Chapter 1 The Power of “So What?”
Life is very interesting if you make mistakes.
TWENTIETH-CENTURY FRENCH BOXER
THERE IS TREMENDOUS VALUE in thinking of alternatives to any situation and creating backup plans. Some of the best advice that I’ve ever been given—and that works exceptionally well in dealing with both business and personal issues—came from my mother. My mom, who passed away when I was still in my early twenties, was a beautiful and loving woman, but she was also a tough Irish lady, the type who had a cigarette half hanging out of her mouth while she talked on the phone and who treated us like adults even when we were five, as when she’d tell us, “Go make your sandwich for school.” She and a generation of women like her managed to walk a fine line between teaching their children love and independence and treating them with a touch of benign neglect. But no matter what, we knew we were loved, and whenever things got tough and people or situations seemed insurmountable or hopeless, my mother would say, “So what?” Asking “So what?” allows you to open windows when you feel as though all the doors are shut. “So what?” pushes you to think against the grain, imagine the worst-case scenario, and then devise new options.
“So what?” can be one of the most unusual and effective personal management tools in your arsenal. It will help you pursue opportunities that may seem out of the norm but that have extraordinary potential, and it will be an important approach for crafting alternative solutions to challenges that arise seemingly out of nowhere. In this chapter, we will discuss how to harness the power of “So what?” to create new ways of thinking, to see hidden opportunities, and to realize possibilities.
The value of “So what?” in business can be critical because too often when we struggle with difficult work and personal situations it is because we are too close to see the issues clearly. If you’re honest, you’ll admit that when you’re personally vested in any situation it becomes much tougher to see new perspectives. When that happens, our perceived options become limited. Think of it this way: when you are too close to have clear perspective, it’s the equivalent of looking at Claude Monet’s Water Lilies
in a museum from two inches away. Only when you pull back several feet can you get the full picture. I ask you, are you seeing your circumstances clearly? If you’re not, the power of “So what?” will provide some easy techniques that will give you the ability to pull back from any situation where you’re too close and gain a new perspective. For example, becoming too close can happen at work when we can become too personally vested in our own ideas or what we think is the “right” outcome that we lose sight of the overall picture. When that occurs, we limit our ability to see other alternatives or connections. Asking “So what?” is freeing; it motivates you to extend beyond what you think of as conventional or comfortable. Practicing “So what?” thinking allows you to take a few steps back from the issue and see it in all its complexity. By saying “So what?” we become unburdened and free from the tyranny of others’ expectations and our own adherence to them. So how does it work? FREE YOUR MIND, AND THE REST MAY FOLLOW
When you say “So what?” to any situation, something instantly happens: you develop a new attitude that breaks you from your expectations and gives you the strength to consider what some might call the “unthinkable”—alternative solutions or paths that take you outside your comfort zone or that force you to redefine the status quo. And that’s a good thing. Your mind needs to be free to see previously un-thought-of benefits. “So what?” thinking helps you come up with a Plan B when you need it most. It kicks in when you are hamstrung and feel as though your options for creating new alternatives are limited. This freedom comes from allowing yourself to imagine the worst, then finding the positives in the worst-case scenario and devising new options from there.
There are three important mental advantages that asking yourself “So what?” delivers:
