When I was 20 I left on a great adventure as a missionary in Taiwan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spoke no Mandarin, knew no one there, and frankly didn’t even know myself very well. It was the greatest two years of my life. (And I can trace every important thing that’s happened since back to those two years in one way or another.)
One of the pivotal moments of my life happened on the side of a busy road in the town of Taidong. I had been in Taiwan for about four months. Communication was less of a struggle than it had been when I first arrived, but I was spending most of the day in a haze of half comprehension. (Few things in life will toughen you up like the laughter you cause in native speakers when you’re butchering their language.) My Mandarin had improved to the point that I could read enough to get by, I understood most of what I heard, and people mostly understood when I spoke.
On this particular morning I went with my companion to the train station. He was going to visit another set of missionaries a few train stops away and I would pick him up from the station later in the evening. I hopped on my bike and began the ride home to meet up with two other missionaries I would spend the day with. I’d gone about 2 km, halfway to the apartment, when I realized that I was alone for the first time in months. LDS missionaries always work in pairs. We frequently switched companions (like my companion was doing that day) or worked in groups of three or more, but we never worked alone. Yet here I was, alone. I had a window of 20-30 minutes where I could do anything I wanted and no one would ever know.
A whole slew of ideas ran through my head. 20 year olds don’t like following rules, and I had spent the last seven months (three in language school and four in Taiwan) ensconced in rules all day long. Here was my chance to break whichever rules I wanted, even if it was just a small one. I stopped my bike by the side of the road to think.
That moment was crucial for me. As I let my mind wander over all the possibilities that short window of time would give me I was amazed how quickly it went to things I would never consider doing under normal circumstances. I had the clear thought that the choice I made in that moment would define me for the rest of my life. No one was watching, no one would know. Who am I really? Who do I want to be? Time to choose.
I’ve never forgotten that minute by the side of the road in Taidong. That was an “anchor moment” in my life. Anchors don’t stop boats from moving. They keep a boat from moving very far. I’m not a perfect person and I haven’t always made the best choices. But remembering that day has always helped me because when I had the choice of doing anything, I chose to be someone I can be proud of. That’s who I decided to be and who I try to be each day.
We all have moments like this. It’s hard to tell which moments are significant as they happen. Most only gain significance as time passes. For me, one moment by the side of a busy road in Taidong, Taiwan has made a difference. Your moments will be just as insignificantly significant.
The most important thing is that we strive to be a bit better each day. Try to live true to the person you want to be. Remember your anchor moments and let them bring you back when you drift off course.