Laura Gassner Otting – Author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path

Episode 102

I'm super excited to have my friend Laura Gassner Otting on this episode of The Kara Goldin Show. Laura is the author of the book, *Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path*. In addition to be an incredible author, Laura was a Presidential Appointee in the Clinton Administration and helped shaped AmeriCorp. She also founded and ran the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which partnered with leadership in social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and non-profits. On this episode, Laura talks about what it was like to work in the White House, what her 25-year career path has panned out to be like, why every college student should read her book, and more.

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Kara Goldin: Hi everyone, it’s Kara from the Kara Golden show. And I’m super excited to have my next guest here, my friend, Laura Gassner Otting. Welcome, welcome.

Laura Gassner Otting: Hello, Kara, and congratulations on your awesome book launch.

Kara Goldin: Thank you, thank you so much. Laura actually had me on a LinkedIn live and I think it actually was streamed on FaceTime, right, as well?
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah, it was on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, it was on Twitch. We put it everywhere, it was awesome.
Kara Goldin: You put it everywhere, it was awesome, it was a lot of fun. And as we were chatting, it was really about my book that launched three weeks ago but I said, “Wait, what about your book? I want to get you on here to really share with the audience.”
Laura Gassner Otting: Don’t they go good together?
Kara Goldin: Right? They’re friends.
Laura Gassner Otting: They’re friends.
Kara Goldin: And so anyway, I was really excited to get Laura to come on and really chat about her book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. How could you disagree with any of that portion at all? And it’s so good. And the book actually launched a little over a year ago, but is really just timeless I think, on so many levels. So, I was just talking to Laura about how I re-read the book this weekend and it was just, there were so many great insights and inspiration in it, that I’m really excited to have you here today.
Laura Gassner Otting: Thank you.
Kara Goldin: And just a little bit more about in addition to being an author and just an awesome person, she actually was a presidential appointee in the Clinton administration. And helped shape this tiny little thing called AmeriCorps, which I mean, just didn’t do anything. And so anyway, I remember when I met you, when you were telling me I was like, “Wait, what? Wait, let’s go back to that.” That was just such a huge, huge accomplishment for you to be involved in, so congratulations. And thank you for really working on that and developing that idea. So go back to, who was Laura? How did you get there? How did you end up being so awesome on so many levels? And did you always want to work in government? Did you always think, “I’m going to go and start this AmeriCorps dream and really help so many people.” How did this all start?
Laura Gassner Otting: So I remember when I was interviewing you and I read this in your book, the story of how you went to go work for John McCain when you were young. And you were like, “I want to work for you because I want to figure out if I’m a Republican or not.” And I remember just resonating so much with that story because I grew up… I’m going to be 50, I grew up in the Reagan era. He was the great communicator and I remember feeling safe. He was straight out of central casting and I thought, “Okay, well it seems like rich people are Republicans and poor people are Democrats. And I want to be rich, so I should be a Republican.” And I just assumed that I was.
So I remember when I was 17 years old, because I didn’t have a frontal lobe, that was a pretty incorrect and unsophisticated thinking about the two political parties. And I remember walking around my senior class, where everyone else was turning 18 and I had just turned 17 because I skipped kindergarten. I knew how to stack blocks I guess, when I was six years old. And I remember imploring my classmates to register as Republicans. I remember giving them all the arguments about why it was so important, and then you fast forward a few years. And I go to college and suddenly I’m out of my bubble. And I’m looking around and I’m like, “Wait a minute, I’m not a Republican, I think I’m a Democrat.” And I was always very involved, I was always really interested in civic matters.
And I thought I was going to be the first female Democratic senator from the great state of Florida. I was going to graduate from college, I was going to go to law school. I was going to graduate at the top of my class, law review, all of that. And then I was going to make a name for myself in the district attorney’s office and I’d be recruited. And I would win and I’d go to the Senate. And then I got as far as law school and I looked around the very first day. And I was like, “I don’t belong here, I don’t want to do this. This isn’t what I want and I just made this terrible mistake.” And so I did the thing that everybody does when they make a terrible mistake, is you start dating somebody who is awful for you. So I start dating this boy who-
Kara Goldin: Why not, right?
