Life’s Most Polarizing Force

Life's Most Polarizing Force: Pivotal Moments

Life's Most Polarizing Force: Pivotal Moments

Sir Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, was one of the key architects in devising the strategies that ultimately ended World War II in 1945. Churchill was also an artist, writer, historian and Nobel Prize laureate.

Churchill gets quoted a lot, and for good reason, but one of the most profound statements Churchill ever made was this:

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

The special moment(s) Churchill’s talking about are also known by another name, pivotal moments.


Pivotal moments, in my experience, are life’s most polarizing force due to the extreme outcomes produced by their unique characteristics.

Because everyone knows, when everything is on the line and it could go either way – you’re dealing with a pivotal moment that could make or break your bigger future.

A historic pivotal moment was the day Apple Computer Company was founded in 1976 in a garage in Cupertino, California by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. At the time, both Jobs and Woz were college drop-outs, but they knew what they wanted to achieve, and they were willing to put everything on the line to do so.

Their decision to start and grow Apple has been a phenomenal success (with some almost disastrous moments along the way), with Apple surpassing $700 billion in value in early 2015.

What makes the founding of Apple such a historic pivotal moment though, is the decision of the third co-founder, Ronald Wayne. Two weeks after the founding of Apple, Wayne feared financial ruin from investing in the company and sold his 10-percent stake for $800.00. Had he maintained his stake in the company his shares today would be worth about $70 billion. Ouch!

Apple’s incredible success only highlights even more the dismal failure of that decision.


How you perform in pivotal moments is what determines the size and magnitude of your future. And, just like the divergent results of Apple’s three co-founders, your future can swing from one extreme to the other in the success spectrum.

You either succeed big, or you fail big. With, generally, little in the middle.

The sum total of your successes minus your failures also determines your trajectory toward and velocity in manifesting your full potential. And, your trajectory and velocity determine in significant measure your leverage in generating opportunities.

The more you achieve, plus the magnitude of those achievements, the more people trust your capacity. The more people trust you, the more they’re willing to engage with you. Conversely, the less you achieve, and the smaller the achievements, the fewer opportunities you’ll have.

Back in 1996, over a decade after Steve Jobs had resigned from the company, Apple was in serious trouble due to years of financial losses. It’s options and credibility were shrinking by the day. In an effort to turn the company around, Apple bought NeXT in 1997 so it could bring Steve Jobs back to the company he co-founded.

Jobs shortly became CEO again and didn’t waste any time restructuring and innovating Apple’s product line in order to return the company to profitability. The following year, Apple introduced the iMac, which delivered a completely unique design in an all-in-one computer.

The success of the iMac along with several other successful product launches that year saw the company’s profits double in 1999. And over the next decade, with the introduction of the iPod, iTunes, MacBook, iPhone and iPad, Apple exponentially grew into one of the biggest and most influential brands in the world.

In short, the more Apple achieved in creating and promoting quality products, the more people trusted it could do it again. The more people trusted Apple, the more they wanted to support and share in it’s success.

In contrast, at the same time Apple was doubling it’s profits in 1999, two graduate students at Stanford University offered to sell their startup search engine to Excite for $1 million. Excite rejected the offer, even after the students agreed to a lower purchase price of $750,000.

Today, the search engine Sergey Brin and Larry Page built, aka Google, is worth more than $370 billion. And Excite – well, they get the dubious distinction of being one of the most recognized brands on the Internet… in the 1990s.

Enough said.


Pivotal moments aren’t time sensitive. When they show up there’s no stopping time, and no do-overs. Successful engagement moves your life progress needle forward, but when engagement is bungled your life advancement stalls.

When I was competing in the 1972 Olympic trials to gain a spot on the 1972 United States Olympic Cycling Team I lost my first race in a double-elimination racing format. This meant, if I lost again I was out of the competition and no Olympics. So, every moment for the rest of the competition was pivotal for me. Thankfully, I won every race and made the Olympic team that competed in the 1972 Munich Games.

My friend, George Lazenby, had a very different pivotal moment experience. After Sean Connery retired from being James Bond, the film producer and director of the sixth movie in the James Bond series chose George to be the next 007. Successfully starring as the iconic Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” lead to being offered the chance to reprise the role again. George turned the offer down to pursue other projects.

He’s never worked at that level in film again.

In fact, because George only played James Bond once, and he failed to repeat that level of acting success, his name is now sometimes used as a metaphor for “forgettable, non-iconic acting efforts in other entertainment franchises, and for entities that are largely ignored.”


Pivotal moments are measured in years. And, there are typically 3-5 pivotal moments that occur each year that will make or break your success or failure in the life areas that matter to the you.


