There’s a beautiful recreation center in our community complete with a ginormous indoor swimming pool geared to kids and families. One of the cool water features in this pool is a contraption that sits way up high. Think of it as a kind of huge flower sculpture where the “petals” are big, brightly colored buckets.A trickle of water is constantly pumping up through the center “stem,” slowly filling the buckets, drip by drip. The buckets are attached in a way to be wobbly, appearing to be precarious and ready to blow any second now.For what seems like forever, a bucket will just sit there, teetering as it fills with water. Of course it’s great fun for the kids who swarm in the water below because they know that at some point, just one more drop of water will be too much, making a bucket tip over, dumping its contents on them below.It’s that moment between the bucket handling its contents and the next drip of water that pushes it over what author Malcolm Gladwell calls “The Tipping Point.”The tipping point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point. It’s that moment when the possibility of sudden change is realized — for good or for bad.In business, the tipping point can be that moment when just one more person shared the video, causing a product to go viral.Our older son Jeremy and his buddy Bruce experienced a tipping point the day in 2000 they released their homemade video sensation (on a $300 budget), “405 The Movie.” To this day it holds the distinction as the first original viral video of the internet age — five years before Youtube. Overnight it became a media sensation. That year, film critic Roger Ebert referred to it as “the most famous short film in the history of the Internet.” That tipping point drew a line in Jeremy’s life separating before and after. It changed his life and launched his career and successful business.Tipping points are not always the precursor of a super fun time in a big swimming pool or the point at which dreams come true. Tipping points can signal a downward spiral that culminates in more of a nightmare. I’ve personally experienced such a tipping point, the memory of which and the aftermath will live in my mind forever. I will never forget the day, the hour.It didn’t happen quickly. I worked on filling my “water bucket” with an ever so slow trickle of unpaid credit card debt for more than 12 years. It wasn’t a trouble-free time, but somehow, if the bucket began to wobble too much, I’d figure out how to stabilize it enough to allow the trickle a bit more time. I always thought that somehow, I’d figure out what to do about it. I’d console myself that it wasn’t that bad.But then one day, one hour, one minute in time, the trickle landed one more drop than the bucket could hold. That was it. My tipping point.With one huge, mighty dump, it hit and nearly destroyed me, my husband, our family — our lives. Emotionally, it knocked me out, sending me into a deep, dark pit of despair. I’d filled that “bucket” with more than $100,000 in unpaid credit card debt, a failed business and other untold personal unsecured debt. Our house mortgage was four months in arrears, scheduled for foreclosure.My tipping point should not be confused with my turning point, which I experienced that day in Sept. 1984 when I made a personal, secret promise that would go on to completely change my life. I promised to repay every penny of the debt I’d created — no matter what it would require. I would do anything to do it, too. And I did.Fast forward 13 years and I can tell you that we made it. We repaid every bit of the debt, and what a journey this has been — and continues to be every single day of my life!
I am eternally grateful for that tipping point. It woke me up to the truth that little things can make a big difference. It pushed me to my turning point, and for that I am eternally grateful.
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