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Embracing Your Personal 'Sputnik Moments'

Sputnik Moments are not confined to countries. They happen in our personal lives as well and by definition, come when we least expect them.
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Had a personal "Sputnik Moment" lately? I'm not talking about the kind that President Obama referred to last week in his State of the Union speech, but let's use that analogy for a moment as a place from which to launch a more personal inquiry.

President Obama's reference to our current national "Sputnik Moment" was made in recognition of China's rise as an economic power and the challenge that poses to America's economic dominance in the world. Calling it a "Sputnik Moment" was a call for America to mobilize its resources and re-direct our national goals as we did in 1957 after the U.S.S.R. beat us in the race to space.

That original "Sputnik Moment" was America's wake up call. The government's response was to unleash a national effort to regain our competitive edge with the Soviets that resulted in stepped up missile development and the establishment of NASA. In addition, the U.S. government altered the ways in which it funded research in science, technology and engineering. This ultimately led to the development of the field of microelectronics -- the technology used in today's computers, tablets and smartphones.

Sputnik Moments are not confined to countries, however. They happen in our personal lives as well and by definition, come when we least expect them. Personal Sputnik Moments are those large or small events that jar our sense of reality, perhaps ever so slightly, or land like a major earthquake. One thing is for sure: after you've had one, nothing is ever quite the same.

Sputnik Moments come like surprises that stir things up and force us to reevaluate how we see ourselves and our version of the world. They can have momentary or lasting impact, but they tend to unbutton our buttoned-down version of reality.

Say you just found out you were adopted -- a Sputnik Moment. Or your birth mother contacts you and wants to meet -- a Sputnik Moment. Or the Dad you never knew and thought was long gone turns up unannounced -- a Sputnik Moment. Or you find out your spouse is having an affair -- a Sputnik Moment. Or your son or daughter comes home one day and announces that they're gay -- a Sputnik Moment. Or you just received a diagnosis of a potential life-threatening disease -- a Sputnik Moment.

But these kinds of moments are not always harbingers of bad news. Sputnik Moments can come on the heels of good news too. Say you just won the lottery -- a Sputnik Moment. Or you just got accepted to the college at the top of your list -- a Sputnik Moment. Better yet, say you received a scholarship to that college -- Sputnik Moment. Or you made the debate team, or the varsity squad in your sport. Or the person you'd been wishing and hoping would ask you for a date finally calls and asks you out. Or the person you've fallen in love with tells you he loves you. Or after two years of being unemployed, you finally land a decent job. These are all potential Sputnik Moments, after which nothing is ever the same.

Things can begin to unravel after a Sputnik Moment, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the unraveling produces results you'd long been wanting but just didn't have the courage to go after without this nudge from the universe. Perhaps your child's admission about their sexual orientation finally opened up a new level of honest and authentic communication that wasn't available when he or she was still concealing that information.

Even an admission of infidelity can be the beginning of a new relationship built on a new level of honesty and restored trust. When the wall of denial finally comes crumbling down, and after the emotional content has been expressed, a new realm of possibility becomes available. How will you deal with what you now know?

What's important about a Sputnik Moment is what you do with it in the aftermath. The problem is, we tend to get all caught up in the drama of the story itself and might spend years or decades ruminating over the details, unable to move beyond our interpretation of what happened. We never get to resolution, but instead stay frozen in time.

A Sputnik Moment is like a sudden meltdown. It can occur when you finally realize there are more ways to view life's events than the one interpretation you latched on to and obsessed over for 10 years. A Sputnik Moment can be the realization of the role you played in the unfolding of events. We're often so blinded by our interpretations, we can't accurately see ourselves in the story.

A Sputnik Moment can serve to remove one's blinders, pierce the veil of denial, and place the observer right in the middle of the action instead of at its effect or on the periphery. Separating the facts from the story we craft about them can help one expand their options for how to respond instead of react. What if no one was guilty? What if no one is to blame?

From this vantage point, suppose you accepted that everyone did the best they knew how to do even if they came up miserably short in the process. Suppose you granted grace to all involved, including yourself. Suppose you blessed them, forgave them, forgave yourself, and let go of the frozen emotions you've stored away in a closed up heart. Suppose you saw yourself, over there in them, confused or lacking the courage to do the right thing or be honest in the moment.

Sputnik Moments can open our eyes to a deeper reality about who we are and what's really going on. The truth is, there's nobody else out there. Perhaps our ultimate Sputnik Moment is the realization that we're all in this together, that nobody's going to get out of this alive so we might as well claim our brotherhood and sisterhood and get busy rowing the boat of human kindness, love and compassion. Anybody got a better idea?

What's going on in your private nation in the "Sputnik Moment" department? How have your eyes been opened? What wake up calls have been delivered?

Please leave your thoughts on your personal and/or our collective Sputnik Moments in the comment section below or on my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. For personal contact you can reach me at I love to hear from you!

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Blessings on the path...