It’s crucial for leaders to have a routine to create space in their day for reflection and creation. One thing I feel passionately about creating is an intention for each day, almost like setting a purpose or a way of being that day, or something you want to put your energy towards (this is not about perfection, it’s more about igniting a practice towards something you want).
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Ross.
Susan Ross holds a courageous vision for you to live from a place of purpose and zest for life! She is a personal development coach and former Human Resources executive with more than 22 years of experience focused on corporate leadership and people development. Susan made a recent choice to change her life to be radically more fulfilling by launching her own coaching company, INTENTION Personal Development Group, to empower people to design and live the life they are truly longing for.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
After a 22-year corporate career, I knew I needed to step back (and out!) in order to redefine what success meant to me across my whole life. What was I working to get? The paycheck? Being the corporate A-student? I loved being the corporate A-student. But I wanted MORE. So much more. I wondered about the opportunity cost of a full-time job with 3 boys at home for yeeeaaars. I loved my job, but I loved my life more — I wanted to make money in a way that put my passions into action AND I also wanted to claim my life back and redesign it in a new way — and be in a position to inspire and empower others to claim and redesign theirs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I worked for my coaching certification for about 16 months and it was a really long journey, and one I was very invested in. When I got word that I passed my final coaching exam, I felt nothing. I changed my entire life around to get this certification and I was so focused on the outcome every day for 16 months — like laser focused — that when it came, it took a very long time to process it. I celebrate every little thing for my clients and my family and here I had trouble celebrating my own success. In some ways I am still figuring it out fully. Mostly, the journey has to match the destination. If at the end of something, you want to be happy and free spirited, then let yourself be that along the way.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I belong to a leadership program, and one day I jumped on a business-building call where my program leader extraordinaire, the amazing author, co-active trainer and activational keynote speaker Rick Tamlyn, was talking about what it takes for coaches to create a business. His position was that people make mistakes by making business decisions based on how they feel — for example, they say no to an opportunity for exposure because they worry about HOW they are going to do it — and how is the biggest destroyer of creativity. Well, I had just said no to three speaking engagements earlier that day, because I wasn’t certain I could figure out HOW I would do it!! I was able to make his point perfectly through my mistakes. Most importantly, “going before you know” and stepping into the unknown is part of it. Everyone has fear of not knowing enough and that moment of “how will I ever do that?” is the question that stops us in our tracks. So, my new mantra is, yes now, how later.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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 always fantasized about leaving my full-time corporate job to become a life and corporate coach. While I was still working at Mastercard I actually hired a powerhouse corporate coach, Jeanni Esti from Compagna Enterprises, to coach our Executive Marketing team. She ended up being the embodiment of the life I was longing for. She had left a big company to get her own coaching certification a decade prior, and had built the life and lifestyle she wanted through her coaching work and doing what she absolutely loves. She was my role model in action — and somehow, just her being who she was gave me the courage to take the steps forward that would make my dream a reality. One could say I experienced what I wanted through her, and then borrowed that energy to make it happen for myself. When they say that people come into your life for a reason, she proved it to be true. Today I see her as a true friend, a colleague, a co-conspirator, a mentor and a selfless champion of mine who truly changed my life (and the lives of so many others and counting) just by being, not by doing. So grateful for you Jeannie Esti!
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Our habits either help us to create the life that we want, or stand in our way of creating that life. What do you need to feel fully grounded, and connected to your true self? Your true self is the essence of you. Quieting your mind and experiencing your own breath is all it takes to connect inward. Your true self is always there for you. Trust that. Nothing about your true self needs to be fixed. However, there are sometimes things — noise from our own minds or the outside world — standing in the way of connecting to our true selves. Once you connect to your true self, ask yourself what you need to thrive each day. There can be some non-negotiables here. For me, working out fuels whatever else I do that day. If I say no in the moment, I pay all day. Boundaries are also important in order to prevent burnout — especially since we are conditioned to say yes to things that don’t serve us. So, I have to say NO to some other things so that I can YES to working out, so I have the energy to be who I want to be each day.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
When I worked at Mastercard as an SVP in Human Resources, that was our mandate — to give employees a fantastic work experience and culture! Culture is all about creating a conscious work environment. Every culture needs something different — however, what is important is to live the culture you are trying to create (and to source what is needed from the audience that you are serving so that it’s relevant and aspirational). It’s similar to living your values. If you say something is important but you don’t live it, you are out of balance. If you claim to have a work culture that values work life flexibility, for example, then commit to what you espouse — don’t give women or men a passive aggressive response when they want to work from home, that sort of thing. Walk the talk and be the change that you want to see in your business and personal world — that is key to living a culture. I think Lou Gerstner from IBM once said, you don’t change a culture, you invite employees to change a culture.” So true!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
Be-to-do, not do-to-be. This is a very exciting step to take that can change your life forever. So many of us are outcome driven — if I do more of X, I will be more of Y. For example, if I make more money, I will be happier. But happiness is not an outcome — it’s a state of being, or a deeper attitude — it’s actually a conscious choice. It’s something you embody right here in the present moment. So be-to-do turns that thinking and flips it around. If I am happier, I will make more money. And I believe that, because what you do is an extension of who you are. Start with the being first, and your life will become more expansive and more deeply fulfilling. True fulfillment comes from living from the inside out!
