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Redefining Success in an Uncertain World

Redefining Success in an Uncertain WorldDeborah R. Brown, MBA, MSW______________________________________________________________________________________ "Everything had changed suddenly—the tone...

Redefining Success in an Uncertain World

Deborah R. Brown, MBA, MSW

"Everything had changed suddenly—the tone, the moral climate; you didn't know what to think, whom to listen to. As if all your life you had been led by the hand like a small child and suddenly you were on your own, you had to learn to walk by yourself. ....At such a time you felt the need of committing yourself to something absolute—life or truth or beauty—of being ruled by it in place of the man-made rules that had been discarded. "
Boris Pasternak
Doctor Zhivago

Over the past two years we have experienced many changes. The stock market tumbled when the bubble burst, ending the exuberance of the 1990's. The shocking events of 9/11 forced us to recognize that we are vulnerable to the terrorist attacks that are commonplace in other areas of the world. We no longer feel safe. These events placed a further strain on our economy and expanded the recession. Corporate scandals with far reaching negative financial implications accentuated the greed and lack of integrity in the top management of several companies.

Some of us lost our jobs or took reductions in income. For those who invested in the stock market, our retirement savings have been reduced. For some these events have meant downscaling our lifestyles, and for others, that we need to work several more years before we can retire.

Even for those who have not suffered financially, it has meant taking stock of what is important, being grateful for what we have, and realigning our priorities. Like Dr. Zhivago during the Russian Revolution, we now recognize that we need to re-evaluate the rules we have followed for so long - the rules that define how we should manage our careers and our lives - the rules that tell us how we should define success.

Our jobs represent a public statement of our identity that provides a means of self-expression, status and structure to our lives. Traditional thinking dictates that if people work hard they will be rewarded with challenging work, fancier job titles and higher salaries. But the nature of business, work and jobs has changed. People can no longer be assured of making more money every year. The lay-offs and downsizings with management that started with the recession of the early 1990's continue today. More people are competing for a smaller number of management positions. Many companies that give raises in the current economy are merely adjusting for inflation.

At this time we can all benefit by re-evaluating what success means to us. Perhaps for some it does not mean making as much money as possible. For some it might mean spending more time with our families - working less, rather than working more.
For others it might mean being able to express creativity in their work. For one client, who tearfully told me that her relationship with God was most important to her, it meant reducing her 65-hour workweeks to allow for regular attendance at religious services. For some it means owning our own business. For others it means finding employment in 2003.

One client in mid -life, formerly the CEO of a start-up technical firm, currently finds himself out of work with no comparable employment in sight. Although he loves his chosen field, he questions what he wants, and has difficulty becoming inspired. He frequently fantasizes about owning his own business. We joke about "the hot dog stand" venture. He can't tolerate the thought of being an employee of some company, filling a narrowly defined role. And he does not miss the stress and long hours that his former CEO position required. But he misses having a sense of purpose, direction and being thoroughly engaged in meaningful work.

Another client has been a successful consultant. But he plays only a peripheral role in the development of the organization. He would like to be more intricately involved in a company, so that he can influence the direction and contribute more fully. Someday, he would love to own several small gift shops and be able to leave the large metropolitan area where he now resides.

An accomplished attorney in a small southern town realizes he is out of place in this conservative environment and wants to relocate to a larger metropolitan area. Although he understands that he initially may have to take a job in the legal field, he looks forward to the time when he can explore work that more completely draws on his strengths and is more fulfilling.

Recently I got a call from a person who works for a large financial consulting firm. She stated that she is no longer willing to work for a company that asks her to compromise her values. She continues to be committed to her colleagues, but is no longer committed to the company.

An unemployed former CFO in his mid fifties realizes that his goal is not to find "perceived" security with a firm that will provide a salary and benefits. Instead of continuing to look for a company to hire him, he now intends to rely on his own resourcefulness. He plans to open his own public accounting office in a small town where his services are needed.

These people have several things in common. It isn't that they don't want to work hard anymore. They do. All of these individuals desire a change in lifestyle that would allow them to work hard to achieve their own goals in environments that value integrity. They want more control over their lives and their work.

Defining Success

How do we go about defining what is important to us at this time? How do we define success for us at this time in our lives?

There are many ways to start exploring this process.
My clients rank in importance a list of 18 values (priorities). I also provide them with a balance worksheet to help them identify areas of imbalance and to develop a plan of action steps to achieve more balance, satisfaction and happiness in their lives.

I offer my clients an exercise by that recommends completing the following statement in three different ways:
"I know how successful I am by how....."

Another exercise is to identify the time in your life when you felt the most successful and the happiest. Describe what you did during these times and the common themes that recur throughout the best times in your life.

Sometimes we reach a point of no return, a point where we are just not going to settle for work and a life that leave us feeling stressed, unappreciated and unfulfilled. When that time comes there is no turning back, and we must find the courage and determination to move ahead. Like Dr. Zhivago, we need to commit ourselves to something absolute, something that we feel in the core of our being - something that will not change with the latest business fad or decline in the stock market. Then we can define what we need to feel successful and happy, and develop an action plan to get there.

Deborah R. Brown, MBA, MSW
D & B Consulting
3475 Lenox Road, Suite 400
AtlantaFree Reprint Articles, GA 30326
Voice: 404-240-8063
Fax: 678-530-0661
Web Site:

Article Tags: Redefining Success, Stock Market, Work Hard

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Debbie Brown is a career and human resource consultant and coach. Debbie earned a BA and an MSW from the University of Illinois, and an MBA from Georgia Tech.
She specializes in career coaching for professionals, entrepreneurs and attorneys.
She can be reached at:
D & B Consulting,
Voice: 404-240-8063
Web Site:

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