ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — September 2003

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BRIDGES: Internal Consultants for Change and High Performing Work Cultures
In A Nutshell
Proven Strategies on Service and Life
Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Respectful Confrontation for Superior Results

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September 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

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Book Nook

Beating the Success Trap: Negotiating for the Life You Really Want and the Rewards You Deserve
by Ed Bradow
HarperResource, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-000882-3
Hardcover, 288 pages.
List price $25.95
Overall Rating: **** Overnight it

We live in a society where the notion of success is very clearly defined. Success is having lots of money and all the status symbols it can buy: bigger, faster, more expensive “toys;” more luxurious and exotic vacations; designer clothing; a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood; and sending the kids to private schools. Success, according to this definition, is all about economic status—the person with the most money is successful, and everyone else is a “loser.” So, where does personal happiness come in?

Ed Brodow’s answer is that we have been brainwashed to accept society’s definition of success to the exclusion of our own—that we set aside our own wants and needs (sometimes quite unconsciously) in favor of what others tell us to want and need. We give up our dreams of what could make us truly happy in favor of taking part in the rat race. This becomes the “success trap”—chasing after what someone else says is success instead of going after what our gut says will make us happy.

Brodow describes the ways that society brainwashes and abuses us into accepting its definition of success—through our families and friends, schools, the media, and advertising. He also describes the consequences of being out of step with the cultural norm. The first chapter’s title says it all: “If I’m so Successful, Why am I Taking Prozac?” Our rational minds do not watch out for our happiness, leaving us the challenge of decoding what our bodies are telling us about the choices we make.

Beating the Success Trap provides a new definition of success: “Right here, right now, you are spending your time doing what is meaningful to you.” (p. 52). Brodow stresses the immediacy of happiness, explaining:

“My theory is that life is just one long weekend and nothing more. It isn’t a decade. It isn’t a year or even a week. You’re born on a Thursday afternoon, you hit some rush hour traffic trying to get out of town, you have a few good times with sun and ski, and then you die on Monday morning. How much time can you afford to lose between Thursday and Monday? What’s the point of being alive if you don’t make the most of your weekend?” (p. 6)

He recommends tapping into your intuition (“gut”) to achieve greater happiness, using it to be more spontaneous, allowing more time for right-brain activities, nourishing your inner child, simplifying your life, and taking time to smell the roses (what he calls “farting around”).

Five major elements of a successful lifestyle are identified: work, location, leisure time, relationships, and health. The only major component of life that the author ignores completely is spiritual/religious centering, which is an important value to many people. The author challenges his readers to take four steps to leverage these elements for greater happiness (chapter 12):

  1. Identify what is meaningful based on an understanding of your personal strengths.
  2. Visualize a lifestyle that reflects those needs.
  3. Determine what changes need to be made and develop a plan and timetable.
  4. Take action—the first move is the most important.

The book provides a wealth of anecdotes through which Bradow makes his points. There are stories of famous and not-so-famous people who exemplify either how easy it is to get caught in the success trap or provide encouragement that the trap is avoidable. He shares his own story of career changes and challenges to demonstrate that the road to happiness is frequently full of bumps and detours. He is quick to reassure readers that real happiness is possible outside the norms of traditional success.

This book is for anyone who has faced or is facing a career change; for people stuck in unhappy relationships; for those facing the uncertainty of retirement; or for anyone who feels that life ought to be full of more joy. It helps expose and identify the brainwashing and abuse we all experience and provides tips to minimize the feelings of victimization that result.

Both a bibliography and recommended reading list are provided for those inclined to learn more. There is no index, however, and the table of contents is not broken down into subtopics, so locating a specific topic or anecdote to re-read is a challenge. This relatively trivial complaint does not seriously detract from the overall usefulness of the book or diminish its message.

Remember, “It doesn’t matter how much you earn, or how much you possess, or how many trophies you have won. Life is really about how you spend your time from day to day to day. None of us knows if we’ll run out of money, but we know with absolute certainty that we will all run out of time.” (p. 6)

CHRISTINE ROBINSON has more than 25 years of leadership experience in quality systems for the process industries. She has a master’s degree in quality, values, and leadership from Marian College. An avid reader, she spends a significant amount of her time with her nose in books and her body at the library.

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