have positive outcomes. A serious accident followed by a recovery could be a wake up call to appreciate being alive, as well as the appreciation and importance we should give to our health and wellbeing. Feeling unappreciated at work and not being challenged or fulfilled could eventually make us rethink our self-worth, purpose and could help us realise what we really want (or don't) in our careers and our lives in terms of health, wealth, impact, creativity, collaboration, etc. Failure could make us realise that we probably aren't super-humans after all, and it’s okay to be imperfect or not be able to achieve and do everything as long as we gave our best shot. Rejection, despite the initial pang of pain, could make us accept that everyone is different and often the right thing (or person, or job, etc.) for us could be out there. Mistakes made today could teach us lessons on how to avoid bigger mistakes in future (but obviously we should try to not repeat them).
I was in Nairobi, Kenya sat at a bar with one of my best friends talking about my past hang ups about all the people who hurt me and everything that happened that was slightly unfair on me and how it still affects me. As you may notice from this, is that I was talking about me like I am the only person who is affected by situations. Often we may look at ourselves as 'stars' of the show (a.k.a our lives), but we should try to remind ourselves that such turning points in life also involve others, who may have also been affected. We should also remember that we could have had a part to play in these situations and we may have also hurt people (knowingly or unknowingly). My friend rightly pointed this out to me then and there, after listening to me 'rant'... and I had a wave of realisation then, that I am not the only one in this 'show'.
Vicki Botnick, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), explains that sometimes people can “veer into the belief that everyone else caused their misery and nothing they do will ever make a difference.” This leaves them feeling vulnerable, which can result in difficult emotions and behaviours. Ideally, we should learn how to take responsibility for our own lives, accept the outcomes of events and find solutions for ourselves (rather than sit there, helplessly blaming others). Vicki Botnick recommends the book “Pulling Your Own Strings.”
There have been a good number of times when I remember thinking about the long term impact of unexpected events from terrorist attacks, pandemics, natural disasters, death of loved ones or inspirational people, or even economic events like the financial crisis in 2008. Anything and everything that is or was unexpected, could help us build resilience in terms of continuing our journeys in life, to the best of our abilities and learning to be adaptable and accepting of situations.
When we look back at such events and phases of our lives, I hope we can try to keep the lessons learnt and apply them as often as we can. Since the pandemic, for instance, many of us really understood what and who matters to them the most. Obviously there have been other implications, which may not be very positive, such as social anxiety, dealing with inequality, rising costs of living, dealing with loss, but in the words of the Disney's musical Frozen 2 is to do "The Next Right Thing”.
We have many standards in our multiple societies around the world: how we look; what careers we should have; if we should be married; if we should have children; how we speak; what we possess; what we achieve; what or who we follow or believe in (sports, religion, politics).
Some of us may even believe that we’ve had a hard life until we hear someone else’s life story, or get some inspiration about what we can do differently with our own lives. Sometimes just a conversation with someone could be a turning point for the way you think and act afterwards.
My trip to South America in my mid-twenties was a bit of a turning point for me. Most of the locals embraced their bodies in all shapes and sizes. I saw the largest people in the smallest swimsuits, dancing and sipping on Caipirinhas having the best time. Obviously the message isn't about having unhealthy habits like over indulgence in food and alcohol, but the message is more in accepting ourselves.
In Peru, I tried to converse with a woman selling Alpaca wool scarves in my very basic Spanish, who mentioned how she earns money from selling these scarves to tourists so that she can fund her children's schools and see them once or twice a month. This made me appreciate that people deal with distance between loved ones differently, and how grateful I was to spend time with them (on video / phone calls / messages or in person).
One final example was when my mother and I were walking on the streets of Kolkata, India and we were hungry (we tend to use the term 'starving' too loosely). We saw a tea stall on the road side, where a small old lady, draped in a simple sari was taking a lunch break from making tea for passing customers. She quickly stopped eating and served us immediately (a small clay pot of tea costs around 2 pence), when we noticed what she was eating: just about two tablespoons of some black seeds on a banana leaf. My mind immediately raced to just how much we eat and take for granted - in terms of portions as well as how much money we spend on food. My daily cappuccino in London costs me around GBP 2.50 (sometimes more), which is 125 times more than what I paid this lady for a cup of tea. This is just to give some perspective, rather than instill guilt in us... the point being, this one moment was like a turning point for me and I do try to remind myself that we should appreciate what we have and be grateful for it all, as many people have much less.
These conversations while traveling, have acted as reasons for me to think differently and have potentially been turning points for me. I hope you can also think of such encounters or phases or events in life that may have had an impact on you today.