I flipped a coin. Seriously. My father and I were trying to decide which division of General Motors should be my "sponsor" during my co-op work experience while attending GMI Engineering & Management Institute (Kettering University today). The choice was between Buick and AC, and AC won the flip. Weeks later, at a new student orientation at AC's headquarters in Flint, Michigan I met Orrin Woodward, a man who was later to become my business partner (of 17 years and running) and co-author of several best sellers. That was turning point number one.
Once ensconced at GMI I was terrified. I wasn't that in love with math and science and was truly outgunned by the smart people around me. I thought Mechanical Engineering had more to do with machinery and motion than math, but the professors seemed to think differently. So, out of fear more than anything else, I worked really hard and it paid off. One thing led to another and I realized I could probably shoot for a scholarship to grad school. So for at least four years (GMI was a 5 year program) I planned on winning a scholarship to Stanford. My plan worked and I won the scholarship. I also got accepted to Stanford. But I ended up attending Carnegie Mellon University instead. The reason for this sudden shift is too much for this article, but when I arrived at Carnegie Mellon I found Terri Estes waiting there. Soon she would change her name to Terri Brady. This was turning point number two.
There are others in my life, but I am sure you get the point. What may seem like little decisions at the time can have massive and lasting impact on the course of our lives. We change direction and go down a road from which we can never return.
The interesting thing about major turning points in our lives is that they are not always obvious. Let's face it, we make thousands of decisions a year. Some that seem major sometimes don't turn out to be. Some that seems minor can sometimes change the course of our lives forever. It is sometimes impossible to tell if the next decision will be a big one, leading to a turning point, or just another miniscule moment that will soon be lost under the dust of time and faded memories.
The lesson? Choose well at each decision. Never underestimate the potential of tiny things having big ramifications.
The lesson within the lesson? There really aren't that many major turning points in life. If you don't believe me, map out your own life by moving backwards through your circumstances. How did you end up living where you're living, working where you're working, married to whom you're married, etc.? If you trace it back, you'll likely find somewhere between 3 and 10 major turning points in your life, many of which you couldn't have seen coming.
An observation on these lessons: The most successful people (such as my buddy Tim Marks) seem to make decisions the quickest and with the least amount of angst, but then stick to those decisions with more tenacity than others. To me this is a strange paradox, but I've seen it demonstrated so many times I believe it to be the rule.
Conclusion: Turning points are rare but significant in your life. Choose wisely from the myriad of choices proffered to you each day, as any one of them could have unforseen and lasting implications. However, it is not necessary to become parlyzed or burdened by the decisions you'll face. Perhaps the worst thing to do is overanalyze. Go with your gut, pray for guidance, and stick to the directions you choose.