New Year, New Decade: A Letter to All My Children

Susan New Year

How is it already a new decade? When you were young, the days felt long, but the years flew by. Now that you’re all adults — some with children of your own — even the decades fly by. 

As you know, I’ve lived an improbable life and you (six children, two step-children, five in-laws, six grandchildren and a plethora of foreign exchange students or otherwise “adopted” children) are the best part of it. Never did I imagine such an abundance of people, opportunities, and love in my life when I was younger. Rather, I envisioned a career that helped pay back my law school student loan debt and a tidy family of two children and an uncomplicated marriage — likely based on what I had experienced in Indianapolis where I grew up. But, we make our plans and God laughs.

My heart, intuition, common sense, and some divine intervention led me on an unexpected and much fuller life journey — to our sprawling, complicated, loving, internationally diverse family, sufficient wealth to feel compelled to live generously and be as helpful to others as possible, and the opportunity to pursue challenging entrepreneurial dreams. 

Values inherited from my parents and lessons learned through experience led to this fullness — you and my other blessings. Please allow me to use this start of a new year and new decade to share them with you, in part as answers to questions you’ve recently started asking. But also, as a way to highlight work of which I am most proud. 

Mostly though, I offer this letter with hope that it helps you end up in a far better and more interesting place in life than you might imagine now. 

Let Trust, Faith, Hard Work, and Love Guide You Every Day

My parents taught me to trust my instincts, have faith, work and love hard, and pay forward my blessings. I tried to pass these values on to you. 

The world is full of good — despite the constant barrage of negativity from the news. Most people want to do the right thing, especially if you make it easy for them to do so. Karma is real. If you invest your heart, time, talents, and money for good, you will be abundantly rewarded in return.

Rock star Sammy Hagar built his career — a tequila, dining, and hospitality empire — and a large family of his own by always following his heart and working hard. He gave the world what he loved and was richly rewarded. 

“Love is a weird thing. You feel it when you give it. But it doesn’t work when you’re giving just to get love,” he explained in a recent interview

Hagar pays his blessings forward for other families wherever life and work take him. He learned great values from his single mother, who raised him and three brothers with love and an empowering attitude, while living in poverty. 

Think for Yourself and Use Common Sense

Trust your own observations and common sense. This is as true in investing as it is in life and work. Don’t invest your time, talents, or dollars when you don’t understand something. Instead, just say no to the opportunity.

This works in reverse too. Trust what other’s actions tell you, more than their words. Why did I stay married to your father when his words hurt? Because his actions told me that he loved me. 

Why did I walk away from a promising legal career to become a suburban mother of many? Because there was so much more love and generous living to do with you than at the office. 

However, my experience as a labor attorney at Sidley Austin led to many good things in life — including my first common sense investments. 

I watched the brilliant leaders of our firm negotiate the breakup of AT&T as settlement of an antitrust suit and thought, “Each share of that stock will become shares in seven new companies. That’s bound to grow new value.” So, I bought a few shares. And it worked. 

Through my own practice, I observed other companies expend enormous time and expense fighting with their own employees and thought, “How can they ever grow a stronger business in the long run?” They didn’t. So, I decided to prioritize excellent HR and the opportunity for employee ownership when I thought about companies I wanted to invest in. This perspective was buttressed by growing up in Indianapolis where it was common knowledge (and a point of pride) that Eli Lilly and the city kept growing because the company took exceptionally good care of their employees, their families, and the community. 

When I read that Nucor, a small steel company with employee profit sharing and many forms of support for their families, was building state-of-the-art production plants in Indiana in the ’80s, I bought that stock too. Another winning investment. Nucor is now a global leader in its category.

You were the primary drivers of subsequent good investments. Technology looked like the next big thing. I watched you to better understand that space before investing in it. Your schools taught you on Apple products, and as tweens and teens you clamored for Apple computers and phones. To purchase them, I spent time in ever more crowded Apple Stores. During the 2008-09 recession, every shopping mall was a dead zone, except for the Apple Stores. They buzzed with positive energy and were filled with interesting looking people. So, I bought Apple stock at $11. Later, because you and a billion other people around the world were obsessed with Facebook, I bought that stock too.

It’s becoming more common knowledge that women on average are better investors than men and control a greater share of wealth. Perhaps that’s because they use common sense and greater caution than men. I love that my business can help educate and empower more women to feel confidant financially. I also love being invited to explain my investing strategies. Please keep asking me questions.

Find What You Love and the Rest Will Follow

I’m phenomenally grateful that my parents always encouraged me to pursue interests and dreams. That “Yes You Can” attitude stuck. I tried to raise you similarly. Please, don’t let adulthood squash your pursuit of new interests or whatever fully engages you. This is your natural impulse toward fulfilling your unique purpose on this planet. What you love to do is what you should be doing to earn your living and serve others. 

There is great power in finding your purpose. Power to feel more fully alive. Power to move others. Power to create a better world. Hopefully you experienced this when you met Neli Vazquez Rowland, the founder of A Safe Haven (ASH), when we visited there Christmas Eve. The transformational impact of her vision and energy was breathtaking. 

From left to right: Khat Ghani, General Sales Manager, iHeart Media; Ed Hutchinson; members of Ghani’s family, Susan Noyes and James Noyes.

ASH won one of the first Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards. It’s grown from 16 to 40 locations since then and has become a model studied by other regions and countries. But, please see that much of our Make It Better Media Group content is about other people and organizations who are also likely to inspire you.

