Defining Success: Lesley Jane Seymour


A media entrepreneur and one of the industry’s most respected award-winning editorial leaders, Lesley Jane Seymour is the former Editor-in-Chief of MoreMarie ClaireRedbook and YM magazines. At More she created history by having the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, guest edit an entire issue—leading to 8.5 billion media impressions worldwide. Seymour is now creating a digital club called Kindred Community for women who want to live a more authentic life.  

How do you define success?

Early career success is bestowed by others: by your boss giving you a promotion or asking you to do a special project or placing you on a task force. As you get older, success becomes a measure of how well you use the power and influence you have achieved to help others and give back. Sure I’ve worked hard for every success I’ve had, but nothing feels as good as when someone (and often it’s a stranger) tells me something I’ve written or said has helped them change a point of view, find a new passion, make a new connection or succeed. The ability to change lives and change the world is very rewarding.

How do you measure your own success?

I measure my own success by being hyper aware of my interactions with others.  Am I really listening? Is there a point of view I could adopt that I have not heard of? How does the other person see this issue? What kinds of big ideas can I instigate to alter the problems of the world? Words are a powerful weapon when wielded wisely.

How does success feel?

Success feels great—considering that all I ever thought I would do was become a writer. I never thought I would do half of what I did—running 4 national magazines, traveling the world, working with the White House, participating in discussions and solutions for issues that plague the world.  Maybe I just dreamed small.  But now I’m dreaming of being an entrepreneur—and loving the ability it gives me to use my intelligence, connections, innovative ideas. It’s scary, too.

When was the last time you felt successful? What happened?

I feel successful every day—mainly because I’ve raised two fabulous kids (both in their 20s)—and that is the most difficult job of all. Raising them in this kooky, crazy world is terrifying: you fear everything.  And when they are all baked—as mine are—and they have turned out to be great people with deep souls and empathy and compassion, then that is success. Whatever I do for a job is gravy.

How do you celebrate your success?

I’m in a new phase of celebrating my success which is having the nerve to no longer work a corporate job for a regular paycheck.  I really want to see what this whole other independent entrepreneurial world is like. I am already startled by how quick and easy it is to get things done (when you don’t have to plot and plan to get around all the corporate stumbling blocks) and how wonderful it is to pick and choose partners you like—instead of working around nay-sayers.  I am also shocked by how generous everyone in the entrepreneurial world is. It seems like every woman I meet asks the same question: “How can I help you?”  I never heard that in corporate life.  And yes, that question comes primarily from women—though I still haven’t figured out why.

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to be successful?

The number one thing to being successful is resilience. I’ve stumbled a lot (been fired once; had my project close once) and gotten back up, dusted myself off, and moved ahead.  You have to be tough to be successful—and hanging in there is part of it. I once wrote an editor’s note about how hanging in there is underrated. Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting for a change at the top or a bad boss to implode or for a takeover so new thinking is appreciated in these big businesses.  If you’ve got a job you like and they pay and treat you well, you can also look for satisfaction of your other needs outside of work—by getting further education or doing give-back work. I’m at Columbia working on my masters in Sustainability Management. Sometimes we put too much pressure on work to be everything to us. It can’t, nor should it be.


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