Speaker & Author of "Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life"
Laura Gassner Otting helps people get “unstuck” ― and achieve extraordinary results. As founder of Limitless Possibility, Laura collaborates with entrepreneurs and investors 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 Bill Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps; left a leadership role at respected nonprofit search firm, Isaacson, Miller, to 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.
In addition to Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life, she is also the author of Mission-Driven: Moving from Profit to Purpose, a book for those moving from profit to purpose. Through her own commitment to give back, Laura has helped build a local Montessori school, co-founded a women’s philanthropic initiative, advised a start-up national women’s PAC, grew a citizen-leadership development program, and completed three charity-inspired marathons―projects emblematic of her passions and values. She’s turned on by the audacity of The Big Idea and that larger-than-life goal you just can’t seem to shake. She’s an instigator, a motivator, and a provocateur, and she’s never met a revolution she didn’t like. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and is available to travel for speaking engagements.
Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life is available April 2, 2019 in hardback on Amazon and other retailers.
What do I do best?
I see the greatness in others and reflect it back on them in ways that they can see it and act on it, which allows them to get themselves unstuck and achieve audacious things.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I am an unrepentant idealist, and always believe there is an adventure around every corner. This means that I approach life with the mindset that failure is not finale, but fulcrum. And, that means that I’m always learning and challenging myself to do better than the day before.
What are my aspirations?
At every age and at every life stage, we are going to have different callings, need different amounts of connection in our daily work to that calling, need our work to contribute to our lives in different ways, and need different amounts of control over all of it. So, why do we insist on this singular unflinching definition of success? I’d like to sit under the oak tree with Oprah on a Super Soul Sunday and talk with her about ending the Sisyphean pursuit of everyone else’s definition of success, so that we can once and for all define success for ourselves and find our consonance, alignment, and flow.
My Biggest Success?
I am most proud, as a serial entrepreneur, that everything I’ve ever helped to create still exists today, from a government program through which 1M Americans have served their communities, to a professional services firm that I founded and ran for 15 years and then sold to the great women who helped me built it. I am most proud that when I had to make those tough choices, I always chose — though it was sometimes hard — to build institutions rather than cathedrals.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I started my last company when my eldest son was six weeks old. At the time, I was leaning in; I was all things to my company, my family, my community, and I was exhausted. I had coffee with a mentor and she handed me the best (and hardest) piece of professional and personal advice I’d ever received: “You’re just not that important.” It was hard to hear, because I sure felt important — even imperative — to that company, family, and community. But what she challenged me to do was to think about to what, and to whom, and to where I really was, in fact, that important, and to eschew all else and double down for that.
Do Epic Shit.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Dolly Parton once famously said, “Figure out who you are and do it on purpose.” If there was ever a woman who figured out who she was and did it on purpose — and damned unapologetically I might add — it was Dolly Parton. But, unlike Dolly, most of us spend our time shoehorning ourselves into other people’s definition of success in pursuit of the gold stars they may deem us worthy of receiving.
And, then we measure our worth based upon our haul. What a load of crap that is, and we have no one but ourselves to blame. So, what can we do about it? For starters, we can have an honest conversation with ourselves about who we are and when we are at our best. Being someone else’s idea of your success makes you a lesser version of yourself, but striving for your own definition will compel you to be more.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I am never happier than when I have a passport in one hand and an airline ticket in the other, embarking on our next big family adventure. Give me the beach, the pyramids, the mountains, the jungles… I’ll take it all. I have a fatal case of wanderlust.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I’m a sucker for clean sheets and soft pillows, a laptop with a full battery, a good book by a dear friend, and my puppy.
My Current Passions?
I’m deep into the launch and tour surrounding my new book, Limitless, and am learning the uncomfortable space between self-promotion and carrying a meaningful message to those whose lives might change.
So, then I answered my own questions about this:
How do you balance listening to your own voice & listening to others?
Don’t give a vote to people who shouldn’t even have a voice. Let’s face it: most of the people who give you advice — telling you to slow down, take smaller risks, dream a little more realistically — are doing so from a place of fear and anxiety, not about your life but about their own. Stop letting your audacity be constrained by the limits of other people’s imaginations. Politely excuse yourself from taking every opinion as fiat, weighing them all with equal measure, and allow yourself to be your own dog, run your own race, carve your own path. And all those voices questioning your choices and telling you what you should do and need to do? They simply don’t get a vote—unless you give it to them. And that includes that voice inside your own head.
What is the one piece of advice everyone should consider?
LGO: It’s time to say “Screw the Joneses.” When we play the comparison game, we all lose. Social media puts us in a position where we unwittingly judge everyone else’s highlight reel through our own klutzy bloopers outtakes. Of course it feels like we don’t have it all together. Of course we feel like we should just do more of whatever it is that the brightest, shiniest friend is doing. Of course we’ll have what she’s having. But here’s the kicker: You can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goals. And you won’t be satisfied by them, either. Let’s stop, once and for all, believing the hype, and stop hoping that “I’ll be happy when” and decide what will make us happy now. The journey is long, waiting is for suckers.
What is one of the biggest myths in determining success?
The biggest myth is that other people know what’s right for us. Back in elementary school, we were taught to pursue the gold stars, get the good grades, and shine across the board. We had no say in the skills that got rewarded; and often what we were rewarded for was different from what we loved. So, rather than picking a path based on what makes us special—what we like, what we do well, and where we shine—most of us are forced to pick our path early, based on values attached by others and on interests that aren’t our calling. Remember that fourth grade teacher who said that you should become a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant? They possessed no crystal ball, and yet we internalized their notions as predictions rather than simply suggestions. What if, just what if, that prediction based on nothing more than anecdotal information gathered at a specific moment in time, when we still let our mothers cut our hair and pick out our picture day outfits, was wrong?
What word is it time to take back or redefine?
I’m on a crusade to convince people that “ambition” is not a dirty word. Ambition has gotten a bad rap of late. It’s a dirty word—even more so if you are a woman. (Oh, she’s so ambitious!) Part of the reason we’ve lost ownership of our unspoken dreams — those dreams so big and so scary and so exciting that we dare not say them out loud — is that we’ve been persuaded to allow our ambition to be subsumed into something that is more socially acceptable: faux humility. But, I’d ask you this: Why do you want to get ahead? What do you want to do with that power? Do you want to change your family, your community, your country, your world? Do you want to make a mark, large or small, on this earth? What kind of life do you want to live? How do you want to raise your family? What do you want your legacy to be? If being in that elevated position, with that increased salary and that greater voice of leadership, allows you to make more of an impact on the very calling that you hold dear, it’s more than just your ambition. It’s your responsibility.
What do you say to the person who has hit a road block or runs out of momentum?
LGO: Gather your “framily.” I’ve come to understand that in order for your life to feel right for you, it has to actually be right for you. The most powerful way to insulate yourself from the misguided, happiness eroding (and often uninvited) opinions of others is to stop doubting your own damn self, and that comes from having the confidence in the choices you make and the chances you take. And, if you can’t find that on your own, it’s time to call a meeting of your “framily,” that combination of friends and family that see your greatness, even if you yet don’t. Tell them what you want to do, where you are stuck, and what you think is in your way. And then let them help you walk through the walls, real or perceived, that are holding you back.
For more information on Laura Gassner Otting, professional speaking and her book Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life visit lauragassnerotting.com