This Magic Moment


If you ask my friend, a young university professor, why he is so committed to hands-on, activity-based classroom experiences for his undergraduate students, he will tell you a story. As the story goes, his extended family had gathered at his parents’ home to celebrate a special occasion. The adults were deeply immersed in conversation—and distracted from his one-year old niece, who was playing with blocks in the corner of the room. Someone eventually noticed her struggling to get to her feet, followed by her first waddling steps that brought her across the room to where the adults were sitting.

Of course, her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were all thrilled to bear witness to this major life event. And despite the ruckus they were making, my friend focused on the little girl’s face. He recalled the light in her eyes, the joyous smile that spread from ear to ear, and how she had thrown her hands in the air to celebrate her achievement. She had done something for the first time—and it would change her life forever. My friend concluded by saying, “Those are the magic moments I want to help create for my students.”

His story made me wonder whether each of us, if we took the time to think about it, could identify magic moments that propel us forward in our work. My magic moments have always been related to achievement and accomplishing a goal—the bigger the better. Winning the big game, walking across the stage at a graduation ceremony, or publishing a book come to mind. Others might relate more readily to solving a complex problem (that had stumped everyone else) or putting a new process in place that creates major efficiencies. Still others may throw their hands up in celebration when they bring a diverse group of people together to work as a team.

Just this week, an ICU nurse told me that she feels most fulfilled in her work when she is able to comfort a person who is extremely ill and encourage the family members who are anxiously waiting for recovery. This, she said, has kept her going through a 25-year nursing career that has no end in sight. In that same session, a young manager described how she was “walking on air for the rest of the day” when a former employee she had mentored for several months called to say that he had just received a big promotion in his new organization. The clincher was when he said that he didn’t think it would have been possible if she hadn’t believed and invested in him.

Magic moments are just another way to think about motives—the internal drives that explain why we do what we do. When we understand what drives us, we are more willing to persevere through the tough times, make adjustments that help us achieve what we’re after, and give our best effort on a daily basis. When we understand what drives others, we are better positioned to authentically connect with them and possibly help them experience those magic moments that uniquely energize and engage. In fact, we’re probably all at our best when we get to experience magic moments on a regular basis.

What’s your magic moment?

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Dr. Mike Patterson is a principal at Core Strengths and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He is also the co-author of Core Strengths: Results through Relationships training and the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places. Contact him at

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