Defining Moments Reveal Your True Self

Written by on May 22, 2017 in Self-Awareness

Defining Moments


If I were to ask you to list the most defining moments in your life so far, what would you include … graduation, marriage, the birth of your children, possibly a traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one?

Today I’d like to challenge your thinking a little by taking a closer look at what a defining moment actually is. Broadly speaking it is a moment in time in which the essential nature or character of a person is revealed.

There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become hinge on a single decision. ~Jonathan Maberry

Our tendency to focus on what we perceive to be life’s big milestones is human nature, but more often than we may realize it’s the relatively small moments that shape our thinking, behavior and the way we view the world.

The Nature of Defining Moments

While the specifics of a defining moment will naturally be unique to each of us, there will inevitably be four common characteristics: they reveal, they challenge, they require making a choice, and they mold.

  • Take the path of least resistance or embrace the challenge?
  • Give in to fear or find the courage to move forward?
  • Stand up for your values or go along with the crowd?

As you begin to understand the nature of a defining moment it’s not that difficult to identify them in your own life.

One of my own moments came about as the result of being relentlessly bullied by a group of girls in high school. The turning point for me was the day I mustered the courage to say ENOUGH and finally stood up to them.

I consider this to be a very positive moment, but the fact that I didn’t get the crap beat out of me probably has something to do with that.

How did that moment mold me? To this day I have a disproportionate sense of fairness and detest people who try to bully or take advantage of others, and I use that energy to teach people that they too can stand up for themselves by setting healthy personal boundaries.

One of my favorite defining moment stories is from director, producer, writer Steven Spielberg about a vivid childhood memory of seeing The Greatest Show on Earth.

The movie includes a sequence of enormous train wrecks and the then 6-year-old Spielberg desperately wanted to recreate the train wreck using his model trains. Understandably, his parents strongly discouraged him from ruining his train set to achieve this goal, but he said each time they warned him he thought to himself “Am I going to get away with this?”

Eventually, he decided to go for it and filmed the train wreck with a small camera and made his first movie. Although it was just a home video, recreating this crash brought back the same feelings he had felt in the movie theater.

Taking this leap that started his career was a defining moment that has followed him through almost 60 years of filmmaking. To this day whenever he comes up with a risky story, he asks himself “Am I going to get away with this?”

We all have defining moments. They are like open-book tests, but we don’t know we have been tested until it’s over. ~John Bevere

An Exercise in Self-Discovery

Exploring your own defining moments can be a powerful exercise in self-discovery that can help you to better understand who you are. It can also clarify what motivates and inspires you, and identify the source of self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from achieving your dreams and goals.

As an added bonus, once you become familiar with previous events and the nature of these special moments, it becomes much easier to identify potential new opportunities as they present themselves.

Following are just a few guidelines to help you get started in this process.

  • Consider using a personal journal so you have a place to keep returning to as you work through how these events have affected you.
  • Going over events in a chronological order will help you uncover more details about your life.
  • Areas to explore include experiences in rejection, your first love or heartbreak, success and failure, unexpected events (loss of a job, move to new state or country), books that changed your life, fights or arguments that may have instilled in you an aversion to conflict, and traumas.
  • And of course, there are defining moments that involve people that have (for better or worse) influenced your life path and shaped your journey. I have several people that have made a significant difference in my life and I carry some part of them with me every day.

There’s tremendous power – and sometimes conflict – in having the willingness to embrace your true self and using that understanding to guide you toward becoming the person you were meant to be.

Your turn: Can you point to a defining moment in your own life that changed you in some way?

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Sue Kearney

    I love this, and especially the Spielberg story. Thanks so much! Will share.
    Sue Kearney recently posted…What are you up against today? (with life hacks)My Profile

  2. I have kept a journal since I was 16 and I believe it has saved me many times from deep depression… just writing and getting things out of my head.. I also separated myself from several people in my life who were toxic. So you really do have to stand up for yourself as only you know best what’s good for you..
    Lesly Federici recently posted…Count On Mindfulness To Grow Your BusinessMy Profile

    • Well said Lesly. As you know, I’m a life-long fan of journaling so I certainly agree with what a good resource it has been for you. Thanks for contributing to the conversation! 🙂

  3. Sue Bride

    My first was the death of my father when I was thirteen. Another was when I decided that my long time marriage was over. It was a tough road after that but it made me constructively assess my life and take steps to change all sorts of things, including my poor self esteem.

