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How to Connect With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships, With Susan Ross and Akemi Sue Fisher

The first is meditation. My husband and I can tell whether we are each meditating regularly by the way we are behaving towards each other. Meditation allows you to let go and to just be, as you are. It allows space for you to be gentler and more open-hearted towards yourself and also towards others. The […]


The first is meditation. My husband and I can tell whether we are each meditating regularly by the way we are behaving towards each other. Meditation allows you to let go and to just be, as you are. It allows space for you to be gentler and more open-hearted towards yourself and also towards others.

The second is working out. Feeling strong and energized and physically challenged feeds my soul, and supports my hustle. Some people think “I don’t have time to work out, I have to work!” and I used to be that person. Now I think, “I am working out BECAUSE I have to work, and I need to feel good in order to do it the way I want to!”

The third is that I have changed my to do list — now I have a regular “do and dream list.” Making space to dream and be inspired by things I could do or will do gives me a lot of positive and creative energy.

The fourth is structure — I collect physical things that remind me of who I am or who I want to be. One of my favorites is a list of words that other people have told me I am. It currently says “sassy, decisive, spontaneous and daring.” If someone else thought that I was showing up that way, shouldn’t I believe it too?

The fifth is having a gratefulness practice. Sometimes it’s when I wake up, sometimes it’s in a journal, and sometimes when I’m on line at the grocery store or driving in my car. Name 5 things you are grateful for and then sit with that feeling for a minute, and it changes your perspective immediately. If your readers could take away one thing, it would be to practice gratefulness and teach it to your friends and your kids. Why not appreciate what is, rather than hope for what isn’t?


As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Susan Ross. Susan is a Co-Active Coach launching her own coaching practice, which she is creating following a 22-year career in corporate HR, most recently as SVP of HR at Mastercard. Her passion is for people to step into their true power and design their life from a place of self-compassion and courage. She is a Coach, HR Executive, Board Member and Mom of three young boys (where self-compassion and courage gets put to the test!). She holds a M.A. degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is currently pursuing her Co-Active Coaching Certification from the renowned Coaches Training Institute. You can connect with or learn more about Susan here on LinkedIn


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

After a very successful 22-year career in Human Resources, I knew in my bones that my true passion was the 1:1 impact of helping someone be the very best version of themselves. Despite being an SVP in HR, I confess that it wasn’t strategy work that excited me — it was much simpler and more human than that. Sometimes, the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the further away you get from what you really love. I wanted my impact to be very real and personal. So, I decided to become a coach so I could focus on helping others live their best life through personal transformation and forward growth. I want everyone on the planet to live on purpose — their own unique purpose — whatever that may be.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Every client I work with is unique and magnificent in their own way — so, I am learning something new from them every single day (I am very lucky in that way)! One of the things I do with clients is to ask them to list their “top 25 superpowers” — meaning, their gifts, talents and skills as they see and experience them. You wouldn’t believe how difficult that is for people. They can list it for their spouse or best friend, but not for themselves. We don’t spend time appreciating and loving the many great things we bring to the world. So, we don’t use them to their fullest extent and we then end up living smaller lives than what we were meant to live. The good news is, we can change that if we make different choices and create habits that cultivate self-appreciation and love.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

Absolutely! I struggled for three years with the decision to leave the corporate world. After my third boy was born, my relationship with time changed dramatically. I felt suffocated by office walls. I longed for the opportunity to see and shape my kids before the sun went down. I was agile, and knew I could work from home (and did it quite well), but I continued to want more freedom and flexibility, and to actually enjoy the family life I was creating. I never stopped thinking about leaving — but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Some other things happened that finally tipped the scales for me, and I left. I left an outstanding company, a high paying and satisfying career, and an identity that I had built over decades.

