What is your defining moment? How did you construct meaning from adversity? Were you able take the positives to springboard your life or let the negatives hold you back? These are life’s moments of truth when a fork in your path is in front of you. Take the one fork, and you start down a path of potential self-destruction, self-sabotage and self-loathing. Take the other fork, and you start down a path of self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-determination. In this blog, I discuss the three main types of a crucible.

To exploring the concept of the crucible, let’s turn first to the work of Dr. Warren Bennis, author of the highly acclaimed On Becoming a Leader. In the book, Bennis describes a crucible as a discernible experience in which individuals move through one or more events which develop and/or evolve the individual’s sense of identity. Or, as I like to say, your world got rocked, and you took a moment to take stock of your life, resulting in a fundamental shift in your core identity.

In my forthcoming book, The Crucible’s Gift, I propose that crucibles fall into three buckets. The first bucket is best described using a Seinfeld reference. Do you remember the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine describes to Jerry that she has a friend who is the exact opposite of him? Jerry says, “So he’s Bizarro Jerry!” The first bucket is the bizarro crucible. Bizarro crucibles are all about being put into a new situation that challenges your conventions of “normal.” It may be the exact opposite of anything you have ever experienced and thus can make you very uncomfortable and that is the precise moment you should lean in.

The second bucket is the forced break crucible. Forced break crucibles are those times when life nudges you to take time away from your current reality. These could come in the form of prolonged unemployment, a breakup with a long-term partner, going back to school or embarking on a spiritual journey.

The third bucket is the avalanche crucible. The avalanche is the crucible when it feels like the whole world is collapsing around you as a result of impairment, defeat, failure, vulnerability and even death, such as the death of someone close to you. Across the 140-plus interviews, I was blown away by how often these crucibles occurred for leaders and how often they chose to use them to make different and better choices.

One thing unique about crucibles is that they are highly personal and no one can tell you what it means to you. In adversity, it is up to you to construct the meaning of the event(s). It is the gift of these events that need to be held onto, cultivated, and used to make a positive impact on you and those around you.

Next week, ‘does a leader need a crucible to be successful.’