Laura Gassner Otting: Why not, right? So I start dating this boy and I’d ridden bike to school that day. And it was raining and he’s like, “Well, I’ll give you a ride home from campus. Let me just put your bike in the back of my IROC-Z.” Which will tell you basically everything you need to know about this guy.
Kara Goldin: Oh my God, the IROC-Z. Yeah, that is frightening, I remember that car.
Laura Gassner Otting: The IROC-Z and he blasts Def Leppard or whatever it is that we’re listening to. And he’s like, “But before I drop you off at home, I want to stop at this guy’s campaign office. He’s running for president.” Because this is back before the internet, so you had to go to a strip mall and pick up paper that actually listed people’s stances. And I was like, “Governor who? From where, Arkansas? Not a chance in hell.” George H.W. Bush had just won Desert Storm, he had a 91% approval rating. And I was like, “Not a chance.” And then we walk into this office and there on this tiny little TV in the corner is then governor, Bill Clinton. On this black and white TV, he’s got brown hair still and he’s talking about… He’s in this impassioned plea about how there’s nothing that’s wrong with America that can’t be fixed with what’s right with America. And he offers as a policy solution, service. Community service, service in exchange for college tuition. And I was like, “Oh, yes.”
Kara Goldin: A light bulb went off, right?
Laura Gassner Otting: A light bulb went off and suddenly, I went from the, “I can fix all the problems. What can I do to help? How can I be the center?” To, “That needs to happen. And how do we get the right people in the right place to make that happen?” And so I swiftly dropped out a law school, started volunteering on the campaign. He won and ended up in the White House. I ended up in the White House and there I was, in the office that helped create AmeriCorps.
Kara Goldin: That’s just wild.
Laura Gassner Otting: That’s my crazy story.
Kara Goldin: It’s such a crazy story. And then ultimately, so you ended up working then not just creating it, but you were working on the actual… So tell me about that, how exciting that was?
Laura Gassner Otting: It was so exciting and it was… Look, I was 22 years old when I walked into the White House. And I walked into the White House, literally wearing my mother’s hand-me-down clothes. I had the Alexis Carrington shoulder pads in there and I have on my walls, pictures of me with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. And I’m like, “I can’t believe that I was wearing that. That’s the picture that I’m stuck with?” So the ’80s weren’t kind to anybody fashion-wise, but if you’re-
Kara Goldin: So true.
Laura Gassner Otting: … young and dumb and don’t have any money in the bank, you wear ’80s fashions in 1993 in the Oval Office. So there I was, and it was exciting because we were so idealistic and so naive that we didn’t think failure was an option. It was such a gimme, it was such a bipartisan thing. I mean, John McCain supported it. It was such a bipartisan thing, this idea of serving your country, making your country a better place, and changing yourself in the process. Making yourself better in the process, it was as American as American gets. And yet we had… There was opposition and so my boss, a man by the name of Eli Segal, who had run the ’92 campaign. He basically had a strategic campaign where he went to every senator, every congressman, every governor, and he traveled around the country to convince them that this was something that should be done. And how it would benefit their state and their communities.
And it was my job, in addition to getting coffee, to plan his travel. So this is pre-internet, I had a giant map of the United States on the wall, and I would put little pins in places that he was planning a trip to, they were green pins. And places that he was already planned were yellow, and the ones he’d been to were red. And I used to have to try to figure this out before the internet, I’d have to figure out travel. Government funded travel before the internet and I think when you do that, when you’re 22 years old, you come to the conclusion that there’s no problem you can’t solve.
Kara Goldin: It’s true. I love the idea that there was no roadmap for this. You were just trying and you were just figuring out, which is really the essence of my book. And what I truly believe that so many great things have just come out of people just going and trying something. You didn’t know whether or not this was going to work. It sounded a great idea, you were excited by it. You thought the idea of just going and ultimately working on it was pretty darn cool, especially for a 22 year old. But that’s just awesome. And now you can look back in the rear view mirror and say, “I actually did something pretty great.”