1. It frees your mind from being stuck so that you can see new alternatives.
2. It stimulates fresh thinking and renewed focus.
3. It creates new strategies and contingency plans.FRANKLY, SCARLETT, YOU’D BETTER GIVE A DAMN
For example, in the publishing world the biggest-revenue issue of the year for fashion magazines is the September issue. September is when fashion and beauty companies launch their new fall ad campaigns. Consumers love that the issues are thick and packed with fresh editorial material and advertising. It is also the issue that has the most financial impact on the bottom line and as a result the most pressure to perform. One year I had a salesperson on my team excitedly tell me several months before the September issue closing that she was going to exceed her revenue number because one advertiser, a fashion company, was planning on running multiple-page ad units in that issue. I said to her, “Sounds good, but what if they don’t?” She responded defensively, saying “No, they’re going to advertise.” It was clear that she was unwilling to consider alternate possibilities. She further explained, “They have to. I need to hit my number, so they’re going to.” From her response I learned everything I needed to know. The fear of not hitting her revenue number was her real issue and had been combined with the pressure and expectation associated with it. Her fear of failure was strong, and it limited her ability to see alternative viewpoints—and even though she had been told only that the customer was “thinking” of running multiple pages. She was seasoned and should have known that ad campaigns change all the time and it was months before the issue would actually close; in that business anything can happen; it was hardly a done deal. She overlooked all these obvious doubts because blind faith provided the solution to the fear that she might not meet expectations. As a result, she was closed to any alternative views. She had convinced herself that the fashion company advertising was happening. And with that belief, she did not have to further worry about reaching her goals. But was it? Haven’t we all felt like Scarlett O’Hara at one time or another when we can’t seem to find the answer to a problem or issue and don’t want to deal with it? “Oh, I’ll think about it tomorrow.” The problem is, while you’re sleeping tonight, the world and business aren’t.
In today’s marketplace, asking “So what?” can be useful in creating competitive advantages. “So what?” is a mental tactic that allows you to force yourself to consider alternative viewpoints and plan for the worst. Once you say “So what?” you are free to devise new positive plans and create new outcomes. In that case, I pushed back on her, asking “So what if they don’t advertise? What’s your plan?” She had none. She had not considered any alternatives. “Look,” I said, “I will be thrilled if you are right and everything goes according to your plan, but don’t fool yourself: it’s gonna be your neck on the line if it doesn’t.” That dose of reality drew her attention. “Wouldn’t you rather try every option?” I pressed. “And in the end, if they advertise and you exceed your budget even further, good for you. But, if you don’t use ‘So what?’ and build for worst case and they change their plans, it’ll be too late to do anything and you’ll be screwed.” I advised her that it was vital to create a backup plan with the time she still had to go out and get some other business. Even though I could see that she understood, she agreed only reluctantly. Why reluctantly? ASKING “SO WHAT?” MEANS DOING MORE WORK
The reason my colleague was reluctant is simple: we can be reluctant to follow the principles of “So what?” because they almost always require more work. As in the above example, it was easier in the salesperson’s mind to assume that the fashion brand’s business would be fine and not have to think about it than it was to think and to plan for all the additional hours of work that might be necessary to hit her number if they didn’t come through. It’s the business equivalent of wanting to lose weight, getting onto a scale, and not wanting to look at the number. Once you see the number on the scale, reality hits you right in the face and you know you’re going to have to do some work, and it may be tough. The same is true in business. Asking “So what?” requires that you take action, and taking action means doing more work.
But action also has its rewards, and, as you might have suspected, I chose this example because three weeks after her announcement, the salesperson received the news that the fashion company’s inserts were being canceled due to creative reasons. They would be buying a single page rather than the eight pages she had been expecting. It was a big decline in her expected revenue assumptions. The good news was that she had already started to do some additional prospecting. She was working her “So what?” options and plans. She had accepted the possibility that the multipage advertising might not happen. That allowed her to go more aggressively after some accounts that seemed like distant prospects. It worked, and in the end she exceeded her revenue number without their advertising.
