One Person. One Moment. A Lifetime of Change.

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milton-glaser-glp-postWe tend to think of profound change as a process that happens over time.

Sometimes, that’s true. But other times, deep, lasting change can happen in a moment. I have no idea if there’s a clinical name for it, but I’ve seen it happen so many times, I just started calling it “snapping.” As in something snaps you into a new awakening or state of being.

It could be a deed, a word, an experience. Seconds long. Something that shifts your belief and empowers faith and action. Sometimes that new state is negative or destructive. I’m more fascinated with positive or constructive snapping.

In this week’s episode of Good Life Project™, iconic designer and founder of New York magazine, Milton Glaser, shared just such a moment. Something happened more than 50 years earlier in his life. A moment that lasted no more than a few minutes. Yet, he’s never forgotten it. The impact was that deep.

The story gave me chills as he told it. So, I felt I had to share it here with all of you:

When I was in junior high school, I had the opportunity to take the entrance examination to either Bronx Science, which is a great New York school, or the High School of Music and Art, another great school…

And I had a science teacher who was very encouraging for me to enter into science. I was very good at science and he wanted me to go to Bronx Science. And I was evasive about that, because I didn’t want to tell him that it ain’t gonna happen.

But the day of the entrance exam, they occurred on the same day, I took the entrance examination to the High School of Music and Art. And the next day I came into school, he was in the hallway as I was walking down, and he said, “I want to talk to you.”

I said, “Uh-oh — the jig is up, he’s going to find out I took the ‘wrong’ exam.” He said, “Come to my office… Sit down.” And, as I was sitting there, he said, “I hear you took the exam for Music and Art.” And I said, “Um, yes.” And then he reached over, and he reached into his desk, and he pulled out a box of French Conté crayons — a fancy, expensive box — and he gave it to me, and he said, “Do good work.”

I can’t tell that story without crying, because it was such a profound example of somebody, an adult, authority figure, sophisticated man, who was willing to put aside his own desire for something, his own direction for my life, and recognize me as a person who had made a decision. And he was, instead of simply acknowledging it, encouraging it with this incredibly gracious and generous gift…

The thing about it that always astonishes you is that moment, it couldn’t have taken more than two minutes, was totally transformative about my view of life, my view of others, my view of education, my view of acknowledging the other.

If this resonated, do yourself a huge favor and watch the full conversation (you can also download the mp3 and listen). It’s stunning (has nothing to do with me, it’s all Milton).

Glaser makes me want to be not only a better maker, but a better man.

So, my question is…

Have you found that one person, that one moment in your own life?

If so, I’d love to invite you to share it in the comments.

And, maybe even more powerful…

What might happen if YOU became that person for someone else?

Something to noodle on.

With gratitude,


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19 responses

19 responses to “One Person. One Moment. A Lifetime of Change.”

  1. Cami says:

    It happened to me with many teachers in elementary and high school. And someday I hope to be the one that produces that change!!

  2. A lot of my close friends in high school had this effect on me and I’m glad to say they helped mold me into who I am today. What I am doing with my life wouldn’t have been possible without them.

  3. What a beautiful gift. To recognize in someone else the person they are — and the person that they are becoming. To be present, to listen, to acknowledge.

    It’s happened to me on occasion, and it’s absolutely lovely. Sometimes other people see and honor and respect what you are, what you’re bringing, or parts of you that even you yourself aren’t aware of yet.

    Brilliant. Milton is one of my absolute favorites. He is such a gem. Thank you, Jonathan.

  4. Laura says:

    I had climbed the ladder in a home health organization from nurse in the field, to team leader, supervisor, then Director of Nursing. Shortly after attaining the DON position the company was sold to a much larger nationwide company. They decided that the two branches in our state were to be shut down for reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of our care, but rather political and legal reasons surrounding some of the venture capitalists funding the purchase of the former chain. At any rate, when the closure was announced the administrator promptly left for another job and I was asked to take on that position as well as my duties as DON. It took 3 months to transfer our large number of patients and get things set up so that the agency could close with no harm to those we served (the patients, the community, and the employees). As we closed the office for the last time, shut out the lights, and wondered what awaited us in the future we decided on one last she-bang. Those employees (the department managers and a few field employees) who had worked that final day went to dinner as a group at a wonderful Mexican restaurant. The manager from the corporate office who assisted us with the final closure picked up the bill and presented each of us with plaques highlighting our most evident talents. Mine was of an eagle at the top of a beautiful fir tree and the talent was leadership. The quotation stated something to the effect that it was lonely at the top, and a leader is not always understood, but the rewards are great if a leader perseveres and leads with integrity.

    That plaque gave me the courage to make it through many times over the ensuing years when it was lonely at the top and when I had to make tough decisions that weren’t always what the other employees wanted to hear. Julie’s faith in me and her acknowledgement of my talents, and the trials that went along with leading, have helped me be a more honest, ethical, and compassionate leader.

    I hope I have set an example for others and that the lessons I learned over the years have helped influence others who choose to take on leadership roles.

    • Chuck says:

      This is wonderful and encouraging. I am working in a place that seems to be the opposite of your experience (more like the ethos of the venture capitalists). Your experience gives me hope. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for this interview and well done! It was great to see to see Milton again almost in person. He is truly a great man!

  6. Evan says:

    It is called “insight” or “awareness”. These have become degraded from use.

    It has happened for me a few times. And I have helped others to it quite a few times. If you listen and stay with someone as they deal with their core stuff, it happens.

  7. Matt says:

    Albert Einstein said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” The best teachers I had challenged me and truly brought out my best strengths.