Laura Gassner Otting: We actually did that when… The 25th anniversary was when Obama was still in office, or maybe it was the 20th when Obama was still in office, and we had a… So the swearing in ceremony on the south lawn didn’t actually happen because somebody who had mental health issues decided to commit suicide that day by flying a Cessna into the jumbotron that we had back on the back South lawn of the White House. We were going to have Bill Clinton swear in 1000 AmeriCorps members on the south lawn, and then simulcast it to jumbotrons in major cities all over the country. And we were going to swear in 10,000 AmeriCorps members or 20,000 AmeriCorps members all at the same time.
And I get a phone call at 3:00 in the morning from secret service like, “Hello, Ms. Gassner? Please turn on… Or this is agent so-and-so from blah, blah, blah. We have a situation.” And I was like, “Ah, shut up.” I thought it was my brother-in-law and I hung up the phone. The phone rings again, “Ms. Gassner, this is agent so-and-so from the Secret Service.” “Ah, shut up.” I hang up the phone. “Ms. Gassner, this is Agent Smith from the Secret Service, please turn on CNN.” I turn on CNN and it was like-
Kara Goldin: Oh my gosh, then you saw what was going on?
Laura Gassner Otting: All 1000 AmeriCorps members, we bring them to the north lawn. We’ll have to figure out how to get McDonald’s to feed them because they were there for hours and hours and nobody knows what’s happening. But don’t you think, in building Hint, don’t you think that the times where you figured out what you were made of and the times that you learned what you were capable of, were when you were nine toes over the edge of your incompetence? You’re like, “I know that there’s something here, but I just don’t quite know how we’re going to do it. But if we keep moving ahead, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to build this plane as we’re flying it because that’s the only option.”
Kara Goldin: Yeah. What you’re bringing up too, there’s a few different things that come to mind. One thing that I was just talking about this morning is that people would always say to me, “Don’t look back.” And I’m always thinking, “Actually, I gain a lot of energy and confidence from looking back.” And so it just depends. And also, people would say to me, “You’re going to go and do a beverage company? What happens if it fails?” The stuff that I had accomplished in the past, I could always go back to. I could go back to tech, I could go back and do these things. So when you think about… One of my favorite sayings that I talk about in the book too is, always ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen?
Along with that, it’s really think about, what is it that I could ultimately go back to? If you’ve accomplished something, you’ve built AmeriCorps, what else could you do? And how many things along the way in building AmeriCorps worked, didn’t work. It’s all lessons that ultimately lead you to do lots of great things, including writing this book. So, let’s talk about… So after that experience, obviously it’s 25 years old. What did you go on to do from there?
Laura Gassner Otting: Well, so I walked into Eli’s office after four years and I was like, “All right, I’m ready to get back on the campaign trail again. Let’s go!” It’s ’96 election and he said to me in the way that only a mentor can say to you, he was like, “Well, Laura, you’re too old to get back on a campaign bus and eat cold pizza. And sleep on high school gymnasium floors. And you’re too young to be the domestic policy advisor, so go talk to my friend, Arnie Miller. He runs the biggest search firm in the country. That does specifically non-profit work. And he’ll find you a job, you’ll hide out for four years, and you’ll come back and do something on Al Gore’s campaign.” And I was like, “Great, sounds good.” And I sat down with Arnie Miller, to whom I dedicate… I actually dedicated my first book to Eli and this book is dedicated to Arnie.
And I said, “This is great. Come find me a job. Can you find me a job?” And he was like, “Terrific, so let’s talk about what you can do.” And then I was like, “Wait a minute, you’re in Boston. Your work’s in Boston and I’m dating a guy, who’s not driving an IROC-Z, who is about to move to Boston. I should come work for you.” And he’s like, “You should come work for me.” And then next thing you know, I become a headhunter. So it was completely not strategic, but I can now look back and I can say, “Okay, I dropped out of law school because I wanted to put bill Clinton in office because he had an idea that I thought was good. Then I became a headhunter, which meant that I was still putting the right people in the right place to make the world a better place in the way that I defined it. And now I work as a writer and as a speaker where I’m empowering people to do better things.”
