In the novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany by Amercian novelist John Irving, famous for writing The World According to Garp, the central character Owen Meany spends his whole life preparing for one defining moment.
In Owen’s case, it’s achieving a perfect basketball slam-dunk in a way that no one, including the god-like Owen himself, could foresee. Owen’s slam-dunk was his pivotal and enduring achievement. It was the moment when everything he had worked for all his life came together.
I think that this slam-dunk moment must come in everyone’s career, and lately I’ve been thinking it’s come for me.
For Owen Meany, because his creator is a master of black humour, his pivotal and defining moment was his last moment. But for those of us in real life, a pivotal moment should be a beginning, not an end.
In my case, all my professional and personal areas of interest seem to have allied themselves seamlessly, in a way that makes me feel as though, like Owen, I’ve been practicing for this moment all my life. And I have.
Sportspeople know this feeling of recognition as being in the zone. Psychologists and artists know it as flow. Teachers, performers and public speakers feel it as being in unison with their audience. It’s the ordinary yet transcendent feeling of satisfaction, empathy, elation & connection we feel as part of a crowd at a football match when our team scores a goal. It’s the feeling of rightness, when everything falls into place. Slam-dunk.
Throughout the years I have treated my life and my career as though it was a painting. Two generations of “creatives” before me taught me to lay down strong foundations, to build up layers, to balance the composition and colour, to have a careful observant eye and to go with the medium not against it. When you make any creative piece (whether it’s a painting or a life) you have to trust that your knowledge and technique will lead to a successful outcome.
So I’ve spent decades trusting that, just like in a painting, a successful outcome would be built from accumulating knowledge, steadfastly laying down foundations, exploring widely and observing closely. In painting, there’s a defining moment when everything suddenly comes together and you know it’s a finished piece. And at that point, instantly, the painting becomes greater than the sum of its parts and has an independent existence that you’ve created.
It’s the slam-dunk moment. The moment of revelation: the moment when action achieves a guaranteed outcome. That’s why slam-dunk has come to mean a sure thing. It’s the moment I hope everyone has in their career and life.
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