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A pivotal “aha” moment put Sally Ride on a path that would send her into space

Sally Ride was in high school with a comment by her father sparked a life-changing aha momentThirty years ago this summer, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. As she prepared for the flight, she fielded some bizarre questions from reporters. Would she wear make up while on  the mission? Would she wear a bra under her NASA uniform? Did she ever cry at work? Whew, I’m grateful that the view of women at work has changed, and that Sally took steps to break down the barriers for us!

Sally was still a student when a comment by her father sparked a pivotal “aha” moment that  put her on a path to space, even though it would be years before the thought of becoming an astronaut even crossed her mind. She described her AHA! and its impact on her life in a 2002 book of transformational stories collected by Marlo Thomas titled The Right Words at the Right Time.

Teenaged Sally had come home from high school one day feeling blue. It wasn’t because kids were picking on her. They weren’t. The problem was her friends. Sally saw how smart they were and was convinced she’d never measure up.

Sally didn’t say anything to her father about her insecure feelings, but somehow he knew. “You’ve got to reach for the stars,” he told her that evening. He had always cheered her on and encouraged her to have big aspirations. But for some reason those words that night sparked a profound realization for Sally. Suddenly she saw how important it was to believe in herself, to set her goals high, and to work relentlessly to achieve them.

After her insight, Sally focused on becoming a professional tennis player. She loved the sport and was already playing on the U.S. junior circuit. She gave tennis everything she had but eventually saw that it wasn’t her path to the top.

Sally went back to college. She was close to earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics and was beginning to think about life after school when she noticed a NASA ad in the student newspaper. The agency had just opened the door for women to become astronauts. The rest, as they say, is history.


AHA! Tip: Hear what the VIPs (Very Important People) in your life are saying. Their words might spark a moment of clarity that will stay with you and change the course of your life.


Would you like to learn what you can do — the steps you can take — to prime yourself for life-changing insights like the one that Sally and so many others have experienced? The AHA! Handbook: How to spark the insights that will transform your life and career draws from more than a decade of research and describes the steps you can take now to generate powerful and life-altering realizations in your life and career.

How did Brad Pitt land in Hollywood? In the flash of an “aha” moment

22-year old Brad Pitt experienced a pivotal "aha" moment that prompted him to move to Los Angeles.

I just bought my first copy of Esquire magazine. (It’s probably no surprise to anyone that it’s my first copy. I’m not, after all, a member of the magazine’s target demographic.) On its pages I found a new and curious world of humor, language, pictures, and scents—although I could have happily done without the men’s fragrance samples.

Why buy a copy of the June/July 2013 issue? I had received a tip last week from Google Alerts that in it would be an interview Brad Pitt in which he discussed a life-changing epiphany, one that he experienced about the time he turned 40. That’s something I can’t pass up! I’m always on the look out for stories of defining moments. Was or wasn’t it a profound “aha” moment for him? That was my question.

Well, I can’t answer that question. Not yet anyway. I was so excited to read about a different AHA! (the one took Brad to Hollywood in the first place) that I haven’t read the rest of the interview.

Brad was a senior at the University of Missouri with graduation was just a few weeks away. Write one more paper. That’s all he had to do before a journalism degree would be his. Then a flash of clarity propelled Brad out into the world, far beyond his Missouri home.

“Then it occurred to me, literally two weeks before graduation: If the opportunity isn’t there, I’ll go to it. So simple. But it had never occurred to me. I’ll just go to it,” Brad recounted his pivotal realization to Tom Junod in the Esquire interview.

After the insight, 22-year old Brad stopped what he was doing, went home to Springfield, and focused on earning money. Soon he had saved up enough to drive his Datsun 200SX 1,600 miles west to Los Angeles.

Wow. What a great story. It has all the markers of an AHA!. In a flash of clarity, Brad gained a new understanding of the way the world works, one that was so convincing that it gave him all the focus, motivation, and determination he needed to change course immediately.