So, there’s actually a theme that goes through my life of what really excites me is figuring out what people are made of, and what they can accomplish. And why they do what they do and how to allow them to be unfettered. In fact, the Limitless is baked around this concept of consonance, this idea of when what you do matches who you are. And it was going to be called Consonance: Doing Work That Matters, until a friend of mine was like, “Laura, three people are going to buy that book and one of them will be you. And two of them will be your parents. And I can’t guarantee that those two are going to buy it.”
Kara Goldin: Yeah, because it’s not a very common word.
Laura Gassner Otting: No, it’s not a common word. And he was like, “What do you want?” And I’m like, “I’m so sick of people just being limited by everybody else’s idea of what they can do and who they can be. And what their life holds and I just wish they stopped listening to all those people. And just live their own damn life already and be happy.” And he was like, “So you want them to be limitless? Ignore everybody, carved their own path, and live your best life?” And I was like, “Yes!”
Kara Goldin: That’s exactly it. Well, and that’s the thing, I think my book Undaunted and Limitless have a lot of synergies. They’re not the same, but they have a lot of synergies and that’s really what I loved about it as well. So, what do you think are the key… Besides the consonance and besides going out and trying, what do you believe are the key issues that people need to get out of their own way. That’s really what I realized in reading your book too, that a belief that I’ve had is that oftentimes, if you believe that you can’t do something, you can’t. And yet if you… And through your story, through my story, through so many people’s stories that I’ve been able to read about. Or meet these people, I feel you really can go out and be limitless. But what do you think are the key things that you want people to take away from the book?
Laura Gassner Otting: After AmeriCorps and going to work for someone else as a headhunter, I had this moment of rage where I realized that there was a better, different way to do the work. And I started my own recruiting firm, which is its own limitless story in and of itself that I tell in the book, but it means that I spent 20 years in executive recruiting. And 20 years recruiting people who were super successful in the work that they were doing. As a recruiter, I was being paid by my clients to go out and find the most successful people and recruit them into their organization. So that was my job, to call thousands of people who were super successful on paper, amazing jobs. But the truth is, it wasn’t that hard because even though on paper they had the success, I found that they really weren’t all that happy.
So I was being paid to call them because they were successful, but they were taking my calls because they weren’t that happy. And I got to see firsthand, the disconnect that comes from people whose actions don’t actually get them closer to the things that they want in the world. So we’re all super busy, our calendars are full of stuff. Our email boxes are full of stuff, our to-do lists are full of stuff that are being dictated by others, which means that it’s not being dictated by us. And it happens for me, I had a teacher who was like, “Laura, you’re pretty argumentative, you should become a lawyer.” And I was like, “You’re wrong,” because of course I was argumentative. But that’s why I started that path to go to law school. I had a grandmother who was really upset that I broke up with the nice Jewish doctor.
I had a boss who told me that I needed to do the work as fast and as efficiently as possible so that we could make as much profit. But it wasn’t working for me in terms of helping my clients achieve their missions, which is why I started my own firm. And I think what happens is along the way, we’re told, “Pick a path, pick a major, pick a college, pick a trade.” And often it’s when we’re 16, 17, 18 years old, so we don’t actually have the capacity, we don’t have the frontal lobe. We don’t have the capacity to make good decisions, and so we’re asked to make these decisions about the rest of our lives when we don’t have the capacity to make good ones. And so we get stuck running someone else’s race, we get stuck living someone else’s life.
And look, you’re an entrepreneur, I’m an entrepreneur. You know you can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goals. So we’re in this place and we’re like, “I’m working really hard. It’s not making me all that happy. Why isn’t it?” It’s because we’re giving votes in our lives to people who shouldn’t have voices. We’re letting other people dictate what’s a good job, what’s a good marriage. What’s a good house, what’s a good weight, what’s a good anything.
