I went to a leadership forum last week. It was good! But I had some beef with it. (And I mean more than a certain former NC governor being there as a participant with a name tag that read “John Locke.” Barf.)
Almost every speaker told a story about the “a-ha moment” that catalyzed the pursuit of their passion, the start of their organization, or their drive to lead in general. One speaker talked about the time he and his wife were brutally attacked. Another told the story of the first time he witnessed extreme poverty. Another gave a timeline of a series of unfortunate events that happened in quick succession that caused her to reevaluate her life.
And it wasn’t just at this forum. In public health, I hear these stories all the time. And they’re great! They’re moving and inspiring, and I’m so glad these people had these moments and are willing to share them.
But what if you’ve never had an a-ha moment? What if, early in life, unprompted by a proverbial lightning bolt, you just decided that helping people, fighting for justice, and making the world–or at least your corner of it–a better place was not only what was right, but what you wanted to do?
That’s what happened to me.
I never really had an a-ha moment that made me want to help others or become a leader. Sure, I’ve had experiences that strengthened my resolve after making the decision, like cleaning up an elderly woman’s yard that was being used as the neighbor’s personal dumpster, witnessing mothers with HIV using contaminated water to mix baby formula, getting a self-portrait of a student with a noose around his neck in my anonymous question box when I was teaching, or holding the hands of many young women getting abortions without any support.
But were these a-ha moments? No.
And that’s okay!
While stories are incredibly important to understand and navigate the world around us, I’d like to change the expectation that every leader has to have a story that starts with some sort dramatic sign, calling, vision, or whatever in order to be successful.
What about you? Did you have an a-ha moment? Do you think every successful leader should have one?

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