J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Pivot Points — When You're Done Being Broken

There are times when we’re ready to change. We run a particular pattern for years, even decades, and then, suddenly, we’re done with it. We’re ready to try something else. We have no idea if or how the new way will work, but we know we’re done with the old way, and there’s no going back.

Pivot points.

Me, 12 years old, in my first year of junior high. I was hanging on to my old crowd of friends from elementary school, but I was on the periphery, and being driven out. I was the whipping boy. My “friends” slammed my locker closed, made fun of my clothes (Sears “Toughskins” jeans — anybody remember those?) and were generally shitty to me. Finally, one of them figured out my locker combination and stole one of my textbooks.

The next morning I approached my “group” and said, in short, “You guys used to be my friends, but you’ve been treating me really badly. If that’s how you’re going to treat me, I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.”

Total silence. I walked away and started my new junior high life, which was pretty lonely for a few weeks. But I made new friends — real ones.  My last year of junior high was a good one. I got as close to “popular” as a nerdy D&D-playing smart kid can get. And I got some new pants.

Years later I realized the silence, and the immediate cessation of all bullying, was at least partially from shame. They were good kids, all of them, and I think they actually felt bad. The pivot point, for me, was realizing it was better to be alone than to have false friends. I was done with chasing after inclusion at the expense of my self-respect. Turns out I was done with it forever.

A pivot point isn’t quitting a job or relationship (though that might be a side effect). A pivot point is deciding that you’re done with a particular behavior pattern, and committing with your entire being to living another way.

Age 21 in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was on a “planned year off” from UC Davis (a counselor, and my parents, had convinced me not to drop out entirely). I had just started an internship at a dolphin cognition laboratory (at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory). I had fantasized about working with dolphins for years, but now that I was actually doing it, I realized it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have the patience to do scientific research, and I didn’t think it was ethical to keep such intelligent animals in captivity.

But when I thought about quitting the internship, I didn’t like the path I saw ahead of me. I wasn’t ready to go back to school, so what the hell would I do?  Kick around the country and try to be a writer? I could see that ending badly.

Pivot point. I decided I was done quitting things just because they weren’t a perfect fit, or easy. I would finish the internship.

I was probably the least productive intern in the history of KBMML, but I met my basic responsibilities (cleaning herring, feeding the dolphins, holding stuff during various experiments) and didn’t get kicked out. I learned a great deal about dolphins. I made some good friendships. Most importantly, I spent hours playing on a synthesizer keyboard that was part of the lab equipment (an old experiment had involved communicating with the dolphins via electronic sounds). Because I stayed, I found something that I was deeply interested in.

After the internship ended, I continued my path of not quitting stuff when things looked a little rocky or cloudy. Instead of dropping out of college, I finished my degree at UC Davis (even graduating with highest honors). Staying at UCD allowed me to have a radio show at KDVS — my most formative music experience to date. Because of that pivot point, I’ve learned to have a default mode of “continue working,” even if I’m not sure where I’m going, or if my efforts will yield any positive results.

It’s pretty obvious when the old way isn’t working, but I don’t know if we can rush a pivot point. They come when they come. We’re not ready until we’re ready, until the old way has beat us down sufficiently, made its scars, taken its pound of flesh.

A few years later, 24 years old, I was living in Berkeley, California. For the first time, I had my own place, work that paid the bills, a car, some keyboards, and a computer. Life was good. Except for relationships. I’d been dumped by a girl that I loved. I’d never been able to make her happy, and I put too much of my own happiness in her hands. Towards the end we were both miserable.

As a newly single guy, I had a few fun flings, but I realized that somehow I needed a fundamentally different way to be in relationships. I decided that the next time I fell in love, I would approach it differently. I was done trying to change myself in order to make a relationship work, and I was done outsourcing responsibility for my own happiness.

It worked! When I met Kia, I resolved to be responsible for my own emotions, and also to not apologize for any of my own quirks. I wouldn’t try to change who I was to make someone else happy. I didn’t play down my nerdiness, or my love of electronic music, or my compulsive need to try to make lists, to create and tweak systems of thinking and living.

It took a few more years for me to learn that it goes both ways — you can’t change other people either, but I eventually learned that lesson too. I learned that accepting the other person as they are, and not trying to change or control them, is a big part of marital happiness (that, and never arguing about sex or money).