Kara Goldin: So true.
Laura Gassner Otting: And we give up. We’re like, “Oh, well maybe the Kardashians will tell me what I should be doing.” It’s nonsense. So we get stuck because we’re ceding our own definition of success to somebody else along the way.
Kara Goldin: So true. Have you spoken a lot on college campuses?
Laura Gassner Otting: No.
Kara Goldin: I feel like you could really tell that story so well.
Laura Gassner Otting: I would love to. When the book first came out, I set this moonshot goal of, I want this book to be a required reading for every incoming college freshmen because I wish I’d had it when I was an incoming college freshman. So I was starting to make some inroads into that and then coronavirus hit, so that’ll be a 2021 goal.
Kara Goldin: I’ve done a ton of speaking on college campuses, but I feel there’s a lot of great messages and it’s really fun, actually. It’s a different energy that comes from this group because I think a lot of what you’re sharing are maybe ideas, especially that college students might have, but it’s counter to what they’re being told or asked every single day. What do you want to do? And I think it’s important and especially during this time when… I have three college students and I’m like, “Look, we take it week by week. If next semester it’s all online and you’re choosing not to do that, then actually have plan B.” To figure out, I don’t think there’s… Who says that you have to graduate in four years?
I don’t know. If you actually could figure out, if you want to go and… My son, my 18 year old loves cars. And he had met some different people that are really involved with Tesla and some other car companies. I’m like, “I don’t know. It sounds really cool. It actually could really impact how you think about what you ultimately want to do when you grow up and what you’re passionate about. Maybe you’ll go and do those…” To the AmeriCorps concept, maybe you’d go and figure out what… You think you want to go in that way, but you learn just by going and testing that a little bit. I just think that’s such an important thing.
Laura Gassner Otting: I think that we’re taught at some point, you show some promise in something. So somebody’s like, “Do more of that. You’re good at math, you’re a math person. You’re good at history. You’re a words person.” We get labeled really early on and we get labeled in our jobs, also. And I think then, we’re afraid to… If you step left, if you step right, you might fail. And it’s very funny, there’s a part of my book which I know you resonated with, which is that, “Failure is not finale, it’s fulcrum.” It’s the place where you learn and grow-
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Laura Gassner Otting: And you iterate and you change. And I was actually giving this talk at a Renaissance weekend once, and it was the very first talk I gave for Limitless. And there were, I don’t know, 200 people in the room. And I remember giving my whole spiel about, “Failure is not finale, it’s fulcrum.” And then I looked to stage left and there was commander Tim Kopra of NASA. And Commander Tim Kopra has gone on three space walks. And I remember, I was like, “Failure’s not finale, it’s fulcrum… Except for you, sir. For everyone else-”
Kara Goldin: Exactly.
Laura Gassner Otting: “Failure for you is most definitely finale, but for the rest of us, plan B.” I tell people all the time in entrepreneurship conferences, they’re like, “Well, what if I fail?” And I’m like, “Okay, what if you fail?” And there’s always an answer. It’s like, “Well, I’ll go back to this job. I’ll start doing this, I’ll do this other thing.” They always know their plan B so I’m like, “Fine. You know your plan B, now go put it on the side and go focus on plan A.”
If our kids are graduating from college and there’s not a billion jobs that are necessarily out there right now, it’s a gift. It’s a great opportunity to go figure out what you love to do. And then I have noticed in 20 years of search that when people find what they love to do, they often figure out a way to get paid for it because it ends up… There’s all this nonsense like, “Follow your passion.” And I think that’s such bad advice. You should want to work in your passion, yes. But follow your passion comes with this idea that if you follow your passion, everything’s going to be just fine. And really, you should invest in your passion.
