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Though it happened in 2003, I remember it like it was yesterday. A cold, snowy night in San Francisco,Fork in the road a few days before Christmas. Earlier that day, I had conducted a Kirkpatrick Four Levels® Evaluation Certification – Bronze Level program in Chinatown and had taken a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. Having gotten a late start, it wasn’t until around 11 pm that I began heading back and finally found a cable car departure point.

There was only one more cable car running for the night, and it would arrive soon. There were about eight of us waiting for what felt like an hour. We were all shivering. There was also a homeless man among us. He was heavily bearded, roughly dressed, and appeared to be as cold as the rest of us. I remember his smile and bright eyes. He was singing Christmas carols as he politely walked among us.

No one was paying much attention to him, the homeless man looking for a handout. Finally, the cable car came. Though I am not prone to handing out money to strangers, I did want to give him something for his kind spirit. I looked in my wallet and found two dollars, just enough for me to pay for my precious cable car ride up the hill and to my warm bed.

While everyone else piled on, paying no mind to the homeless man, I had to make an instant decision. Was I to ride up the hill in comfort, or give the Christmas caroling homeless man my last bit of cash and walk to my hotel? Little did I realize that this instant was to be a defining moment for me. I turned my back on him and jumped on the back of the car. As we started up the hill, I peeked over my shoulder for one last look at him. He was standing there, now all alone, looking directly at me. Then he waved, his smile and eyes still bright, and called out to me, “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!”

On my way up the hill, tears in my eyes, I vowed that I would watch for him again and perhaps somehow, someday make amends.

Sadly, I never saw him again. But in a way, I have. For me, it is an elderly lady struggling with groceries, a stressed co-worker needing a kind word, or a person in uniform sitting in coach when I am in first class. My point is that now somehow I know when a defining moment is upon me, when I have the opportunity to decide to take the high road or the low road, the difficult path or the easy path. And more often than not, I now choose to act rather than turn my back.

I have had a few of those defining moments professionally as well. These are moments that go beyond offering praise to an employee or offering a helping hand to a co-worker. These are life-changing moments. And when I have decided to take the higher path, the riskier path, it has moved my life and career in directions that I never could have imagined.

One specific event occurred in 2004 when I was working as the training director for a bank. Our CEO had called me into his office to talk about changes he wanted to see in leadership training. It took him all of 30 seconds to tell me that the leadership needed to be “strengthened” and “more effective,” and that it was my job to make it happen. He then summarily dismissed me with a wave of his hand.

I took my cue, turned on my heels, headed for the door and stopped. My defining moment had arrived, and I knew it. I could choose to make my feet move again and continue walking out his door. I would then work with my team over the next few months to develop and deliver a ‘new and improved’ leadership program. That would make him happy. Or, I could turn around, walk back to his desk and say, “Mr. Melton, we have gone down that path before, and it just didn’t work. I feel it only fair to you to tell you that it won’t work this time, either.” And that is exactly what I did. I took the high road, the road less traveled.

I wish I could say that Mr. Melton responded, “Oh, Jim. This is wonderful of you to tell me. Please sit down, and together, let’s find a better way.” He didn’t. Instead, he said something like, “I have told you what I want. Just do the best you can.”

Part two of my defining moment. Again, I could have walked out, but I didn’t. I was committed. “Bud, I really think that this is critical to the future of the bank. Are you willing to at least hear me out?” He was, and our working relationship changed from that moment on. After some urging, he agreed to be the guiding light and champion of a business partnership approach to leadership. He was good to his word, and the culture of the bank changed for the better.

I had stood my ground for what I believe in regarding the four levels. From that day on, despite adversity, I rarely take the low road when it comes to our model and the people we serve.

What about you? Every one of you will have one or more defining moments in 2014. I will not pretend to suggest what they might be, but if you keep your eyes and ears and hearts open, you will know when they have been unveiled for you. When your opportunities appear, I strongly encourage you to take the high road. The going will likely be tough, as we live in a world and are part of an industry that wants to maintain the status quo. But know that you are not alone.

With all sincerity, please let us know when you encounter these moments, when you choose to take the high road, and we will do what we can to support you. My direct email address is jim.kirkpatrick@kirkpatrickpartners.com, and I commit to personally responding to each of you who shares your experience with me.  

I wish you all a great 2014, and may your bold choices lead you to unanticipated and exciting new opportunities.

