From Political Strategist To Podcast Host, Emily Tisch Sussman Discusses The Art Of Pivoting
Finding balance is not always easy.
In TZR’s franchise Scare-Free Sundays, industry leaders discuss the all-too-common weekend anxiety (aka Sunday Scaries) that can rob one of the relaxation and rest they so desperately need to properly take on the week ahead. Here, we sit down with Emily Tisch Sussman, podcast host of She Pivots and veteran political strategist.
Emily Tisch Sussman is a planner. A longtime political strategist, podcast host (including the fairly new program She Pivots, which debuted in May 2022), and regular on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, HLN, and CBS, the mom of three essentially “lived and died” by a set schedule for the past 20 years. “I have a very aggressive work style,” says Tisch Sussman to TZR. “I don't really know another way to describe it, but I view myself through the lens of success of professional success. And the way that I have found success was just outworking people around me. It led me to be very successful at an early age working in politics and it created a lot of opportunity for me.”
And it worked ... until it didn’t. The New York native found keeping up with her work in politics increasingly challenging as she welcomed her first child. “I had never seen a pregnant person work on a campaign,” says Tisch Sussman. “I had never seen a person with kids work on a campaign. And the way that I knew how to work on a campaign was to sleep in the office, uproot your life, speak to nobody else except people in the immediate team with you. I couldn't figure out how to make them work together. So I mourned that end of my career in that sense.”
That said, the new mom still found a way to be a part of the political ecosystem that felt like a second home. She went into political consulting and launched her first podcast Your Political Playlist in 2019, around the time she welcomed her second child. As 2020 rolled around, Tisch Sussman was knee-deep in covering the election (and preparing for baby number three), when — BAM — the pandemic hit. “So my whole system, that was hanging on by a thread to begin with, of me staying in political consulting and doing the podcast was predicated on childcare, and that just disappeared,” she recalls. “So suddenly I had a two-year-old, three-year-old, and a three-week-old, and a global pandemic, and a presidential election that was ever changing.”
Tisch Sussman says that although “she got through it,” she saw how the key components of her life were being impacted by her too-packed schedule. “I just felt like I was failing on every aspect,” she says. “My show wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. None of my kids were as happy as I wanted them to be. I wasn't living where I thought I was going to be. Nothing was great.”
So, for the first time in her career, she *pivoted* away from politics and reassessed her life plan. “I started to think about the stories that I needed to hear,” says Tisch Sussman. “I don't know that I'm ever going to be able to get back to my political career the way that I envision success. And that's unbelievably depressing. So the stories that I need to hear are stories of women who actually took opportunity of things that were out of their control and made something better than they could have been before.” Thus, She Pivots was born. Yes, the program features women (Kristin Cavallari, Michelle Park, Robin McBride to name a few) who have had similar career crossroads moments like Tisch Sussman’s and have not just found themselves on the other side, but a little happier and wiser, to boot.
With the fledgling podcast still in its early stages, so is its host. Tisch Sussman is still finding her footing with this new venture and season of life that no longer includes the fast-moving world of politics. Ahead, she explains how she handles the day-to-day stress of balancing her roles in work and as a mother of three, and how she finds time for herself (and reality TV) in the midst of the madness.
What are some common or typical anxieties or concerns you face ahead of a busy work week?
Dropping off my kids, picking up my kids — those points of the day for me are pretty important. So if I'm not sure that I actually have time to get back to my desk and focus, if there's not enough transition time, because I need to physically get there, [I get anxious]. I have to mentally transition. I think especially going into our second season of interviews.
I personally knew most of the guests in Season 1 because, otherwise, I wouldn't have known that their public narrative isn't actually why they made these career changes. So now the show's getting bigger, we're getting pitched guests and we're booking more [people] that I don't have personal relationships with — almost none of them. So, it just takes a lot more preparation for me to go into every interview, and I have anxiety around making sure that I've done it so that I take advantage of the time that I have with them. And [I have to be in] the right mental space, it's not just [about taking] the actual time, it's [about] the right mental space time.
How have you/do you combat those types of intrusive thoughts and anxieties that creep in?
I think the thing that helps the most is internalizing a schedule ahead of time [...] so things don’t have to be done in the moment. But I also really like to take advantage of opportunities as they come, which means they're not planned for. And that is the constant tension that I have — I want to create space, not just for professional opportunity but for opportunity to just sit and play in the moment and have that [spontaneous time] with my kids. I know being scheduled, being planned will actually help it, but then I lose the joy of being [present] in those moments.
Do you have any strict rules you abide by during the weekends or OOO days to avoid working or thinking about work?
No, I'm a really big multitasker. I feel like the reason that I'm able to take advantage of physically being with my kids or going to a play date with them is because I'll do a little work on my phone on the way and then go have that [time] with them. Everybody knows that they can reach me if they need me so that so I'm not a cog in a wheel. But I'm able to take advantage of those moments because I know that I can plug back in if I need to.
So, what does that leave for you? What time is left for you?
I watch Love Island at night. I've always watched reality TV. In Washington, it was looked down upon and I never cared [...] because I need it.
I also have a number of running text chains, different friends of mine from different phases of life. And I actually feel like I need those, I need connections to my girlfriends. I need to feel like I am in community with them. And I feel like that's the biggest thing I do for myself.
What does your Sunday evening routine look like?
My sister also has three kids, they're the same age [as mine]. So, we'll often have family dinner. But, every night is kind of the same here. Just the multiple hour-long struggle of getting my kids down to bed so that I can get back to Love Island. [My time to myself after the kids go to bed is a] necessity. I also don't really drink that much because I feel like, as I've gotten older, my body just is super hungover [naturally]. So I have been drinking Aplós, which is a hemp drink and I find that helps.
Do you do anything in particular to mentally prepare yourself for the week ahead?
I live and die by my schedule. I'll look at the week ahead to make sure that things [are in order] — like, is my travel figured out? Is this specific thing still sitting in the schedule but it no longer makes sense? Do I now have a kid thing I want to attend? Do I have childcare, which is a very big thing? And then [my assistant] Hannah will go through our to-do list for the entire day and send it to me every morning. So she's presets it the night before. I [review] it more the morning of than the evening before.
When do your Sunday Scaries creep in? What are they like?
I feel like it's during bedtime, when I'm trying to think through what the next day's going to be. There are many days that I feel unprepared, and I'm like, "Oh my God, we're not ready for that." I'd say that as I'm getting my kids down to bed and I try to talk through [what’s coming up in the days ahead]. My oldest, especially, tends to have a lot of anxiety around change. So I find that the more preparation I can give him, the better. And then I will often realize things [in the moment] for myself.
How do you overcome them?
Taking action. Being actionable is the only thing that I know how to do. So, either it's sending a note through our email that we use for everything home and kid-related, or whether it's texting Hannah and being like, "I have to move this." Being actionable is the only thing that really helps me.
Any secret power product/practice/mechanism?
Not really, and I'm not very zen. I would say the thing that I do is I really try to work out outside every morning before I take my kids to school. There's very few circumstances in which I won't. Like, today, it’s raining. I've been sick for two weeks and it's raining, but I still walked outside with a hat on. I just need to get outside for a little bit. If I work out inside, [my kids] can come find me. And then it's not really decompressing. And I just need the sun. I need the air. I need the change of scenery. I need someone not touching me. I need all of those things to feel like I can really start the day and not be super cranky.