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The Search for Significance
Part Two of Three
by Rebecca Barnett


The search for significance can come from an event so positive it transforms your life. Sometimes our success inspires us to use our platform and talents to create something bigger and more lasting than ourselves.

You may be hearing a call to change careers, to step off the fast track and devote yourself more to family or volunteer work. We take the long view when we feel a commitment to those who come after us; our children, our children's children. We are willing to make sacrifices today for a greater good tomorrow. We work to build things that endure, to leave a legacy.

Perhaps you feel you can make a larger impact where you serve today. You've reached a point of success, name recognition and influence in your field where you can make the greatest contribution from your existing platform. Who needs you the most? How can you find out where you are needed most?

Sometimes people are put into your path.

Misty Haskins worked as my intern during her senior year of high school. She was the second in an extended family of almost 40 relatives to graduate from high school, and the first in her family to attempt college. When Misty talked about going to college tears welled up in her eyes - college seemed like an impossible dream. Coach and I supported and encouraged Misty through three years of college. When we danced at her wedding, right before her college graduation, we knew our mentoring role had ended. Misty was going to make it.

Recently, I refused to serve on a mentoring program for young professional women. The mentoring program was admirable, worthy and necessary. But I am needed far more here in Kentucky with its career ending combination of poverty, teen pregnancy and high school dropouts. I am needed to be a daily, visible role model for teenage girls like Misty. Serving where you are needed most means saying no to worthy causes that take you away from making the greatest impact.

Growing up, I had early exposure to the concept of giving back. My mother led a weekly Bible study in our home. I was too young to remember any more than the ladies sipping hot black coffee in delicate china cups as they balanced matching saucers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Teaching that weekly Bible study and learning sign language so she could translate Sunday sermons to the deaf was my mother's way of giving back.

What is your obligation? How committed are you to giving back? I've often been criticized for the 10 to 20 hours a week I volunteer coaching and refereeing judo. I've been advised to give up my sport so I can put more hours into writing, building the business or simply relaxing.

But neither my book nor my business makes sense without the judo. I've made a commitment to my players, and I don't allow anything to get in the way of practice. As difficult as it is to stop working and drive to practice, once I'm absorbed in the players' progress, it's worth it. With each practice I make a visible, measurable difference in those children's lives.

Build on your talents

What will you do with your great gifts? What do you do so naturally and effortlessly that you take it for granted? Have you found yourself questioning in the stillness of early morning, or lain awake at night seeking answers? Have you wondered how you can build on your unique talents, your palm pilot of business contacts, your education and experience to make a lasting contribution?

The first part of hearing and answering our call is to tone down the noise and frenetic activity of everyday life. I could not have made the leap to change my career and change my life without in-depth introspection. Without the time to think and question, to read and reflect, I would have kept rushing through my daily routine. Too often we don't pause before the big decisions. We feel compelled to keep going, to do more, run faster like a hamster on a wheel.

What will it take you to slow down? My friend is a success story. She completed her teaching degree while pregnant with twins, so big with baby she couldn't fit into a desk. Ten years ago she switched careers and became an insurance agent.

Today she is a top producer, winning sales trips to exotic locales. She makes more money and has more of what we've always considered success than we ever could have imagined.

Last summer she sent me a sad email, "I have been a little heartsick lately; I have no time for anything. I am depressed and sorry that I feel heartsick. I want to deny that I feel this way. It seems awful to have everything you've always wanted and then to feel heartsick. I just feel downtrodden."

When her husband was in a car accident, everything stopped except a flurry of tests and medical specialists. He was unable to walk for weeks and she dropped everything to nurse him to recovery. He jokes that it took the accident to get her to come home from work. The accident and subsequent down time helped my friend to re-align her priorities and put the pressures of work into perspective.

Each choice we make takes us either closer or farther away from our purpose. To gain perspective, we must distance ourselves from daily work demands, family and home responsibilities. Understanding what you value takes quiet and time to think.

Growing up, we had more time to rest, to eat meals with family and friends. We still need time to clear our minds, to step back from the hurried bustle of everyday life, to reflect on the important. In our modern society, it is difficult to simply sit still and think. I've found that my best thinking comes during light activity such as walking, gardening, or even driving with the radio off. Others prefer to pray or meditate.

In your search for significance, never forget that family must come first. Some people get mixed up; they put serving their church or community above family. Our first obligation is to raise our children in a stable, loving home that gives them a solid grounding in values. Our most important life role is parenting.

The search for significance will continue ...


The Author


Rebecca Barnett is an author and motivational speaker on character-centered leadership. Rebecca has a dozen years of executive experience with American’s most admired and aggressive retailers, including The Home Depot and The Limited. Drawing on her research and corporate experience, Rebecca offers practical, pragmatic, experienced solutions. Beyond her corporate, academic and research credentials, Rebecca is a success story on a personal level. Far from a privileged upbringing, Rebecca spent seven years working her way through college and raising her daughter. Her drive, determination and potential were recognized as she earned scholarships and benefited from mentoring by those who believed in her. She continued the fast track of success in her professional life, reaping professional and financial rewards. It took a dramatic wake-up call in the form of a health and family crisis to make her realize she had paid too high a price. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The Ohio State University, and a Master of Arts in Organizational Communication from Western Kentucky University where she is an adjunct professor. Rebecca is a national referee and black belt in the Olympic sport of Judo. She is a Silver medallist in the 2001 World Masters Championships.

Many more articles in Ethics in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2003 by Rebecca Barnett. All rights reserved.

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