Jim 

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Comments

# Debra Day
Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:35 PM
Thank you for the poignant reminder that we never know the true impact we have on others and to remember the value of being true to what we know is right.
# Jerry
Wednesday, January 8, 2014 2:34 PM
Perfect message at the perfect time. I am probably standing right on the edge of a defining moment. Maybe not so much for myself, but for the larger learning and evaluation effort within my organization. I have taken some initial steps recently, but had almost convinced myself that I would probably back down if I got any resistance. Thanks for reminding me of the bigger picture!
#
Thursday, January 9, 2014 8:49 PM
Hi Everybody, Jim K here again. I appreciate that so many of you have read my post. I wrote it for you who believe there is more to life than going through the motions, and more to an evaluation model than data. Some of you have reached out to me personally. Jerry and Debra have added their thoughts. I am grateful. It is your time now. I have provided a bit of a spark. Now, you be the light. Please share your stories so that others may be encouraged. Jim
#
Friday, January 10, 2014 12:09 PM
Defining moments, that point at which you have to make a choice that will change you deeply. I read a book over the holidays that I have been thinking about for weeks. When I read Jim’s story, the book’s concepts came to life. It’s called “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown. Jim shared his story so vividly that I can see it happening as if I am there observing it take place. I can see that homeless person singing, waving to Jim and mouthing the words “Merry Christmas.” I can see Jim’s face in the window of the cable car as it moves away. The gift of this moment for Jim was what he chose to do with it after he learned something important to him. Every moment may not be perfect. We may wish we had made a different choice if we had it to do over again. More important is to let it guide us in positive ways when new choices come to us in the future, just as Jim has done.
As I have returned to work in the new year, I have struggled a bit with momentum… moving forward with the projects and tasks I had waiting for me. The biggest project is to build a learning metrics dashboard and I have been working on it for a year or so now. It’s been taking a long time because I have been pursuing perfection, knowing that the first time I present this to management will be a defining moment for me. Establishing the ROE for our learning programs is the primary reason I was brought on here and I want that “win.”
If this dashboard helps us all make better decisions about employee learning and performance, then the “win” is there. Whether it is perfect or not, I am now free to choose how that moment defines me, improves the tool and the courses, and even changes the company. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still gonna be good.
# SuperUser Account
Monday, January 20, 2014 10:47 AM
Posted with permission on behalf of John Pearce:

Dear Jim Kirkpatrick,

I am grasping the moment and responding to the power and the wisdom in your "Maximising your defining moments in 2014" because it had a profound effect on me. I've literally pushed aside my afternoon's work - I feel it is that important. If you have the time to read, it may be another defining moment.

Your story of the man at the cable car is so similar to a true story of mine, "The Leafman" that it made me sit up and yes, shed a tear. So, I’m sharing my story with you. I have even mused that your man was my man too! If you send me your postal address I will send you a copy of my book "Desire Lines" in which you'll see "The Leafman" and because I want you to read it now you can read it here

You referenced one of my favourite poems, "The Road Less Travelled" by Robert Frost too! Coincidentally, my story "The Leafman" led me to visit Robert Frost's house, in New England, to read and write more poems and stories and the picture at the top of your story, echoes the one I used on the cover of my book, "Desire Lines"...

Finally, but perhaps most definingly (if there is such a word) I am not, just like you after your story, going to miss an opportunity with my hopes for 2014. So here goes...

Writing and recounting The Leafman led to me to make a key decision. 1998 was my defining moment – I left that job and set up as a freelance consultant. The wonderful consequence of this is still with me, leading me to sense that 2104 will be important in the set of events it triggered. The serendipity of reading your story and, only then, seeing your background and work, might just mean there is another coincidence brewing across the ocean and continent... I'll explain very briefly and leave it to you to respond.

My career in education and business led me to develop a range of approaches to consultancy but none as powerful as "the Abacus" for judging performance, selecting evidence to justify decision making, analysing and planning how to get better. I used an old child's abacus to demonstrate progress by sliding the beads. Then, in another defining moment, I met Dan O'Brien, a software guru, and we produced, in May 2013, the iAbacus, on-line version. We are nominated for a significant award in Leadership & Management at BETT2014 London (British Educational Technology Show). Significantly, we are working on a Business model for 2014 and are looking for interested parties to get involved... So, have a look at it, we think it has huge potential. The best way to get a feel for it is to look at one of its uses here....http://vimeo.com/82541375 ) or visit our websitewww.iabacus.co.uk Can you see the potential? Do you know of others in the US who might? We are actively looking for partners - hence me grasping the moment!

Whatever flows from this, I am glad our paths crossed - thanks for your story and have a defining 2014!

John
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