  8. When I was a Seaman (E3) on a Coast Guard buoy tender, we were getting underway for an early spring run on Northern Lake Michigan. As we were milling around on the deck, my crusty, salty, grumpy Chief (E7) brought me a cup of coffee. All he said was “Wakefield” and handed me the cup.

    I’ve always tried to be a servant to others, but this simple action made me remember that even the salty dogs can still be an example of selflessness. I’ve kept that moment in mind as I’ve been promoted, and while I teach and act as an example to others.

  9. Dodie Jacobi says:

    More miraculous still are the times we get to experience one such moment after another as was the case with one of my early employers: Muppet and character designer Bonnie Erickson. Lessons in creative curiosity and diligence still influence my work daily. Her example of clear, compassionate management of humans in her workshop trickle through to my teammates now. Bonnie’s decades-since friendship is a precious dividend. I celebrate her birthday today and all the work, people, and experiences that exist as a result of her presence.

  10. Chuck says:

    I am learning, one day at a time, to be this person for myself through mindfulness and self-compassion.

    • Tim says:

      Good going, Chuck. It sounds like you’re in an environment where people are not very supportive of each other as people. Where what Evan says – “If you listen and stay with someone as they deal with their core stuff, it happens” – isn’t happening much. So knowing you can learn to be your own friend and listener is really valuable. It’s a lifeboat until you’re in a better environment. Or until the environment you’re in changes – which can sometimes happen when people around you respond to you differently. Meditations for compassion often start with compassion for oneself as a basis for expanding it out to others. But I expect you know this already. So thanks for putting it forward.

  11. Demetrios says:

    Beautiful interview Jonathan.
    Milton Glaser seems like a very caring and special person.
    It was a pleasure watching it.
    Keep up the great Good Life Project, well worth it.
    Great day,

  12. Ellen Wubbels says:

    I was an incredibly shy girl in high school but was selected to sing the finale of our Christmas cantata – “O Holy Night.” The first time I had to sing in front of the choir my whole body was shaking as well as my voice. I just knew the choir was wondering why I had been chosen to sing this solo when I did such a miserable job. The director kept me after rehearsal and said only one thing: “Ellen, no one can sing this song like you can.”

    This one statement changed my life – not just my singing, but everything I have ever done. Thirty five years later, I still hear him saying to me, “Ellen, no one can sing this song like you can” – whether I am teaching, leading, serving, gardening, whatever. Mr. Nunnikhoven, you rocked my world.

  13. I used to skip school a fair amount during my last two years of high school. The punishment for truants was to be suspended for the same amount of time we’d cut, as well as to receive 0’s for all the assignments and tests completed while we were gone, with no ability to make those 0’s up.

    The dean realized at some point that those of us who chronically cut school were enjoying our suspension time too much, so she started requiring that we spend our days of suspension in a large closet to the side of the waiting area for the school secretary and administrators. The closet had just enough room for a table and chairs squeezed in tightly around it. There were no windows, just a bare incandescent bulb above for lighting.

    One day when I was alone in the closet I was feeling especially abysmal. Teachers and classmates would pass by on their way to the administrators. Some of them ignored me as they passed; others sneered; some made snide comments. Then a physics teacher paused at the closet’s threshold. He had good reason to be angry with me because I was supposed to be his monitor during one of the class periods, and I wasn’t showing up to do my job. I was sure he was going to give me a lecture like most teachers did. But he just looked at me with concern and said, “You know Laura, you’re not really bad, and don’t let anyone make you believe that you are.”

    I just looked at him and then down at the table. I didn’t know what to say because I already believed I was, indeed, bad. I didn’t think there was much hope for me. He left before saying anything more to me, and his statement didn’t change my mind or the course of my life at the time. But his kind words have made a difference to me. Even though I couldn’t accept his support immediately, I did tuck this memory away and, when I was a little more mature and living in a stable environment, I was able to reflect on and accept the truth of what he said. He probably never knew what a profound moment this turned out to be.

  14. Randy says:

    One life changing moment occurred during the start of my junior year in college, after having been accepted into my art school’s BFA program…and I was feeling pretty smug.

    We were having a group critique of our first project. Each painting was lined up along the wall and my professor was going down the line, critiquing each piece one by one.

    When he got to mine, he paused for what seemed like minutes. Just staring at it. Then, without saying a word, he slowly bent down and turned my painting around to face the wall. He stood up, turned to me, and said: “Randy, this is horrible. I’m not even going to critique it.” And he continued on to the next piece.

    I was humiliated. And in front of my classmates to boot.

    Later that day, my professor approached me, put a hand upon my shoulder, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Randy, we both know you can do better than that.”

    He was right. I hadn’t put any real effort into that assignment. I had dialed it in. I had made it into the BFA program and thought I was bullet-proof.

    This teacher held me to a higher standard. I never let him or myself down again after that. It changed my life.

  15. Karen Putz says:

    My moment came from the TODAY show– a segment which aired four years ago. The show featured Judy Myers, a 66-year-old barefoot water skier.

    I had long ago abandoned my passion for barefoot water skiing. I took a hard fall while crossing the wake as a teen and instantly went from hard of hearing to deaf. After watching Judy on the TODAY show, the old passion for the sport returned. The only problem: I was over 200 pounds, out of shape and it had been over 20 years since I barefooted.

    I got in touch with Judy and she invited me to the World Barefoot Center to learn to barefoot again. That invitation changed my life. Once I put my feet on the water, I felt like a teenager again.

    Today, Judy and I are best friends. I wrote a book with the World Barefoot Champion and now I work for the World Barefoot Center. I took up competition at the age of 45 and I’ve met barefooters from all over the world.

  16. […] this post Jonathan Fields interviews Milton Glaser who was inspired by one act by an effective […]