A Manager’s Journey from Success to Significance

By Elaine Cercado

At first, there was the joy of success, then the pursuit of significance – through simplification and service.  Such was my professional and personal journey – from a successful manager in a complicated corporate world to a servant leader in a simpler path.

If you are an experienced professional and at a crossroad, my story might just inspire you to make that important decision.  If you are young and still building your career, you might still learn some life lessons that could help you sooner or later.

The Seeds and Fruits of Success

I worked in a multinational company (MNC) right after graduating from the university at the age of 18, and achieved early success in my career.  I moved to bigger MNCs, and took bigger and more complex leadership roles. My first international assignment – with full expatriate benefits – came when I was 27 years old. I worked hard and enjoyed well the fruits of my labor. While there were challenges, it was a joyful journey –as I shared and celebrated the victories – together with the learnings and failures that inevitably came with every success – with my equally successful husband and son.

When I was in my 30’s, I started to question what my purpose in life might be, and began to define what that was.  While I was leading an organization and team to achieve business results, I was also yearning for something meaningful personally.  Part of my discernment process was talking to people whom I trusted, reading books of authors who inspired me, and journaling my thoughts and prayers.  It went on for some years.  Then a friend at work gave me a gift that helped me define my mission and vision in life.  The gift was the book “The Path” by Laurie Beth Jones, which provided me a practical and simple yet deep and profound process from which I formed my personal mission and vision, and our family mission and vision statements.

“To serve, and continuously learn and grow, with love and joy, for God, family and community around us.” (Cercado family mission statement, January 2005)

“To develop the potentials and gifts of people I’m with – at home, in the community and at work – and to serve as an inspiration and model to them.” (Extract from my personal mission, 27 April 2005)

While I was already managing and leading a team in my MNC job, I was not sure if I was fulfilling my mission in the professional context.  I was certain though that I could do more and better.  At home and my faith community, things were at least shaping and gravitating toward my personal and family missions.

In 2008, the convergence of personal, family and professional missions happened – and I felt the bigness and significance of my mission coming to life!  This actually proved true what Laurie Beth Jones listed as 11 false assumptions about missions, which included “my job is my mission, my role is my mission, and my ‘to-do’ list is my mission”.  Indeed, Laurie’s process produced missions broad enough to encompass all aspects of life.

Simplification and Transition

I wrote in my journal on 14th of October 2007 “Simplify your life and you’ll be one step closer to me.”  I knew in my heart that was God’s answer to my prayer.  His grand plans began to unfold quickly in December 2007, and by 16th of January 2008, I spent my last day at the MNC I worked with for 16 years. I wrote in my personal blog then, “During my farewell speech…I recalled my journey that started when I was single.  I got married, raised a child, migrated to another country and progressed.  God has truly blessed me with a supportive company, great friends and team at work, an enriching career, and a balanced life throughout.”

Redefining what success meant to me became my next step in the journey.  I wrote in my 25 April 2008 blog, “When I first told Elai (my son, who was 11 then) about the change at work, he asked me candidly ‘but Mom, why will you stop when you are successful already?’  I explained that I’ve wanted to make a change and reinforced that success is not just measured by one’s work position or money.  Two insights came out: I felt thankful that Elai understood my work realities, i.e. high work demands.  On the other hand, I was concerned he’d define success solely based on material gains.  I also realized that my 20-year career success has defined me and that it would be a challenge transitioning to my new life.  Hence, I resolved to redefine my life by redefining success in terms of His goodness and faithfulness to a mission.”

Re-Defined Success

The transition process didn’t happen overnight, and to-date, it’s still a continuous ‘work in progress’. But it has been a journey full of blessings and affirmations so far.  The big change has actually fortified the important and constant elements in my life – the love in the family, the joy of service and friendships in the community, the gifts of time and talents, and faith in God.

One poem best captured the newfound success I have found:

“What is success? To laugh often and love much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in other; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, Or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have loved; This is to have succeeded.” (Excerpts from poem by Bessie Stanley, 1904)

I believe we all have our special calling and purpose in life.  In our website, I recommended the book “Finishing Well, Book 3: What’s Next?”  The story of Frances Hesselbein, former head of Girl Scouts of America and volunteer in many other non-profit organizations inspired me. She said:  ”I have a strong belief we are called to do what we do. And when we’re called, we’re given the energy… You move, a door opens, and you walk through that door. In time, another door opens and you walk through that door.”  In this path I’m journeying, I am indeed excited and energized to open the next door and experience the next adventure that waits!

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