The other day, I stumbled upon a quote by British novelist Graham Greene which stated:
“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.“
When reading a book, it isn’t often that I am stopped in my tracks and forced to think deeply about my life in that very moment. And so I started to wonder: ‘What was that moment?’ ‘What experience opened a door that let the future in?’ ‘What had the most impact in shaping me into who I am today?’
Interestingly, one specific conversation on one specific day flooded back to me, and no other seemed its equal when comparing the rest. And as I dwell on it, it makes me smile, shake my head in astonishment, and swell up with gratitude.
‘What was that moment?’ ‘What experience opened a door that let the future in?’ ‘What had the most impact in shaping me into who I am today?’
I was in my senior year of undergraduate studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I am a Florida boy and Orlando was my home – it’s where I grew up, where my family and all of my friends were, and where my church was. And I had every intention of staying at UCF to get my Master’s degree, just to stay close to everything I knew and loved. But I also applied to a couple of other programs around the nation on the suggestion of one of my professors at UCF, Dr. Mark Lanier. One of the programs was at Michigan State University (MSU), where he had earned his Ph.D. And he had told me what a great experience he had up there, and how the experience really set him up to do well.
One afternoon, I decided to stop by his office to update him on my graduate school search, and told him that Michigan State University had accepted me and even offered me a fellowship, graduate assistantship, and health insurance, but that I had emailed the graduate coordinator and told him that I would be declining so that I could stay at UCF and earn my Master’s degree there.
I thought Dr. Lanier would be happy for me, because I’d get to continue to be his student and I’d get to stay close to my family, friends, and church.
But he was not.
He was shocked out of his mind, and said, “No, no, no, you cannot do that.” He then immediately pulled me into the office of another professor and explained to me that UCF could not come close to offering the education and opportunities that MSU could offer. He listed out so many reasons (I still have my notes from that day!) that MSU was the far better choice, and that frankly there was no comparison. And he was calm but adamant that if I wanted the best for my professional future, I could not pass this up.
And so that very afternoon, I emailed MSU that I had changed my mind and actually would be accepting my admission into their program. I have always been a late bloomer, and I believe this was “my one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
Well, because of MSU, I was able to:
finish my Master’s and Ph.D. in five years;
graduate from one of the best programs in the nation;
become trained in Criminal Justice and Computer Science, giving me the foundation I needed; and
learn graphics design, sound editing, video editing, database management, web development, and many other technical skills – which continually serve me well.
But that’s not the best part.
The decision to go to MSU also allowed me to:
develop an unshakeable relationship with the Lord, because I was 1,200 miles from home and all by myself in a shoebox-sized dorm room for half a decade;
refine habits of hard work, self-denial, self-discipline, service, and delayed gratification in a long, lonely season where it felt like nothing good was happening (with girls or family or life in general);
become a prayer warrior, because talking to God often felt like all I had (and now I’m so grateful for that);
become a bible study leader and Sunday school teacher;
become truly comfortable in my own skin;
learn how best to write, speak, teach, and think; and
build deep friendships with fellow graduate students (and faculty) that have stood the test of time.
One conversation initiated by a professor – who saw something in me when no one else did – changed everything. It made me who I am; it made me someone I am really proud of.
As I continue to reflect on it, I cannot think of a more impactful decision in my entire life. I was going to go to UCF for my Master’s; I had already declined MSU. But one conversation initiated by a professor – who saw something in me when no one else did – changed everything. It made me who I am; it made me someone I am really proud of. Thank you, Dr. Lanier – in a singular moment, you altered the course of my life in the best possible way.
Do you know the one moment in your life that opened the door and let your future in? Do you know which twist or turn on this journey affected your future steps most profoundly? It’s such a valuable exercise in self-reflection, and one that will (hopefully) make you thankful even if, at the time, it was challenging or even painful. Let me know – I’d love to read your story. And if you can’t think of anything, I want to believe for you that the best is yet to come. It sound cliché, but it really only takes one moment. And it may happen when you already have plans to go in a different direction!
Image source: https://bit.ly/3fRONOr