Susan Jacobs is a writer, storyteller, strategist, and event producer with more than 25 years of experiential marketing, branding, communications, and business experience. Her years of expertise working on projects in the U.S., Africa, Europe, and Haiti are enriched by the life-changing experiences she has had in different cultures while traveling off the beaten path. Giving voice to things that matter, raising awareness, and expanding perspectives is the heart and soul of who Susan Jacobs is and what she does.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Manhattan, near Union Square Park, long before it became a trendy neighborhood.
My father was a successful commercial and reportage photographer (featured in MOMA’s Family of Man exhibition and book) and then made two soft-core X-rated films in the ‘60s (one of which MOMA bought for its permanent collection). My mom was a painter.
In 1969, on a family vacation to Europe, my parents discovered these weird shoes with the heel lower than the toe. They cured my mom’s chronic backaches immediately. Fast forward, the inventor granted them exclusive distribution rights. By happenstance, their first NYC store opened 4/22/70, which unbeknownst to them, corresponding with the first Earth Day, which was being celebrated down the block from our brownstone. When our usually quiet block was flooded with hippies, they went outside and asked what was going on. ‘Hey man, it’s Earth Day,’ was the response. They immediately changed the sign in the window to Earth Shoes. This instant-aligned branding brought hippies pouring in buying the shoes. Thus began the company’s huge trajectory to success.
They had the company during my formative years, from age 10 – 17. The whole experience was extremely influential on my life, still to this day. What I watched my parents go through, and what I experienced with the hippie store employees in part, informs who I am today.
My parents were free thinkers, true entrepreneurs, and extremely creative. I was given a lot of freedom, love, and support, and encouraged to be creative and pursue my dreams.
They sent me to the United Nations International School, where I was accepted as part of a small quota of non-diplomatic students. I attended from fifth grade through high school. Classmates were from around the world and our graduation was in the General Assembly at the U.N.
Traveling internationally was also something my parents gave me from an early age, a bug that stuck throughout my life. Crossing borders and cultures have always fueled my creativity, fed my spirit, and expanded my perspectives.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Intellectually, I knew these things, but wish I fully embodied them at a younger age…
That my voice matters and it’s OK to own, speak, and live my truth, without apology or explanation, provided it doesn’t cause harm to others.
Not to worry what anyone thinks. To always be true to myself and be my own best friend.
To listen to and trust my gut instinct always, always, always, even if it goes against convention.
Not to let fear fuel my decisions.
To remember that everything is temporary, and I always have a choice.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Honestly, I’m sure there’s bad advice out there, but I don’t pay attention because thus far, it doesn’t impact me. I like to learn from my own mistakes.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I’ve had plenty of challenges of varying degrees in my life. But even during hard times, it’s not in my nature to go to a dark place. I have a broad physical and mental well-being survival tool kit that always helps me recalibrate and return to my center.
Thankfully, I was exposed to all sorts of alternative healing modalities and ways of thinking while my parents had Earth Shoes. I spent hours and hours a week hanging out in the store with the employees. They were all young hippies, so cool… and they took me under their wing. I wanted to be just like them.
I started doing yoga from Ram Das’ Be Here Now book and Transcendental Meditation at 15. My parents were introduced to TM by the inventor of Earth Shoes, so we all learned. Our family meditated together. It also was a perk given to the employees after three months. Sometimes I meditated with them in the store on the backseat from a VW van that was in the basement.
I’ve done therapy at various points in my life. That too gave me a foundation, a perspective, that keeps my world from turning dark.
Since high school, journaling has been my dumping ground and where I get the answers, as is my yoga mat and meditation cushion.
Being in nature and having very dear close friends helps me balance if I start to tip.
But mostly, I think it’s from having such a loving, close family, and circle of friends that love me unconditionally.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I’d say it’s being a risk-taker and comfortable talking to anyone, even strangers. I’m always open to trying something new, even when it’s scary and I have no idea what I’m doing or where it’s going to lead.
A friend once said she never saw anyone work in a room like me. I truly didn’t understand what she meant because I was just naturally speaking with people.
I try to be kind and treat everyone the same regardless of their professional or social standing. I look people in the eye, am honest, and ask a lot of questions, even dumb ones. I never pretend to know something I don’t. I make people laugh and feel comfortable. Making friends and new connections comes naturally so I have a broad network.
I’ve had two near-death experiences. The first time, I was 15 and went into anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction to an injection. In 2005, I had severe malaria and was minutes from dead in Ghana. My life was saved by an African Ayurvedic doctor.
This fact has given me pause over the years, making me realize I must be here for a reason. I want to think it’s something on a grand scale, but as I get older, I’m realizing it may be as simple as just having a positive impact on all those that I encounter and interact with.
Perhaps near-death made me fearless and in full appreciation of every moment, perhaps it was my upbringing… regardless, it’s the only way to know to navigate the world.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up around 7. While I have lots of morning routines, periodic middle-age insomnia sometimes interferes, so I play it by ear. My body tells me what it needs; when I listen, I feel the best.
