05/26/2014 12:31 EDT | Updated 07/26/2014 05:59 EDT

What I Learned This Week: How To Handle the "Uh-Oh! Moment"

In last week's amazingly bright blog post (hey, selling one's self is a relentless job these days!), I referenced the "Ah-ha! Moment," that positive pin-point in time when something just clicks, the answer is clear and blatantly obvious, the future bright and plain to see.

This week, I'd like to look at the scarred other side of the shiny coin; the ghostly kick in the gut that hurts like hell. Let's call it the "Uh-oh! Moment."

I'm sure you've all felt it at one time or another in your careers. It's the bleak realization that you've made a monumental mistake, the gulp that says you're in too deep and that there's no turning back.

On the graph of life, this is not merely a valley, but a deep, jagged hole gouged in your deepest one.

One of the many "Uh-oh! Moments" I remember happened back in 1999 when I departed Just For Laughs to start a tech business with Garner Bornstein. I had left behind a gold-plated "Mr. Big" position where I travelled the world, hob-nobbed with showbiz big-wigs, was treated to VIP service in restaurants and clubs, and had my butt kissed by everyone from performers to the media.

Cut to my first week at the new gig, sitting alone at a massive table in an abandoned boardroom that housed me as my office was being readied, getting strange stares from the kids who saw me as an outsider and the hardcore techies who considered me a luddite, and being talked to in a strange new, insanely foreign language (to me at that time, a "server" was a concierge or a waiter).

It was after three days of this, on a lonely rainy Wednesday, when I finally succumbed to the three-step process that marks the onset of the "Uh-oh! Moment":

  1. Your head tumbles into your outstretched hands
  2. Together, they slowly shake from side to side
  3. And while this is going on, you think--or more likely, groan -- the Moment's battle cry:


That's the bad news.

The good news is that the "Uh-oh! Moment" is a necessity for growth. And that usually, things get better from there.

As I said before, the "Uh-oh! Moment" marks a realization, a grasp of a situation marked by despair and anguish. But it's within that grasp that most of the time, you start climbing out of the abyss. Once you're questioning what you have done, you start answering. And once you start answering, you start moving in a new, upward direction.

I don't know how it works, and if it works the same for everyone, but it sure has worked for me. I've tracked countless of my "Uh-oh! Moments" -- from the aforementioned career change panic to the decision to change hockey positions from goalie to forward; from a flippant political quote made on live TV to accepting a challenge to create a speech on creativity at the C2MTL conference -- and every time, said moment was a catalyst for positive change.

It wasn't always evident at the instance, and it certainly wasn't always easy, but each time I faced it, the "Uh-oh! Moment" was my nadir. Or near-nadir. Or, as per musical philosophers The Mamas and Papas sang in Dedicated To The One I Love:

"The darkest hour is just before dawn."

The benefit of the "Uh-oh! Moment" is only fully appreciated later, and is only fully understood in hindsight. So next time you find yourself scraping the bottom of life's barrel, don't worry about asking yourself what you have done. That's natural.

But at the same time, don't hesitate to look ahead to what you're about to do.


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