Could the challenge you’re facing be your defining moment?

Updated on December 30, 2020
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By Deb Mohesky

We are attracted to narratives of the “defining moment” that comes through the pieces clicking perfectly into place, a heartfelt conversation with a friend, or a chance encounter with a stranger that gives one the feeling of knowing at a specific point in time what they are meant to do in life.  This “defining moment” is referred to often in motivational speeches and self-help books, yet it is elusive for so many. Could it be that we are looking in the wrong place?  

In my experience, defining moments are not found in the shining moments, but rather come about through hardship, disappointment, or profound loss—the situations that cause us to stop and question what we are doing in life.  It is an uncomfortable place of realization.  So uncomfortable and awkward that most of us look for the quickest way out of those moments.

However, hope lies on the other side of that unsettled feeling. Some of the most wonderful, enlightening experiences come from hardship when you have persevered through the experience.  Many people in the past six months in particular have had unmeasurable experiences of disappointment, difficulty, and loss.  Could it be that one of those experiences will launch your defining moment? 

My defining moment

When I was 16 years old, I was homeless and in foster care. The principal of the high school I attended, Mr. Williams, lived across the street from the foster family I was living with at the time. One day, he called me into his office, and asked me why I was living with the family next door. I shared some of my story, and explained why I couldn’t live at home.  

In response, he did something that was remarkable. He asked me how he could help me.  It may sound simple, but it changed my life forever.

When I responded that I wanted to graduate from high school on a shortened timeline, he used his position and influence as a leader to advocate for me and my needs and goals. He saw a young woman who was incredibly vulnerable and without choices, and went out of his way to do something to help someone who felt powerless. He gave me my voice back.

Mr. Williams followed through on his promise, and I tested out of high school only two months into my senior year and received my diploma.  I remember at age 16 thinking, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I want to be like Mr. Williams.” I started on that path after that day. This was my defining moment. It is what led me to eventually guiding turnarounds for organizations. I have the privilege of being invited into an organization to partner with them and guide them onto a new path.  Quite often that involves listening, helping to find solutions, give voice to those who are discouraged or to provide hope. For me, doing the work I do is not a job, it’s a mission to make the world better. 

Facing hardship with a new mindset

Hardship can be the catalyst to discovering more about yourself and your purpose, but often it takes a shift in your mindset to reveal the opportunities in the midst of the difficulties.

  • First, get in touch with your values. I recommend determining your core values even before you find yourself in a trying situation. Make a list. What is important to you as a human being? Our values drive our behavior and the decisions we make, and they are different for each person. Consider your values before you take any sort of action. Allow this hard time to be a season in which you choose to live out your values.  It could lead you in an unexpected yet fulfilling direction.
  • Reframe the situation. Be open minded. Look for opportunities in the challenge. Ask: what can I learn? It is completely natural when we have a significant or unexpected disappointment to be paralyzed by that. Instead of giving into feelings of powerlessness, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat by reframing your circumstances. Some people will do this better in quiet and isolation. Others will benefit from processing with others who care about you. Everyone is different. Find what works for you.
  • Reach out to other people for help. I have found that there are almost always good people out there that can help in some way to help us move forward.  Everyone has experienced hard things in their lives, and often people desire to share their story to encourage others. Sometimes you need to hear someone else’s story to see that things will get better.
  • Plan for a “worst case scenario.” This has always worked for me when I have made a significant change. Face your worst fears head-on, and consider how you would want to respond. This is not a matter of being pessimistic, but planful. Chances are you have experienced situations in life that were stressful, disappointing, heartbreaking, or even tragic, and you survived.  You have bench strength! 

Pause and reflect

As you seek to reframe the challenges you’re facing, reflect on the following questions. Discerning your answers to these questions may open the door to a new way of thinking or a deeper sense of purpose that will be a defining moment in your life.

  • Listen to that “unsettled” feeling. What is it trying to tell you?  Trust your instincts. 
  • What inspires you? 
  • Who would be a trusted thought partner who will listen, challenge, encourage, and brainstorm with you?
  • Jot down all of the possibilities that your current season might lead to, even if they do not seem to be realistic right now.
  • What are the potential obstacles to these possibilities?  Write them down—our fears never look as daunting when we bring them out of our heads and into the light.
  • What is one thing you could do this week that would move you in a new direction?  It does not have to be grand, just a place to start.

About Deb Mohesky

Deb Mohesky is a transformational healthcare executive with over 25 years of experience in leading significant change, enhancing organizational culture, improving financial and operational performance, and partnering with clinical leaders to improve the patient experience.  She writes about leadership and change management at

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