How can you be like my colleague and master “So what?” thinking? It takes freedom and focus: freedom to think of new alternatives and focus to carry them out, because freedom without focus won’t advance you. But freedom and focus combined can open new, exciting doorways. But how do you develop them? FINDING FREEDOM MEANS DISRUPTING COMPLACENCY
Luke Williams, a fellow at Frog Design, a global innovation and design firm, is fond of citing Pablo Picasso, who said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Williams, the author of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Innovation in Your Business,
a book about the power of disruptive thinking in marketing, would say that it is impossible to enjoy the freedom and imagination one enjoyed as a child because life “can grind the creativity out of us.” So how can one tap into that kind of artistic imaginativeness? What is required is greater freedom and a willingness to be counterintuitive, but in a disciplined way. What I’m saying is, get your head out of the box that it is in and allow yourself to refocus in order to see the possibilities right around you, identify what you’re trying to achieve, and then find alternative scenarios for realizing your objective. In Luke’s view you can’t change the cause of the problem, but to move forward you need to “design yourself a way around the obstacle.” Designing your way around obstacles starts with a proper mind-set. TRY DOING MENTAL PUSH-UPS
Establishing the proper mind-set takes discipline. To create mental space to see alternatives, just as to face looking at the numbers on the scale, you must be mentally available—open and ready to receive information. Think about it, how many times have your family or colleagues tried to talk to you about something, just the basic back-and-forth of life, and you just couldn’t focus? Often there’s too much clutter in your head. Now imagine trying to deal with larger issues and goals. You need to create mental space, and that takes commitment and a willingness to be open-minded. Think about the clutter in your head like a car’s engine. Any mechanic knows that you can’t fix an engine while the car is still running. You have to turn it off, take each of the parts out, tinker with them, and then put it all back together. The same is true for creating mental space. You can’t get to the bigger goals and issues of your life if your engine is constantly running over all the smaller concerns. And though you can’t turn your mind off as you can an engine, you can quiet the noise of the engine in your head.
One of the ways I’d suggest for getting rid of mental clutter and gaining control over the noise is writing down everything in your head on paper. This is a valuable way to prioritize and create mental space. Often, in your head every song is playing at the same volume. To achieve your goals, you have to prioritize them and create an actionable playlist. Once you write them all down on paper, you can see what needs short-term action versus long-term action. This is a technique I use every day; in fact, I demand that all those who work on my teams have a notebook with them at all times and make daily to-do lists. It creates control out of chaos. And once you have control, you have mental space to think about the larger issues and goals that may be holding you back.
Flip Tip: To create mental space, make a daily to-do list. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
Now that you’ve created space to think about your issues, developing an empowering attitude will allow you to see new potential because it will help you close the door on your current method or path, enabling you to create and follow a completely new path. In other words, with a flexible mind-set, you’ll be much better equipped to flip the script.
Sticking with what we know or being afraid to suggest an unconventional idea keeps us from moving forward. Asking “So what?” is akin to turning the page. But the question remains, how can you create meaningful action around the idea of “So what?” How can you use this change in attitude to change aspects of your business and personal lives, ultimately leading you to flip the script?
I’ve divided the approach to using the power of “So what?” into four main sections. But the process doesn’t need to be too linear. Please feel comfortable to move back and forth between the steps, depending on your situation. Here’s the formula:
1. Think necessity.
2. Identify the worst-case scenario.
3. Mourn the loss.
I’ll use a real-life example to illustrate exactly how it works, keeping all four factors in mind. I will take you through the steps to show you how you can flip back and forth between steps or repeat certain steps over and over again. Harnessing the Power of “So What?”
STEP 1: THINK NECESSITY.
The best way to start thinking against the grain and challenging expectations is to organize and prioritize. You need to allow yourself to think of everything that you want to accomplish. I’m not saying you will accomplish everything, but you’ll be in a much better place if you do so. Make a list of all your needs. I use the “So what?” approach to start our yearly brand-planning sessions. When I start the meeting, I go around the room and ask each person, “What do you want?” The usual response is a blank look and a “Huh?” And when I say, “No, what is it you want to accomplish? I mean, it could be anything you like.” It’s constructive, and the beginning of the “So what?” process allows you to think what would be incredible to achieve and then ask what you need to do to get there.
In April 2004 I had some big needs. I was still a relatively young executive, and the magazine I had just been assigned to was stalled in its ability to grow revenue. I endeavored to embark on a major brand-building project. Our goal was to reinvigorate the brand image, increase the magazine’s relevancy among young women ages eighteen to thirty-four, and ultimately drive an increase in sales revenues. It was a daunting task for a big and visible business that had lost momentum from a revenue perspective. I had the following needs:
1. I had to create a program or idea that was groundbreaking and original.
2. The idea had to be visible and garner both press and consumer attention.
3. It had to be bold and shake things up, changing consumers’ and the industry’s perceptions of my brand while staying true to the brand’s heritage and core values, which were about empowering women.