Your passion is going to beat you up, it’s going to tear you apart. It’s going to show you just how ugly it feels to not do something well, but then you pick yourself up and you learn. And you go. You didn’t just follow your passion when you started this company, you invested in it, you worked in it, you figured it out. So you can work in your passion now because you invested in it early. And I think it’s a great opportunity now for people to try the thing that they were afraid of trying before, because there’s so much unknown right now, that there’s just no way to necessarily plan.
Kara Goldin: Absolutely. And so I think there are so many people today. I was on a CNBC segment actually a few weeks ago, and the person interviewing me mentioned that 30% of… Or I should say that the number of women dropping out of the workforce is 30% higher than it’s ever been since women started working. And so she’s like, “What would you say to those women?” And I said, “Look, it’s tough.” It’s homeschooling kids and I have four. And they’re older now, I didn’t have to do that. I get it, I think it’s challenging, especially when you’re trying to work and have to figure out, is my kid actually on the Zoom call with the teacher? And I can only imagine, and we definitely have employees that are going through that as well.
But do I believe that this is a time where you can sit back and think about… And again, sometimes I call it passion, but I think what it really is, is what are you curious about? What is that thing, that product that you wish was out there, or a service that you wish was out there that ultimately… And even if you don’t do anything about it ultimately, how about figuring out, can I write a business plan around it? The number of times I’ve heard from people saying, “I don’t know how to write a business plan.” And I’m like, “Well, why don’t you go figure it out?” There’s so many tools today that allow you to go do it. And if nothing else, imagine in six months from now, when people said, “Well, what did you do during your time off?” And that you said, “Well, I actually figured out how to write a business plan.” Whatever it is, being able to say that you accomplished anything is pretty great.
Laura Gassner Otting: Absolutely. And a lot of times, I think people… They’re wantrepreneurs. They want to do it and when push comes to shove, there’s always an excuse. There’s always a reason why. And I break it down in the book and I talk a lot about side quests, this idea of-
Kara Goldin: I love the side quests.
Laura Gassner Otting: Right, because you had teenage boys, so you know. So the side quest, for those who don’t know, is if you’re playing video games. And if the goal of the video game is go to the castle, slay the dragon, save the princess, but you’re playing with a friend and he’s still doing dishes. So he hasn’t logged on yet, what can you do? You’re a farmer, so you can till your wheat, you can take it to the market, you can sell it. With that money, you can buy the sword, you can buy the potions. You can buy the horse that when your friend does log on and you’re ready, you can go to the castle. And slay the dragon and save the princess.
And so I say to people all the time, I’m like, “Fine. You want to do this thing, but you can’t do it right now because you’re homeschooling your kids. Okay, learn how to write a business plan. You want to… It’s too hard to figure out how to write a business plan, just watch a couple of Ted talks about people, about how they started their companies. If that seems too much, just listen to a podcast of somebody who interviews entrepreneurs.” There are always moments, there are always side quests that we can have where we can advance a little bit. You don’t have to get all the way there, and I think a lot of times the getting all the way there may be a scary. “What if I get there and I don’t it like it?” But that’s what these side quests are all about. So that when your kids are back in school, then you do have the business plan. You do have the knowledge, you’ve listened to 20 podcasts or 200 podcasts about the mistakes people made along the way.
So you’re not doing things like I did, which is saving money, being cheap, and actually spending too much money because you’re doing your invoices when you should be going out and finding new customers. All of those lessons that you learn along the way, which you’re like, “Duh.” So I think that COVID is the perfect time to be doing those side quests, to be figuring that out. And I also think that that’s also the moment when you’re like, “Actually, maybe I don’t want to do this.” And I think that’s okay, too. I think it’s fine to say, “I don’t want it that badly. It turns out I don’t want to run a marathon, so I’m not going to go run a mile today.” That’s fine, you don’t have to want all the things everyone else wants. It’s a great time to figure out what you want.
Kara Goldin: I absolutely agree and I think it’s another episode, but it’s something else that we’ve really instilled in our company too, to always be learning and always be testing. And so I think that in order to actually grow and be limitless as well, that you always have to be figuring out what else is out there. That you’re curious about, that you want to go do. You can do it through a side hustle but in addition to that, I think… We have a person inside of our company who grew up in finance and always thought that they were supposed to be finance. And then he was keeping his ear to the ground on operations and then he realized how operations actually had so many finance components. And was just curious about it and then really realized how much he loved it.
