I remember my mother and aunt cheering with excitement. It was the ’80s, and the latest Corey Hart music video was playing on Much Music—Canada’s equivalent of MTV. The world had yet to discover Spotify and YouTube, so my mother frantically hit record on the VCR. Naturally, she missed the first 10-20 seconds of the song—a characteristic detail of every ’80s home recording.
As Corey was stealing hearts in his tight pants and leather jacket, I asked my mom where they were filming. At five years old, I didn’t realize that you could record and replay a video. Like the news, I thought all songs on Much Music were live.
When my mother explained how film worked, I was amazed. I had just experienced my first Aha! moment.
An Aha! moment is a sudden understanding of a problem or concept. A feeling of joy or satisfaction often follows this sudden clarity. Aha! moments are powerful because they have a way of changing your beliefs and how you see the world.
In this article, I want to share four Aha! moments that changed my life. With any luck, they can change your life as well.
Watch the video version of this article or scroll to continue reading.
When I was 33 years old, I became single for the first time in eight years. I had no idea how to date, and honestly, I was nervous about getting back into the game.
Thankfully, apps like Bumble and Tinder had made an appearance since I was last on the scene. These apps made it relatively easy to get a date. They also prevented a lot of awkward grocery store conversations that ended in, “sorry, I have a boyfriend.”
In the beginning, I worried a lot about being good enough for my date. Whether I was interesting enough, funny enough, or attractive enough was continually running through my mind.
After a few months of dating, I met a girl I liked, and we began a relationship. About two months into that relationship, I noticed that she was always upset with me.
She’d start a fight with me anytime I was five minutes late, wanted to go for a run, or spoke with another woman. Life got harder in every way. I was constantly stressed and always worried about keeping her happy.
After our umpteenth pointless fight in a week, it hit me. I was in my 30s and dating to get married. Barring something tragic like getting hit by a bus, marriage meant spending 50-60 years with someone.
I didn’t want to make those years any harder than they had to be. What I needed was a teammate who would make life easier and support me along the way.
And that’s when it hit me. I realized the question when dating isn’t “am I good enough for them?” Instead, the real question is, “are they good enough for me?”
That single shift in perspective changed the way I approached dating in two main ways.
First, I was completely transparent. I ignored all the “don’t say this on a first date” advice and freely spoke my mind.
I talked about my values and goals, lifestyle, and what I expected from a partner. I also shared that I was interested in a committed relationship. And even though I wasn’t in a rush, I ultimately wanted to get married and have children.
My reason for doing this was simple. I didn’t want there to be any surprises about who I was and what I wanted from life.
If my date liked what I said and wanted to continue seeing me, great. If not, that was also great because there was no point in dating someone who didn’t like the real me.
Second, I changed how I evaluated the women I dated. I started asking important questions early on.
For example, does this woman share similar beliefs, values, and goals? Does she resolve conflict well? Will she support me and my lifestyle? When life gets hard, is she the kind of person I want in my corner? And, will she make a good mother?
These questions helped me understand if we were compatible on a deeper level.
In the 20 months I was single, I went on 57 first dates. I met a lot of amazing women, but second dates were rare. With my new outlook on dating, I was quickly able to determine if my date had potential. When they didn’t, I was honest about how I felt and moved on. I believed there was no point in wasting either of our time.
Thankfully, date number 57 was a keeper. I am now happily married to an amazing woman who is the true definition of a teammate.
Growing up, our family never did without, but I certainly didn’t come from money. I knew my parents couldn’t afford to put me through college, so I started working when I was 14. I put 70% of every paycheck into my college fund.
I felt very fortunate to have a job because I had seen firsthand how unemployment could affect a family. That said, I let the fear of unemployment influence me a little too much.
I viewed the employer as having all the power. Employment felt like a one-way agreement in which the employer was doing me a favor, and I was lucky to have a job. The fact that they told me what to do, evaluated me, and could fire me whenever they wanted only added to my belief.
I graduated from college and received my first engineering job at the age of 24. Over the next six years, a lot changed. I gained a ton of experience, became a licensed professional engineer, and had nothing but outstanding performance reviews. The only that didn’t change was my salary.
