I remember speaking with my career coach, Courtney Parks, who once told me, "Remember, you are not defined by your job." To which I replied, "Excuse me?!"
OK, so I didn't respond that way. A part of me wanted to believe her, but on a deep level it didn't click. The angst I felt from my career going sideways prevented it, and I couldn't feel my source of personal power.
Previously, when I had a successful career run bringing in sales that far exceeded my substantial compensation, I would look at the numbers and say, "See I am amazing, the revenue I bring in far exceeds the cost to have me on board, so I am valuable." But now there was little quantitative evidence of my value. Did I have any qualitative, intrinsic worth?
In the Sex and the City episode "An American Girl in Paris, Part Une," Miranda asks Carrie, "How could you quit your job, it's who you are?" Of course Carrie defends herself with, "No, it's not who I am, it's what I do!"
I recently had coffee with a former NFL player Bret Locket in Beverly Hills and we came upon this exact topic. Bret commented similarly, "I was an NFL player, it's not who I am, it's something I did."
Traditional interpretations of success can be valuable, but when it is all that defines our existence, it can destroy our lives and sense of self. How do we find the road back to ourselves when traditional success eludes us or at those moments where we need to redefine what success means to us?
Here is how my process has developed. After losing the source of my identification (the great job), and being deprived of traditional success, even after years of trying to achieve it again, I came to a realization: My philosophy about life was "I am not good enough, unless I am more, do more, make more, produce more, be more." Wow! Who can possibly win in that scenario? Who can feel valued?
After realizing how impossible my philosophy and version of success were, I redefined it and began to tell myself a mantra -- "I am a winner, and I am here to win!" Yes, it is basically a positive affirmation, but reminding myself that I was more than the career lack that was happening now allowed me to fight for myself! I would repeat this mantra to myself incessantly while jogging in the park. I would say it in the car on my way to the office. I would yell it out loud in my car (being in your car during LA rush hour affords you some volume). You get the picture.
Did it help? Yes! Because it might still be a slow slog to the thriving career I am trying to create, but at least now I value myself as a person. I drowned out the voices that were telling me I was an incompetent failure and I won. Because I am a winner and I am here to win!
Look, the United States is still crawling out of the toughest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Many people have lost wealth, income and jobs. Many have been forced to take a harsh look at themselves, their career and their lives. They are picking themselves up, redefining themselves and moving forward when the rules of the game have changed, enormously.
When I am at the end of my life, I want to look back on my career and see that I took risks where it mattered, that I put myself out there, that I inspired others, and that -- hopefully -- I made a positive difference. I don't want to look back and wonder why I spent my whole life taking the safe bet (to date, I haven't, may the trend continue!). My new version of success could only happen if the career I chose weren't just for the paycheck, but that doesn't mean financial success is unattainable.
Here's why: Crises like these force us to look at our lives in totally new ways, and it is because it is so painful, not despite it, that it forces us to search deep within ourselves and find out what we really want to do with our lives. Oftentimes, it allows us to create really amazing things, but It is almost never the safe bet, or the easy answer, but sometimes is does seem obvious when we finally get there. It is almost always the road paved with heartache, soul searching, grief and frustration that finally clears the path to the door we must open. Or as my healer Stephanie Syd Yang said, "You are beating your head against the wall when the door is right there." Apparently the door is really, really hard to find.
I am no longer defined by my job. I believe I have intrinsic value including the ability to contemplate, to help others, to write and to create new ventures. And I'm hoping one day soon, I will open that dang door.