However, I was listening to my innermost self — my truest heartfelt desire was to make a big change. In order to give all of that up, I had to shock many people and disappoint the CMO of a Fortune 500 company, who I was working for at the time, and breaking those loyalties was very difficult for me. But I had to be loyal to myself first. And when I left, that’s all I had — the deep feeling that I was doing what I needed to do for me, for the first time ever. Well that, and my very supportive family and friends and super rock-star husband who was behind me 100%. But what’s important here, is that I had a strong intuition before I had proof that it would work. I was listening to that intuition, and leaning into the unknown. I accepted that I was scared and that I was leaving a lot behind. I had to really “get okay” with that. I was embarking on a new adventure and I was both the captain and crew. All I had was belief in myself as I walked away from my comfort zone and towards a life I trusted could be bigger and better. It was a leap of faith not only about the future, but about me — I knew there was a bigger version of me that I wanted to get to know better, and wanted to the world to meet.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

Have you ever noticed that there are also some drop-dead gorgeous people out there who are not satisfied with their appearance too? If you don’t love yourself on the inside, you will never like what you see on the outside. I am learning more every day that the way we treat other people is a manifestation of how we are feeling about ourselves beneath the surface. Cultivating self-criticism seems to be the norm. I think it’s an epidemic that is causing us to build armour around ourselves instead of building connections with others. I see so many people tell their kids how incredible they are, and then they put themselves down whenever they have the chance. As Brian Ripka, owner of Ripped Fitness, puts it when he starts every interval training class each week, “we are who we tell ourselves we are.” So well said! So, tell yourselfsomething positive each day, and notice if you start to like what you see just a little more.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

If there’s one reason why loving yourself is so important, it’s definitely because you can’t give away what you don’t have. Love is the strongest emotion. Emotions are just that — energy-in-motion! If you choose to have loving energy towards yourself, your life will be fueled with that loving energy. One of the most important things in my life is loving other people. Mostly, my family and friends. But one my favorites is falling in love with people I barely know, and it happens all of the time: the person behind the Starbucks counter who has a smile that lights up your morning; the taxi driver who tells you his amazing life story; the new person you just met at a party over a bottle of bubbly. Many people have these wonderful experiences. We know how to love others, even strangers. Why not start with ourselves? How would our lives be different if we focused 2019 on loving ourselves like crazy? And I would offer, what exactly is the alternative? As Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly said, “I have decided to stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

I think people stay in mediocre relationships because they are settling! They are accepting less than what they deserve, because they don’t believe in their own worthiness. Those people don’t believe they are enough, just as they are. So, they build a life that is less than what they want, and they become unhappy, and point to their “less-than” life as evidence of why they are rightfully unhappy. It’s a vicious cycle. If this is your pattern of behavior, then bravo for recognizing it! With this newfound wisdom, start making more conscious choices about your life. Make a list of all of your values (withhold any judgement). Then, circle your top 5. Try to see your relationship through the perspective of those values. Are you honoring those values in your relationship? If not, then you’re probably not valuing yourself or what you truly desire. One of my values is unconditional love. If that’s not the kind of love I’m getting, from myself or others, then I’ve decided that it’s not worth my time. Because, as the Buddhists say, “the trouble is, you think you have time…”

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times, self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

As a coach, tough questions that break through our comfort zones are my favorite! Particularly, something that gets you to think and act differently. I love having clients make very personal list. What are they ready to claim in their lives? What will they will say yes to? What will they say no to? Ironically, when I made this list for my coaching program, I said yes to being courageous and feeling proud of myself and I said no to self-doubt and perfectionism. As I began my coaching journey, I realized that I was spending so much time worrying about doing it perfectly that it was getting in the way of doing it at all! I realized that I couldn’t give my clients positive energy if I was busy worrying about how I was showing up (again, you can’t give what you don’t have). So, after a needed pep talk from my dear friend, coach and mentor Jeannie Esti, I gave up “being perfect” in exchange for “just being.” I realized me showing up and loving my client (which I can only do if I love myself) is better than trying to show up perfectly, or not showing up at all. In truth, I maybe do half of all of this stuff right, half of the time. That’s the nature of it. If it’s hard, you just keep trying. And anyway, what is the impact I truly want to have? That’s where I want to focus my energy.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

