Susan Sly is a best-selling author, speaker, trainer, and entrepreneur. She’s appeared on CNN, CNBC, and Fox, and has written seven books, including Organize Your Life and The Have It All Woman. She’s run the Boston Marathon six times and placed in the Top 10 in the Pro Division of the Ironman Triathlon in Malaysia. She also focuses on philanthropy, fighting to liberate girls from trafficking and investing in education for women and girls who have survived abuse all over the world. She spoke with The Edge for our Winners’ Circle feature.
In The Have It All Woman you state that it’s surprisingly simple to go from being a woman who “does it all” to one who “has it all” and enjoys the best of health, career, and relationships. What is the secret to this transformation?
The number one piece of advice I can give to any woman who is doing it all is that it all comes down to perspective. One woman’s version of having it all is different from another woman’s version of having it all. If you ask a woman in a remote village in Malawi, “Do you have it all?” and her children were healthy, she has enough money for them to go to school, they have a clean home to live in and have food, then she would say, “Yes, I am blessed, I have it all.” But if you take a woman from Manhattan who is used to having a six-figure income and put her in that hut, she might say, “I have nothing.”
The reality is that it comes down to perspective, and the advice I want to give your readers is to really take some time to think, “What does having it all mean to me?” It comes down to what is truly important: your health, having financial stability, having people in your life who love you, and living in a country where you can vote. The moment we shift our perspective to the right areas, to things that truly matter, then we begin to realize that we truly do have it all. We can have it all; it depends on what our definition is and the amount of emphasis we put on that definition.
Aside from personal heartbreak and being diagnosed with MS, one of your life obstacles was bankruptcy. At one point in time, you were in six-figure debt. What did overcoming that experience teach you?
That happened to me when I lost the health club. It was sudden. I was sick, my marriage fell apart – I literally had nothing. Talk about a great cleanup of a life; when you hit rock bottom there’s literally only one place to go, and that’s up. One of the things I teach my clients is you must be financially responsible. Even if you work with a financial planner or maybe your partner takes care of all the bills, you still must know. After what happened to me, I decided that I would never allow someone else to control my financial destiny.
As fate would have it, that same summer I got shingles and my thyroid burned out, but I reunited with the boy I fell in love with in high school at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. He knew I had MS and was a single mom. He was a chartered accountant and so it’s been amazing building this life with this man. Sixteen years later, it’s really the healthiest relationship that I have ever had with someone in terms of money. Even though we have different styles, we always have this open dialogue about money. In all my coaching and workshops, I always say to women to start the dialogue. At first it will feel uncomfortable, but don’t shut yourself down when it comes to money; educate yourself, read the books and take responsibility.
What encouragement would you have for an entrepreneur who feels disadvantaged because of an illness or other condition?
We can spend a lot of time thinking, “Why did this happen to me?” or we can figure out how to navigate around it and be solutions-oriented. When I was first diagnosed, I went through all the phases of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talks about. But because so much was happening in my life, I thought, “I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I have to figure out how to live a symbiotic life with what’s going on.” So, I made some bold choices and took control of my medical destiny. I immediately fired any physician who said, “There’s only one solution, you have to go on medication,” because I wanted to work with someone who said that there were other options. It took several years for me to find the right doctor who was willing to work with me in my decision to heal my life and not to be on any medication.
It was also about learning to listen to my body. You’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days, and I chose to do as much as I could on good days, then really listen to my body on the days that were not so great. I learned to meditate. I learned to be mindful. I made a deliberate choice to become a vegetarian and I am 99% vegan. I don’t do gluten. I work hard to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night. I drink a lot of water every day. I created new standards for myself and I chose to be deeply present and with the grace of God, here I am 16 years later, not on any MS medication. The regimen that I follow, with lots of vitamins, lots of prayer, meditation, mindfulness, is the path that I’ve chosen, and my message to anyone who’s been diagnosed with illness is that there is always a better choice.
Shirley Graham | Editorial Assistant