407 MINISODE Laura Gassner Otting: Ambition is NOT a Dirty Word

Women Innovating Networking Growing Scaling – that’s WINGS … I’m Melinda Wittstock, my mission is to help women take flight to soar to the success of our dreams in business and in life– and create and grow businesses in alignment with our passion and purpose.

On this special Mentoring Minisode of Wings of Inspired Business … we talk about how to release all that guilt, shame and apology … that can manifest when accept the limits other people put on us … and do the things we think we “should” do rather than what truly makes our hearts sing. Plus how to learn from failure – and transform it into the fulcrum of our success. After all, a baby doesn't take a few steps and fall down and go, “Walking's not really for me.”

Here with us today to provide her insights and inspiration is …

Laura Gassner Otting.

Laura Gassner Otting is a serial entrepreneur and the bestselling author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. It’s an inspiring book about what it truly means to be fulfilled in business and beyond. It debuted in second place behind the former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir.

Laura will be here with her advice in just a moment on our Mentoring Minisode and first …

And now to the inspiring Laura Gassner Otting.

Laura helps people get “unstuck” — and achieve extraordinary results.

Her company is called Limitless Possibility, and she collaborates with change agents, entrepreneurs, investors, leaders, and donors to push past the doubt and indecision that consign great ideas to limbo. She delivers strategic thinking, well-honed wisdom, and catalytic perspective informed by decades of navigating change across the start-up, nonprofit, political, and philanthropic landscapes.

Laura’s 25-year resume is defined by her entrepreneurial edge. She served as a Presidential Appointee in President Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps; she expand the startup ExecSearches.com; and founded and ran the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which partnered with the full gamut of mission driven nonprofit executives, from start-up dreamers to scaling social entrepreneurs to global philanthropists. She is the author of Mission-Driven, a book for those moving from profit to purpose, and now the bestseller Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.

Laura describes herself as an instigator, a motivator, and a provocateur, and she’s never met a revolution she didn’t like – and she shares important advice today in this must-listen Mentoring Minisode.

Laura Gassner Otting

Laura Gassner Otting is on a mission to help entrepreneurs live what she calls a “limitless life” without guilt, tradeoff or apology. A serial entrepreneur who started and sold a successful international executive search firm, built philanthropic and political action committees from scratch, Laura is the bestselling author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. She shares advice on mentoring, living big, and how to turn “failure” into a fulcrum for success.  

Melinda Wittstock:         Laura, welcome to Wings.

Laura Gassner Otting:   It is great to be here.

Melinda Wittstock:         It is great to have you. I love your book, and I love the whole concept of living a limitless life. And I want to know what is inspiring you right now?

Laura Gassner Otting:    So I'm on this mission right now just to spread the word as far and as wide as I can to men and women, but really women, about the fact that we have to stop listening to everyone else's definition of what box we should fit in. I feel like we spend so much time assigning guilt and assigning all sorts of meaning to other people's ideas. And I just, I'm done with it, right? I'm just done with it. I'm tired of us chasing the gold stars. I'm tired of us checking off the boxes. I'm tired of us leaning in and still feeling guilty and incomplete, and unhappy.

Laura Gassner Otting:    So what inspires me right now are the women who come up to me after I get off stage and they say, “Thank you for giving me permission to live the life that I wanted. Thank you for allowing me to see the leader I could be. Thank you for seeing the greatness that I didn't actually feel comfortable grabbing onto.” And I say to them, “I didn't do that. I put out a framework, and you saw yourself in it.” So what's inspiring me right now is that I wrote this book to end that cycle and that it's resonating with people.

Melinda Wittstock:         Oh gosh. And thank you so much for doing that. I mean really it's one of the reasons I launched this podcast. How to shift women from I guess a sense of scarcity into abundance where we can really step up and play a bigger game, and actually change the game of business. We have so much to give. And yet, yeah, we toil in other people's should’s. So a profound thing. So I think we have so much potential, don't you?

Laura Gassner Otting:    I think we have so much potential. And not only do we have potential, we have opportunity. Because as women, we get all of these natural on-ramps and on-ramps in life, right? Whether you have kids or not, you're still the caregiver of neighbors, of parents, of spouses, of whoever. We just, it's our natural role. And we have so many opportunities to reinvent ourselves. And I do believe that at every age and at every life stage, we're different people, right? I mean, we have different hormonal makeups, we have different demands on our time, we have different interests. And I think women in particular go through so many more changes than men. And I think even though we have this whole set of things that can frustrate us, I think we can use those things to our advantage too.

Laura Gassner Otting:    So taking time off for family, being underestimated, being overlooked, being sexualized. All these things, we can choose to use them as advantages if we see them as such. And not just prisons.

Melinda Wittstock:         Beautifully said. So you and I both know that as entrepreneurs, we face a lot of challenges on the journey, a lot of fail moments. A lot of difficulties where we have to get out of our own way or we have external circumstances that we have to overcome. I like to de-stigmatize all of those because I believe it's all learning. So what are some of your challenges?

Laura Gassner Otting:    Well, the first thing I would say is I would say I see failure not as finale but as fulcrum. Right? I was giving this talk in Austin, and I was talking about how all along the way, unless you are dead on the ground, right? There's no longer breath in your body. You can get up from failure and you can use it to learn, and grow, and innovate, and change. And I looked out the stage left and there was an astronaut, Commander Tim Kopra of NASA who has gone on not one, not two, but three spacewalks. And I was like, “Failure is not finale. It's fulcrum. Except for you sir, failure would most definitely be finale. But for the rest of us, right?”

Laura Gassner Otting:    Think about our kids in school. They go through algebra, the pre-algebra, they get algebra. They go through algebra, it's time for geometry. Geometry, here comes trigonometry. You finally figure out trigonometry, and calculus is in the house. And our kids don't know how to do it the day they walk into class. And how do they learn? They learn by failing over and over and over, and picking themselves up and going. I saw a cute meme the other day that said a baby doesn't take a few steps and fall down and go, “Walking's not really for me.” Right? You just keep going. So I think if we stopped looking at failure as failure, but we look at it as something that's actually part of the growth process, then it actually doesn't become this, “Oh God, I've got failures I have to overcome.” It becomes, “Oh good, I have failures,” which means I can now embrace the suck that is being a beginner so that I can get past that stage and become even better.

Melinda Wittstock:         I love that. So along the way, as you built and exited a business, wrote this amazing best seller, what are the top three go-to pieces of advice you'd give women in our mentoring Minisode today?

Laura Gassner Otting:    The first thing is I would say ambition is not a dirty word, right? We have all this like, “She's so ambitious.” Nobody says that about men. “He's so ambitious.” “He's ambitious. It's great.” Ambition is not a dirty word. If having more money, if having more leverage, if having more power, if having more of a title, if having more of whatever it is that allows you to do more, allows you to show up more for the people that you love and the causes you hold dear, then it's your ambition, it's your responsibility. That's number one.

Laura Gassner Otting:    Number two, it's not just enough to have mentors. We always look for mentors because mentors are lovely and we tell them our problems. And they go, “Honey, that's tough.” Maybe they help us think through solutions. But champions. Champions are the ones who say, I am going to this event. The person who's making the decision about who gets put on the assignment, which then gets the spotlight so that the other person gets to see who's going to get their promotion, is going to be sitting at my table. “You should come join me.” Right? Champions are the ones that open the doors, that promote you, that amplify your message, that promote your possibility. So mentors are great, but also get champions along the way.

Melinda Wittstock:         This is such good advice. Women who open doors meaningfully, I mean create opportunities for other women. I believe hence Wings, that we should all lift as we climb. So that's wonderful. Sorry, go ahead.

Laura Gassner Otting:    I never introduce anybody without saying, “This is Melinda and she would be a great person to blah, blah, blah for you,” or, “You can for her,” right? You've always got to be giving those wings. So I love that. I think it's fantastic.

Laura Gassner Otting:    Number three. Number three is figuring out how to pay yourself. And we women don't do that. A lot of women entrepreneurs, if you ask them how they pay themselves, will say, “Well, I pay my people, and I pay the bills, and I put a little money away just in case. And then I pay myself with whatever's left over.”

Laura Gassner Otting:    I once had a business coach who sat me down and he was a pretty fancy guy. He was the number two at GE for a while and he was meeting with me because he was doing a friend of a friend of favor. There was no way I could have afforded to have his business coach. And I went to the very first meeting and I brought all my very fancy paperwork, and my spreadsheets, and my marketing collateral, and my plans. And he didn't look at a single thing. I was expecting to get the gold star, right? That's what we do as women. And he just said, “Well, how do you pay yourself?” And I told him, “Whatever's left over.” And he looked at me across breakfast and he said, “God, stop being such a girl.”

Laura Gassner Otting:    I was sort of offended by that, but also I was like, “Really, boys pay themselves differently? Tell me more.” And he asked me a specific question which was, “How much money do you want to make?” What? Okay. “When you go on vacation, how often do you want to go on vacation? Do you want to fly first class or in coach, do you want to stay in the Four Seasons or the Motel 6? Do you want to step on every continent or do you want to drive across the country? What kind of lifestyle do you want and how much money is that going to cost? And when you figure that out, then you build a business that's going to throw off that much amount of money in salary.” And it was a completely 180 degree turn from the way that I had thought about paying myself in the past.

Melinda Wittstock:         It's so interesting, because often women come into business as doers, not as owners. So they forget to think about themselves as an asset.

Laura Gassner Otting:    And that's exactly what I was doing. So I was like, “Well, I'll pay myself whatever's left over. If the business works, I'll make more money.” No, because when you do that, then you say, “Well I guess I should just hire more people and grow and serve more clients and do more, and more, and more, and more.” But it turns out I was able to run a business that had 25 employees that was much more profitable than if I ran that same business with 40 employees. 40 employees would have given me a bigger gross number, but not a bigger net number. And frankly, it would've given me much more of a headache. So I was able to think about how I wanted to pay myself both in dollars and in terms of flexibility of my time, in terms of the way that I'm able to manifest my values into the world. But when I started thinking about how do I pay myself in all the ways that I want to be meaningfully paid, and how do I build a business that throws off that as opposed to the tail wagging the dog. My entire life changed and I became an owner as you said, instead.

Melinda Wittstock:         I love it. So I want to make sure that everybody, if they haven't read your bestselling book already, they know where to get it and how to work with you Laura.

Laura Gassner Otting:    So my name is Laura Gassner Otting:, and all my good friends call me LGO. So I am at, heylgo.com and Hey LGO on all the socials. And you can find me there. Would love to work with people. The book is of course available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere fine books are sold.

Melinda Wittstock:         And of course Laura is a wonderful speaker. So if any of you have an event, I would suggest hitting her up. And now you know how. Laura, thank you so much for putting on your Wings and flying with us.

Laura Gassner Otting:    Thanks Melinda.

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