Friday, July 5, 2013

Pivotal People . . . Pivotal Moments

Last night something inspired me to think about what I call "Pivotal People" and "Pivotal Moments" (in time). Pivotal people are those who have passed through our lives and caused them to change forever, for better or for worse. Pivotal moments are those completely unexpected and unplanned events that occurred at some point during our lives and, once again, irreversibly changed our lives forever.

Every human on the planet has pivotal people and pivotal moments throughout our lives. It's not unique or unusual. However, each of the pivotal people and the pivotal moments had a unique and, usually, life changing impact on who we became. In many ways I like to classify these people and moments as serendipities, though serendipities are usually defined as happy accidents, pleasant surprises or fortunate mistakes. Unfortunately, not all pivotal people and pivotal moments are positive. Some are very unfortunate and often take our lives down very negative and painful paths.

Pivotal People

A pivotal person is someone, usually other than a close family member or close friend who is with you for your (or their) entire lives or for extended parts of our lives. For example, our parents, siblings, grandparents, close aunts, uncles and cousins are part of your life until one or the other dies. A spouse may or may not be around a lifetime. Friends on the other hand may be an important part of your life for a brief or a long-term or, as we may call some friends "life-long friends."

Most of us have reasonably close family ties, although, as is the case of my family, both of my parents are deceased and my two sisters (both younger than I am) are not close at all. I have no living grandparents and no close tie with my one living aunt, I have no living uncles and I'm not close or in contact with any of my cousins except a second cousin who is about ten years older than me. I know other families where there are still living parents; in some cases living grandparents and the siblings are close as are some aunts, uncles and cousins. A family gathering is usually a major event for these families and they all look forward to being together.

Friends, on the other hand, are found in a variety of situations. Some of us have friends we met as children, may have attended elementary, junior high/middle or high school with or all three. In my case, I have one friend from junior high and high school I've kept in contact with. Through social media, like Facebook, I have reconnected with a number of friends going back to elementary through high school, however, I have not developed close relationships with any of them. College, advanced degrees or professional/occupational training is also a place where some long-term friendships are formed. Again, in my case, I have about three friends from college and two or three from graduate school that I maintain relationships with. I have four friends from my Air Force days. There are even fewer I've kept connections with from the hundred or so employees who have worked for my various businesses.

I, of course, have continually developed many more friendships throughout my lifetime who were professional colleagues, competitors, clients and suppliers. I also have friends from community activities and social groups I've belonged to over the years for various reasons. I've had two wives and one eight-year relationship; however, I'm only in contact and friends with my first wife (my son's mother) who I shared about 20 years of my life with. You likely have a combination of many of these kinds of friends that you've made throughout your life from these and other kinds of connections.

Some of these people may have been pivotal in some ways during your lifetime, but the relationships were unlikely to be considered life changing (other than your spouse). The pivotal people in your lives are those who came from a variety of external places in the grand scheme of things and made an impact, usually of some greater influence in the direction your life took from that point forward.

For example, our family doctor was a pivotal person in my life. He knew me from the time I was born. Back in the 40's, 50's and 60's, family doctors had much closer, personal relationships with their patient families. Dr. Sheft knew of my interest in ham radio and audio-visual things and connected me with his cousin, Ted Sheft, the co-director of the Audio-Visual Center at Montclair State College. Ted, upon his cousin's endorsement, greased the rails for my acceptance at Montclair State College. He introduced me to all forms of audio-visual media (of the day) and sparked my interest in sound, audio engineering and recording. He was my muse into the recording industry and a career I've loved and enjoyed for 50 years.

Both Dr. Sheft and his cousin, Ted Sheft, were two major pivotal people in my life. They had the insight and vision to introduce me to my future. During this same period of my youth, there was a science teacher from the next town over from where we both lived, Jack Nixon. Jack was an amateur radio operator, W2IMG (I'll never forget his call sign). He was the first ham radio operator I met and he mentored me (or was my Elmer, in ham radio language), administered my first two ham radio license exams and got me started in a hobby that was the precursor to my recording career. I was 13 years old. I still maintain my original call sign 54 years later. A big thanks to the late Jack Nixon.

