Author Linda Rossetti: How I Am Redefining Success Now

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine
9 min readJul 18, 2023

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Understand emotions as impermanent states, not traits, and important divining rods to your success.

Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Linda Rossetti.

Linda Rossetti is a business leader, Harvard MBA, and pioneering social entrepreneur who is dedicated to changing how we all respond to the crossroads of our careers and of our lives. She is the author of two books, Dancing with Disruption, and Women & Transition, and has been featured in numerous media outlets, including NPR, CBS/WBZ, Next Avenue, Money Magazine, THRIVE Global, and more. Linda leads the Transition Institute, LLC, a consultancy that collaborates on research and certifies others on successful transformational methods.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I can share two stories.

The first comes from when I was CEO of a technology start up. At the time, I was focused almost 100% on raising money. We had about 10 employees — hoping of course to use the investment to grow the business substantially.

One day, the company’s attorney and I met with two venture capitalists (VCs) who had provided us with a term sheet for the investment we sought. Term sheets are like gold in the start-up community because they outline the amount of money and the specifics of how the money will be advanced to companies like the one I was running.

The punch line of the story is that the VCs refused to renegotiate three items on the term sheet that were disadvantageous to our early employees and other investors. We said we couldn’t live with these sticking points. The conversation was going around and around with no progress. The attorney and I stepped out of the conference room for a short break. “They aren’t budging,” he said simply. “What are you going to do?”

If you’ve ever been in a start up, you know that meetings like this are big news. The employees, their families, neighbors, and friends all waited with bated breath to hear about the meeting’s outcome and our financing’s final terms.

When the attorney and I went back into the room, I thanked the VCs for their time and told them that we would not be pursuing the deal any further.

I had no other financing lined up. It would have been easy to simply agree to the terms and get on with it. I knew that would be wrong for our early investors and for our employees. Not knowing what was ahead, I went with my instincts.

Even with obstacles that feel insurmountable, like saying ‘no’ to an investment without having another financing source lined up, I don’t see walls. I keep going. Thanks to that mindset, the company got its money roughly 90 days later.

The other story I will share happened many years earlier when I was working for a management consulting firm as a newly minted Harvard MBA. I recall reading a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the demands of feminism being “achieved.” It was complete nonsense circa 1992. None of the facts in the article were true, and feminism was nowhere near realizing its goals of equality in terms of access, pay, and opportunity for all.

I wrote a letter to the editor which called the paper to task for writing something so factually inaccurate. To my complete surprise, they published it. I was so delighted by what I perceived as contributing to a broader conversation, a social dialogue. I view my work today as along these same lines. I work to change a broader social conversation about a universal yet largely misunderstood phenomena — disruption in our identity that can challenge our beliefs about who we are and how we make meaning in this world. My research revealed that if we respond differently at these times we can positively alter the trajectory of our careers and of our lives.

We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?

I always thought that success was tied to a title with a mission focus. I always wanted to be a visible female leader in the upper echelons of companies. Twenty-five years into my career along those lines, I remember sitting in my boss’s staff meeting and saying to myself, “This is it? I worked this hard, for this?” At the time I was the executive vice president of human resources and administration for a global NYSE company. I was a direct report to the CEO responsible for 21,000 people in 37 countries around the world. It was a stunning realization. My ability to impact was high, but I was disconnected from the desired impact I hoped to have. I left shortly thereafter even more determined to advance my goals of influencing equity outcomes albeit in a different fashion.

How has your definition of success changed?

My definition of success is no longer tied to an external achievement, like becoming the CEO. It’s more about aligning those things that hold value and meaning to me. I believed from an early age that a life well lived is in service to others.

My work today is dedicated to empowering others to respond differently to a universal yet deeply misunderstood phenomena — shifts in our self-concept. As a society, we lack a vocabulary and understanding of these junctures even though they happen repeatedly. My work is targeted at upskilling individuals to respond differently at these junctures and empowering them to rely on their own voices — their truth — more consistently.

The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?

We need to educate the public on what it means to grow as adults. Growth involves decoupling from externally defined expectations and recentering our expectations and definitions for ourselves on what holds value and meaning to us. This recentering engages our voices (our truth) and enables positive life-altering growth.

I remember Lakshmi who participated in my research. She was in her early 30s and pursuing an MD/PhD program at a prestigious Big Ten university. After much heartache, she admitted to herself, “This isn’t who I want to be.” It was a terrifying and crushing realization. She had never dreamed outside of this set of expectations she held for herself.

Lakshmi’s story is important because her crisis is what growth in adulthood is all about — recognizing and refining expectations we carry, and cultivating new ones. Lakshmi’s refined career path moved her toward community health services. She created a not-for-profit that supported families in underserved communities. She learned so much about herself and offered, “Colleagues told me that I was a good leader and that I was funny.” Lakshmi found these observations “stunning.”

Today, we’re socialized to adopt negative meaning to explain to ourselves and others shifts like Lakshmi’s. We ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with me? Or we tell ourselves, “I’m such a failure.” Because of this way of thinking, too many individuals stall, disengage, or retreat when actually so much more is possible. My work is all about educating people on what is possible and how to achieve it.

What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.

The top unexpected outcome from the pandemic is an outright challenge of what it means to work. We catapulted a conversation forward about where, when, and how to work. Primary care providers have been asking for this redefinition for nearly 40 years. We might not have it solved; we do, however, understand that one model alone isn’t required for success. I think this shift in thinking is a precursor to more change in our workplaces and in our society post-pandemic.

We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”

Ways to be successful now.

1. Lose chronology in our storytelling.

2. Invest in peer networks. Research from my recent study elevated the usefulness of peers over experts, bosses, and family members in contributing to important advancements.

3. Reset expectations you carry for yourself.

4. Take small steps — daily. Get used to this behavior.

5. Understand emotions as impermanent states, not traits, and important divining rods to your success.

How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?

If we changed our definition of success to one anchored on what holds value and meaning to us instead of on a narrow hierarchical norm, we would add millions of voices to important conversations around the planet. This engagement would translate into more innovation, creativity, energy, and growth that is desperately needed in every sector. Simply put, we could change the world if we altered this definition. This desired shift in definition is why I do the work that I do. My work teaches folks how to rely on their own voices — their truth — instead of adhering to the voice overs of others. This simple shift is transformational and stands to benefit the entirety of humanity.

What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?

Our biggest obstacle is our need for new skills related to navigating the intense emotions that mobilize during a period of major change, like stepping away from a preconceived definition of success. Studies in the 1970s confirmed that adults experience periods of intense emotional reactions when we navigate substantive change. I created an important emotional reframing technique, HAILTM, to address this emotional roadblock. This four-step technique guides users to: Honor our emotions; Ask ourselves about them; consider their Influence on us; and wonder what we might Learn from an emotion’s presence.

Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?

I go to the stories of nearly 300 individuals, like Lakshmi, who participated in my research. Each individual experienced a wrenching life altering shift, including the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a break-up, an empty nest, and so much more. Their stories were incredibly uplifting because they revealed something powerful: if we adopt a new response at times like these, we can positively alter the trajectory of our careers and of our lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would like to talk with Oprah because she has the ability to influence the thinking of so many others. Too many folks stall, disengage, or retreat at times of upheaval in their lives. If we can educate individuals to respond differently at these times, we can positively alter their experience — and the experience of those in the communities within which they work and live. This topic of responding differently to disruption is going to increase in importance as technology, like AI, and social advances, like longevity, continue to disrupt our world and demand a new set of skills from each of us.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Purchase and read my new book, Dancing with Disruption

Contact me via LinkedIn

Visit my website

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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