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“I learned that it was in hard times that people usually changed the course of their life; in good times, they frequently only talked about change. Hard times forced them to overcome the doubts that normally gave them pause. It surprised me how often we hold ourselves back until we have no choice.”—Po Bronson, from his book What Should I Do With My Life?

I made the decision to change careers just hours after suffering my second miscarriage in a year.

I’d talked about my career frustrations for years, but it wasn’t until I literally had death staring me in the face that I found the courage to make a decision.

I’ve interviewed dozens of career changers, and found similar circumstances. Brian Clark waited until he almost died from a head wound. My friend Larry Warrenfelz made his leap after six rounds of cancer, two amputations, and a brain-stem stroke.

I want to spare you the agony of feeling you can’t change until life gets that bad.

It was this idea that led me to start the No Regrets Career Academy. If I could prevent just one person from having to go through a major trauma en route to their career shift, that was well worth the effort for me.

What I discovered once I started coaching clients surprised me.

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It’s become almost cliche to say you want to change the world.

But for you, it’s different. You know deep down that you have something of value to offer. You’re passionate. You’re hungry to make a difference and you’re willing to work hard to make it happen.

So why isn’t it happening?

You tell yourself you have a job to do, maybe a family to feed, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for world changing. And when you’re being really honest with yourself, you admit you just don’t know what to do.

A vague kind of stress gnaws at you. You know it’s ridiculous, but there’s a part of you that expects to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. or Jo Salter.

And the gap between what’ve you’ve done to foster change and what you feel you should be able to do is driving you crazy.

I get it. As an overachiever, I’ve always had big dreams of changing the world too.

Then I realized those big dreams were just holding me back. 

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Once I started paying attention to joy, I realized it often showed up at the strangest and smallest of moments.

Walking to the grocery store to buy the most flavorful strawberries I’d ever eaten. Understanding, for the first time, the difference between a direct and indirect object—in English and Spanish. Watching my daughter develop into a Connect-4 powerhouse.

I teach my clients that the secret to feeling successful (not just looking successful) is to focus on three concepts: alignment with your core values, regular moments of self-pride, and a better balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But I know as well as anyone that to actually live your definition of success, assuming you’ve dared to define it for yourself, is easier said than done.

For an overachiever, it’s hard not to fall back on accomplishments and other external measures of success. It doesn’t help that all the annual reviews I see focus on what people have done, not how they’ve lived.

And that is the best way I know to describe why this year feels like the biggest success of my life. I didn’t accomplish anything particularly impressive in the traditional sense, but I made gigantic progress on the things that matter … to me.

I experience joy and gratitude more often. When I am challenged or stretching myself, I don’t feel (nearly as) anxious. And when I do feel anxious, I’m able to see it in context. I don’t get anxious about being anxious.

A year without goals has helped me appreciate the entire spectrum of time: I’ve built amazing memories, I’ve felt the abundance of the present, and continue to look forward to the future. I can never thank Leo Babauta enough for introducing me to this concept.

So instead of writing an annual review based on accomplishments, I decided to look at hinge moments. Jon Acuff introduced this term in his book Quitter to describe those times

…when you are planning to do something standard and normal, something you’ve done many times before, like turn a key in the ignition. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, something, a small detail usually, hinges you in a different direction.

Hinge moments are perfect for an annual review because they hard to identify in the moment, but can have huge long-term impacts if you reflect on how to capitalize on them. Here are my four hinge moments from 2013, and how I think 2014 will be different.