4. It needed to demonstrate to my bosses that I could successfully change the course of our business, that I was mature and resourceful enough to reverse the advertising revenue declines.
To begin the challenging process of meeting these demands, I gathered some of my top players and stuck them in a BlackBerry-free room, and together we brainstormed. With each idea we discussed, we would go back to the original list of needs, making sure it met the criteria. If the idea could not meet every objective, we tossed it.
In the end, we came up with the idea of taking our magazine’s readers’ real stories and converting them into small films. In doing so we would emphasize the empowering nature of our brand. Each of our films would be written by women, star women, and be directed by women, in keeping with the brand’s tradition of honoring empowering women and their stories. At the same time, the films were innovative; we’d be delivering the content in a bold, refreshing way. The idea was original; no other magazine had done anything like it before. It was big and new, and it sounded sexy. If done successfully, the films would drive home our editorial difference in the marketplace while aligning us with top celebrities who would give a major boost to the “cool” factor of our brand image.
It was a great idea, but there was one not-so-small problem: neither I nor my right-hand creative director, Leslie Russo, had ever produced a film. We had no idea how to begin the process. And we had no real resources to hire someone who was experienced in the field. We had clearly identified our needs and come up with a creative solution, but we had some major hurdles to overcome.
Flip Tip: When you hit an obstacle, ask “So what?” and see what happens.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO.
Once you have identified your needs and have come up with one or many usable ideas, it’s time for step 2: identify the worst-case scenario. This is known as backward induction.
Backward induction is the process of inverse reasoning; that is, working backward from the end of a problem or situation to determine a sequence of optimal actions. It proceeds by first considering the last time a decision might be made and choosing what to do in any situation at that time. This process continues backward until the best action for every possible situation (i.e., for every possible information set) at every point in time has been determined.
It seems complicated, but it isn’t. An easier way to look at it is by asking, what are all the things that can go wrong? Then think about what you would do if in fact the worst case occurs. This is your dose of stone-sober reality and a necessary part of harnessing the power of “So what?” Everyone feels better with a plan; facing the realities of what can go wrong can only make you—and your business plan—stronger.
To apply this step to my story, when I began to identify the worst-case scenarios, all the fear that I normally struggle to put out of my mind came rushing in. But as I’ve learned, in this step it is crucial not to allow fear to take control; you need to control it by creating a reasonable way to manage it. In my case, I considered the following worst-case scenarios:
1. What if the film is poorly produced and I end up being the laughingstock of the industry?
2. These films will be expensive to make; what if I can’t get the money or can’t get enough money?
3. What if there isn’t sufficient good material?
4. What if no one likes the films?
5. What if I fail and I lose my job?
6. What if I can never find another job again?
Taking a leap in a new direction can create a lot of pressure, but it’s always worth it if you execute your strategy properly. If our team had been like most in business, we would have thought about the enormity of the many obstacles we faced, both financial and logistical, and might have decided to try something else. But my team was unique. It was a team of “so whatters” who weren’t derailed by thoughts of the worst-case outcomes.
STEP 3: MOURN THE LOSS.
The next step in flipping is critical because each of the worst-case scenarios is a scary potential idea squasher. Fear of the unknown can be worse than anything that could occur in reality. Think about when you were a kid; wasn’t the fear of what might be hiding in the closet or under the bed always worse in the dark? Don’t be afraid, turn on the light! You have the power to do it. It’s important to think about all that could go wrong and make peace with it. That’s what mourning the loss is—it’s coming to terms with the risks involved in creative thinking and putting them into realistic perspective. This allows you to acknowledge that likely some, sometimes many, but rarely all of those worst-case scenarios will happen. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about all the unforeseen good variables that could happen, such as, What if the films are successful? What if they really work? What if they lift our brand to new heights? Adding positive variables lightens the risk. By creating a balanced perspective you can now devise some contingency plans, so you are prepared for a managed amount of failure and success.