When a pivot point does come, and we ignore it, we miss an opportunity to become more alive, more human, more ourselves. We live a more shadowy life, with our hearts tightened up and our minds duller.

But if we respond to the “loud and clear” message that our heart is shouting at our mind, life gets better. And after an adjustment period, life gets much easier.

I don’t know what my next pivot point will be, but I’ll know it when it happens. Those pivot points I described from my own life — I knew the were momentous shifts when they were happening.

What were your own pivot points? Did life get better when you decided to live differently? Any regrets?

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10 Comments

  1. nefnie

    I love this post for the simplicity and clarity. Thank you!

  2. Lisa

    Well written and so very true. I’ve learned many of the same lessons, if some only recently (being responsible for our own happiness/feelings, not trying to change your spouse, especially!) I think I am nearing another pivot point now, I just haven’t reached that “pound of flesh” and scarring moment yet. I agree that it can’t be rushed…no matter how bad you seem to want a change, it will happen when it is meant to and when you are truly ready (emotionally or something, I’m not sure what it is that finally pushes you to pivot.)

    I would share some of mine but I have this severe problem with writing concise stories….maybe when I have some time to really think it through and do a lot of editing.

    I am really enjoying your posts and your writing style. I am a little overwhelmed with the general parallels in our lives and how similarly we think, although you express it so well and I can hardly put two sentences together that anyone would understand!

  3. Andrew

    Awesome! I recently found your blog J.D. and I can’t get enough. Your writing is very intelligent and a pleasure to read. Not to mention the topics are phenomenal. I had a similar experience in middle school and am also settling into a new direction after a recent pivot. Thank you for existing!

  4. Kyle L.

    Your statement about having “a default mode of “continue working,” even if I’m not sure where I’m going, or if my efforts will yield any positive results.” resonates with me; that’s the approach I took to my college studies (in physics).

    Thing is, I then went on to a Ph.D. program in E.E. because I felt like physics by itself was fairly useless, and proceeded to quit after one year of study. I was burnt out and so sick of not being sure where it was going, and feeling like I was following motions and jumping through hoops. I worked at a law firm, at a restaurant, and on a farm, before determining that I should complete my degree.

    As of writing this, I have less than a semester left. I think I have found a direction I want to go in and stick to, but underneath everything I battle feelings of alienation, ennui, and anger. I feel like every day I’m fighting against my own victim mentality by telling myself to “control what I can”, and not worry about what is beyond my control.

    One of the many reasons I am drawn to your blog is that you seem very ethically grounded, and amid all the factors you juggle in life, try to maintain a sense of your relation to something larger than yourself- (and larger even than your immediate family) – turning down the Chevron contract, for example, which seem to be where most peoples’ circles of concern stop.
    I think I make my life still more complicated because I have ethical “filters” with respect to the work I do that I feel like many people I know don’t have. A friend I went to school with, for example, is a trader at a major bank. Two others work in management consulting. Apart from all my intellectual knowledge about the economy, I am turned off on a gut level by these lines of work. Maybe I need new friends.

    I’m 27 years old and in some ways feel like I have put my life on hold because I didn’t just “pick something and stick to it”. But whatever, I do feel like I’m “on track” now, and can’t wait to be done with school. Let me just say, thanks for keeping up this blog; there are probably countless other youngish geeks out there like me who love your “meta-programming” approach to life. You’re like the guidance counselor/parental figure I (we?) never had.

    • Thanks for the nice comment Kyle … it’s good to know I’m reaching people. After you finish your PhD, there’s a long list of Star Trek technology that’s yet to be realized. Maybe profitable, maybe not, but definitely worth working on!

  5. Ugh, that was the unedited version of my comment, which I didn’t intend to submit. Forgive the choppy sentence construction.

  6. I enjoyed this blog a lot. I am a ‘quick quitter’ (hello perfectionism!) I had my three kids young and put my dreams on the backburner (or completely off the stove). I have always had dreams (literally) of being back in school. I actually hit a pivot today. I am going to do what it takes. I know my direction now. Here is to listening to your heart and not quitting when things get rocky! 🙂

    • Nice … feel free to check in here once you’re enrolled, or whatever your next step is.

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