Suzy Welch, 58, is a business journalist, author of several best-selling books, two with her husband, Jack Welch, an on-air correspondent for “The Today Show” and producer and star of “Suzy Welch Fix My Career” and “Get To Work,” both on CNBC. Oh, and in her spare time she raised four children.
I sat down with Suzy in New York City. I had heard about her energy, but even I, rumored to be the woman who rarely sleeps (not true), was blown away by how much life she packs into her life.
Tell me what’s got you excited today.
Well, I’m working on my newest CNBC show, which is a series where I give advice to real people in real careers, and, I’m always speaking to groups of women. Most recently the topic has been “My Five Favorite Mistakes,” it’s about the things I did wrong and what I learned from them.
Can you give us a few highlights of those eye-opening mistakes?
Well this is the first: early on I made the mistake of thinking about getting a “job” instead of building a career, instead of thinking about my destiny, which is where one tends to land at 58. I learned that thinking about what you are good at and that intersection between what you love doing and what the world is hungry for in a non-stop never-ending process because the world changes and changes. When I started out, the world needed newspaper reporters and now I barely write at all – most of my communication is visual.
Well, since your new show is advice for real people: how would you advise “our” people—women of a certain age who want back in the workforce and are finding that no one wants to talk to them?
From my work on The Today Show I’ve learned that women are always thinking about going back to work but their lives get complicated. Even when they think it should be easier. Like you think having kids in High School would be a good time—the kids don’t need you so much but in fact, they need real help getting into college and out of the nest. Then you try to re-enter and learn that tech is moving really fast. You need to know what Slack is and how to use it. Simply put, to go back to work without first upgrading your tech skill is a dead end.
So for you, how did you manage it, you obviously had a lot going on.
The thing I had going for me, was that I was never ambivalent. Work-life balance is very hard for people who are struggling with what their values are – either they are unclear or they know what they are and don’t want to admit them– I was very clear. I just wanted to work, I had to work emotionally, and there was a period when I had to work financially after my divorce.
I know how that feels.
There was the financial aspect of it but it wasn’t just that. I remember feeling enormous guilt one day at work and I had just had my fourth kid and I called my friend from business school that never seemed to have guilt. She was working at another company and she had three children. And I asked her, “don’t you ever feel guilty?” And she said, “Oh Suzy, guilt is a choice.” And it was one of the most transformative moments of my life.
You are considered an expert on work/life balance…how did that happen?
I’m as much an expert as any Mom who has four kids and worked full time.The dirty little secret that not a lot of Mom’s discuss is that a lot of having any balance depends on your kids. If you’ve got a tough kid—with learning or behavioral challenges—how you balance work and life is a totally different thing than if you’ve got easy breezy kids. And those kids do exist – they just blow up later in life.
What nobody ever talks about is that kids who have working moms take a lot of pride in that.
My kids loved my work, they loved hearing about it and they loved how energized and happy it made me. My daughters are both fierce professional women and my older son is married to a teacher of challenged kids who is changing lives. He loves her career and I like to think that watching me had something to do with their choices.
Tell me about the philosophy behind your book 10-10-10.
It came of this period where I was a single mom with four kids working 60 hours per week and my life was spinning out of control, trying to make everyone happy. I came up with a methodology to make better decisions by looking at choices and their impact in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. For instance, once after promising the kids a special night with mom, my boss called with an emergency that required me to work through the night. Before 10-10-10, I would’ve said “okay” and when she wasn’t looking I would’ve gotten in the car and driven home and thrown dinner together and called my sister and get somebody to cover the kids and I would try to do everything to make everyone happy. But using 10-10-10, I would say, what are the consequences for me in 10 minutes. Well in 10 minutes, somebody’s going to be mad at me. Either my kids are going to be mad at me or my boss is going to be mad. In the foreseeable future, I can probably make this up to my kids. But I can’t make it up at the office because it’s one more thing that says Susie is not available. And in 10 years, well, this was not a 10-year decision. This was not a decision that was going to decide the course of my career. So what I had to look at was that middle timeframe. And I knew I wanted to work, I knew I wanted a promotion; I knew I had to present availability. So I took the hit with the kids and I called them and got someone to cover. And the kids got over it. And eventually, I was promoted because I was a person who proved reliable.
Has aging changed your attitude towards going for what you want or not want?
After you’ve lived awhile you’ve had failures and you realize they don’t kill you. I wish I had known at 24 that trying something and not getting it and failing – I mean I was just so scared of failure. Then you fail or you flame out and you think – oh it doesn’t kill you, it makes people like you more, it gives you more humanity, it gives you a softer heart towards people who are struggling and so, aging has made me bolder. I think that’s a great thing. I am in awe of these young women who entrepreneurs and 24 and are building companies and they have got guts and I just love them.
I have to ask. Are you having as much fun on Twitter as I suspect you are?
Oh yeah, I enjoy it. I started 10 years ago when 10-10-10 came out, When I first starting “tweeting”, I was laughing my head off –because you know there’s mean twitter but there’s nice twitter. And I remember Jack saying to me, “What are you laughing so hard about?” and I said, “It’s this twitter thing!” And he said, “I’m on it! Let’s go! Teach me how to do it.” (Note: Jack Welch has 1.4 million Twitter followers.)
What’s the best thing about being over 50?
Wisdom. I still have a lot to gain but I basically just trust my decisions now.
If you had a superpower?
It would be the ability to be in more than one place at a time.
That’s mine, too!
Is it? I’ve got all these kids in different places – if I could just be in two places at the same time.