Perhaps you have seen the movie Sliding Doors which came out in 1998 starring Gwyneth Paltrow. At the beginning of the movie, Paltrow is racing to get to the London tube station to get to work. She arrives on the platform and sees the train about to pull away. She scrambles to catch it, strains to open the nearly sealed sliding doors at the very last possible second, and makes it onto the train. As a result of her catching this train, her day and ultimately her life unfolds in one particular direction. Making that train was significant.
And then there is a movie rewind of sorts. The opening scene starts over with the same mad rush to catch the train at her London tube stop, except that this time, Gwyneth Paltrow misses the train. As a result, her day and her life go in a totally different direction than if she had made it. The rest of the movie is a view into these parallel lives playing against each other and how they differed dramatically. The concept of passing through ‘sliding doors’ at the very last possible moment altering the trajectory of your life is indeed called a ‘Sliding Door Moment,’ when the choice you make makes all the difference.
I was staring at the most significant ‘sliding door’ moment of my life when I was in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. Since I’ve been home, I’ve reflected on that choice and how it changed the entire trajectory of my life professionally, spiritually, personally, and emotionally. One phone call, one word ‘yes’, and to this day, that choice has turned my world around.
Thirty-eight years ago, I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. I wrote an in-depth proposal since Israel was a research and practicum front runner in the pedagogy I wanted to learn more about. It made all the sense in the world for me to apply. I thought, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I sent my proposal and, with fingers crossed, I awaited the results from the reading committee for this most competitive slot.
There was good news and bad news. The good news was that when competing against some serious intellectual hard hitters, as a young professional still in my twenties, I was named first alternate. The bad news was that I was named first alternate, which is no different than being in last place unless someone drops out. So, I continued planning my life for the next few months, began a doctoral studies program, and moved along.
Two days before the cohort of scholars was to leave for Tel Aviv, I received a telephone call from the Minister of Education himself, direct from Jerusalem. He said, “Fran Prolman? A Fulbright candidate had to drop out at the last minute. We leave in two days. How fast can you pack?” My reply? “Very fast. Count me in.” Two days later, I boarded a plane at JFK for an unknown experience that to this day, has profoundly changed me in every possible way.
For one, the minister of education who placed that fateful call and to whom I reported, along with his wife and their two sons, didn’t just become my family then. They have been my adopted family ever since. We visit each other every year at least once and call often. When I need serious advice, wisdom, and perspective, they are the people who I can call on. They are my other set of parents. They love me, celebrate with me, and cheer me on when I forget to do that for myself. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like these past 38 years without them being a crucial part of my journey. I don’t ever want to imagine this world without them in it.
The Fulbright experience solidified my passion not just for travel but for investigating global cultures. The experience singlehandedly changed the trajectory of my career. When I returned home, I added a second major to my doctoral course of studies. In addition to studying organizational development, I also formally studied international education. I applied for a second Fulbright scholarship to India four years later, and this time I won the award from the start and was named the research and cohort leader. I went on to provide training for future Fulbright scholars for many years that followed.
I currently work with scores of international schools around the world to keep two-way cultural learning alive. What a special opportunity it was to work with the American schools in both Israel and India and reminisce with friends I still have there from that singular sliding door moment.
What are your sliding door moments? Which are the ones you chose to move through? Which are the ones that in hindsight, you wish you had taken? By keeping this concept in the forefront of your mind, you empower yourself to be more conscious and aware of them when they present themselves and opportunities for choosing.
I wonder if Robert Frost was thinking about a sliding door moment when he wrote one of my favorite poems, The Road Not Taken.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both… (Read poem)
Fran’s Five Sliding Door Reflective Questions:
- What was your most influential sliding door moment, and how has the trajectory of your life been influenced by that choice?
- What are some secondary sliding door moments which acted as follow up and more decision making as you were moving along that first most important road?
- What would have happened if you didn’t take that sliding door leap? Where do you think your life could be now?
- What wisdom would you share for people who are pondering the burden of a sliding door?
- From your experience, do you push through or stay still? What do you think?
5 of My Favorite Quotes About Sliding Door Moments:
- “Sliding door moments happen when we’re in relationship with one another. When something upsets us, or when someone makes us mad, we have the opportunity to open up the sliding glass door—to not shut the other person out, just because they’ve upset us.” ~ Dr. John Gottman
- “If you don’t step through the door and respond positively to the bid for connection, the door will close and the moment will pass.” ~ Shelby Ray
- “Understanding and giving language to the concept of the sliding door moment has been game-changing for me. It has helped me put into words a new perspective, the importance of the little moments.” ~ Understanding Grace
- “Be on the look-out for small moments that have big impacts.” ~ Ellie Lisitsa
- “Our lives are full of sliding door moments, whether we’re at home with our loved ones, at work or at a store, the challenge is whether we (have the capacity to) see the opportunity in front of us so that we can make a choice that will be a positive one for ourselves and others around us.” ~ Andrew Iggledon
5 of My Favorite Books About Taking A Chance Or A Risk and Not Missing Your Sliding Door Moment:
- Leap of Faith, by Queen Noor
- Personal History, by Katherine Graham
- Madame Secretary: A Memoir, by Madeline Albright and Bill Woodward
- Drawing on Courage: Risks Worth Taking and Stands Worth Making (Stanford School),by Ashish Goel
- Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See, by Erik Weihenmayer
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