I believe alone time is a literal and spiritual practice. The best leaders in the world can tell you about their own practices — because they all know that it’s critical to have one. Earlier I talked about the importance of values, and one of my favorites is “freeing my inner introvert” (admittedly I borrowed this from my very wise friend Leah Smart who is also a coach at LinkedIn). Although I am a wholehearted extrovert, I honor my inner introvert through mediation, alone-time, down-time, work-out time, reading time — any time where I am alone with my own thoughts and not distracting myself with technology. This allows me to “just be”, without the outside pressures to perform or do. If you’d like some ideas and are short on time, just google The Six Minute Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and it’s sure to inspire a ritual of your own.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Knowing who you are at your best, what your values are, and what you are willing to say yes or no to in your life, will give you a roadmap for who you want to spend your time with. If your strongest value is family, and you’re dating someone who doesn’t want to have children, then you will never be able to fully honor that value with them (not a good match). This allows you to have clear desires and clear boundaries, which are also so important in the design of any healthy relationship. My husband and I see a lot of things differently, but at the core, our values are very aligned — and when the big stuff is in harmony, then you are literally only “sweating the small stuff.”

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

Individuals should call people out when they hear others talk about themselves critically. If you listen for it with a keen ear, you will hear it all of the time. Train yourself to hear it, and shine a light on it. Inner-critic voices grow in the dark, not the light of day. Say things like “I’d like to challenge that, I actually think you’re super smart.” Just make sure it’s authentic, that you really mean it, otherwise it won’t be genuine. As for society, a focus on being genuine and real is also very important. I’m anti-perfectionist. Embracing mistakes is super cool. It shows vulnerability, courage, and a desire for learning. Let’s celebrate mistakes and turn our nose up at perfectionism — perfect is boring and prevents us from trying new things! My fellow coaches know that my code word for this is “spaghetti.” Spaghetti can’t be perfect, but it’s great every time. Embrace the mess!

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

Hands down, the first is meditation. My husband and I can tell whether we are each meditating regularly by the way we are behaving towards each other. Meditation allows you to let go and to just be, as you are. It allows space for you to be gentler and more open-hearted towards yourself and also towards others.

The second is working out. Feeling strong and energized and physically challenged feeds my soul, and supports my hustle. Some people think “I don’t have time to work out, I have to work!” and I used to be that person. Now I think, “I am working out BECAUSE I have to work, and I need to feel good in order to do it the way I want to!”

The third is that I have changed my to do list — now I have a regular “do and dream list.” Making space to dream and be inspired by things I could do or will do gives me a lot of positive and creative energy.

The fourth is structure — I collect physical things that remind me of who I am or who I want to be. One of my favorites is a list of words that other people have told me I am. It currently says “sassy, decisive, spontaneous and daring.” If someone else thought that I was showing up that way, shouldn’t I believe it too?

The fifth is having a gratefulness practice. Sometimes it’s when I wake up, sometimes it’s in a journal, and sometimes when I’m on line at the grocery store or driving in my car. Name 5 things you are grateful for and then sit with that feeling for a minute, and it changes your perspective immediately. If your readers could take away one thing, it would be to practice gratefulness and teach it to your friends and your kids. Why not appreciate what is, rather than hope for what isn’t?

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Most recently I’ve started to listen to Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher and best-selling author who teaches live from NYC on Tuesday evenings. One of her New York Times best sellers, A Return to Love, reads “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” That blows my mind every time. I would be remiss not to add that “How to Meditate with Pema Chodron” is my favorite app, and her downloadable teaching “Getting Unstuck” has literally changed my life. Very literally. I have listened to it 300 times and am still learning every time.

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? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I’d like to start a movement that inspires everyone on the planet to show up as the BIGGEST and boldest version of their true self, every day. Without fear, without hesitation, without disclaimer or apology. #ChoosetoBEBIG2019 #Liveonpurpose2019

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

My own beloved coach, Anat Treister-Goren, taught me early on in my coaching journey that “the greatest gift I could give myself was the gift of being in the unknown.” To me, it’s about learning to see possibility and opportunity in what you can’t control. It’s about finding inspiration in what’s possible. It’s about being scared and unsure and doing it anyway. It’s about trying something new. It’s about taking a risk. It’s about aliveness, and courageousness. It’s about embracing “spaghetti.” I find new meaning in it each and every day. What is the gift of your unknown?

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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