Turn “I should” into “I want.” In an early coaching course, the instructor used the term “should all over yourself” and it clearly stuck with me! I can’t tell you how many people use the word should. Who says we should?! I told myself I should all of my life: I should keep busy and never be idle; I should go for the bigger job; I should go to that party even if I’m tired; I should work full-time; I should not sleep too late; I should not brag; I should just smile and say yes, yes yes. I got out of the should cycle when I stood up and left a corporate job that any sane person would say I should remain in forever. Sometimes, we have to stand up and say I want — because if we only do what we think we should do, whose life are we really living?
Thank your inner critics and then send them to a spa in Paris. This is exactly what my examiner told me to do right after taking my coaching certification oral exam (thank you Alex Verlek, Master Co-Active Certified Coach). I was filled with inner critics that day, as was most everyone. I loved the idea of thanking them. My perfectionist tendencies, as much as I am trying to banish them from my life, have served me in so many ways that I would like to acknowledge, and only then can I let them go (and in a really fun way which is also key). We all have inner critics or gremlins and mine have become particularly sneaky, showing up just when I am about to do something big and brave, making me think they are saving me from something but really they are only holding me back from jumping out of my comfort zone, and into the magic of my life. See you in Paris!
Let it go! Letting go comes in so many forms. It could be letting go of a relationship that isn’t serving you. It could be letting go of a bad habit that is standing in your way of a healthier lifestyle. It could be letting go of an inner critic voice that you are tolerating in your head. It could be letting go of a judgement about another person that you are attaching yourself to. It could be letting go of the difficult conversation that you are consistently replaying in your head. It’s hard to bring new people, new thoughts, new ways of being or doing into our life until we let some of the old ones go to make room for the new. Also, if you hold too tightly to something you long for, it somehow slips away.
Set a strong intention for yourself each day. It’s crucial for leaders to have a routine to create space in their day for reflection and creation. One thing I feel passionately about creating is an intention for each day, almost like setting a purpose or a way of being that day, or something you want to put your energy towards (this is not about perfection, it’s more about igniting a practice towards something you want). Some days, my intention is simply to be more patient with my family. Recently, while attending a 6-day Co-Active leadership program, a colleague and friend, the fabulous Melissa Dawn, founder of a coaching company called CEO of Your Life, found out that her grandmother fell ill. What she created out of that was stunning. Melissa invited us all to sit in an intention circle, and we brought our thoughts and awareness towards her grandmother healing quickly. She also invited other participants to put their healing intentions into the circle for their own loved ones. She was absolutely convinced that the power of multiple intentions would be astounding, and she was right. Absolutely every participant who put out an intention had wonders to report about their loved ones the following week, including great news about Melissa’s grandmother. Don’t underestimate the power of intention in your life — it takes trust and faith and letting go. As my mediation teacher used to say, ‘some problems in life are bigger than what the brain alone can solve.’
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
I think this goes back to the journey needing to match the outcome. People who save all of their money, their passion and their purpose for when they retire can find themselves suddenly stopping the only life they know in order to have the life they think they wanted all along, and they are ironically filled with a sense of disappointment, confusion and loss. Retirement is a transition, for sure — but it’s an extension of your life. What it gives you is more time. More time to do what? I don’t wait to think about what my New Year’s resolution is on January 1 — I dream and imagine what’s possible for myself in advance, so when the moment hits, I’m already there. Commit to living with passion and purpose and zest for life now, and the ‘time for what’ will be clear, and emerge along the way. Also, try holding it with a sense of reflection, enjoyment and gratitude, not pressure and scarcity. It’s not about stopping — there is also a lot to be discovered in a whole new way!
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
There’s something about that age that makes kids want to fit in, and be like everybody else. What they don’t realize yet is, having to only fit in means that you can’t stand out! What makes them different makes them unique and amazing — so practicing an inner voice around appreciating what sets people apart, will eventually allow them to connect better with others. That sounds like a paradox, I know. We tend to think that if we are the same, people will like us. But if we can’t be who we really are, the relationship will eventually slip away. It’s when we can be different and still be friends, that the relationship strengthens.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a short read based on Toltec wisdom that help us to identify limiting beliefs so that we can suffer less and live a sort of ‘heaven on earth’ sense of inner joy. Most of my clients have now read it, and it’s a great lens from which to examine your own life or consciously design the agreements you want to use to hold a room of people when you are doing a workshop or running a meeting, or even at the family dinner table. Ooh, I’m going to try that last one!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
#Live like we all matter
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“The story we tell becomes the world we live in.” Just sit with it for a day. It’s so good, it speaks for itself! What’s the new story you will tell today?
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!