Organization Development Network of Western New York

AHA! Be particularly watchful (and prepared) during life’s milestone years

Posted in Coaching, ODN of WNY Members, Organizational Development by Michael Cardus on June 20, 2013

I was struck by an observation on the drive into Buffalo last Friday for the ODN meeting. I had been mentally reviewing my speech one last time when I noticed that all three examples of AHA!s that I planned to share occurred to people in their early to mid-twenties.

Pam MacKinnon had enrolled in a political science Ph.D. program when she was 21. Eighteen unhappy months later she was hit with a pivotal AHA! that gave her the freedom to pursue a career in theater. Two weeks ago the Clarence High School graduate won a Tony award for best direction of a play for her Broadway revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I was also in my twenties and in graduate school when I was struck by my first life-transforming insight. I had been struggling since I was an undergraduate to find a career that was a good fit for me. There were times when it seemed to me that I was switching career paths monthly. Finally, I decided to become a social work administrator. “This had better be it,” I told myself. It wasn’t. I continued to be unhappy, mismatched, and uncertain in my career choice. Then on a hike over winter break in the mountains of West Virginia, I was hit with the realization that I had been trying to shoehorn myself into careers that weren’t a fit for me. I foresaw that I would be a twenty-something burnout if I continued to limit my options to the helping professions.

Nelson Mandela was also in his twenties when he experienced a powerful AHA! In a flash of clarity he saw that he subconsciously adopted the white government’s views of his people. We can only imagine how his life would have been different, how our world would have been different, had he not had that realization.

Interesting, I thought. Are we more likely to experience AHA!s during life’s milestones? Being in one’s twenties is certainly a time of change for most people. Perhaps it’s also a time particularly ripe for life-transforming insights.

Mike Cardus and I chatted a bit after the ODN meeting. He was struck by the same notion as he listened to my presentation. Much of his work lately has focused on complexity thinking and how people evolve in their ability to process complexity, generally hitting milestones every 10 to fifteen years. Interesting.

What’s my takeaway on the AHA! front? The milestone years are a particularly productive time to prime ourselves for flashes of clarity that can make all the difference in our lives and careers.

Donna Hartney expert on life-changing "AHA" moments


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