Non-defining Moments |

Non-defining Moments

Barry Smith

I’m currently in a hotel conference room in San Francisco. I’m sitting in the back of the room amidst a nest of video equipment. I’m an AV Guy, video taping a medical meeting.I’m pondering the moments in my life that led me here. Those non-defining moments, each one standing on the shoulders of the last, that have deposited me in the back of this room. My pondering is made more significant by the combination of lack of sleep, near-toxic levels of caffeine and three days of sitting through presentations with names like ‘Quantification Of Aortic Valve Stenosis Comparison Of Different Sequences And Transesophageal Echocardiography.’I remember my defining moments vividly, but it’s the non-defining moments that I’m thinking about now. My definition for non-defining moments is: ‘moments that had the potential to be defining, but just didn’t quite work out.’I realize that these concepts are opposite sides of the same coin, and that by their failure to define, these moments actually ended up defining just as NOT winning the lottery affects your life as much as winning it does, though in completely different ways.I know; it gets complicated.But here’s the thing: Someone is at the podium giving a slide show called ‘Characteristics Of Myocardial Enhancement in Dilated Cardiomyopathy with Contrast-Enhanced MRI’ while I sit in the back doodling little cartoons about talking sperm.What went wrong?As I sit here, I have dredged up three potential answers from my past. Non-defining moments. Moments that could have set my foot on very different career paths. But didn’t. I have written them down. I have numbered them, one through three, for your convenience.Non-Defining Moment #1I’m 13 years old and play third string on my junior high basketball team. With no help from me, our team has just defeated our rival. We are in the locker room, and the mood is a celebratory one. I’m overcome with team spirit and decide to lead the team in an impromptu call-and-response victory cheer, one that we’ve all heard the cheerleaders do. I shout out the opening line: “We’re gonna do that boogie woogie!?” Instead of the choral response of, “Yeah, man!” my shout is met not only with silence, but also with glares. Glares of silence. Silent glares. Then everyone turns their back to me and continues celebrating.Thwarted Career Path: Rock star, Tony Robbins, evangelist.Non-Defining Moment #2I taught myself to juggle in high school. Then I taught my friend to juggle. We formed a juggling duo. We performed at children’s parties and talent shows. Our finale involved juggling torches. Once we had a gig at a talent show. The show was held at a church. I dropped a lit torch on stage. The stage was carpeted. The carpet caught fire. I managed to stomp it out before it got too out of hand, but not before it filled the room with the unmistakable aroma of charred house of worship. We never performed again.There were some awful cute girls in the crowd that night not that a juggler in a talent show needs to worry about attracting the affection of girls but who knows, I might have been invited to a Bible Study class or something.Thwarted Career Path: Busker, That Really Famous Juggler Whose Name I Can’t Remember, evangelist.Non-Defining Moment #3I’m writing a regular humor column for my college newspaper. I am not taking my education very seriously, and this is hardly a secret. During our weekly critique session, the paper’s advisor says, in front of the entire staff, “You’re a pretty good writer, Barry. I just don’t see you ever putting enough effort into it to get anywhere.”Indeed, a moment ripe with defining potential. This was my chance to stand atop the table and declare, “You, sir, shall eat those words, for I will write until my fingers bleed, eventually penning the most influential work of my generation!?”Instead, I said: “Yeah, that’s a good point. Hey, does anyone else see trails when I do this??”Thwarted Career Path: Had I been motivated to actually focus all those years ago, I could have written ‘Delineation of Myocardial Necrosis from Reperfused Acute Infarction using Extracellular and Necrosis-Specific Contrast Agents,’ instead of just being the guy filming it. VTContact Barry Smith at or visit his Web page at

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