I was talking to a friend lately about the melancholy moments in a professional career that became influential turns when looking back. Logically, turns are alterations from a path that takes us towards another heading. If we are driving down a road, we know we are turning as we adjust the steering wheel and feel the gravitational pull. If we are running a 5k, we can see the turn ahead and mentally prepare for it as we get closer. If we are taking off on an airplane and begin the first bank towards our heading, we can look out the window and see the runway we just took off from. These turns are in the moment and expressed, felt, or seen. But as we explored within our conversation, this was not the type of turn we were referring to.
Our conversation about turns was about moments in our career, in hindsight, that proved to be instrumental shifts to get us to where we are today. We did not apply the word pivot when framing our definition because it did not feel grand enough. From our perspective, the examples we discussed typically had more scars or emotions than the word pivot could handle. As we tested other wording options, we did not like the word turning point because we felt it accompanied a planned decision. Instead, we framed our word to embody only non-planned events and typically be surrounded by flaws that left an everlasting change rarely realized at the moment. Our definition required that we would realize the magnitude of the experience on one's career in the future. We began calling these moments sightless turns.
Examples of sightless turns
A sightless turn could have been your involvement in a significant incident that you could recall decades later in the finest of details. Looking back, you realized that the personal lessons learned from the incident dramatically shifted your leadership aptitude, your personal habits, or your attention to detail when you walk through your operating units. You may relate to one of mine when I recall myself sitting on a 5-gallon bucket looking at an impossible problem in front of me and someone sarcastically says, “I have seen worse.” And years later when recalling the phrase in a momentary correlation, I realized the lessons learned are scattered within my current leadership style to constantly forward-march. In this example, I connected a personalized gradual transformation that started from a casual and smart-aleck wording from a long time ago.
A sightless turn may also reveal itself with the testimony of a colleague from their vantage point after an incident. For example, I recall meeting up in Pittsburgh with a former mentoring manager which I had not seen in more than ten years. As we were sharing old "war stories," we stumbled upon a breakdown story that was caused by a lazy decision I had made. It was a story about a decision I had carelessly made that unfavorably impacted our ability to produce for about 24 hours. I vividly remember the delay and how my inexperience got the entire team into an unfortunate predicament. I recalled to him my perspective and the experience that I obtained from the event.
However, I realized my sightless turn when he vividly told me his memory of the event. He indicated he had the full intention to verbally destroy me and was highly considering issuing me discipline. He explained in the clearest details, seeing me lean on a handrail visually taking in all the carnage and collateral challenges I had initiated. When he got to me to unleash his frustration, he suddenly altered his strategy. He explained that he just leaned on the handrail and did not say a word as he personally vented his emotions in silence. He recalled that he stood next to me in silence for what felt like forever, then walked away. He recalled that he chose not to release his stored energy because he saw that I had burdened myself more than any verbal or written discipline could ever do. As he was telling his story angle, I pieced together the historical relevance of the experience. His testimony enabled the experience to become perfect despite its errors and mistakes.
Reflecting on a sightless turn
Within these situations, you tend to look back to realize that perfection in the sightless turn is compounded with flaws. You realize that the perfection of the experience and its instrumental influence is realized in the future when recalling the flaws. You realize in the post-experienced moment, how it had shifted your life and possibly your career. You may experience some emotion when you finally piece it together and get goosebumps as you connect the value of the story to other outcomes. The flaws of a situation are personalized memorable milestones that got you where you are today.
The Japanese have a phrase called wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi could be the perfection of a father and daughter after a challenging conversation, perched on a cliff in early fall, overlooking an endless sea of evergreen trees. Then within the emotions and view, you see the autumn leaves of a single oak perfecting disrupting the sea of green with a crimson blemish. Wabi-sabi could be a leader seeing perfection, in the aftermath of a significant breakdown of an operating unit, when their team embodies an untapped potential as they stand in awe seeing the production unit back up and running again. Wabi-sabi to me could be a former boss emotionally recalling a story from their perspective, years later, about how they chose to handle a situation. Wabi-sabi is the perfection that is observed within something that is not perfectly designed or conducted.
Wabi-sabi is experienced at the moment in all of its emotional attributes, whereas the sightless turn is a historic moment revealed later that unveiled the wabi-sabi. And within the first recall of this moment, we are at the pinnacle of its spiritual connection to everything that came after the sightless turn.
I hope that others can relate to this to this feeling because I find them rare and precious. I hope others have experienced this revelation years later when reflecting on setbacks, challenges, and obstacles. I hope others can find the tranquility, spiritual connection, or just how lucky you were to garner the experience and be influenced by mentors. Then capture all of its glory when you connect it to a now-realized perfection to your continuous journey.