    The birth of my first child altered my life but the birth of my third who has a disability had a different kind of major impact and influenced my decision to always work from home.
    Sue Bride recently posted…How UpdraftPlus Rescued My Lost Websites – AlmostMy Profile

  4. Hi Marquita, Defining Moments. When I look back with hindsight it’s easy to recognize the small turns or twists that shaped me into what I am today. It’s not how those defining moments feel today but how they felt then and how they guided me to change my life. Great article
    Kathryn Maclean recently posted…Brand Development What Is It? How do you do it?My Profile

  5. Joyce Hansen

    I can certainly look back at many defining moments that changed the direction of my life many times over. The most defining have been the passing on of friends and pets. The loss of their physical presence changes everything. There is a gigantic void that time fills with space made for new loved ones to share your life with. It’s a cycle we don’t recognize until were in it for a while.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Is Your Business Brain Headed for Burnout?My Profile

  6. There are many defining moments in in my life from the obvious (marriage, kids) to the less obvious (some simple private moments). Every interaction has something to do with your definition.
    Elise Cohen Ho recently posted…Is A Pennsylvania Summer What You Really Want?My Profile

  7. Julie Gorges

    Enjoyed your article helping all of us to define life-changing moments. For me, defending my faith in school when kids were making fun of me was the moment I learned to stand up for my beliefs and it definitely made me a stronger person. Writing has also been a journey through the highs and lows. It taught me persistence and to never stop believing in myself.
    Julie Gorges recently posted…Technology Leaves Baby Boomers’ Groovy Talents BehindMy Profile

  8. Mandy Allen says:

    Wow, brave of you to tell us that! It is interesting how people perceive defining moment too. For one it would be one thing, for someone else it might be something completely different. It is the same with memory. My sister and I have completely different aspects of family events that we remember. It’s all about who you are and how you are. Makes us all different.

    Enjoy the journey!
    Mandy Allen recently posted…Why You Should Use Deep Links In Your Blog PostsMy Profile

    • You are certainly right Mandy about how people can remember things differently, but then defining moments aren’t about anyone but YOU. Also, it’s pretty easy to identify them if you consider the criteria, especially the one about it involving a “choice.” There are actually two areas of this study, defining moments (the more specific) and defining memories which is what you are referring to. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  9. Tuhin

    Undoubtedly this has to be the breakup (though there are some other minor events too). I used to be an aimless guy till 2012. Post breakup a lot of psychological changes took place for good.
    I joined fitness classes, realized the importance of positive living(and gradually started the blog), started to depend less on others,became practical and so on.
    In this respect, my ex should get nominated in the ‘best ex’ competition (for changing my life in a better way).
    Tuhin recently posted…8 Ways to Overcome Negative and Pessimistic ThoughtsMy Profile

    • How kind of you to say that about your “ex” Tunin. I hope you two have managed to remain friends despite the split. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

  10. Vatsala Shukla

    Lots of defining moments in my life have brought me to where I am today, Marquita, but there is one that brought back my passion from my University days when I was heavily into social activism – the death of my beloved dachshund April from a wrong medication for fever.

    She died a painful death as her lungs ruptured and I swore in Scarlet O’Hara style that I would get her justice, which I did. It took me 2 and a half years of going through the legal system, especially since death by medical negligence for a dog was unheard of and I was subject to ridicule by my colleagues and friends telling me that I had to think of my other 3 dogs.

    The so-called animal rights groups didn’t help and it was me and my Dad who fought it through. The vet went to jail and we appeared in the newspapers.

    The real victory was the amendment of the Consumer Protection Act that now allows death by medical negligence as an admissible offence for humans and animals and later the banning of the medication when during the period of my fight, children started dying from the same medication.

    I now lend my voice to causes I care about via my blog and the spirit to create change can’t be dowsed.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…Are you in integrity? Employers verify resumes for the jobMy Profile

    • Oh Vatsala, what a heartbreaking experience! I’m sure your dedication to getting justice for April has since saved many other precious 4-legged family members. I need to go hug Lucy right now! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your marvelous story with us.

  11. Suzie Cheel

    Love this I have had many defining moments in my life given right now where I have enforced Rest to heal only to find it is both a reflective time that is challenging me to truly tell my story xx

    • Having had the privilege of working with you to share a small part of your story in our Breaking Barriers project I can certainly appreciate what you mean about having many such moments in your life. Wishing you all the best, and I know that those of us who follow you are looking forward to your book!

  12. This is another post that reaffirms why I like your writing style. I’ve had many defining moments but the one that has been the most significant for me took place in February of 1994 where I stood firm in my decision to take a firm stand base on my Scriptural beliefs and put faith in God’s protective care, even though I was being pressured by authority figures to go against my conscience.

