As a professional motivational keynote speaker, Laura Gassner Otting helps innovators, idealists, and critics get “unstuck” in their thinking. Because she is turned on by The Big Idea, she encourages executives and professionals to seek amazing results. She motivates others to pursue the larger-than-life goal they can’t seem to shake. Laura is an instigator and a motivator and she has never met a revolution she didn’t like.
Laura inspires audiences to push past the doubt and indecision that keep great ideas in limbo because her presentations make professionals think bigger and accept greater challenges that reach beyond their limited scope of belief. She delivers strategic thinking, well-honed wisdom, and perspective generated by decades of navigating change across the start-up, nonprofit, political, as well as philanthropic landscapes. Laura dares listeners to find their voice, and generate the confidence needed to tackle larger-than-life challenges. She leads them to seek new ways of leading, managing and mentoring others.
Laura’s entrepreneurial edge comes from her extensive 25-year resume. She served as a Presidential Appointee in Bill Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps. She left a leadership role at respected nonprofit search firm, Isaacson, Miller, to expand the startup ExecSearches.com. Laura also 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. Above all, Laura is the author of Mission-Driven, a book for those moving from profit to purpose.
Watch for Laura’s upcoming book Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life to hit shelves in April 2019.
Travel Products & Places mentioned:
Business Travel Hacks Episode 16 show transcript:
Laura: [00:00:00] So when I was 21 years old I dropped out of law school and I joined a presidential campaign and ended up doing advance. An advance, the advance team are the people who drop into a town three days before the principals you know that the candidates are going to get there and they throw they they they get all the volunteers together and they put together the rally. So I would drop into a little podunk towns in the middle of nowhere and I would say in three days Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore and Tipper Gore are going to come here for a big rally. Let’s get together and walk into these little strip mall and these like little little strip mall campaign offices before that is the internet or cell phones or anything and if you were like super super super big time in the campaign maybe you got a walkie talkie. I did not have a walkie talkie.
[00:00:48] You would walk in and you would have to put together these rallies for tens of thousands of people and that meant you know taking these small town volunteers and helping them understand security lines and cue to cue walkthroughs and where the media shots are going to come from and all that stuff. So my superpowers I think that I’ve taken that same idea of advance and logistics and efficiency and. And how do you maximize every minute so that you sort of bending the space time continuum into travel and so anytime we go anywhere as a family or if I have a pretty extensive you know three or four stop trip I put together like a like a little grid and the grid looks very much like a presidential schedule because it’s just how I learned to do it. So it’s always exactly you know how you’re going to be from here to here. I have an ability to see the entire trip from the minute I leave my house how many get to the airport where am I going to park. What time do I need to get there to get through security. What time of day is it. So with security going to be busy. Is it the. Is it is it the beginning of school vacation week or is it a dead zone right in the middle of a Wednesday right. So you have a sense of do I need to get to the airport. Forty minutes ahead of time or just 25 minutes ahead of time and yeah I do get to the airport sometimes 25 minutes ahead of time.
[00:02:03] But the ability to sort of see the entire trip from start to finish understanding how I can make it as maximally efficient as possible I think is probably what I do better than most travelers.
Laura: [00:02:47] My name is Lauren Gassner Otting and I am a speaker and an author and I have a terminal case of wanderlust.
Bryan: [00:02:57] I know that when you travel you tend to be a worker bee. This past number of months while you’ve been traveling you’ve been working on a new book as an author. Can you tell us a little about that. And what do you do in order to be able to actually write on a point. Because I’ve always found that difficult.
Laura: [00:03:16] Yes my life is a little bit of a three ring circus between the consulting that I do my speaking engagements the writing I’ve got a kid in middle school and high school I’m super involved in politics and in philanthropy.
[00:03:30] And sometimes the only time that I get where I can just sit and focus is on an airplane.
[00:03:36] And I used to be that I would go on an airplane and I would use that time to do like logistics things like book my next flight or do some research about the vacation or or or set the family calendar or whatever it was I needed to do and then I just started getting so annoyed with the slow Wi-Fi or every once in a while like oh my god the shame there’s no Wi-Fi.
[00:03:56] And I just decided to stop using that time to do those things. And I just use it to write and that means sometimes if I’m on a long haul flight it means I have to make sure ahead of time to see if there’s going to be plugs under the seat to make sure that I understand it if you know what kind of plane I’m going to be on and so I’ll sacrifice a certain time that I’m flying to be on a nicer plane or I might pay up for first class because I know it’s going to give me guaranteed space and room and I’ll be able to get stuff done. But it’s really a matter of thinking for me about where I get my best work done and where I can focus the most with the least amount of distractions and sometimes it’s hurtling through air in a giant metal tube.
Bryan: [00:04:39] And speaking about getting your best work on the book the book is actually a little bit about being the best you how did to come up with. Was that an inspiration through your travel or could you just aside from your life so that’s something you really need to tackle.