I’m a publisher because this allows me to do all the things that I love: identify and promote good ideas; tell stories that inspire; be a connector; celebrate and strengthen community; and nurture virtuous circles. This work fills me with greater purpose than I have found anywhere else in life, besides being your mother. 

There is greater need than ever for trustworthy media that inspires and helps the community. I’m phenomenally grateful for this entrepreneurial opportunity, the talented people we employ or support with our work, the audience we attract, and the brands with whom we engage.

My greatest joy though, still, is seeing you go after what you love, living and working with values about which you feel passionate. You shine when you do. 

Start with Small Steps

Don’t ever think that you need to have a big idea in order to achieve one. That’s rarely the case. Good ideas are launched with baby steps toward something that might interest and engage you. 

Our big family started with a first unexpectedly magical kiss and your father massaging my feet under the restaurant’s table on our second date (no man had ever done that before). Our electrified world started with Benjamin Franklin flying a kite. The Disney entertainment conglomerate started with Walt’s “simple” desire to make a moving cartoon. Queen Elizabeth II emphasized the importance of small steps in her Christmas Day speech this year. 

As the queen explained, even giant leaps for humankind — like lunar landings and global peace — start with small steps.

My favorite interviewees over the past decade tell similar stories of starting with small steps, pursing something that tickled their interest. Ed Wehmer didn’t just decide to build the largest banking empire in Chicago. Rather, the Wintrust founder chose the banking space after college. That first step led Wehmer to “find his passion and make it happen,” which is advice he regularly gives to others. 

I’m excited for you to read my recently published interview with EO Products Founder Susan Griffin-Black. She built a terrific sustainable body care products business, raised artistic children, and supported the Marin community she loves by following her passions and taking one thoughtful step after another.

I’m particularly proud of the following short video, made by Pat and Cheryl Berman for the launch of Better, because of the way long-time marketing partners who I hold in high esteem talk about the values of the brand we developed.

Launching and building my media company has been more work and a harder journey than I ever anticipated, as you know. And I’ve made many mistakes. But, if I die soon, at the celebration of my life, you can play this video and honestly say, “She realized her dream, and it made a difference for others too.”

I pray that this video always will remind you to promote values you cherish and take risks, one small step at a time, toward whatever you believe to be your purpose on this planet too. 

Remember That You Grow the Most When Times Are Tough

Please don’t aspire to an “easy” life. That’s not likely to be a fulfilling one. Instead, aspire to live a challenging and helpful life, using your gifts and resources freely. And remember that you grow the most by working through the hard times, which inevitably come. 

Give your heart, even though it might get broken. You will make treasured memories and learn more about yourself. I grew the most during that period when I thought I was destined to become a divorced mother of six young children. Focusing on my pain and the impending loss didn’t help. Therapy and learning to start each day by seeing what was good in my life did. I didn’t know it then, but those were my baby steps toward greater self-confidence and the opportunity to flex my entrepreneurial spirit. It saved my marriage.

I particularly love our Make It Better Media Group stories about people who adopt or start nonprofits, in response to challenges they faced and overcame. You can find many of them here. They survive frustration and pain, then show their gratitude by helping others who face similar ordeals.

Think We, Not Me

Humans are meant to live, love, work, and play together. 

Susan Instagram

Yes, it’s imperative for you to take good care of yourself — including admitting to problems and seeking help. But working toward the best future for we, not just me, ultimately will be your happiest, most fulfilling path forward. 

I’m bullish on the future because of the internet and your generation — the millennials. You inherently desire a just and sustainable future for all. Your generation demands mission and meaning with every dollar and hour spent. The concepts of Impact Investing and SEG (Social Environmental Governance) exploded because millennial investors, employees, and consumers demand this. That’s one of the reasons Better started promoting Social Impact Investing early on through articles and our Money, Values, Impact Symposiums

Money Values Impact
Photo by Jaclyn Simpson.

We broadened our strategy from “supporting philanthropy” to amplifying social impact with everything we do because of the values of your generation. Thanks for the influence. 

Live Generously

Take good care of others, and the world will take good care of you too. This is a fundamental truth. This is the essence of faith, Karma, the universe in action, divinity — whatever you call that which is part of and yet greater than you. 

To have a friend, be a friend. To feel love, give love. Live for others and you will enjoy your own life more. Pay forward gifts and other blessings you receive and more will rain down upon you. The more you give, the bigger your life becomes. To grow a good community business, be a good community member.

More corporations and major brands message how they give back to the world through advertising and sponsorships than ever before. In the world your generation is forging, the secret to doing good business is to always be doing good.

No one ever laid on their death bed and said, “Darn, I should have had fewer children, done less for others, experienced less, facilitated less good.” Until recently though, most people believed that living for others meant a reduced financial future for themselves. What is intriguing and wonderful about my life experience and this era now is the proof that people are more likely to be financially successful if they also live generously.

In Conclusion

You’ve watched me spend much of the last decade doing all that I write about above.

old graphic from original Make It Better

Almost always I’ve been at my computer to facilitate good for others. Diane Von Furstenberg starts her day by facilitating at least two helpful connections for others. I spend most of my day doing that — or at least the happiest part of it. Connecting brings me joy. 

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you find your own joy, not just in the coming decade, but for the rest of your lives. But please know, even if they don’t, I will always be enormously proud and grateful to be your mother.