Staying relevant in a rapidly changing world

Watching our retreat from the Afghanistan war and our response to the Haitian earthquakes, I think back to my journey from Hong Kong to the United States in 1969 with my little sister, luggage and just over 100 U.S. dollars at the height of the Vietnam War period. I am living my American Dream, having started in America in the Vietnam era, and am still going strong after America’s “the longest war in U.S. history.”

America remains the best country that anybody could live in, period. My job as an immigration lawyer allows me to be in touch with all types of working people, including service industry workers, construction workers, CEOs and chairmen of boards, giving me a unique window of the world today.

I’ve learned quite a bit through the years by listening and observing. Heroes are made quietly. Each of us has a story to tell. It’s up to us to craft our core competence, the hows and whys and whens and the meaning of our own existence. What’s our definition of success? Who am I? What do I want to accomplish on this earth in my short time of being here? What’s my goal for today, tomorrow and the next three, five, 10 years?

Things are fluid, and we need to have a parameter to allow ourselves to fail and to succeed. We need to be in that “now,” but also dream to see what we can do better tomorrow than today.

Life is harsh, with women giving birth to children, and men and women having young children and supporting families. Add to this those who came from overseas and send money back home to support their village.

Who is our constituent power? What does that mean for me? For me, it’s my circle of clients, colleagues and friends. They are, for me, my family. Each of us needs to know who we are and, when we are down, who can we call out to and who may come to our rescue. That’s not so much in financial means but knowing who really can help — and same with them when they are down. I know I’ll be there for them.

As Umberto Fedeli wrote in the August issue of Smart Business, we need to develop a love of reading and writing. We need to listen to our clients’ stories, really hear what they’re trying to say and understand what we could do to help. Until we learn the true art of listening, becoming the “Mozart of listening,” we’ll go nowhere.

To become the top of anything in your company or your field, as competition gets tougher and tougher by the minute, we need to grasp all opportunities to work. Travel to different places in the world, look at their airports, look at their money exchange, observe how their economy is formed and grows. How do we market a product?

We need to stay relevant for the tomorrows and from yesterday. Information travels with the speed of light, and our world is becoming smaller and smaller. Executives who don’t travel cannot develop a sense of the world, and thus an understanding of who is buying their products. This must be balanced with the total “now.”

Margaret W. Wong is founder of Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC