My Aha! Moment

*I have extra time to think these days, in the quiet moments with my young daughter, and so I’m bringing back this post about those turning points in our lives and careers that shape our mission and our approach to the quest for social justice. I hope that you’re having some aha! reflections these days, too.

In the process guide about moving from social services to an integration of service and social change work, the authors outline an excercise they call the ‘Aha! Moment’. Basically, it is an effort to raise consciousness among social service organization staff about the factors that led to their decision to work in social services/social change, in order to introduce a political education into the conversation among staff.

That has led to me thinking a lot about my own ‘Aha! Moment’, and I have concluded (I’m sure no one is terribly surprised) that there were really a few.

There was the time in first grade when we were supposed to do book reports on our biography subject and I chose Mother Theresa and then also dressed up in my mom’s nightgown with a dishtowel over my head to give my report (my Dad did try to warn me that the other kids wouldn’t likely be in costume, but I don’t like to do things halfway, you know?). That was the moment when I learned that I won’t always fit in, and, I think, when I became pretty comfortable with that.

There was the time in genetics class in high school when I realized that, while I found it intellectually stimulating, I did not want to work in a laboratory but instead wanted to connect with people. At that moment, I realized that I was a lot happier in my after school job working at a retirement center than I was sexing fruit flies. A couple of weeks later, I was in a van on my way to skiing in Colorado when I read about social work in the KU catalog and decided that was it for me.

Then, as an aspiring social worker, there was the time that I raised my hand when asked at a field education forum if anyone spoke Spanish. I realized then that what had just been an academic interest for me could be used to help people in a way that I had never before imagined, and I began to move away from working with older adults and into Latino immigrant communities.

There was the moment when a state legislator I’d been working endlessly to get as a supporter of our instate tuition bill finally turned to me and said, “OK, I’ve figured out that you all are not going away until I say yes. So, yes.” And, at that moment, I realized that my innate mixture of righteous anger, Type A obsession, and intellectual curiosity could be melded together to make me an advocacy force to be reckoned with. That was my ‘aha!’ that advocacy would be a driving passion for the rest of my life.

And, then, there was the moment, sitting in a motel room along the side of the highway in Garden City, Kansas, when my oldest son started crawling, and I had to hear about it over the phone. That was the moment when I realized that I was just missing too much, that there had to be another way, that I needed to recraft my life.

What about you? What are your ‘aha!’ moments? Are you still waiting for one? What brought you to your current work? And what makes you know that it is or is not where you need to use your talents?

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