Author Deborah Burns: “UNDERSTAND YOUR CHARACTERS ”

Every endeavor requires great effort and the discipline to put your whole self in. You must be willing to do the hard work, roll-up-your-sleeves, and persevere when you hit an inevitable wall. I’ve had several side gigs in addition to a demanding day job for a decade, and continue to rise early seven days a […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Every endeavor requires great effort and the discipline to put your whole self in. You must be willing to do the hard work, roll-up-your-sleeves, and persevere when you hit an inevitable wall. I’ve had several side gigs in addition to a demanding day job for a decade, and continue to rise early seven days a week to make things happen.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Burns.

Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention — she’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media Chief Innovation Officer and award-winning author. The experience of writing her memoir, Saturday’s Child, illuminated the path to her second book, Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life. Now, Deborah combines her strategic business and creative expertise with workshops that help teams improve results — learn more at: https://www.deborahburnsauthor.com


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was the only child of a larger-than-life, unconventional mother and because of the dynamic of that core relationship, I’ve always been fascinated by women and their stories. I grew up to be a journalism major in college with the dream of being a reporter, but entered women’s magazines instead and lived a media career that took me places I never imagined.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Always aspire.” My mother was an extraordinary woman who ended up living what she would call an ordinary life. Still, she always aspired to greatness, and this was a powerful example and roadmap for me.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

These are three of the qualities that I live by that will help anyone be more successful and live up to their potential:

  • OPENNESS TO POSSIBILITY. The second before my best ideas hit, they weren’t there. I believe that they appear because I’m always in discovery mode and open to developing the sparks that come my way. When you are constantly inhaling what’s around you, you can exhale new ideas that will ultimately contribute to your growth and success. I once was inspired to create a venture helping women to reinvent just by staring at portraits of unconventional women from the eighteenth century.
  • RESILIENCE DESPITE ADVERSITY. We all have wounds, hardships, and obstacles in our way even when we’re on the right path. It takes resiliency to continue moving forward, along with the ability to reframe what could be a negative as a positive. As the child of an emotionally distant parent, I could have stayed mired in what I didn’t have and longed for. Instead, I chose to see that she was the mother I needed to become who I am. Reframing helped me to see how always wanting to capture her love made me more intuitive and inventive — two of many pluses from our relationship that served me well at work.
  • COMMITMENT TO WORKING HARD. Every endeavor requires great effort and the discipline to put your whole self in. You must be willing to do the hard work, roll-up-your-sleeves, and persevere when you hit an inevitable wall. I’ve had several side gigs in addition to a demanding day job for a decade, and continue to rise early seven days a week to make things happen.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

When magazine publishing was flush, it made for a fascinating career. I was surrounded by smart, accomplished people, and lived in a world of creative ideas from one end of the globe to another. But suddenly, magazines looked their digital future in the eye and didn’t quite know what to say or do next. Digital upended the business model for publishing companies, and everything needed to be reinvented. I went from being a brand leader to becoming the Chief Innovation Officer charged with inventing new digital businesses. But nothing could make up for the print advertising revenue that was being lost, and I quickly realized that I was also going to have to reinvent myself if I was going to continue thriving.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

As I was figuring out what to do next, my second chapter began unexpectedly when I was staring at those portraits of unconventional women from history in a London museum. I suddenly knew that I had to learn more about them, and then write a book about my mother. Although I never had imagined myself as an author, it was a lightbulb moment that kicked off a seven-year creative journey. Ultimately, Saturday’s Child was published and in addition to the wonderful awards and acclaim, writing that book set the tone for the second chapter of my life.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

Once the idea to write the book appeared, it could not be ignored — in fact, it instantly became an obsession. It felt like a destiny moment; something that I was completely compelled to do. But I also knew that I had so much to learn to do it well, so a long haul was ahead. So, I worked on the book alongside my day job for years, and only fully took the plunge in the last year to finish the manuscript.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

As a journalism major and marketing professional, writing and expressing ideas was always a skillset. However, I was wired for the headline or the tagline — writing a book that unfolds a story for the reader is an entirely different skillset. I had to immerse myself in the world of storytelling and learn to channel whatever talent I had in a new way. So as with everything, it all comes down to research, discovery, and hard work to sharpen what’s already inside and manifest what you want.

Ironically, that immersion into storytelling gave me a second lightbulb moment. I realized that despite having been a CIO, there were lessons about work, leadership, and success — wisdom hidden within the elements of storytelling — that I never fully understood until I wrote a book.

All great writers know these literary principles, but the 98% of us who are not writers don’t know them. That realization was the spark for my second book, Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life. In it, I marry my business expertise with all the insights from my creative journey so everyone can advance their careers.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life published just as we began to emerge from the pandemic into the new normal of a changing work world. So, I also created three timely virtual extensions: Authorize It! corporate workshops to help teams become more dynamic and improve their business storytelling for greater success; college workshops to help graduating seniors before they step into their careers; and a soon-to-be-released online course. In all, this is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done and I’m grateful to be able to help so many people shift perspective and elevate their work stories.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been fortunate to have had so many influential and inspiring mentors/advisors throughout my career that there’s no way to narrow it down to one! I’m grateful to them all, and can only hope that I’ve managed to convey how important they are to me IRL.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Whenever you put yourself out there creatively, you expose yourself in ways that you never imagined. In Saturday’s Child, I revealed aspects of myself instilled by my unconventional upbringing that I had kept hidden to not appear weak. Although I imagined all sorts of horrors when the book was released, I got a counterintuitive surprise. Guess what I hear about from readers all the time? How strong and brave I am. Vulnerability is powerful and it’s what connects you to others.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

No matter how confident that person on the call or around the conference table appears to be, they have struggled to fully believe in themselves at some point. Limiting beliefs are universal to the human condition and overcoming them is what we all must to become our best selves. For me, my biggest limiting belief goes back to my childhood where my other-worldly beautiful, often-absent mother left me feeling as if I were not her priority or “enough” to hold her attention. But that belief — and how I tried to overcome it — embedded traits that helped me later on. Challenges always yield go-forward positives and that notion is a powerful perspective-shifter for me.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

There are two keys to make any project as successful as it can be: First, take the idea out of the air and get it down on paper to make it real. As you build on it, then identify and enlist outside expert voices from your network who can lend their perspective while you’re in the early stages.