In the case of my example, once I had put all of the worst-case scenarios on the table and the shock subsided, I realized that an actual loss would never be as bad as what I could imagine. I considered my worst-case scenario, the one where I lose my job and no one would hire me. I was able to put that fear into a rational context. I also countered it with a positive variable: certainly I would be able to find another job. I was talented and hardworking and had built a solid team of players who would follow me. I’ve found that when put into a rational context, the fear of a loss is often greater than the loss could ever be in reality. This realization can make you feel braver and ready to move on to the next step. When you mourn the loss, you are acknowledging that things will not always go as planned. You have thought about the potential benefits and the potential dangers, and you are ready to accept those risks.
STEP 4: REPACKAGE.
Once you know your needs, have created usable solutions, and have recognized and evaluated the liabilities associated with those solutions, it’s time to repackage and ask “So what?” again. So what if I don’t know how to make a film and it’s a piece of junk in the end? So what? Everyone has to start somewhere. I imagine there was a time when even Steven Spielberg didn’t know what he was doing. You need to do this over and over with each possible loss. In so doing you will gain a sense of clarity and strength and begin to see new possibilities and routes. You must identify, mourn, and accept before you can start creating new routes. I think of this step as a mental GPS. For example, when you get into your car, you may have an idea of the route you are going to take to your destination. But as you proceed, the GPS may tell you that traffic in that direction is terrible. What would you do? Most of us wouldn’t proceed only to sit in traffic; would you? No, you would look for alternative routes. That is exactly what step 4 helps you accomplish.
Creating new paths or routes is what neuroscientists call “repackaging.” In studies that have examined the role the brain plays in effective leadership, the ability to repackage has been found to be essential for accomplishing goals. In his book Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders,
Srini Pillay, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, explains that physical brain activity directly relates to psychological activity. In fact, it appears that an old dog should be able to learn new tricks. Researchers have concluded that the brain of a sixty-one-year-old is no different from that of a sixteen-year-old in its ability to make new neural connections. So why, as we get older, do we become more resistant to change? It appears that the brain requires some pushing. To repackage and create new pathways or see new options literally means that the brain has to move information from your working memory to the basal ganglia, at the base of your brain. And that takes work and energy.
To understand a little of the science of it, David Rock, the founder of Results Coaching Systems, offers some further information. In an article in the March 2008 issue of HR Magazine
he says, “Making one decision reduces glucose [blood sugar] levels available for the next decision.” That explains why people revert to old habits and the familiar. It just takes less energy. You can literally become exhausted from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That is why so many of us are emotionally or psychologically stuck in certain ruts and why we aren’t creating new neural pathways. How can you get out of your rut? One of the ways you can overcome the physical aspects of repackaging and train your mind to embrace new solutions is through sleep. It appears that the old saying “Things will look better after a good night’s sleep” is actually a great management tool. Evidence suggests that if you go to bed thinking about new routes or possibilities, your mind uses the downtime while you are asleep to move information from your working memory to the basal ganglia. So try making a list of scenarios when you get to step 4, keep them by your bedside, and think about them before you go to sleep. You may wake up with better insights and a refreshed outlook.
Flip Tip: Go to bed thinking about new ideas or issues you want to solve.
Turning back to my work project, I used the four steps covered in this section over and over again to help our team work through each obstacle and create new solutions to each challenge. Whenever we hit a roadblock and got stuck, we would literally sleep on it and come up with new alternatives in the morning.
A year later we had completed our first short film series, and Leslie and her producing partners had convinced several actresses to donate their time and energy to the project. The films were good, and we were proud of our accomplishment. The first three films centered on the themes of love, friendship, and self-empowerment. Even though they were done on a limited budget, so many people in the entertainment business loved the idea of films made by women for women that as a result many donated their time and talent. The finished products were three incredible little gems. OPRAH’S CALLING
Then the time came to promote the project. The films, as good as we felt they were, wouldn’t matter if no one saw them. And we were terribly afraid that that would be the case, considering that none of the talent had received any money for their participation and were not contractually obligated to promote the films. They were busy celebrities with other obligations; in fact, most had moved on to other projects.
