09/19/2011 02:17 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2011

The Inflection Point, The "Aha" Moment

I've had at least a dozen lunches with Jim McGinley. We met a few weeks ago at Bacco, a café downtown. Jim showed up with his usual notepad full of action items -- what he needed and who he needed to meet -- and we worked our way down his list, Jim checking off the items as we talked. Unlike our previous lunches, I learned one more thing that day that had a profound effect on the life path he has pursued.

Jim was a management/marketing executive over a 30-year career, but reached that point where he was looking for more purpose to go with his professional success. He wasn't yet sure what path to pursue. Over the years, he mentored six boys and was involved with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and met Jeffrey, a foster child. They had a meaningful relationship for a few years. Mariners' games and walking around downtown were favorites.

Around that time, he also heard Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka, speak and was taken by the power of Bill's vision for social entrepreneurship around the world. Bill and Jim hit it off or so it seemed. For whatever reason, Jim's passion for Ashoka's work was not initially met in-kind on Ashoka's end when he applied to lead their new west coast programs. But Jim is one of those people that seem not to understand the words "complain" or "can't," no matter the obstacles.

A few years later, he learned about a new Ashoka offshoot called Youth Venture (YV), an entrepreneurial youth development organization. Jim set out on his own as a kind of "free agent" to help get YV going on the west coast. That's when the lunches and checklist started. At each lunch the list grew longer.

You see, Jim was driven not just by his commitment to the Youth Ventures vision, but by something else that occurred a few years ago as he was making his way around the community to get YV launched. That's what I learned at lunch ... Awhile back he met a new colleague in the community, Eddie. Eddie had a friend, Jeffrey's uncle. Jim learned that day what had happened to Jeffrey in the ensuing years after their mentoring relationship had ended. Jeffrey was in jail, for a violent crime, and would be for the next several years of his life.

Jim told me, in his soft-spoken way, that "it was a shock. I put my heart and soul into trying to figure out how to give him a fair chance in life after being born into an environment he had no control over. I knew in my heart that getting him back together with his Dad, a drug dealer with a bullet in his leg who threatened his mother and took Jeffrey away, was the wrong answer." Jim went on to say that he felt guilty that he did not keep in touch. Jim might have taken on Youth Ventures anyway, but Jeffrey's story catalyzed Jim on his path to becoming a significant social leader.

Jim's commitment became his passion. In his quiet, humble way he has become a leader. A powerful, real leader. Much of it catalyzed by Jeffrey.

Eddie's message was Jim's inflection point, his "aha moment," leading to a greatly deepened, solidified commitment to be a social change leader. It doesn't work that way for everyone, but it does for a lot of people. Like the woman I met with last week, Sue, that had just returned from her 6th or 7th trip to Africa in the last few years; this last trip tipped the scale, it was her inflection point. She can't do that work in her spare time anymore; she is making a significant shift in her life to commit much more deeply to the kids and the causes she has confronted in Africa.

After our lunch at Bacco, Jim sent me a note saying "I have a strong commitment to youth that was there before I learned about Jeffrey that is now a passion that will not stop until I get Youth Ventures involved in being a part of the solution to youth violence." Today, he is making a profound difference in the lives of more and more youth.. And someday, hopefully in Jeffrey's life again too.

If you can identify with Jim or Sue, what was your inflection point in life, your "aha" moment?