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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

The Power Of A Pivot: 4 Lessons On Redefining Success

Emily Tisch Sussman in She Pivots podcast studio
Sussman launched "She Pivots" because of her personal need to hear stories from women who faced a turning point in their lives. PHOTO CREDIT: GABRIELA HERMAN

Women may be more ambitious than ever, with both 96% of women and men saying career is important to them, according to the latest Women in the Workplace Report. Moreover, the report finds that young women and women of color are particularly ambitious, with about nine in 10 saying they want to be promoted to the next level. On the other hand, TikTok trends such as “lazy girl jobs” are resonating with younger workers who make work-life balance a top priority.

One could argue that the push-pull between prioritizing one’s career and prioritizing one’s well being or personal responsibilities is a result of women collectively redefining their values in a post-pandemic world, and within workplace cultures whose values aren’t changing fast enough to catch up to match their own.

As women navigate ongoing workplace and economic disruptions, as well as barriers such as bias and the motherhood penalty, nonlinear paths are becoming more common.

One woman at the forefront of helping other women embrace the power of a pivot is Emily Tisch Sussman, host of the award-winning podcast She Pivots, that is now in season three, moving to iHeartPodcasts, and whose guests include Vanessa Hudgens, Misty Copeland, and Christy Turlington.

Sussman launched the podcast because of her personal need to hear stories from women who faced a turning point in their lives and learned to redefine success on their own terms. Sussman herself earned a law degree before leaving a fast-paced job as a political strategist and commentator and the VP of campaigns at the Center for American Progress. She says the impetus for her leaving a political career she loved was having three children in just four years and no childcare during the pandemic.

“We all make professional decisions based on personal factors, but rarely do we talk about them publicly. I wanted to show women that success is not a one-size-fits all formula,” says Sussman. “I wanted to explore this idea that you haven't become this success in spite of all these things that happened to you; you became a success because of all these things that happened to you."

Here are some key takeaways Sussman has learned from her own nonlinear path, and from the guests she has had on her show.

Redefine Success On Your Own Terms

Before Sussman had children, she says she followed a very specific definition of success, and it was all centered on her job in politics.

“In politics, it was very clear whether you were successful or not in terms of the salary you made and your access to power. That was totally how I defined my success,” she says. “Now I don’t have the title, I don’t have the same salary, I don’t have any of it. But I'm able to go to my kids’ elementary school performance in the middle of the day while amplifying the stories of inspiring women to help shift the narrative, and I am able to do both of those things. That is success to me now.”

Though all of the guests on She Pivots have a different defining moment that made them pivot and different versions of success stories, a common thread for how the guests are redefining success for themselves is that they’ve discovered a way to live their lives and spend their time in greater alignment with their values and what matters most to them.

The Personal And Professional Are Deeply Connected

Stereotypes about women being the primary caregivers impact women’s careers and may play a role in women being less open about their personal responsibilities in the workplace. However, hiding one’s home life became nearly impossible during the pandemic when many knowledge workers switched to remote work and schools and daycares closed down.

Normalizing having a life outside of work and making career choices based on personal responsibilities will benefit all workers. As more men take on the role as lead parent, they’re also experiencing bias in the workplace.

“If I can’t change laws, then maybe I can change culture—particularly in terms of how we think about our personal and professional decisions as distinct from one another,” says Sussman. “They are intertwined for every one of us. We’ve created professional narratives to smooth over the personal parts in terms of why we make the decisions we do, but I wanted us to normalize discussing them together.”

Every Pivot Has A “Down Moment”

One of the biggest lessons Sussman says she learned from interviewing her guests about their own pivots is that when people are in the “down moment,” they do not think they will be a success coming out of it.

“We have this founder storytelling culture that makes everything look like what a great job you did, but the reality is people do not believe they are ever going to get out when they are in the down moment,” says Sussman. “I think that’s really important for people to hear. When you are in that moment, you think other successful people pulled themselves out because they are different from you, but they are not.”

You Can Be More Than Just One Thing

Sussan was successful as a political strategist, and now she is finding success as an award-winning podcast host. However, her journey into motherhood and pivoting in her career has shown her that her roles do not define her. Rather, not boxing herself in has allowed her to stretch herself. Today she is a Broadway producer of the Tony Award-winning musical Shucked, co-owner of the professional women’s soccer team Gotham FC, and a founding member of her local Moms Demand Action group.

Rather than letting society limit her definition of who she is, Sussman is unapologetically creating her own definition—and encouraging other women to come along with her. Sussman and the women she interviews reminds listeners that taking a nonlinear path can open up new skills, passions, and ways to make an impact.

*Article originally published in Forbes here.


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