Many pivotal moments involve more than one person at the same time. And they can take those involved higher or lower together, either up or down, or in completely different directions.

In mid-1962 George Martin at EMI studios listened to a recording session of The Beatles and decided they were good enough to sign to a contract, with one exception – they wanted to use a different drummer.

Pete Best, the bands current drummer, didn’t have the “sense of time” the studio wanted to hear from a drummer. Also, Best was often sick and unable to show up for gigs which upset Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. That he was a favorite with the fans, good looking, charismatic, and talented didn’t matter. The studio chose to sack and replace Best with someone else… Ringo Starr.

Just months later, in January 1963, the release of The Beatles new song “Please Please Me” reached number one on every chart in London, and the phenomenon Beatlemania began.

One pivotal moment, two totally different futures. Ringo Starr became an internationally acclaimed musician. Pete Best became a civil servant and didn’t play drums in public for 20 years.


Pivotal moments fall into two categories: intentionally planned, and spontaneous wild cards.

My adopted daughter’s first dive off a diving board was a planned pivotal moment.

Having practiced with dad, it was time for her to go it alone. Slowly walking to the end of the diving board, she looked over the end to make sure the water was still there. Then gauging the distance from the board to the water she mentally rehearsed what she’d been taught. Confident, she put her hands together overhead, leaned forward, and, splash… her first successful dive!

Wild card pivotal moments, by there very nature, are far less predictable.

On a late night plane flight to Chicago I just happened to recognize the silhouette of a someone I hadn’t seen in years. It was my friend, Mark Gorksi, who I helped win a sprint cycling Gold Medal in the 1984 Olympics.

When Mark was making his way back up the aisle I said hello, we talked, and that conversation lead to my involvement with 9 Tour de France races.

Now, more than ever, your life success hangs in the balance and is dependent on your effectiveness in handing life’s pivotal moments.

Those who handle pivotal moments skillfully live quality lives of distinction, achievement and contribution. While those without the skill to handle pivotal moments with prowess live subpar lives far below what they’re capable of.

What are some of the pivotal moments you’ve experienced? And how did things turn out: phenomenal or catastrophic? Please share in the comments.

PS: The Champion’s Blueprint Workshop is now just a couple weeks away so we’ll need to close registration soon. If you haven’t registered already you can get your ticket here.


  • Linda Ann Hansen

    Reply Reply May 22, 2015

    Excellent article! Thanks!

    • Jeff Spencer

      Reply Reply May 29, 2015

      Thank you very much, Linda!

  • roberto

    Reply Reply May 23, 2015

    More great stuff. Reflecting to ‘see’ the missteps.. to learn for the future… I’m experimenting with seeing that void (from last article – a living space) as a vertical plane in space that represents the present moment. If I’m behind the plane I’m hiding a bit / not emganged, if I’m on the other side of it, I’m dreaming, but if I lean my consciousness to that line I can see reality and feel like time slows down and I can see reality, know, and choose how to respond.

    Well, I’ve had glimpeses of it and seems to work / make sense to me :)

    Thanks again for great articles & sharing

    • Jeff Spencer

      Reply Reply May 29, 2015

      That’s great… 3 positions in space and time that have a relationship to our life’s forward progress. Think of the void as the now, real-time space our life is lived in that sucks life debris eg unsolicited people, places and things into itself stalling forward progress. But, if we manage the space by doing the 1-2 key things necessary to move life forward then debris doesn’t collect and forward movement is made with least friction.

  • Colin Simpson

    Reply Reply May 25, 2015

    Great article!! Being prepared for when those pivotal moments come calling is the key to maximising opportunities.

    • Jeff Spencer

      Reply Reply May 31, 2015

      Thanks, Colin.. there are 3-5 days a year that will make or break our year and the other days are for doing the grunt work creating the readiness for the pivotal moments when they show up. The skill to respond must be there when the pivotal moment strikes as can be developing the skill when it shows up.

  • Bill

    Reply Reply May 26, 2015


    • Jeff Spencer

      Reply Reply May 29, 2015

      Thanks, Bill…

  • David

    Reply Reply May 29, 2015

    Thank you Jeff for sharing what you have learned and I hope I can one day help you and others as well.

  • Dr. John Filo

    Reply Reply August 29, 2015

    Great article Jeff !. totally agree….I liken this to the principle of integrity. Be your authentic self in every moment and possibility will emerge (phenomenology). We don’t know the “how” or “when”, all we know is that by being our authentic self in our thots, actions and deeds, the potential for possibility – the opportunities that present themselves – are visible. Thanks for sharing !

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field