It happened about 30 minutes into a keynote presentation I was giving to college students. As I prepared to reach a critical moment in the speech, my eyes connected with a student in the audience. Her head was bent over, her shoulders slumped, and even though she tried to hide it, I could see the tears welling up in her eyes.
It was apparent something I said triggered an emotional response. When she lifted her head, a big part of me felt the urge to encourage the student. The other side knew how vital this keynote was for me. I spent weeks preparing, stringing together each line word by word, rehearsing each story, and perfecting each teaching point. Suddenly, I had a crucial decision to make. Should I stop for a moment and follow my heart or stick to the script?
Ironically, I was confronted with the same decision back in 2007. I was fully immersed in my first full-time job out of college, covering high school sports for the Naples (Fla.) Daily News. Everything I spent years trying to achieve personally and professionally was in clear sight, and it was going according to plan.
Then the phone rang. It was a sunny Monday afternoon in April. When I answered, all I could hear was a young man crying, followed by these words, “That story your newspaper printed was not accurate. Thanks to you, my son might lose his scholarship to play college football.”
Mom had spoken, and my heart broke. Yes, it was her son caught in a hotel doing drugs, and yes, the story was accurate. Even though I stuck to the script and did my job as a reporter, I knew it was time to stop for a moment and follow my heart.
The young man and his tears sparked a burning desire to leave behind my sports writing career, pursue a higher calling, and impact the lives of young people as an author, speaker, and educator. That day, I vowed never to neglect a young person’s tears, heartache, and pain for the sake of sticking to the script again. That day, I promised always to be willing to stop for the moment and address the need, no matter where the path was leading me.
So, when I called the student to come to stand on the stage with me during the keynote, I knew it was what she and I both needed.
We are always going to be in situations where we have to make crucial decisions. Sometimes we chose to stick to the script in life for various reasons. But I have learned that sometimes finding your purpose and making the most significant impact comes when you choose to stop for a moment and follow your heart.