And today, he’s not only a great manager and really has a great understanding of finance, but he’s really my husband who is our chief operating officer’s right-hand on all things operations. He didn’t know that he was going to be this operations executive, he didn’t know he’d even like it. He had no idea what supply chain was, but he had an opportunity to go try and go learn. And always be learning, and so now today he’s always like, “Okay, I get that. I want to keep going. I want to keep going.” He views every single day as, what else can I learn? Which I think is, that’s what gets you up in the morning. That’s what keeps you really ignoring everybody else, it really is the Mecca. It really is what drives you ultimately, so I think if you can find that, then that also is really, really helpful.
Laura Gassner Otting: Because, if you look, if you listen to interviews of any leader anywhere, what’s the theme that you hear every single time? It’s that they spend 30 to 45 minutes every single day reading. They’re reading, they’re learning, they’re constantly teaching themselves because I think as leaders, when you get to this place where you’re expected to know all the answers. Which means that you’re speaking all the time and the more you talk, the less you listen.
Kara Goldin: Totally.
Laura Gassner Otting: And so it becomes this place where you’re not growing, you’re not evolving, you’re not changing. You’re not iterating, and then the market passes you by, people pass you by, politics passes you by. Whatever it is, whatever you’re in, you become less relevant. It was one of the first things you said to me and I was, “Ah, she’s one of my people.” When you were like, “I try to read every day.” And you were talking about how during the book launch, that’s been hard for you to do and that’s been something that you’ve really missed. And I was like, “Yes, yes. I like her.”
Kara Goldin: And I think it’s, to that point about reading, I often run into people who say, “How do I find a mentor?” That is actually, they’ve built this wall up to think, “Okay, there’s a prize out there.” They’ve got to have a list of people. Most of my mentors are actually make-believe in some ways.
Laura Gassner Otting: Here’s a mentor, here’s a mentor.
Kara Goldin: Right, exactly. I just read constantly and then every once in a while, I’ll run into these people. One super fast example, and this isn’t by reading but this is… Well, I guess this was by reading way back when, but I remember when I was at CNN years ago, and I don’t think I’ve shared this story with you. But everybody was really focused on Ted Turner and he was great. And he built this thing and amazing. But this is at a time when CNN and some other networks were starting. And I had heard about this woman, Kay Koplovitz, who was starting USA network. And I was like, “That’s actually harder.” And people would be like, “Why do you think it’s harder?” And I’m like, “Because you’re competing against primetime television, you’re not really focused for the consumer.” There were a lot of things going through my head. I loved the idea that she was just a go getter and that she just was going to go. And just go and make it happen. And every day, she kept making more and more progress.
Anyway, so she was always this person that was a mentor to me. I’d never met her for 20 years, and then I was at an EY conference. And was one of their entrepreneurs and she was in the crowd. And all I could think of was Kay Koplovitz, USA network. And I said, “I totally remember you because you were my God over here. I would watch you, I would read about you, and I just so admired you as a female leader.” And she just looked at me and she was like, “Oh my gosh.” She was like- [crosstalk 00:33:06]
Laura Gassner Otting: She must’ve been gobsmacked.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. And again, she was just like, “I can’t believe… What did you do?” I said, “Well, I was at CNN and then I worked for Ted. And it was amazing, but on a lot of levels, I kept looking at you.” And she’s like, “Why didn’t you come over to USA network?” And I was like, “Well, I moved out to Silicon Valley,” or whatever. Anyway, the net of it is that we became friends after that, and then she partnered with these two other women to form this fund called Springboard. And during the pandemic, they actually, she was phoning me and saying, “How are you guys doing? Is everything okay?” She had invested about a year and a half ago. And I said, “Yeah, it’s great but our business is going through a hockey stick right now. And I want to have enough money in the bank for the next couple of years because nobody really knows what this picture looks like.” And she’s like, “I think that’s really smart. I think that’s really great.” And so she helped me raise $25 million.