I just gave you three examples of pivotal people from my life. There was also Major Jack Oswald who got me the exact right job in Washington, DC in the Air Force. There was Tom Hanson, a young, but impressive and very successful Amway distributor who introduced me to other opportunities. There was Al Wertheimer, vice president of a family owned radio station network in New York State who gave me a major contract over several much larger and better equipped recording businesses and gave me advice I've never stopped using. The list goes on. But, probably doesn't exceed a dozen people or so. Unfortunately, some of the pivotal people got me into situations that were not in my best interest at the time. I paid a large price for painful, yet, valuable experiences.

Pivotal people impacted a variety of irreversible changes in my life and your life. You and I are the people we are today because of these pivotal people. The amazing thing is that they may have only been part of your life for a very brief time and impacted you with just a few sage words of wisdom. For example, Al Wertheimer was the major influence, with only one "either/or" statement at a lunch meeting we had, in me putting aside any plans of working for someone else on a full-time basis and becoming a life-long entrepreneur. Jack Oswald opened the doors to my brief Air Force career the first time we met, in a civilian situation, interestingly, again, with a single statement. Other people have been or were (some are now deceased) influences on me for decades that we have remained friends, colleagues, vendor/client relationships and so on.

Think about this yourself. Go back to your earliest memories and recall all the people who made an impression on you. The ones you remember the most, even though you may have only had a limited or brief relationship, are likely the ones who are your pivotal people. You can go back and thank each of them for who you became, even if they were the cause of some pain or failure in your life. You became the better person for it and it was something you had to experience to reach the place you are today.

Pivotal Moments

Pivotal moments are somewhat different than pivotal people, although they often include people in the event that occurred during the pivotal moment. A pivotal moment can be and usually is something of dramatic, drastic, traumatic, tragic, elevating, pleasurable, rewarding, life-threatening or similar kinds of events. For example, a pivotal moment might be an automobile accident, the loss of a job, being robbed or mugged or in a hostage situation. If you are a military member, a contractor or a member of the press in a combat zone it could be a bullet, an I.E.D., a mortar shell, seeing the person next to you, possibly a close buddy, killed in action or even being the victim of friendly fire. It could be the tragic loss of a spouse, child, sibling or parent from disease, accident or senseless act of violence. Perhaps it's a vacation to a special place or participating in something new you've never tried before. Maybe it's the chance meeting of a group or being introduced to a lifestyle you had never known about or considered before. The list of possible pivotal moments goes on and on. The positive, often creative moments, we often refer to as "Aha Moments," where you are instantly enlightened by something. Maybe you created a YouTube video, wrote a blog post, put something on Facebook, wrote a letter to the editor and so on and it went viral and opened new doors you never thought about or even knew existed. You have had lots of pivotal moments in your life and, once again, they have all led you to who and where you are today.

Examples of some pivotal moments in my life include the day my father took his own life at age 42. Yes! Obviously it involved my father, a person, but it was his act that changed my life irreversibly the instant he stopped existing. I was 21 at the time and getting close to graduating from college. I was just, finally, getting to understand what a great, intelligent, capable, caring person my father was and how much of a role model he was to me. And then, in an instant, life was different. My family disintegrated that day and I never lived with my family again and we began growing more and more distant. Sometimes events like these pull families together. Other times they tear them apart. My experience was the latter. However, I was fortunate to have lots of friends from college and a few from high school, at the time, and they rallied around me. It was then that I realized my strength in the future would be whom I had as my close friends. My friends became my family and it remains that way today.

Another pivotal moment was when a woman I was in a long-term relationship with developed a near fatal case of lymphoma. Sure, I had seen and known people with cancer before and I new several who succumbed to it. But, this time it was personal. I shouldered the responsibility of being her 24/7 caregiver. I learned things the doctors, rehab professionals and others taught me about taking care of a completely non-ambulatory, 140 pounds of human being in constant excruciating pain and undergoing all kinds of major and, often scary, treatments and procedures. I saw this woman go from being unable to do anything for herself and, literally, being days from death, to walking up the stairs in our home for the first time in almost a year and then getting into a car and driving that car a year after she couldn't drive any longer and believed she'd never drive again.