And, I love that Brad said, “So simple. But it had never occurred to me.” That’s the beauty of a transforming “aha” moment. Once you’ve had one, it all seems so simple.

A Little Boy’s Fears Sparked a Pivotal AHA! for Bridgette Laird, CEO of Wings for Kids

Bridgette Laird was working as an after-school counselor at Wings for Kids, a program that teaches kids the social and emotional skills they will need to be successful in life. When she got engaged, she couldn’t wait to share the new with the kids. They were all very excited for her, except one little boy. Instead of being excited,he was afraid for her. His reaction to the news sparked an “aha” moment that defined Bridgette’s career path.

AHA! trigger for Bridgette: Understand the perspective of others



An AHA! Can Point You Toward the Perfect Career — The Story of Steve Call

“What do I want to be when I grow up?” That sure can be a difficult question to answer. Steve Call was a senior in college when an “aha” moment answered the question for him. You can read Steve’s story at this link. And as a total tangent, check out this fun video of Steve and the members of his jazz band playing an impromptu concert for a herd of cows.

AHA! Alert: Alicia Keys Trades Compromise for Cooperation

I love reading AHA! stories. Don’t you? In this month’s issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Alicia Keys described an AHA! that has had a powerful impact in her life.

Alicia had always relied on the people closest to her for advice, whether she was making simple what-to-wear decisions or long-lasting career decisions. The problem was that she often found herself bending to the wishes of others rather than following her own instincts.

Then the comment of a friend triggered a pivotal insight for Alicia. “Don’t compromise—cooperate!” the friend said. In a sudden flash of clarity Alicia got the message. It wasn’t an either-or situation! She could listen to the advice of the VIPs in her life and remain true to herself. In the days and weeks that followed, she did exactly that. (Alicia’s story is such a great one! Here’s the link if you’d like to read what she wrote in O.)

Before I pass along a story to you, I look for signs that the realization was truly is an AHA! I ask myself three questions, and Alicia’s AHA! story passed the test with flying colors:

You see, not all ahas are created equally. I’m interested in AHA!s not ordinary ahas. AHA!s are those sudden flashes of clarity about the reality of a situation that have a profound, lasting impact on a person’s life. Now that’s powerful!

What’s an AHA! anyway?

An AHA! is a special kind of aha moment. Ordinary ahas are pretty common—in a sudden flash of understand we see something we hadn’t seen before, we understand something we hadn’t understood before, we make a connection we hadn’t made before. For example, I sometimes I get stuck when I’m writing, not being able to find the words that work for what I want to say. When I do I know it’s time to take a break—to take my morning shower, to throw a load of clothes in the washer, to take a walk to the mailbox. Then invariably, almost like clockwork, I will be hit with an idea and will be back to work in front of my computer.

AHA!s are all that and so much more. They are the kind of aha moments that has a personal and profound impact on the person who experienced it. I experienced my first AHA! when I was in my mid-twenties. I was very unhappy in my career but didn’t know why. Then in a flash of insight, I understood what was blocking my progress, and that made all the difference in my life. I described that experience and it’s impact in my life in a Mutual of Omaha aha moment video. Click this link to watch the clip. I also wrote about the moment in my soon-to-be-released book, The AHA! Handbook.

Andrew Zimmern shares his life-changing AHA! in Guideposts magazine

Photo by Revati Upadhya

I just love stories life-changing AHA!s. Don’t you? I just read in this month’s issue of Guideposts magazine the powerful story of how an epiphany put Andrew Zimmern’s life back on track after he had struggled for years with a drug addiction.

If you watch the Travel Channel, you’ve probably seen Andrew’s show, Bizarre Foods. He travels the world to introduce his audience to the foods that people in other cultures eat—things they consider delicacies, things we couldn’t imagine eating.

Andrew knew as a boy that that he wanted a career in the food industry. While in high school, he began working in a restaurant, and from there he steadily worked his way up to become an executive chef and then a food service consultant. Along the way Andrew also became addicted to drugs, alcohol, and prescription medication. Eventually he lost everything—his work, his apartment, his friends and family. (more…)