That said, I always make a pot of organic green tea, swish a tablespoon of coconut oil in my mouth for 20 minutes (aka, oil pulling), and make the bed.
Then, I chant Om Gam Ganapataye Namasha 108 times, followed by 11 minutes of Transcendental Meditation; journal for 13 minutes; and read for 20 minutes
From there, it could be a combination of the following, or not:
- A kundalini yoga set and meditation
- Jumping rope or working out on my rebounder (mini-trampoline)
- A walk/run in Prospect Park
- Salsa dancing around my apartment
On mornings when I reach for my phone before I’ve set myself up mind, body, and spirit, I get derailed. I feel the energy instantly sucked out of me. I try to avoid doing that. Every moment though gets to be a new beginning and I’ve gotten more forgiving with myself.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Hands down, it’s salsa dancing. I’ve been doing it for thirteen years and it’s transformed my life.
When I dance, I feel free and am experiencing pure joy. I’m being led by a dance partner, whose job is to protect me on the dance floor and make me look good. I don’t have to think about anything but being fully present and connected with my partner. It’s the ultimate ‘be here now’ experience. It took a long time for me to let go of being in control, because as a ‘follower,’ the lead does the controlling.
There is nothing more magical, therapeutic, and fun than dancing to live music with partners that your merge with perfectly. It’s life-affirming, invigorating, and addictive!
Pre-pandemic, I danced every Friday at SOBs in NYC for years. Family, friends, and even clients knew I was off-limits after 4 pm because of salsa. I learned to dance on the dance floor, with men from around the world.
I built a great community and no matter where I go dancing, I always run into friends, or make new ones.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I work best under deadlines. For client work or my own, I set a timer for everything – usually no more than 20 minutes at a time. I need to get up move around often. Sitting for hours doesn’t spark my creativity, motivation, or productivity.
A few years ago, I finally understood my creative process and the amount of time for each phase. I procrastinate, percolate, marinate, then create. For clients, in the deliverable’s timeline, I factor in time for each. Clients appreciate that I understand myself so well and am honest. I never miss delivering on a deadline.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
There have been many over the years but these two were particularly life-changing.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and that there is a mind/body/spirit connection. Years ago, in a bookstore, two titles on a table jumped out at me: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön and Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss.
I had recently been diagnosed with hyperthyroid and Graves’ disease. It was a very challenging time. I was trying to hold onto my belief that I could heal myself while navigating and trying to integrate Western and Eastern medicine and healing modalities.
Pema, a Buddhist nun, introduced me to Buddhism and how to find peace amid pain and chaos. She gave me a new perspective on how to keep opening my heart, even during great difficulties. She taught me that everything is perfect at this moment, just as it is, even when it’s hard to see or believe.
In Anatomy of the Spirit, when I read about the 5th chakra, located in the throat, home of the vitally important thyroid, I had my healing ‘Aha’ moment. This chakra is about speaking your truth. I wondered why I got a condition that affected my throat and eyes… what was I not saying and seeing in my life?
From that point on, my real healing began on a cellular level. I went even deeper with meditation, yoga, and all sorts of concoctions from alternative and spiritual healers, and lots of journaling and tears. I was looking at myself up close with a magnifying mirror to get to the heart of who I was, and what caused me to get this condition.
Over the years, many layers peeled away, and my thyroid health improved, despite my endocrinologist telling me I was being reckless, putting my life in danger. He ultimately fired me as his patient because I refused the radical Western treatment of drinking radioactive iodine, which would have killed my thyroid, left me with hypothyroidism, and on medicine for the rest of my life.
Fast forward to today… I healed myself naturally, my thyroid is intact, and I’m on no medication. These books gave me the foundation and resources to have the courage to take this healing journey and hold firm in my beliefs.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
On my refrigerator:
“You should make yourself so happy that by looking at you other people become happy.” – Yogi Bhajan
I found this after I began practicing Kundalini yoga in 2000. This has always been my outlook, even during hard times. It’s much healthier and more fun to live from a place of joy and happiness. I like to spread positivity and try to leave a love footprint wherever I go.
On my office wall:
“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
This Polish proverb keeps me in my own lane, reminds me not to take on other people’s drama, and preserves my energy field from being invaded by alien forces that are out of my control.
“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamott
My daily mantra, reminding me to bite-size what needs to get done.
In my email signature:
“I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air but to walk on earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Like Gary Vaynerchuk says, “the likelihood of being born is 400 trillion to one…” so it is a miracle to be alive, walking on earth. I try to always remember this.
Back in college, the three bumper stickers on my car immediately sized me up: ‘No nukes;’ ‘Stop rape, sisters pick up sisters;’ and ‘Woodsy Owl says give a hoot, don’t pollute.’ The above quotes capture my essence too!