Laura: [00:04:53] Well I had been writing it as part of the guide book series about how to find purpose in your work since I spent 20 years doing executive search for nonprofits a mission driven organizations and really studying and researching leaders who who care about the why they do things not just the what they’re doing. And as I was writing the the book in this guide book format which is sort of chapter one problem solution Chapter 2 problem solution Chapter 3 problem solution. The publisher called me up and he said you know this is kind of a bigger topic than what’s going to fit into this guide book format. And so we’re not going to publish it as part of the guidebook. And I said What. I wasn’t even planning on writing this guide book. And I decided to do it because you approached me about it. So what better be about coming and he’s like but we think it’s a really huge idea and we’d like to publish it on its own. And what do you think hardback next April and so Merry Christmas. So the book went from this guy book about purpose how to do work that matters to Limitless how to ignore everybody carve your own path and Live Your Best Life.
Laura: [00:06:03] And the idea behind the book is that we all have this notion that success has to be going to the right school and getting the right grades and getting the right internship and getting the right job and checking off all the boxes and then one day we turn around whether it’s you know in the first few years of our career or Midway in our midlife or even as baby boomers we turn around we say you know I filled all the boxes why do I feel so empty. You know it’s just what else. There’s got to be more.
[00:06:29] And so this idea for me came from what I’ve always done in every part of my career which is just to say what do I enjoy what do I want to be what are the values I want to manifest through the work. What’s the lifestyle that I want to have.
[00:06:43] And if that means dropping out of law school much to the chagrin of my parents or if that means starting my own business much to the chagrin of my boss who are going off on this crazy adventure to become a speaker. There are moments in your life where you just say this is what I’m doing and it matches the who I want to be. Then this is when I can become limitless. And the more you can find yourself in consonance with that the more that your energies are aligned with your passion and your skills and your network and you actually end up being more successful that way.
Bryan: [00:07:15] So if we had to take the same principles to bear in mind what would you think. Their values align with today.
[00:07:23] Well you know it depends and I would say as a business traveler their values align with me right. I get treated really well on airlines because I travel all the time. When I was when I was in college I spent a summer backpacking through Europe and I was like God you know what everybody says about these French people is true. These Parisians are so rude. And then I went back ten years later when I actually had a job and some money and I was with my husband and we were not disgusting dirty know smelly backpackers with fleas. True story. And I was like wow this Parisians got so much nicer and it turns out it’s just like when you’re traveling. Not that often you don’t quite know what you’re doing you don’t you’re not. You don’t have the frequent flyer miles and you have to get on the plane last and there’s no space for overhead. You’re not treated very well. It’s a really bad experience. But when you when you travel all the time and the airlines know that you’re their bread and butter they just treat you better. So I don’t know. Like maybe maybe applying it to the airline industry. I’d say their values align with me and that works out well for me. But it also means that for the vast majority of people even though not the vast majority of their revenue dollars it’s not such a great experience.
Bryan: [00:08:37] I would agree. I think it will come back to the older airlines only care about profits for the most part and it’s not. It’s not a people business anymore. It used to be about the service and and and and caring of people. You get a little taste of that here or there but it’s really become more aligned around the profits.
Laura: [00:08:56] Yeah I remember a couple of years ago walking through the San Francisco airport and there was a display of all this old airline China September thinking like a weird world that was when you would get on an airplane and they would serve you a meal on China. Of course they would also give you an ashtray for your cigarettes. You know things have changed a bit. But you know people don’t get dressed to travel anymore. They don’t. It’s not like part of the adventure in I and all of my traveling that I do whether it’s for work or you know all the traveling I do with my family I feel very much like the trip starts from the minute you leave your house and you know that that’s about like how do you get to the airport and when you get there and what do you do once you’re there and how do you dress for the experience and so I’ve never been like a sweat pants kind of traveller. I don’t wear a suit or anything but I do feel like if you go into the trip not thinking Oh the travel is going to be such a pain in the butt. But once I get there will be great if you go into it thinking that travel is going to be part of the fun. Then you can do things like what I just did with my 14 year old and go to Qatar for for two and a half days because the 13 hours that you get to fly home where you’re watching movies and they’re feeding you and you’re like hanging out like you can see that as part of the adventure of the trip and it just changes the entire experience.
Bryan: [00:10:16] Completely and It’s interesting because I mean I remember going on my first you know long haul trips from my parents down to Argentina when I was younger and having that experience of smoking in flight them and the time and all that. So I’ll ask you what do you wish you knew when you first started traveling for business that you now know?
Laura: [00:10:38] Well I would say I wish that I knew A that loyalty had its privileges right.
[00:10:48] I wish I wish that I knew that if I started banking miles and loyalty early that it would be a better experience. I also wish I knew the value of my time. You know like taking three stops to go to an airport that’s you know an hour away to get the car to rent it actually costs you more money in the long run than taking the more expensive non-stop flight. I wish I knew that there were certain airports like JFK that are just a nightmare to fly through that O’Hare in the winter is a crapshoot. I just I wish that I knew that there were that there were easier ways to do it.
