Redefining Success, Resource Constraints & the Bronte Sisters


Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Teddy Roosevelt

The idea of success is foundational within our work lives — and we are continually bombarded by metrics and memes regarding it. Yet in times such as these, our definitions of success have quickly faded or have become entirely obsolete. For many of us, what we once deemed important has shifted. Considering success may seem shallow, as we ask the question “How can I help?”. For those of us in roles which are not essential, we may feel pangs of uselessness. Yet as the weeks have progressed, it has become clear that we can all play a role even if its scope feels dwarfed. Moreover, we should continue to do the work we are committed to and love, if possible. Hopefully in this way, we can contribute. (I am forever grateful to those who are working to bring us essential services. To those who stock our grocery shelves, protect us and bring needed healthcare within our hospitals, thank you.)

Productivity and progress have been altered as well. We must now work within the changing confines of our current lives. (And this may become our new normal for quite some time.) Yet this sudden transition doesn’t necessarily limit us entirely. While adapting to how we work, I can’t help but think of how others lived with the limitations of their own circumstances — and how they contributed.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, lived lives of relative isolation at a parsonage, yet managed to create some of the most engaging stories in literature (Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights to mention two). Their lives were difficult, as was common in their time, losing their mother and two older sisters to tuberculosis early on. As women, the sisters struggled to find a publishing channel to share their work. Eventually, all were published under male pseudonyms; Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell.

While they were tenacious in the quest to become published authors — it was their gift of imagination that would set them apart. They utilized every experience, every observation, every crumb of nuance as fuel to create brilliant, layered, psychologically-complex characters. The fabric of their lives and the dire experiences they faced, were woven into their books. (Sadly, Emily & Anne also succumbed to tuberculosis by age 30. Charlotte lived to the age of 39.)

In some instances, resource constraints can bring both creativity and innovation. Our imaginations can be triggered by even the most mundane of details. Anything can serve as that fuel. A conversation, a tweet, a walk around the block. Combined with knowledge & experience, the results can be both formidable and enduring.

I can’t help but wonder, if we can somehow utilize the shift in our daily experience as an opportunity. To look deeper and create perspectives, products and services that would enrich the lives of others. Just as the Bronte sisters managed to do.

While our lives may currently have increasing boundaries — our minds remain infinite.

Strategy Shift: Progress/Success in these times.

  • How have you adapted over the last weeks?
  • Has your overall idea of success shifted in some way?
  • Have you adjusted your goals in any way, subtly or radically, as you move forward?
  • Have you utilized resources differently? Supported other to do so?
  • What have you gained?
  • What have you learned that you might share with others?

Author’s note: The Core File is now featured at LinkedIn.

Please note: All posts are solely owned by the author. Reprinting (other than re-blogging at another WordPress blog) is by permission only.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Her Masterclass for managers focuses on empowering work through the development of core stability. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes and The Huffington Post.


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