It wasn’t until I started hiring people to work for my own company that I realized something significant. That was, employment is not a one-way agreement. Employment is a two-way agreement in which an employee agrees to provide a valuable service in exchange for money.
Because I felt the employer was doing me a favor, I never felt like we were on an even playing field. As a result, I never negotiated a raise or looked for a higher-paying job.
What I failed to recognize was that I was providing value to the employer. Yes, I was fortunate to have a job, but the company was also fortunate to have a good employee.
If I could talk to the 24-year-old version of myself, this is what I’d say.
As a child, I witnessed the mainstream adoption of the internet. I was 14 when our family got its first computer, so I’m distinctly aware of the contrast between life with and without the internet.
When you didn’t have the internet, you couldn’t just “Google” something. If your parents didn’t know the answer to a question, it often went unanswered.
Because I didn’t know where to find the answers to my questions, topics that my parents knew nothing about took on a mysterious lore. Entrepreneurship, computer programming, and engineering felt impossibly complex.
It seemed like people who understood these topics knew a secret or were gifted. For the longest time, this belief held me back. Instead of looking for answers, I assumed there was nothing I could do.
Here’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned after 15 years as an entrepreneur.
Any large accomplishment is achieved through a series of small accomplishments.
When I reflect on my career, that lesson is apparent. By trade, I’m a mechanical engineer, but I’ve built a career as an entrepreneur.
To get my first successful business off the ground, I had to teach myself about business, manufacturing, and computer programming. To run that business for a decade, I learned about customer service, logistics, and hiring employees. To start this business, I learned about writing, the publishing industry, and video and audio production.
After 15 years of teaching myself topics one step at a time, I’ve learned that there are no secrets. I’ve also realized that no topic was ever as mysterious as it first appeared.
If you’re holding yourself back because something feels too difficult or complex, I hope this lesson makes you reconsider your belief.
If you want to achieve something significant, start with the basics and build from there. You’ll be amazed at how far this approach can take you. For context, even Google started as a research paper.
I’ve always been a very inquisitive person. I find almost anything interesting, I love to figure things out, and I can talk to strangers for hours. This characteristic has served me well, but you know the saying. Your greatest strengths are also your greatest weaknesses.
Because I’m interested in almost everything, I tend to take on too much. One downside of taking too much is you rarely become great at the things you do. Greatness takes dedication and time. And, when you’re forever bouncing from one thing to the next, you lose the focus that greatness demands.
I read more than 200 books before starting this website. One of the biggest Aha! moments I took from the books I read was Greg McKeown’s concept of essentialism. 1
In short, essentialism teaches you to focus on what is truly important while saying no to the rest. When you do, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
After reading McKeown’s book, I surveyed my life. The first thing I did was ask myself where I want to be in 5 to 10 years. My answer was as follows. In the next 5 to 10 years:
After studying this list, I realized my career could satisfy my desire for meaningful work, inquisitive nature, and goal of becoming financially free. This realization meant I could define what mattered with three broad categories—family, work, and health.
Since identifying these three categories, it has been easy to determine how I spend my time.
For example, I’ve played guitar on and off for 20 years. I have an endless desire to become a better player, but doing so takes a lot of time. I recognized that guitar doesn’t help me become a better father, husband, or son, it doesn’t contribute to my work, and it doesn’t improve my health.
For those reasons, I decided to put practicing guitar on hold for now. I’ve realized the time needed to become a greater guitar player is better spent on family, work, or health.
Essentialism has also taught me the value of saying no. As someone who struggles to say no to people, I’ve learned that always saying yes takes you away from what truly matters.
Now that I’m aware that my focus is family, work, and health, questions like, “do you want to join the HOA board?” or “can you help me start a business?” have a clear and definitive answer.
In the end, essentialism has taught me that if I don’t take control of my life, someone else will.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, saying yes to things you don’t want to do, or living life on someone else’s terms, I hope this Aha! moment helps you as much as it helped me.
To use essentialism in your life, first, identify where you want to be in 5 to 10 years. Then, spend your time doing the things that get you closer to your goals and eliminate the things that don’t.
Aha! moments occur when you gain a new understanding of a problem or concept. Therefore, learning is the best way to identify an Aha! moment.
