Moments of Knowing
There are moments in time during which one experiences a deep sense of certainty that cannot be logically defended but nonetheless is virtually impossible to ignore. If acted upon, these moments of knowing are transformative.
It was over a decade ago that I found myself in a situation that would change the trajectory of my career and life. I was the lead director on the board of a company that, after several years of financial success, was experiencing significant financial and regulatory headwinds. Without going into too many details, the company’s CEO abruptly departed with no succession plan in place. The standard playbook at the time was to hire a traditional CEO, someone who could bring experience and stability to a volatile and messy situation. One afternoon, as I was busy implementing this CEO playbook, a wave of intuition washed over me. I remember the distinct moment when I realized that I should raise my hand and recommend myself as the replacement.
I was by no means an obvious choice. This was a company with operations across the country and thousands of employees, facing a massive turnaround situation. As a lawyer, consultant, and private equity investor, I understood business, but I had never held a true operational role. There was a strong case to be made that it would be a mistake (if not an act of negligence) to bring in someone without years of experience in similar situations. It was perhaps the strength of my intuitive sense of knowing and my willingness to act upon it that convinced the board to follow my recommendation. I joined as interim President & CEO and, within a few weeks, the position was made permanent. After a year and a half of serving in this role, and helping lead a successful turnaround, we hired an industry veteran and I moved into the Executive Chairman role before ultimately leaving to serve as CEO of another company in the industry.
In retrospect, what I experienced that day was a moment of knowing, which I define as a moment in time during which one experiences a deep sense of certainty that cannot be logically defended but nonetheless is virtually impossible to ignore. I believe we have a handful of such moments in our lives. If acted upon, these moments of knowing are transformative. I can remember a moment of knowing when I was nine years old, and I realized that the place we were living wasn’t good for me. So strong was this intuition that I told my father. To his credit, he immediately moved our family and, I’m confident, redirected the trajectory of my life. I remember at age thirty-four standing in the buffet line at an executive team offsite in Buffalo, NY for a company on which I was a board director. Waiting to get our food, the company’s CFO and I struck up a conversation. After asking about my two children, then aged four and two, he turned to me and told me the one regret in his life was not having a third child. There was something about the way he looked at me that left me stunned. I knew at that moment that I could not ignore this man’s advice. I went home the next day and had the conversation with my wife that led to the birth of our third child (thank you, Jim). There have been other moments of knowing in my life, and I’m certain there will be more.
The key thing about moments of knowing is to understand they exist. The best way to do this is to look back on your life and identify them. Once you have an awareness of them, you then have a responsibility to stay attuned to them. And, most importantly, to act upon them. Carl Jung called this phenomenon synchronicity. Joseph Jaworski refers to these moments as predictable miracles. Carlos Castaneda may have described it best when he wrote: “All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time. The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting, so that when his cubic centimeter of chance pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess, to pick it up.”
My theory is that moments of knowing are most likely to occur in times of uncertainty like the present. Your job is to stay alert to the synchronicity of nature. To the predictable miracles of life. To the cubic centimeters of chance that pop out and fade away just as quickly as they appear. And to honor these moments of knowing by trusting your intuition and acting.
Last week I wrote about a transformative experience in nature that served as the inspiration for this week’s email. It also inspired me to begin reading Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory. Here’s an excellent New York Times article on Powers and his upcoming book Bewilderment.
David Brooks strikes yet again with an insightful piece titled “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage?” There’s a lot I agree with in there. And it’s definitely worth reading if you’re interested in the subject of why people do what they do.
It’s hard to argue that the U.S. Supreme Court isn’t an extremely consequential institution. And yet, it is widely misunderstood. I just finished reading Justice Stephen Breyer’s new book The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics. It’s more essay than book, coming in at just 103 pages. For anyone concerned about the future of the institution and looking for an accessible and substantive read, it is essential reading. I’m considering writing a future blog about the subject. We’ll see…