What does it take to be successful? Some say it takes talent. Some say it requires resilience. Others suggest it takes grit and determination. Most likely, the best answer is a combination of all these traits. In fact, when you look at successful people, it’s apparent that they have their own special formula that has enabled them to reach their full potential.
I’ve always been curious about why some women persist despite obstacles. In 2015, I surveyed over 600 professional women about their ambition. The women in my study who self-identified as extremely/very ambitious shared that it was their mother who had the greatest impact on their ambition. Strong mothers; powerful role models who instilled and inspired them to follow their ambition no matter what obstacles came their way.
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 17: CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler (R) attends the ‘Survivor: 15 Years, 30 Seasons’ celebration held at The Paley Center for Media on February 17, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)
Nina Tassler is a great example of a successful woman who credits much of her positive attitude and determination to her mother. Nina is a former CBS Entertainment chairman who oversaw more than 200 programs including The Big Bang Theory and Madam Secretary.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nina about her mother’s influence.
Marcus: Nina, in your book, you describe your mother as a positive force in your life. How did this affect your career?
Tassler: Well, it’s really interesting. My mother was not without her flaws. She did have a lot of flaws, but she revealed her strength and her flaws equally, and I think that’s really important. I was very much influenced by that. I came to understand and observe that, we’re all going to face obstacles. We’re going to have challenges. We’re going to fail. We’re going to have success. But all of it is going to ultimately be character-building. And it’s not going to deter us from wanting to achieve, to strive, and be successful.
In 1963, my parents took over a camp business from my grandparents. They turned it into a liberal, progressive, a co-educational, interracial camp for kids from all over the world, all over the country. And it was a very important cause for both of my parents. The camp opened July 1st, I want to say 1963. And three days before the doors officially opened and the buses arrived from New York City and other parts of the country; three days before the buses arrived, the dining room burnt to the ground. So here we are, three days before the buses were arriving with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids. I saw my mother’s face. Tears were streaming down her face. And then I literally saw her tears dry. She went back to the house, sat down, and figured out what the hell she was going to do. Because in three days, as I said, at least 10 buses full of campers were going to arrive at camp for the first summer of the grand opening of my parent’s camp. What they did was turn the social hall into the dining room, within three days. And I remember that visual and I carry it with me my whole life.
Everything she planned, everything she dreamed, everything she hoped for, literally went up in flames. I saw her courage, I saw her conviction, and I saw her strategy to put together the pieces and to solve the problem. That influenced me for my entire life. We are going to have major setbacks in the course of our lives and our careers. We’re going to face debilitating challenges in the course of our personal and professional lives. But the ability to pick yourself up, to be resilient, to embrace a failure and turn it around into an opportunity, is something that was one of the greatest gifts she’s ever given me.
Marcus: You write that she instilled in you the belief that you were destined for greatness.
Tassler: Yes. I think ‘destined for greatness’ for me is digging deep inside and knowing that I will always strive to be the best person I can possibly be, and affect change in a positive way. That was the kind of greatness that she dreamed for us. And it’s interesting, because my brother, my sister, and I, each one of us have the giving back and having a positive influence. Whether it’s attending a protest rally, endorsing and working on a political campaign, or volunteering with an organization, to her that always was true greatness. And I incorporated that in my career.
Marcus: What about women who didn’t have this kind of role modeling or didn’t get these kinds of messages from their mothers? How would you encourage them to find their courage, to own their greatness, to own their ambition?
Tassler: A very wise woman, someone I worked with here at CBS, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i once said, and I love these words: ‘Leadership is not identified by your job title. Being a leader is a point of view; your outlook on who you are, and what you can accomplish’. And I think there are so many positive female role models that we can look to. If we don’t have someone to mentor in our respective job, I would look for it in an organization. I would look for it in a group that reflects our collectivity and our intersectionality, which I think is what it’s all about right now. As I said I’m a politically active person. I’m involved in different organizations. And I have met so many amazing, strong, wonderful women. Some women are 83 years old. Some people are 22 years old. And I’m building new friends and new alliances. It’s leaning into certain social media, which allows us to look at other messages that women I admire are sharing. It’s other material; other content, watching a TED Talk, or reading certain blogs.
I think the spirit of sharing right now among women is very, very strong. We want each other to succeed. I think that’s what’s really important, too.
For more resources on how to be successful, check out my website or follow me on twitter.
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