All the Aha! moments in my life occurred from asking questions, experimenting, or reading books. Had I shut myself off from these sources of knowledge, I wouldn’t have been able to gain a new perspective.
To increase your odds of experiencing an Aha! moment, remember to stay curious.
Here’s how you can take the four ideas in this article too far.
Aha! Moment 1: If you put too much emphasis on why other people aren’t good enough for you, you’ll be single for life. No one is perfect, so don’t expect perfection. Focus instead on the vital things that make a relationship work.
Aha! Moment 2: If you overvalue yourself as an employee, no one will hire you. I had a friend who remained unemployed because nobody would pay him what he thought he was worth. He spent years in financial hardship and was constantly asking people for money. Don’t let this be you.
Aha! Moment 3: Just because you can achieve most things with small accomplishments doesn’t mean you can achieve anything with small accomplishments. For example, you’re not going to make the NHL if you start playing hockey in your 60s. To avoid this pitfall, consider your circumstances and be realistic about what is possible.
Aha! Moment 4: Focusing on what matters doesn’t mean you should say no to everything else. Perhaps your family or friends need help, or maybe you need a mental break. The main goal of essentialism is to choose effective behavior as often as possible. If you catch yourself off track, don’t stress. Finish what you are doing, then get back on track as soon as possible.
Here are the key takeaways from this article.
The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.
Reduce financial stress, reach financial freedom, and achieve financial goals like buying a home, paying off debt, and investing for retirement.
Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes Entry Contract
By entering this Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”), you agree to the following terms and conditions:
1. Eligibility: This Sweepstakes is open only to legal residents of the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, who are 18 years of age or older at the time of entry. Employees, contractors, directors, and officers of ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their immediate family members and persons living in their same households, are not eligible to participate.
2. How to Enter: To enter, visit https://christhornham.com/ten-thousand-dollar-giveaway, and complete the entry form with a valid email address. No purchase is necessary. Only one entry per person is permitted. Automated, robotic, or programmed entries are not allowed, and any such entries will be void.
3. Winner Selection: The winner will be selected in a random drawing from among all eligible entries received. The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. The winner will be notified by email and will have 30 days to respond and claim the prize.
4. Prize: The prize for this Sweepstakes is $10,000 USD. No substitution or transfer of the prize is permitted, and no other alternative will be offered. All taxes, fees, and other expenses related to the prize are the sole responsibility of the winner. The prize will only be awarded if at least 10,000 eligible entries are received during the Sweepstakes period. If less than 10,000 eligible entries are received, ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to cancel the Sweepstakes, in which case no prize will be awarded. ChrisThornham.com LLC may, at its discretion, extend the Sweepstakes period in order to reach the minimum number of eligible entries required to award the prize.
5. General Conditions: By entering this Sweepstakes, you agree to be bound by these official rules and the decisions of ChrisThornham.com LLC, which are final and binding in all respects. ChrisThorrnham.com LLC reserves the right to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, violates these official rules, or acts in a disruptive or unsportsmanlike manner. The use of any automated or programmed entry method or any other means to obtain multiple entries is prohibited and will result in disqualification.
6. Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in this Sweepstakes, you agree to release and hold harmless ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their respective directors, officers, employees, and agents from any and all liability, injury, loss, or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with your participation in the Sweepstakes, the awarding, receipt, use, or misuse of any prize, or any other matter related to the Sweepstakes. ChrisThornham.com LLC is not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, technical failures, or any other errors or problems that may occur in connection with the Sweepstakes, including any injury or damage to your computer or mobile device.
7. Governing Law: This Sweepstakes is governed by the laws of California, without regard to its conflict of law provisions.
9. ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to modify, suspend, or terminate the Sweepstakes, in whole or in part, for any reason, including but not limited to any error, technical problem, fraud, or any other cause beyond the reasonable control of the company that affects the administration, security, fairness, or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In the event of any such modification, suspension, or termination, the company may, in its sole discretion, choose to extend or shorten the Sweepstakes period by up to one year from the original end date of May 4, 2023.
By entering this Sweepstakes, you acknowledge that you have read and understood these official rules and agree to be bound by them. If you do not agree to these terms, do not enter the Sweepstakes.