There were numerous pivotal moments during this entire ordeal. And possibly the worst part of the ordeal for me was after she was back on her feet. Due to the massive drugs, she had no idea of all I had done for her physically, caring for her, going for days on end with less than an hour of sleep per day, taking care of her personal finances and affairs while still attempting to keep two businesses going and keeping a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and the utilities paid, negotiating down three-quarters of her humongous medical bills (she didn't have health insurance), getting her onto Social Security Disability and Medicare and more things than I care to list here. But, I then became the focus of all her blame, bitterness and distrust. Ultimately, a little over a year after she was able to drive again we parted ways at my initiation in order to preserve and protect my own health. Less than two years later I was diagnosed with my own cancer. She was not my caregiver.

Still another pivotal moment was when I realized that the long-term lease was coming due on the small ranch I had been living and running my recording and book-publishing businesses from. I had been there for almost six years at that time. I had to make a decision, renew the lease, move somewhere else or make the drastic change to living a lifestyle of freedom and living free. This wasn't a new concept for me. It was something I dreamed about while I was in college and graduate school and I was partially living after graduate school. But, Uncle Sam, Vietnam and the U.S. Air Force all merged in the form of a draft notice during the spring of 1969. That was, yet, another pivotal moment. My life changed irreversibly by that letter in a government envelope. So, here it was, 39 years later, and I had to make another major life decision. Pivotal moment number one was making the decision to make the major lifestyle change to give up the ranch and a stationary lifestyle for one of living free and a nomadic lifestyle. Pivotal moment number two was the day I actually drove off the property for the last time and started a completely new lifestyle on November 1, 2008.

Each of these pivotal moments that you've had and I've had, regardless of whether it was a negative event or positive event, has changed our lives irreversibly and been part of the path that brought us each to where we are today. Of course, there have been many more pivotal moments in my life including divorces, business failures, dealing with illnesses, accidents, aha's and moments that elevated me to heights I never imagined. All of these are stored away in our "treasure chest or our life" and make us the unique, highly qualified individuals we have each become at "Life." I'm sure there are things that are so painful to you that you really don't want to recall them. And, yet, I know, for sure in my own case, and I'm sure in yours, too, that without all these painful pivotal moments you would be a much weaker, less capable and certainly unprepared person than you are. Relish them, good and bad, pleasurable and painful. They are the sum total of who we are.

Pivotal People, Pivotal Moments and Living Free

Living free isn't about adopting any specific lifestyle. It's about adapting to whatever you want your life to be. It doesn't matter to me nor should it matter to anyone else what choices you make for your life. It's your life and you're the boss of it. If you choose to live in a nice middle-class home surrounded by all the "stuff" that you feel is important to you and you're willing to pay the price (financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually) to enjoy that lifestyle, it's a reflection and adaptation of every pivotal person and pivotal moment over your lifetime. Perhaps, you want to eliminate most of the trappings of a consumer/materialistic lifestyle and simplify to have the least stuff (only the essentials and necessities as you define them) and take up the least amount of space you feel you need. Maybe you have nomadic tendencies and want to get rid of everything and simply carry what you need in a backpack or the back of a small SUV or car or maybe a van or utility trailer you "trick out" for yourself. Maybe you need a bit more space and are willing to accept the somewhat higher maintenance of a larger motorhome or trailer of some kind and size. These are all your choices and your next pivotal moment to that lifestyle may be just around the corner.

Though it's not my ego oriented goal to be a pivotal person in your life, perhaps something I've written has inspired you to make some kinds of important, life changing choices for your life. I would be humbled to know that, but I'm not looking for any credit for your life choices. For better or worse, just as I have to accept my choices and the changes that accompany them, your choices are yours and I truly hope you find the personal freedom, fulfillment, peace and happiness that you seek and that awaits you.      

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