Can you believe that playing “football” without helmets and protective padding turned me into a singer and performer and is partly why I teach and write articles and books?

A friend of a friend set me up. This was just after college. Her brother was helping to start a rugby club and needed players. Six of my basketball and touch football buddies decided to give rugby a try. Nearly fifty years later, my body won’t let me play rugby anymore, but I still play in a band, something I probably never would have attempted without rugby.

Don’t see the connection? Neither did I at the time. Joining the Blackthorn Rugby Football Club changed my life in numerous ways, but the only thing I intended to do that afternoon was to give a new pastime a try. Post-game singing became one of my favorite aspects of rugby. One thing led to another.

Gallaudet Rugby Football Club First Game March 1973

We’ve all set out to learn how to do new things and to improve personal characteristics or strengths, but often our change occurs because of changed circumstances in our lives. Opportunities, challenges.

We meet a person, travel somewhere different, or try a new hobby, not intending to change our lives, but that’s exactly what happens. Those encounters become turning points in our lives.

Psychologist Albert Bandura calls this kind of dynamic influence “Reciprocal Determinism.” Three factors take turns impacting one another. A change in environment might lead to change in what a person does, which might in turn alter the way that person thinks about herself. Environment (social or otherwise), Behaviors, and what he calls Personal Factors—beliefs, values, and cognitions—take turns changing one another. I write about Bandura’s concept in OPEN ADMISSIONS and about how it explains my evolution from a kid who’d “learned” that he couldn’t sing into a singer/songwriter and band member.

Clearly, deciding to play rugby became a turning point—to this day enriching my life in many ways that have nothing to do with music. My pals who joined me that March afternoon also felt rugby’s broad and deep influence in their lives, but that change in environment and behavior didn’t turn them into singers and performers.

Rugby impacted me the way it did because of passion, hunger, and searching. We’ve all heard the expression: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I’d just turned twenty-two. I already loved ballads, funny songs, and rude humor. I came alive on those rare occasions when I found an activity that I could throw myself into. Making people laugh felt great, though generally I was too shy to attempt such public behavior. Though convinced that my writing skill was inferior to most of my academic peers, I felt driven to do it, but where and in what form? Boy, was I ready.

As opportunity alone guarantees nothing, neither does one’s high level of interest, yearning, and active pursuit of a goal. If I hadn’t held a certain level of talent and of potential, I would have remained outside the circle of singers.

And learning/turning experiences do not occur in a vacuum. Other changes were going on. I was developing a network of friends that mattered to me, one that continues to grow and to nourish my soul. I became part of something that gave me a new sense of belonging, a deep personal connection. It fueled me. It still does.

Not all of us naturally examine the threads of our lives to better understand influences, but I know that I am hardly alone in my practical introspection. If we don’t take time to focus on our own turning points, our lives are that much poorer. That was something I sought to develop in students—the capacity for application of sound scientific principles to events in their own lives. It’s a step toward the kind of self-understanding that can help us direct our lives, at least, as much as one can.

I’m sure that you too have had experiences that led in unexpected directions. Please join the conversation. Share your stories about the key turning points in your life. Do see changes in environment, behavior, or ways of thinking that served as turning points? Can you identify the need, passion, capacity for searching, the potential, and the talent that made it possible? This is an exercise that can benefit us as individuals and can help organizations too. Anxious to hear your stories.