Navigating Inflection Points

There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors.  —Jim Morrison

Y esterday, we moved our second daughter, and youngest child, into her dorm room and left her to begin her college experience. After three other children, we knew the drill: dorm room setup, books, Target run for supplies, lunch, and the difficult farewell as we left her to cope with the fear and exhilaration that accompany those first steps into a life separate and independent from mom and dad.

Driving away, I realized that we had just closed a chapter of our lives that has spanned a quarter century. Our roles as parents had just taken a complete turn into something new, foreign, uncertain. Of course, it didn’t just happen. Our path had been winding this way for sometime but the moment felt big, and the shift reflects a significant inflection point in each of our lives. There were no trumpets blaring or banners announcing the shift. It was quiet, abrupt, and profoundly momentous.

So it goes with inflection points. Our lives are defined by these moments; subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in our paths. Doorways to the new and the unknown; the uncertain and the foundation-shaking as old patterns are broken and the world remade in fresh colors. Sometimes the changes are physical, we experience inflection points in moves to homes or changes in geography. More often, the inflection points create a shift internally. They are moments through which we pass that mark a change in and around us.

I first learned of inflection points from Andy Grove, the famous co-founder and CEO of Intel. In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove says that a “strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.” Hindsight makes it easy to see at what points our fundamentals  have changed. Inflection points can be opportunities; both organic and traumatic.

Inflection points reflect a rite of passage from one age to the next. A point of maturation and growth. It is easy for us to equate these times with “coming of age” moments as children become teens and teens become adults. As we all know, they don’t stop there. Our lives are marked with these passages, some wanted and some unwanted, as we move from one version of ourselves to the next. Inflection points are NOT just for children.

Inflection points reflect a rite of passage from one age to the next.

Considering my experience yesterday, I recognize the bittersweet nature of this inflection point, and its fundamental change to my life. There is something new ahead. Unknown opportunities and challenges. Fresh possibilities. It is easy to feel excitement for them. However, fundamental change also means leaving something behind and that is what we lament when we pass through our inflection points. It is the loss that hurts and from it flow the fears – always present no matter the level of new possibility. And that’s OK.

Our world is built upon fundamental changes. The fabric of our society is dynamic and pliable, reflecting the nature of our existence as human beings. We cannot exist within the stillness of a vacuum and must continually pass through inflection points of all varieties. As parents, leaders, peers, friends, sons/daughters etc., we must anticipate these inflection points and recognize them for what they are: adult rites of passage to our next self. Then, we need to decide if it will be a better one.

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