    I had no desire to die as a martyr, and I wanted the best care, but my faith was stronger than my fear of death and, thank God, I survived. More importantly, I can live with a clean conscience because I did not give in to pressure.
    Yvonne A Jones recently posted…Entrepreneurs: Big Thinking Is Connected to a Growth MindsetMy Profile

  13. Marty, What an excellent article. Right from the start I could think of several defining moments in different aspects of my life. One happened about 30 years ago when I wanted to heal a physical problem naturally. I knew it was possible. I had wanted to fly up to Maine to meet with Dr. Christiane Northrup but I let myself be influenced to see this “great” doctor and have an operation – which had a long term effect upon my body. More recently, I had a health concern and I had always wondered how I would react. This time there was no question . I chose the natural route and have not looked back.

    Warmly, Dr. Erica

    • Hard lesson to learn, but sometimes those are the most valuable. Thank you so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation Dr. Erica!

  14. Joy Healey

    Hi Marquita,

    I think my two biggest defining moments were, one when my husband left me, and the other when I broke free of a “friend” who was just controlling me.

    Both were tough at the time, but I got through them and they left me stronger. And I can now look back and reflect on the good that came out of these relationships, as well as the bad.

    Joy – Blogging After Dark
    Joy Healey recently posted…User Reviews And Their Effect On Your BusinessMy Profile

  15. William Rusho

    Moments define us, and we define moments. I think these moments bring out what we are inside. They are like a fire, and we are the metal. We become forged by them, and either become strong, or brittle. As you stated, there is that ONE POINT IN TIME, where we can make a difference of how we will be forged by these moments.

  16. lenie

    Marquita, my most obvious defining moment happened in 1982 (how’s that for specifics?) We had a small manufacturing business with sales all across Canada – very exciting. However, there was a recession and interest rates went sky high. Because of that 7 of the retailers we sold to went bankrupt leaving us with huge unpaid receivables. End result, we could no longer afford to carry on. My husband fell apart, this was after all his baby but I surprised myself and others by remaining calm and taking charge so that we came out of this experience with no adverse effects. At that point I realized just how strong I was which has helped me immensely since then.
    lenie recently posted…Gardening for Seniors – Adjusting to LimitationsMy Profile

  17. Mark

    Another excellent read M!

    And just like most, (if not all) of your readers, I too, have definitely had, more than my fair share of life-s defining moments.

    But thank goodness, nor matter what the eventual ad comes have been.

    Those experiences, (especially the negative ones) can’t totally define who we are going forward, unless we allow them to.

    And yet, without experiencing some of those negative situations, we would not, and could not experience, some much needed growth in those areas of our lives!

    Thanks for sharing another extremely enlightening post!
    Mark recently posted…How To Increase Retail Sales Even With A Razor Thin Budget!My Profile

    • Glad you liked it Mark, and you brought up a good point. These moments we all experience contribute to shaping who we are, but circumstances alone do not define us. It’s like the quote I use in the cover image, “It’s not the moments that defines us, but how we choose to live them.” Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  18. Chery Schmidt

    Hello Marty! Oh yeh I have had a few very special people in my life who have made a significant difference! This post brings back some wonderful memories. Thank you so much for sharing.. Chery :))
    Chery Schmidt recently posted…Everybody Has The Right To Live A Happy LifeMy Profile

  19. Phoenicia

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. All of my defining moments have shaped me into who I am today. The bad (school bullying, low self-esteem, depression) have made me all the more resilient. The good (becoming a christian, marriage, children, ministry) have made me thankful.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Work in excellence!My Profile

  20. Marquita — I’ve often thought of the defining moments in my life. There wasn’t just one “ah ha”moment, but several that I knew were milestones and would change my life’s trajectory. I think the most significant for me was deciding to go into therapy. That was many years ago and that decision led to other defining moments that enriched my life immeasurably.

  21. This is so timely. And, I want to thank you so much. Defining moments, that is the key that unlocked the door. I was stuck on how I wanted to present stories/moments in my life in the book I am writing. I didn’t want it to be an autobiography but stories from that life.

    There you are. And thanks. I am free now to rambling on and on until stuck again. : )
    Marvin Dittfurth recently posted…Uncover and DiscoverMy Profile

    • Glad you found the post inspiring Marvin! You might be interested to know that there are a number of fascinating studies on this area under Defining Memories. Good luck with your book. 🙂

  22. I love thinking about defining moments, Marquita. You say it so well that they shape us, whether or not we realize it at the time. Sometimes the most value comes from the experience after the initial moment has passed. Might be time to ponder some of my own big and little ones!

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