Although writing is solitary work, feedback is always crucial and helps to refine your thinking in the same way it does at work. There comes a point when you can’t go further on your own and asking others to weigh in will expand your horizons. Their feedback can help you to better shape whatever story you’re telling at work and introduce you to other people and initiatives who can further enhance what your initiative.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I understand from having been a CIO that opportunity really can only be found in the space between things. So, unless you do something new, you won’t find it. And doing anything new — no matter how small — forces you to get out of your comfort zone. I think the best example I have is what happened when I stepped out of my comfort zone to write my first book. Had I not gone with the serendipitous flow of that decision, the second book that’s impacting people’s lives now would never have been born.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I would have been a more effective leader then if I fully realized the storytelling lessons my journey crystallized for me. So here are the five foundational principles that impact everyone’s work story and determine success:

  • EMBRACE THE NARRATIVE ARC — Work is nothing more than people on a collective quest. Understanding the predictable cycles and ingredients of any story — that also hold true for any project — is what will make you the hero or heroine of your story and keep you moving forward.
  • UNDERSTAND YOUR CHARACTERS — The greatest forces affecting your quest may be other people, and that’s a fact that plays out dramatically in your work life. Human nature and needs are the drivers of everything, and unless you grasp individual and group dynamics, you cannot lead or succeed as well as you might. And within that mix, the character you most need to understand is yourself.
  • WELCOME CONFLICT — A story without conflict is a giant bore. Bumping up against an external challenge and finding your way around it not only keeps things interesting, it also builds resilience. Without conflict, results at work would be unimaginative and unproductive. No matter how annoying, we all need stressors to take us to a higher level. So, embrace conflict and confrontation (within reason, and civilly), and learn how to leverage it to win.
  • SEEK THE UNCONVENTIONAL — The world is accelerating so quickly, and technology is changing so dramatically, that the familiar or historically significant is no longer enough. Since new situations can’t best be solved by doing all the same old things, think differently by searching for unpredictable and unexpected plot points everywhere. The unconventional will turn things around, open new doors, and deliver the surprising endings that amp-up success.
  • STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN — All writers know that it’s not really a story unless there’s venturing into uncharted territory. We all must leave the known behind and tiptoe into the foggy unknown because that’s where what’s next awaits. Although it’s never easy, without discovering the new — and all the challenges that the unfamiliar brings — advancement isn’t possible. Anyone’s path to progress begins with that first step into the unknown.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

In this moment, I would inspire the #thinklikeawriter movement. Great writers have characteristics that we would all be wise to adopt:

  • WRITERS HAVE PERSPECTIVE. They are non-judgmental, uber-observers of life because they must write authentically. And to get at the truth, they need the perspective that only taking in all sides can bring.
  • WRITERS ARE QUEST-CENTRIC. They first understand the story problem and then focus on the solution — the quest. This helps them to move their stories forward because they must always be for something rather than just against something.
  • WRITERS ARE ALWAYS EDITING. They have a continuous improvement mindset and realize that nothing is ever really finished. The concept that everything can be made better with consistent re-assessing and finetuning will make everyone more successful at work.
  • WRITERS ARE SELF-DIRECTED. They face the blank page every day in every way. If they don’t write, nothing happens — a powerful reminder that the reins of our careers are always in our own hands.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos. The Hollywood Reporter recommended that Saturday’s Child be an original series, and I have a TV treatment inspired by the story’s backdrop — the lost era of the notorious Canzoneri Country Club. It’s Dirty Dancing meets The Godfather (this time from a woman’s perspective), and it’s perfect for Netflix and for everyone’s next binge!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.deborahburnsauthor.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborah-burns-4362424/
https://www.instagram.com/deborah_l_burns/?hl=en

https://www.facebook.com/deborah.burns.735/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


About The Interviewer: Pirie Jones Grossman is a certified Life Coach, TedX Speaker, influencer, best selling author and co-founder and co-host of the podcast, “Own Your Throne”. She has shared the stage with speakers such as Deepak Chopra, Elisabeth Gilbert, Marianne Williamson, Kris Carr, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. She coaches women on focusing on self esteem, and helping women reignite the second chapter of their lives!

She’s a writer for Thrive Global and Huffington Post. She’s a former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC. She was Co-Chair for the Special Olympics International World Winter Games in Idaho and spoke at the UN on behalf of Special Olympics. She is the founder of the “Love is Louder” Brain Health Summit with Suicide survivor, Kevin Hines, focusing on teenage depression and suicide. She gave a TedX talk about, “How To Heal A Community from Suicide.”

Pirie has her Masters in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica, California. She is a Sun Valley Wellness Institute Board member and lives in Sun Valley, Idaho with her two teenagers where she has a private Life Empowerment coaching practice.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Tom Wilde On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

    by Karen Mangia
    Community//

    Melissa Dexter On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

    by Karen Mangia
    Community//

    Ravi Swaminathan On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

    by Karen Mangia
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.