Doctor Neha: Hi, everyone. Welcome, Susan.
Susan: Thanks for having me.
Doctor Neha: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure. Susan, as we’ve spoken about, you had been a corporate executive in the C Suite for 27 years. Now, you are getting this gift of giving yourself some time off and looking inward to see how the difference in your fast-paced life compares with the ability to have time, abundance of freedom, and choice in your life. So what do you want to talk about as far as any dilemmas or questions that you’re facing as you slow down?
Susan: The big thing that I have to sort out is what’s next for me. The one thing I have learned over a few months of a different pace—not a slow pace, but a different pace—has been that I need to have grace for myself and let that emerge more. I need to have grace not to measure myself by the same set of metrics that I had previously.
Doctor Neha: What were your previous metrics?
Susan: It was all about what I accomplished in a given day and how meaningful that was. Now it’s less about accomplishment and more about a connection and introspection. So one of the key things I’ve been doing is trying to find the best ways to spend time with my kids. I am not a stay-at-home mom, and I really admire women who make the choice to a work at home to provide the best environment for their family and their children. I know I am sort of adapting to this temporary state of being around my kids more. One of the things that I’ve observed is that it can be easy getting caught up in the transactions of life. It can be easy worrying about what has to get in their lunch today. Do you need lunch today and what do you want today? Or my son needs his soccer cleats or he forgot his project or he’s got to get ready for his trip to Africa or my daughter’s recital is coming up—whatever it may be. There’s so much to do—which, by the way, used to get done without me being here. Somehow all of these activities were happening. I was managing some of them and doing some of the work on the weekends or making sure that somebody else was doing what needs to be done. But the point is that now that I’m here, I feel like I should be doing it all.
And when I’m doing it all, I’m not necessarily taking advantage of each of those transactions as an opportunity to connect. I think my job here is not to be “doing it all.” My job here is to find the best way to connect with each of them in whatever area that they need.
You know, when I was working I would be out of the house by 6:30, and I’d be back around 7:30 or 8:00 at night. So the time I had with my children was between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. We had to eat dinner, deal with homework questions and forms that needed to be signed, and get ready for bed.
Doctor Neha: And what about the drama of the day?
Susan: Yes, whatever drama from the day is still around! Sometimes there’s drama that happened that I didn’t hear about that I really wished I’d heard about that didn’t make it to the dinner table necessarily. But in those two hours, I’m tired, they’re tired, and there’s a lot to get done. And sometimes it was three hours, and everybody’s not going to sleep until 11:00 even though we should be going to sleep at 10.
What I realized when my time with them with was just those few hours—and that wasn’t always consistent because I travel and I have dinners for work—was that when taking my daughter to school at 8:30 or 8:00 in the morning is a different conversation than the one at night before she’s going to bed. Or if I’m helping my son study for an exam at 6:00 p.m. and he’s preparing for his first set of finals that’s different than when he’s got his head buried in his computer and I peek in the door at 10:00 at night.
So I want to have opportunities to find a way to be supportive, encouraging and helpful to them without taking on all the responsibilities of the house, but I’ve been taking the time that was spent at work and putting that time into other things and yet not having that depth of relationship. I’ve always had a strong relationship with my kids, and I always will, but there are so many layers to have more connection. What’s nice for me now is I’m seeing the pleasure of having this gift of time to focus on them. It’s not going to be forever, and I’m going to be back in some crazy schedule at some point. But while I have this time, I better damn well better take advantage of it.
Doctor Neha: You said so many things there. It’s clear that you’ve moved from valuing an accomplishment as queen to now valuing connection. You actually value both of them—and it seems to me that what you’ll find in your next endeavor, no matter what it is, is both of those values together. You’ll have the ability to move at a pace and set things up your new environment in a way that you get both of those [values]. I also heard how precious the time is with your children and that their needs are changing. One thing I heard you say is that when you moved at such a fast pace where there was limited time for the kids and, I imagine that you would interact with them on mostly logistics and crises.
Susan: Yes, sure.
Doctor Neha:So what you’re saying now is “I’ve given myself the space of time and now I can connect with them not just on logistics and crises, but on what’s meaningful to them on how their day is.” You have the gift of being present with another human being and being a part of their life, not someone who only solves the crises and the problems logistically to get them from point A to point B. So I would imagine in that space that you’ve gone to a different level of depth and connection with them.
Susan: That’s right. It’s broadening their relationship [with me] and hopefully creating an even stronger foundation for the future so that I can be someone they access for whatever may come and long before the emergency. I was also going to say that I realized that there is a finite period of time that I have with my kids. My son is going into his second year of high school. My daughter is two years behind him, so I can now count on one hand the number of years they will be living under my roof. That’s scary. When you first have kids, you think it’s forever, a life sentence of being a parent. And it is—but it’s different from when they’re a newborn to when they’re three and then from three to five and five to eight….you have the same level of exponential change. At least I’m feeling that’s what is happening now that they are young teens. It’s a different ballgame, and it’s one that has to be experienced. I know that every day since the day they were born their purpose is to move one step further away from me to become a fulfilled, functioning adult.
Doctor Neha: Independent.
Susan: Exactly. Independent and driving. Now I see that happening in front of me, and it seems like an accelerated speed.
Doctor Neha: What I’m really hearing, Susan, and what I would like to offer to everybody else is that there is a level on which you are connecting right now in the world and you might be doing it consciously with some people and you might be not doing it unconsciously. Pay attention to and with whom you connect on a logistics level. For example, “Where do we get the kids? What time are we going to dinner? What’s happening? Do you have everything packed?” Notice what level you’re connecting on and how much that fulfills you. Notice if you want more fulfillment or if you’re longing for a deeper connection then choose it. Certain people are only comfortable connecting on a logistics level—that’s one level of connection. The next level of connection would be something like an intellectual banter on a topic or discussing philosophy. Another level of connection would be an emotional connection—when someone’s in pain, when they’re feeling joyful, and being present for that experience. Another level of connection would be around purpose, value, passion, meaning and purpose. Each is a different level of connection.
Susan: There’s also just pausing to have fun like “Show me the stupid video that’s on YouTube” that they would never in a million years show it to me. If it’s just one of their daily discoveries, they would never say, “Mom, come sit and watch this” because they know that [in the past] I would be like, “Are you kidding?”
Doctor Neha: You’re wondering, what makes it important? Or thinking, don’t waste my time.
Susan: Exactly. And now I can be funny and watch something silly.
Doctor Neha: You’re exactly right. Be playful.
I want to conclude by telling you a story that cracked me up. I moved to Boston, and I made a friend, Maya, and she introduces me to her husband, Terry. Now Maya is really outgoing and adventurous. She introduces me to her very analytical, artistic husband. So at my birthday party, I asked everyone to give me some fun facts about themselves. Then there’s a list of the people in the room with a fun fact that you have to guess who is who. At the end, whoever gets the most people correct wins. So Maya’s fun fact was that she had been married twice…to the same man. I said, “That is so good.” Then I separately ask Terry and he says, “In 1984, when I was on a first date with someone, she asked me what I do for fun, and I said to her, ‘What exactly is the redeemable value of fun?’ And then she married me—twice.”
So on that note, what I’d like to say to you is ask yourself what level of connection you know you’re making with people. Does it fulfill you? Choose the level you want. There might be different levels of connection that you want with different people, but most of all, make sure that you’re having fun. So thanks, I appreciate you spending your time with us. Susan, thank you for your insight, wisdom, and your openness.
Susan: My pleasure. So great to be here.