Change can happen gradually, by making small, determined steps toward a preplanned future. But they also happen in the tiniest of moments—sometimes without us even realizing—and it sparks a change so drastic and lasting that we’re forever changed. We no longer accept good enough or OK for now. We’re taking our future into our own hands.
We asked members of The Oracles, a brain trust of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, what sparked the idea that changed their lives. What’s your aha moment?
1. The Power of Horrible Advice
I started my business in college and my grades suffered as a result. I explained to my academic adviser that my poor grades were due not to drugs, alcohol or depression, but because I was running a business. He started telling me about the school’s largest endowment, which came from Robert Woodruff, head of Coca-Cola from 1923 to 1984.
I thought my adviser was about to help me find a way to be an entrepreneur while staying in school. Then he said, “Your chances of being a Robert Woodruff are one in a billion. Focus on your academics.” At that moment, my life changed forever. I told my adviser I’d figured it out. I said, “I’m dropping out of school.”
2. A Life-Changing Book
In my early 20s, my life was a mess. I slept on a couch in a mobile home, had no friends, no college degree, and I was broke. One night, I remember lying awake asking myself, Is this it? Then my mom gave me the Tony Robbins book Awaken The Giant Within. One sentence changed everything for me: “When you succeed, you party. When you fail, you ponder. And all greatness comes out of pondering.”
The concept made me realize that I could ponder what I’d done wrong and, more important, plan my future. It gave me faith to conquer my obstacles. It made me intellectually hungry to find mentors and experiment. Although it took a while to succeed, that concept gave me the direction to get where I am today.
3. The Right Mentor at the Right Time
My life-defining moment was meeting Lars Rasmussen, the co-creator of Google Maps. It was my second day in San Francisco, and until that moment, I hadn’t truly realized that huge, world-changing companies were started by normal people. Lars was so kind and genuinely cared about helping us succeed. That meeting and this realization helped me take the ambitious vision of Canva and turn it into what it is today.
—Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva, who just doubled her company’s valuation to $345 million
4. An Alternate Perspective
I was born in Mexico City and lived there before moving to the U.S. when I was 8. During my school years, the teachers showed us the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination. To my shock, they entertained aloud the notion that the truth of the event was in historical dispute. It stuck with me. It showed me that everything has more than one side, no matter how obvious the truth might seem. And that way of looking at things has allowed me to be as successful as I’ve been at writing stories.
—Roberto Orci, Hollywood super producer and screenwriter whose movies and TV shows have grossed over $5 billion worldwide
5. The 80/20 Principle
The Pareto principle changed my life: Figure out which 20 percent of actions drive 80 percent of results. Focus on the 20 percent and you can achieve more with less— both in business and life.
—Phil Suslow, owner of Oznium
6. A Game-Changing Network
Change happened when I got involved with my first networking group more than 15 years ago. Networking with other entrepreneurs is energizing and provides the ability to share ideas and gain valuable insight. Learning to ask for advice and offering to give the same in return is a game changer.
7. The Right Room With the Right People
I attended Tim Ferriss’s “Opening the Kimono” event five years ago and met incredible people—authors, entrepreneurs and artists. It wasn’t cheap, and at that point, it was the most I had ever invested in myself outside of college. Our interests and stories gave us plenty of ways to connect and become friends. Those friendships have flourished into some of the best in my life.
—Chris Plough, entrepreneur advisor and serial entrepreneur
8. Being the Underdog
Coaching my son’s team in the “Us Against the World” paintball tournament made the difference for me. Prize money totaling $160,000 was on the line and we were down 1-to-zero in a best-of-three contest. Everyone was against us: The opposing side and crowd favorite only had to win one more match, but with little experience with championship pressure, they were playing not to lose. Our team was only playing to win.
At that moment I realized that attitude, awareness and commitment were the difference makers in sports and life. Our team won the next two games and took home the prize money, but the experience of overcoming the pressure and crowd was priceless.
9. Living an Immigrant Success Story
My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was six. My father worked the overnight shift as a janitor; my brother and I delivered newspapers from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. before going to school. We didn’t have a car, so we walked everywhere. Our entire family of five slept on one king-size mattress.
Despite the challenges, our family stayed strong and connected. From this I learned:
- Don’t be afraid to work hard for your dreams.
- In every moment, be grateful and positive regardless of the circumstances.
- Take care of your family and those whom you’ve been entrusted with.
10. Appreciating the Power of Vulnerability
I endured 11 miscarriages over seven years, including losing triplets. I never spoke about it, but eventually I let go of the possibility of having more children. In learning to be grateful for what I have, I enjoyed renewed energy and inspiration. I reconnected with my purpose and vision in business and life—things I’d lost sight of during my baby-making journey.
Later I told my story to an influential woman who encouraged me to share it with others. When I did, people cried and were inspired. I learned that by sharing my sadness, fears, failure and shame, I developed stronger and deeper connections. Others saw the real me and this freed me of the pain, too. I learned that vulnerability is powerful.
—Adèle McLay, business growth consultant, author and speaker
11. Never Getting Too Comfortable
At a previous startup, we went through a $2 billion buyout. We sat back, got comfortable and celebrated the victory. Then the new team head walked in and said, “No more celebrating. You’ve done nothing for me. Your job starts today. If you do not increase the market, you’ll be fired.” Celebration over.
Three people were fired that week. I realized that to be successful as an entrepreneur I could not rest on past successes; I had to keep challenging myself and innovating. Even now I remind myself of that lesson every few weeks.