One day I received an unexpected call from the manager of one of the actresses involved in the films, who gave me the good news that she was willing to go on The Oprah Winfrey Show
to promote the project. Samantha Rosenthal, who manages publicity, and the rest of the team were elated. This was a major win for our brand, and everyone on our team who had worked so hard on the project for a year felt a tremendous sense of pride. There was just one small problem: the manager advised me of the financial requirements needed to win his client’s participation in promoting the film, which included the use of a private plane, luxury accommodations, wardrobe allowance, and so on—all of which we had absolutely no budget for. I could feel the sweat drip down my forehead and saw the disappointment in my team’s eyes when I told them we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. The opportunity had created new and greater expectations, and with them came increased potential losses.
I needed to think about worst-case scenarios and work my way backward. I thought that even without publicity on The Oprah Winfrey Show
, we’d still be able to call the program a big success. The show would have been icing on an already delicious cake. With that in mind, I felt secure that the world would not end. People often talk about creating organizations in which people can “swing for the fences.” This is an all-too-common expression, but I hardly ever see the idea integrated into a real-life business strategy. What business executives need to realize is that their employees can’t—and won’t—swing for the fences if they’re too fearful of striking out and it’s their only time at bat. For me, asking “So what?” in that situation helped me take that swing—because I felt confident that we could reach the fences due to the inherent positives I had identified in the project. This attitude and execution can be applied to any situation. Allowing myself to realize how far we’d already climbed up the mountain, not just how much farther we needed to go, had put me on third base already. I didn’t need a home run; all I needed was a single, and I could score. I felt free to get back on the phone with the manager and explain that we did not have the funds to make the appearance happen.
Sometimes in your career you are smart, and sometimes you are just lucky. In this case, using the steps of “So what?” put me into a position to take advantage of unforeseen good variables. The situation could have gone either way; uncertainty, I was learning, is a tradition in Hollywood. In the end, the actress believed in the program and was proud of her work—positive variables that we had not originally considered. She agreed to appear and was even generous enough to fly herself and her entourage to the taping at her own expense. We did pick up some incidental costs, but nothing near the original estimate. The basic tenet of the “So what?” approach is to stop hitting your head against the wall by trying to make Plan A work. Plan A may be a great idea, but you need to prepare for Plan B, Plan C, and possibly Plan D. The easiest resolution of my conundrum was to get a budget to pay for the actress. Such thinking is typical of how people tend to go about solving a problem—to remove the primary obstacle. Remember what I said about the pesky boss or irritable mother-in-law? Sometimes you just can’t remove the cause. You need to create new ideas and turn obstacles into usable solutions. Very often those ideas come out of extremely unconventional thought.
Embracing the “So what?” philosophy gives you the mental bandwidth to implement unorthodox methods and entertain eccentric ideas. As a result of our team’s first idea to create short films from our magazine readers’ real-life stories, the Reel Moments project, as it is now called, has completed seventeen short films. The films are directed by and starring such A-list Hollywood talent as Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel, and Rosario Dawson, to name just a few. Hundreds of people both in front of and behind the camera have donated their time and talents to making Reel Moments happen over the past six years, including its two incredible producers, Francesca Silvestri and Kevin Chinoy. The project has given seventeen first-time directors the opportunity to expand their creative skills behind the camera and in the process raised thousands of dollars for FilmAid International, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of film to educate and inspire refugees around the world. Not only a commercial success, these films have been critically praised, as well as having been accepted into twenty-six international film festivals, including powerhouses such as Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin over the past five years. HARNESSING THE POWER OF “SO WHAT?” IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE
We’ve seen how using the power of “So what?” can resolve your business problems, but what about in your personal life? Do you feel trapped in your job? You need the insurance or the paycheck, and you can’t see any alternatives? Of course there’s no time to look for a new job, because very often a job search is a second job in and of itself. When do you say, “Enough, already,” assess your goals, determine where you are in achieving them, and, if you’re still unsatisfied, look for something new? Earlier in this book I talked about doing some hard work, and facing reality can surely be challenging. You hate to think of yourself as someone who has devoted ten years to a company and is dissatisfied with the results. Yes, you’ve contributed to the organization, but the corporate world is a political one and perhaps your good work has been outshined by others who are better self-promoters. At what point do you tell yourself that there has to be an alternative? Let’s think about the four steps I outlined earlier.
