I’ve spent the better part of the last three years talking about “aha moments.” In my company’s work with Mutual of Omaha, we’ve recorded more than 3,000 people sharing their aha moment stories. I’ve also spent the last couple of years reading, writing and speaking about authenticity and its crucial role in our quest to do what we love. To live the life we’ve imagined.
And in all of this, I’ve often been asked the same question over and over, “How do you know?” How do you know if you’ve had an aha moment? How do you know if you’re being authentic?
But even as I’ve been asked this question time and time again, I’ve never really given much thought to how you know whether or not a thought is “simply” an idea or a bigger epiphany versus a genuine aha moment. There are those “light bulb” moments where something becomes clearer, maybe about some kind of personal struggle. The response to ranges from an introspective “that’s interesting” to the rewarding “I got it!” But then…there are those real “kick you in the teeth” moments when you must take action. How do you know the difference?
Similarly, as I’ve talked about authenticity my PAVEMe(a)nt lectures, I’ve tried to describe what authenticity means. (And not in the overused marketing sense of the word that is sadly making it cliché. The word may become cliché, but hopefully, the meaning and feeling won’t.) I talk about our “personal truths.” I mention the exercise of writing your obituary. This, supposedly, will lead you to what you really want to do and who you really want to be. (Not sure I agree, but it’s a common practice.) The reality is that authenticity is difficult to define. It’s intensely personal. Oftentimes, so personal that the very act of being authentic can be incredibly painful, which is why so many people find it a difficult reality.
Recently, however, I’ve had my own breakthrough related to these questions.
I’ve been going to quite a few live music shows of late. I’ve often talked and written about live music’s affect on me, and how the fearless nature of an artist on stage inspires me dramatically. I love how the people at a venue are bonded together by the music as a kind of flash community. Instant friends. Even shows that weren’t quite as good overall, leave me feeling empowered. And, it was during one such show last week where I finally understood both the complexity of the “how do you know” question and, perhaps more importantly, the simplicity of the answer.
I was fortunate to be invited to see Grateful Dead co-founder, Bob Weir, and his band RatDog play in a small, intimate setting with perhaps only about 100 people in the room. While we crammed into the small studio space, the show was being streamed live from Weir’s state-of-the-art performance, recording and HD streaming broadcast facility TRI Studios. It’s virtual venue unlike any other.
As a fan of The Grateful Dead (and related spin-offs like Weir’s current Furthur project with Dead bassist, Phil Lesh), watching “Bobby” from no more than 10-feet away was a spiritual feeling. Almost an awakening, of sorts. I tried to think about all the cultural history that Bob Weir has created, experienced and inspired and I could do to just close my eyes and get taken over by the music. And in that moment, I understood the answer.
The simple answer is that, “You just know.” It’s like when you’re ready to get married and your single (commitment phobic?) friends ask you, “How do you know that this is ‘The One?’” The answer to that question is often, “You just know.”
And the truth is, as I started to write this post and knew that I was going to conclude with “you just know,” I couldn’t help but think it was a total copout. I wondered if it felt like the usually less than satisfying “it is what it is” answer. The questions of identifying authenticity and aha moments are important and it feels like the answer is a shrug of the shoulders, “I dunno. You just know.” Does it feel like an excuse, far, far away from authenticity? Instead of digging deep for some truly exceptional answer, we find some kind of popcorn philosophy? But the fact is, it’s not like that. This “you just know” isn’t a dismissive answer. It’s exactly the opposite.
You. Just. Know.
It’s definitive. No sugar coating. No bullshit. And that’s incredibly powerful. Think about it. You’re so clear in your thinking. Your heart, mind and soul so aligned that you don’t need any more of an explanation than, “You just know.” Period. At that moment, it’s as if your life flashes and you feel your most alive. You feel your most you. Your most authentic. You MUST take action.
How often do we explain a decision to someone and we back up our reasons with a long-winded rationale that is more about convincing ourselves that we’re doing the right thing? If we gave in to the power of “you just know” and were true to ourselves by acting on it, what would we be capable of achieving? If we could just explain to our friends, “I just know,” and had the accompanying conviction in our eyes – no other words would be necessary. They’d understand immediately.
While I closed my eyes and let RatDog’s version of “Ripple” take me out of that room, I had that moment. I had my own moment of authenticity. My own aha. I just knew that after years of watching and observing it was time to participate and be part of live music. I don’t know exactly what that means, or how that looks, but I will.
I just know.