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The Role Of Epiphanies In Our Work

  Steve Longan     Sep 24, 2014

role of epiphanies in our work.jpg

Original article from 2014

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 As you read this short piece from us today, the Rewire Team is in Sunny Southern California (Coronado Island, to be exact).  As we approached planning for this year’s Rewire Retreat, we kept one concept in front of us as we thought through what could possibly be worth the time and money someone would spend to come participate in this experience.

In a word: epiphanies.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of a strange word and we don’t often say it in everyday conversation.  And yet, it has such transformative potential for our work that I thought it’d be worth taking this time to quickly define what an epiphany is and give 5 important thoughts on epiphanies for our work.

 

Epiphanies (a definition).

For those of you who like to be left alone at parties, just break out the following etymology for epiphanies (it also helps if you're wearing a pocket protector while you say this): The word “epiphany” comes through the Old French "epiphanie” from the Late/Koine Greek επιφαινω, which is a combination of “epi” (meaning "on/upon/around") and “phainoh" (meaning "that which shines or appears in order to make seeing or observation possible").  Put the two together and we get a pretty good definition for an epiphany: something outside ourselves that gives illumination on or around something important in order to make it visible (so that we can understand and take appropriate action).

Who wouldn't want that for their work? I know I would.

 

Since they can play such a role in moving our lives and work forward, I'd like to offer 5 important features of epiphanies:

  1. Epiphanies are precious things.  This is the first and most important characteristic of epiphanies. How valuable is it to be able to see the central essence of our work?  How many people can say that they see clearly a central truth about this season in their work?  This is stuff we don't usually talk about around the water cooler, yet it fundamentally shapes the work we do.
  2. Epiphanies are outside our direct control.  It’s right there in the definition — they can’t be begged, borrowed or stolen. If it was a simple matter of money, we'd scrape together the money to pay for them and we'd see them for sale on Amazon.  Or we would set them up as a commodity on the stock exchange.  This is especially hard for us as people tend to look for ways to control whatever we possibly can.  But epiphanies don’t work that way.
  3. Epiphanies are personal. No one else can have one for you. Now, whatever you learn in your epiphany can be shared with others around you.  In fact, we would encourage you to share your epiphany with other people as this will make it easier to act on your epiphany and broadcast its impact to help as many people as possible. But before they are shared, like many other things in our work, we have to take personal ownership of them first.
  4. You can make it more likely that you’ll have one.  I know that in #2 I said that epiphanies can’t be forced.  And I'm not contradicting that here. It's true that epiphanies can’t be bought or forced, but we can place ourselves in environments where they’re more likely to happen - and that’s an important difference.  Because epiphanies are generally foreign to our normal way of experiencing the world, the way to set ourselves up for them is by engaging with our world in ways that are different than how we normally live and work.  So, I’d recommend things like:
  5. Epiphanies are precious things - act accordingly. This is a corollary to #1, but still worth remembering on its own: there is always an action component to epiphanies. They work as a clarifying moment in the present that acts as a fulcrum for future action.  So, if epiphanies are precious things and they help you to make sense of the present and suggest future activity for your work, then don't waste the epiphany by taking no action.  That's the lizard talking right there.

So, there you have it, a short primer on epiphanies.  We'll be sure to let you know how the retreat went (maybe with a few pictures) and what we as a team learned from our time in Coronado.  What about you? What do you think about epiphanies? Is there anything you'd add to my list?  Let me know in the comments section!

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Steve Longan

Written by Steve Longan

Steve Longan is Rewire's Director of Research & Program Development. He's passionate about leveraging psychology and communication to develop growing, healthy workplaces. He's at "peak zen" (his words) when he's in his music studio.

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