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Character Building: Life-Defining Moments

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 7, 2012





Life-Defining Moments

By Vicki Hinze



Life-defining moments. We all have them. Yet when we think of them in abstract terms, we think they’re these huge events. But the keys are often not in huge events. They’re in small, seemingly insignificant events that truly define to us who we are and who we choose to be.

As you’d expect, these defining moments don’t all happen at once, but over the course of our lives, and all through our lives we’re presented with opportunities to change our minds. That’s a good thing, because sometimes we take wrong turns, or as my darling daughter would put it, “We don’t make wise choices.” So we’re given chances to redefine ourselves.

Let me share a few examples.

In second grade, I had a buffalo-head nickel and a comic book that said it was worth a lot more than a nickel. We also had a jar on the window ledge in our classroom at school that was for donations. I had to choose. Do I keep the nickel for myself or put it in the jar to help others?

That doesn’t seem like a monumental choice, does it? A little thing for a little girl. But it was a life-defining moment. I could put my wants/needs first or try to help others. I knew it. Something inside me told me this was a big decision. I chose the jar. And it became a theme in my life. Oh, I didn’t define it as one then. But it did influence my focus and future decisions until as an adult it became a conscious way of life.

I chose the jar. And that put me on a path that had me adopting “I Serve” as a personal motto. When I can, I help others.

At about twenty, I was struggling. Money was tight, and, well, it was one of those times we all have where everything was hard. Like trying to keep your head above water when the water is molasses. Anyway, I went into a store and made a small purchase. The clerk made a mistake and gave me $20 too much change. That was a lot of money then. A week’s worth of groceries. Gas for the car for a month. I was broke and times were hard and I had to choose: keep it or tell the clerk she’d made a mistake. In that position, it was a mental war and the temptation to do the wrong thing was powerful—a life-defining moment.

That money would have made my life a lot easier, but my conscience would have hammered me. What kind of person did I want to be? I knew I was deciding that, standing at the drugstore checkout counter. I chose to be honest. Not noble. Had to, or I’d never have been able to meet my own eyes in the mirror again without feeling like a thief because that’s exactly what I would have been: a thief. So I gave the money back to her. That moment insignificant? Hardly. Definitely life-defining.

Later still, I was grown; a wife and a mother. I went grocery shopping and put a book in the top part of the cart so it wouldn’t be wet by the cold stuff. My handbag sat atop it. I checked out, paid for the groceries and went to my car. When I unloaded the cart and lifted my purse, I saw the book was there. I hadn’t paid for it. I checked the receipt to be certain, but sure enough, the book wasn’t on it. Yet another life-defining moment. Did I get in the car or go back into the store and pay for the book?

I went back and paid for the book. I still wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to feel badly (read that, feel like a crook) every time I walked into that store, and if I hadn’t paid for the book, I would have because I would have chosen at that moment to be a crook.

Those are three examples. Seemingly small things but they’re significant to note because they were not huge events and they were not major incidents. In the grand scheme of things, they were little things. A nickel, twenty dollars, and a paperback novel aren’t exactly fortune-making or breaking. But they are character-making or breaking things. And that makes them huge things worthy of note in life and in writing.

In each case, I was totally aware that I had to choose. Each time, I knew that I had to decide how I would define my life. And I knew that I alone was responsible for the decisions I made.

We all have life-defining moments. Many of them. I didn’t always make the right choices. But when I have made the wrong choices, I have always been given future opportunities to change my mind and make wiser choices. From my observations of others, we all are given second and third and more chances to change our minds. To choose the type of person we want to be.

And that is my point. We choose. We might have endured horrific things, wicked events in our lives where we have every reason—some would say every justification–for being adults lacking character. But the truth is we become adults. As adults, we experience life-defining moments where no matter what we’ve endured or suffered or experienced, we decide. We innately know our options and we choose.

Once we choose, we are not the person we were. We are the person we have become.

Beneath all the mind-clutter, we discover that our own decisions define our lives. We are the people we choose to be in the ways that most matter. A lesson from my daughter: choose wisely. You will live with the choices you make.

The choices you make define your character. And your character defines how you feel about yourself. That image of you is projected in hundreds of ways to others–not by others, by you.

So today, you have homework–for yourself, and if you’re writing, also for your characters. What have been your life-defining moments? Who have you chosen to be?

And, yes, you may consider this an opportunity to revisit those choices and make wiser ones.

That, my dear friends, is the purpose of this post. ❖


© 2012, 2011, Vicki Hinze


* * * * * * *

Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Christmas Countdown (romantic suspense), Duplicity (mystery/thriller), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.


Article cross-posted from Social In Network (December 6, 2012).



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