One of my favorite co-workers was fond of saying, “It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s how you respond.” Jim (not his real name) was a person who had faced many high-stress events and bounced back. He had trained the Apollo I astronauts how to use their onboard computer just before they were killed in the tragic fire in 1967. He had been injured in a plane crash. And he had re-engineered a division of a corporation in such a way that he designed himself out of a job.

Jim and I were running a college’s resource center for small businesses when a regime change resulted in our resource center being shut down and our positions eliminated. At the time in 1999, I had no idea what I wanted to do next, but Jim offered to take me through a process of redefining my personal and professional goals. This was the same process we used at the small business resource center when we were counseling other people in transition who were thinking of becoming entrepreneurs.

And this is the same process that I present to you now. If you are in transition and need help deciding where you should head next, work on answering this series of questions. You may be surprised with the results.

Weigh Your Trade-offs

Before Jim and I launched into questions for would-be entrepreneurs, we gave a preamble:

We all know that we are on Earth for an unpredictable amount of time. We also know that time is a nonrenewable asset. For those reasons, it’s good to make sure that we are using our time in the way that is best for us. There is no one right way for everyone. What was right for someone at one point in the past can change.

As we weigh trade-offs in life, most of us rely on some set of basic values to guide us. From time to time, it’s good to step back and revisit those values and reset our goals. Normally, we do this at a time of transition. We’re all living with change in our personal lives, our country and the world. All such events force us to look at life from a new perspective. When we are in touch with our core values, it helps re-center us and gives us strength to make good decisions.

Your definition of success reflects your basic values. It also provides the basis for determining your goals and the direction you will have for your life. As you consider the different paths that might be open to you, assess the probability of achieving success along each of those paths and think about the following questions.

10 Questions to Ponder

  1. How do you define success?
  1. Consider five times you have felt that you were in a high-performance mode. What made you feel that way?
  1. What situations or actions led to the highest and lowest points of your life?
  1. How do you set your short-term and long-term priorities?
  1. What process did you use to set your major life goals?
  1. What were your core values at that time, and did you base your choices on those values?
  1. Do you want to transfer those values to the next stage of your life, and how can you do that?
  1. What are your goals now, and how do they differ or align with the paths that are open to you?
  1. How can you use the resources (internal and external) that are at your disposal to achieve your goals?
  1. How will your decisions affect you, your family and other important people in your life?

Be Open

Back in 1999, I spent about two weeks thinking about the questions, writing down answers and discussing them with Jim. In the end, I felt renewed and very sure of how I wanted to use my talents, education, experience and time. I became confident and open to new opportunities.

Shortly after my last meeting with Jim, a Wharton alum called to see if I would like to write business plans for startups. He was with a business plan writing company in New York, and it was right at the height of the dot-com boom. We had met at one of the events run by our small business resource center. Because of the assessment process I had done with Jim, I knew this opportunity was exactly the sort of work I wanted and grabbed it. The work was immediately rewarding and reinforced my realization that I love writing and working with entrepreneurs.

Where are you in your life? Are you at a point where an introspective process could help you look at your situation from a new perspective?

Then try thinking through and answering these 10 questions to redefine your goals and open yourself to a new, more fruitful and satisfying direction.