Laura Gassner Otting: Amazing.
Kara Goldin: And again, from looking at somebody who really gets it and ultimately, I didn’t know when I was going to meet her.
Laura Gassner Otting: Or if.
Kara Goldin: I called her my mentor. I’m like, “You’re my secret mentor and I’ve read all about you.” It wasn’t even a book, it was through the newspapers at the time, it wasn’t… So again, this energy, this mentorship, the way of thinking can come from books. It can come from just reading about people and admiring them. And maybe you’ll meet them one day and you’ll get to say what I said to Kay. And ultimately, there’s that relationship then, so I’m a huge believer in that.
Laura Gassner Otting: Absolutely. And can I… I do want to say one other thing about mentoring. I think that there are… I mean, that’s such an amazing story and you were… I think that the pretend or the imaginary mentorship relationship that you have with her didn’t start as a mentorship relationship. It started because you’ve read something that was a mentoring moment for you. And I think even in person, we say, “How do I get a mentor?” And a mentor is hard, you’re busy, I’m busy. I would love to mentor lots of people, but that’s a lot of work. I would much rather give mentoring moments.
I’ll have coffee with you, I’ll do a Zoom call with you. We’ll have lunch, I’ll give you some mentoring and then I’m going to move on. And then it’s up to you, if you come back, if you tell me what you’ve done. If you keep sending me interesting articles, if you feed relationship, those mentoring moments might become a mentor relationship. But I think we put so much heft into, “I have to find a mentor.” When really, read a book, get some mentoring, read that article, get some mentoring. And I think if we just… There’s so much learning that can be done.
Kara Goldin: That can be done, yeah.
Laura Gassner Otting: Right, like, “How do I write a business plan?” Google it.
Kara Goldin: And then the other point today that is really valuable in addition to your amazing book, Limitless, is that so many great leaders are actually going on LinkedIn live or on Facebook live, or they’re writing. Or whatever it is, and trying to really get their messages out too. So you might actually be able to really meet people who might be time-constrained, like you- [crosstalk 00:36:28]
Laura Gassner Otting: Yes, to that point-
Kara Goldin: … that just join you and want to follow you. So I think that the options are actually limitless. [crosstalk 00:36:37]
Laura Gassner Otting: I see what you did there. It’s really interesting, last night I did a podcast last night for somebody that I don’t know. It’s not a huge podcast, it would not have risen to the level of, does it… It was an 8:00 PM podcast, so does it rise to the level of taking time away from my family to do this? How big is the audience? But the reason I said yes was because I’ve been going on LinkedIn live, we did our thing on LinkedIn live and this guy has been on almost every one of them. And not only has he been on them, he comments on them, he’s engaged in them, he shares them out.
And when he asked me to be on his show, I was like, “You know what? Yeah, because you’ve been awesome.” There’s never been such easy access to the people who you want to have in your circle. Just do it. You could… It is so little de-democratized right now. You can have conversations with anybody online, so figure out what you want, figure out who you admire. Figure out who you want to be like, and then just start forming relationships. [crosstalk 00:37:36] We’re all human beings.
Kara Goldin: I totally agree, so this is awesome. So everybody go buy Limitless, go by Undaunted to just get a double header. So you could go onto Amazon-
Laura Gassner Otting: I mean, if you have both of these books, there’s nothing you can’t do, for sure.
Kara Goldin: Exactly. Laura, thank you so much. Laura Gassner Otting, and where can people find you on social?
Laura Gassner Otting: So my name is Laura Gassner Otting so, but it’s a lot of names, so all my good friends call me LGO. So you can find me at, and on all the socials I’m @heylgo.
Kara Goldin: I love it. Very, very cool. And everybody give great reviews on this. This was an awesome session, thank you so much for coming on, Laura, for sure.
Laura Gassner Otting: Thank you for having me.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, absolutely. And everybody have a great rest of the week.