[00:11:28] And and and that I valued the efficiency and my time more than the dollars necessarily.
Bryan: [00:11:37] This is something that you can unfortunately pretty good at dealing with men who are traveling and how they approach you and dealing with with them effective manner and I’m sure many of our women listeners would love to know some of your tricks like that.
Laura: [00:11:56] Yes. This is sort of crazy and completely non intuitive. But I have learned that men will leave me alone if I’m not wearing my wedding ring.
[00:12:09] Super weird right. Super weird you wouldn’t think it.
[00:12:12] So I am a competitive rower and I do a lot of weightlifting to support that and wearing a wedding ring for those two activities is not conducive to non blisters blistered hands so I tend not to wear my wedding ring that often. I wear when I go into clients and I wear it onstage because it tends to make people nervous when I’m not because they’re like I know she’s married. Why is your wedding ring that they don’t want to ask.
[00:12:37] But what I’ve noticed over the course of traveling about 150,000 miles every year for at least the last 10 years is that not all men. But there is a subsection of men and I’m sure some women too who cross the threshold of a plane and think about it like free and it there. There are some men who were just a little lecherous and I know you know most women listeners are going yup. Aha. Aha. And what I’ve noticed is that it’s this really strange thing there’s this idea of mutually assured destruction. Like if you’re married and I’m married and we’re both happily married but maybe a little bored. We can you know play around a little bit and nothing’s going to happen because neither one of us want to screw something up. But if I’m happily married and you’re not him right I might end up with like a rabbit on my stovetop.
[00:13:28] So I started noticing that men would approach me differently when I was wearing a wedding ring or when I was not wearing a wedding ring. And then they would ask a series of questions and a series of questions went something along the lines of what do you do. What does your husband do. Whereas last place you want to do they cation. Oh where did you stay. I stayed at the Four Seasons or did you stay at the Marriott or do you stay at the Holiday Inn and they were trying to get a sense of are you happily married, who earns the money. Right. And and what do you have to lose essentially. And I would start answering the questions differently every time mostly because I was just a little bored. And I happened to not have had my you know my noise canceling headphones on early enough and I was just curious about this as somebody who was you know we talked about this just relentlessly curious about people. I was just curious so I started to answer the questions in one way which was I’m super happily married and I make all the money. And you know. But my husband lost his job a couple of years ago and he hasn’t been as as ambitious as I thought and all of a sudden all of a sudden that the questions would end and they would get busy doing something else because clearly I don’t have anything to lose. If I answer the question as yeah I’m really everything’s great. My husband has a great job. I don’t really work I’m just traveling to see some girlfriends. Then they were all over me like white on race because they knew I couldn’t lose my sugar daddy. Right. So like I would answer the questions in this way that was really extreme in one direction or the other. And what I noticed is if I didn’t wear my wedding ring and I answered the questions in a way that it seemed like if if if my marriage fell apart I’d be and I I I I would not be in trouble. Then they would leave me alone. And so I just started doing that. And when I got them when I get on planes that even when wearing my wedding ring I’ll often take it off because it means people leave me alone.
Bryan: [00:15:29] A little bit of social a b testing there fascinating.
Laura: [00:15:33] It’s super weird and it’s like crazy offensive even to think about it in this manner. And yet over the course of like a decade I pretty much have like 90 percent hit rate on this.
Bryan: [00:15:45] I understand the need for it.
Laura: [00:15:48] It’s GROSS It’s totally gross and even as I describe it I’m like I am like the biggest feminist you’ll ever meet. And yet this is it’s sanity saving for me.
Bryan: [00:16:00] I shall leave you with one last question with all your years of travel, What is the best lesson you’ve learned?
Laura: [00:16:11] The best travel lesson I’ve learned in all of my years of travel. I think the best travel lesson I’ve learned in all of my years of travel is that you don’t have to do everything everywhere you are. So if you’re somewhere on business and you don’t have a ton of time you can always go back right. It’s just it’s not worth making yourself crazy.
[00:16:38] Although you know what I think I’m I’m actually I’m actually going to amend this. The best travel lesson I’ve learned and all of my years of travel is that it’s OK to be gone without feeling guilty that you’re you’ve left your kids and you’ve left your husband and your or your wife or your spouse or you’ve left your friends like they see you working hard and they see you being successful and they see you going after your goals and that is actually good for them also. So you know we put all of this guilt on ourselves of oh my god I’m gone again. The truth is they don’t necessarily miss us as much as we think they do or even as much as they tell us that they do in the moment that we’re leaving. And the lessons that they’re getting from seeing us being gone and then the lessons that they’re getting about from seeing us being present once we’re home are actually good for them long term.