Think necessity: you need your paycheck and your health care insurance, and the 401(k) doesn’t hurt. But to fulfill your goals—your other needs—you have to consider alternatives. Maybe, even though you have a paycheck, it doesn’t cover your expenses and obligations. Many companies haven’t been able to give their employees raises for a year or two, yet expenses from tuition to food, rent, and clothing have increased. In reality it’s not really even compensation that drives employee satisfaction. In many top ten surveys on job satisfaction, money rarely ranks in the top five reasons. The most oft-cited reasons are employees feeling overworked and the company’s appreciation of an employee’s contributions.
In doing this assessment, you might realize that although you are thankful for your full-time job, it isn’t setting you up for the future that you desire. So what can you do not only to keep your paycheck but also to enhance your expertise so that you can present yourself as a valuable asset either to your current company or to a new organization?
Let me tell you about a friend of mine who was very well established in her firm. She’d been with a top insurance company for fifteen years or so, ran her own department, and was considered an important asset to the firm. As time went on, the insurance industry changed, and the financial decline impacted her particular area of business; it became more difficult for her to feel fulfilled at work. But the creature comforts of the job—work-at-home days, insurance, lots of vacation time since she’d been there for so long, and the biweekly paycheck—kept her from thinking about alternatives. And although she had money in the bank, she was afraid to touch it for fear of not having it for the proverbial rainy day, particularly since she had three children. She felt stuck but not motivated to make a change.
People may think that if they make no choice, all will stay the same. But they’re wrong. Although my friend felt she was unfulfilled and bored, she still felt she was in control. What she didn’t think about was the fact that to be successful and productive in your career you need to have a passion for whatever you do. And all her passion was gone. She was just phoning it in. That fact was not overlooked by her bosses. The world does not stop moving because we can’t make a decision. If things are not moving forward, then essentially they are moving backward. You need to act, or the world may act for you. And that’s exactly what happened. That year she had a less-than-stellar account review. After all her years of service, she had assumed that she had a certain job security. Let me tell you, job security in today’s market is a myth, no matter what industry you’re in.
Now, after fifteen years of work, she had to face the harsh reality that her job was in jeopardy. It was just the jolt she needed. After long and deliberate consideration, thinking about her family needs, what her future might look like, and how to juggle her family’s financial obligations with the long-term goals she had for herself, she decided to make a bold move and leave her job and enter law school. The rainy day had arrived, and she was brave enough to face it. The first year of juggling family and the demands of full-time law school were tough on both her and her family. Initially she was concerned that she had traded in one stressful situation for another. Her husband complained that she was never around, her children complained that she was always late. And she had her own doubts as she struggled to stay awake at night studying while she could hear her family laughing and watching American Idol
in the room next door. Success takes hard work; there is no magic pill to flipping the script. It takes commitment and determination. But in the end the hard work is worth it. In 2011 my friend made partner in her law firm.
The point of this story is to emphasize that you cannot let fear—whether conscious or unconscious—keep you from exploring new opportunities. Be unafraid to say “So what?” and map out a future in which you can accomplish all the things you dream about. Be honest with yourself about where you are in your situation; identify what you absolutely need to happen to implement the changes you want to see. The critical thing is to be unafraid to stare your future, whether immediate or long term, in the face and ask yourself whether or not your current path will lead you to success. If the answer is no, then say “So what?” and figure out what you need to do to make things happen.
As you develop the ability to see what doesn’t work and the creative ability that comes with saying “So what?,” I want to be sure that you are also comfortable with the idea of being successful. The first thing to do is believe that success is how you define it. You don’t need anyone’s permission to improve your situation. In the next chapter, you’ll learn why it’s so important to accept the gifts that life provides and how to turn them into a means for achieving your goals. Every person has been given gifts and innate talents. The trouble is that sometimes we don’t see them clearly or know how to harness their power. Like Dorothy with her ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz,
each one of you has everything you need already inside of you to achieve your goals.