Best-Selling Author Suzy Welch Talks With SisterUp About Her 10-10-10 Rule

I first read Suzy Welch’s best selling book 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family, when it came out in 2009. At that point in my life, I was the head of marketing and sales at one of the top ski resorts in the country and about to have my first baby. I was trying to determine whether or not I should stay at home or continue working, as I loved what I did.

The 10-10-10 approach that Suzy teaches in the book, helped me to decide that for me, at that time, it was best to continue working.

I’ve used the 10-10-10 multiple times since then as I climbed the corporate ladder as a Senior Vice President of a large active entertainment company. The job required that I travel a significant amount of time (40k+ miles per month). In early 2016, my oldest was in kindergarten and I was missing everything in his life. I knew this was not congruent with my core values.

I once again used the 10-10-10 to help me decide whether or not I should continue in my successful, secure executive position or follow my passion of starting a company with my sister. The 10-10-10 helped me to decide it was time to leave and start my own thing.

Recently I talked with Suzy Welch to learn more about how she came up with the approach and what advice she gives to women who are trying to manage it all.

SU: How did you come up with the 10-10-10? 

SW: The same way most of us come up with our best ideas — I was desperate! I mean, really on the edge of disaster with my life. It was 2004 or so, and I was a newly divorced mom with four young kids, working 50 hours a week in the magazine business. From the outside, my life looked pretty put-together, and even exciting and fun, but inside, I was in a constant state of anxiety. Juggling kid things, work things, family things, and feeling as if I was holding it all together by my fingernails. And only barely! The moment of truth came when I brought two of my kids on a business trip from Boston to Hawaii, where I had been asked to give a speech. Please don’t write me off as a nut job. At the time, it seemed like the perfect way to “balance” my life. To make a long and agonizing story short, the kids, wearing hula skirts, ended up crashing the speech. It was a total public implosion, which I had coming to me.

That night, in the quiet after the kids went to bed, I sat on my balcony and I realized I had to start making my decisions in a whole new way. Thoughtfully, deliberately, and carefully. And 10-10-10 was born. I would consider each decision by examining the consequences of my options in the immediate term (10 minutes), mid-term (10 months) and in the long-term, that life I wanted to be living in 10 years. Starting the next morning, I applied the process to every decision, large and small. I slowed my life down and started taking control of it, based on my values and analysis. I cannot tell you how rapidly things improved — it was instant.

SU: Did you have any fears that you had to overcome with the 10-10-10?

SW: What a great question, because yes, it was a little scary at first — make that A LOT scary — to have to say no to people. To say, “I’m sorry, I can’t make everyone happy. But here is my decision…” The truth is, the reason my life was out of control was that I was trying to be all things to all people all the time — perfect mom, perfect boss and employee, perfect sister and daughter and friend. Sometimes that’s possible. You can, occasionally, do it all. But not every day! Using 10-10-10 required me to become very honest with everyone about what I was doing and why; sometimes not everyone was pleased. But everyone always appreciated my candor and transparency — and eventually, my consistency.

SU: How did you life change when you began consistently using the 10-10-10? 

SW: It calmed things down, first of all. I had a process suddenly — an operating principle for doing life. That gave me peace, and even though the kids sometimes didn’t love me saying, “Hey, guess what, this time work is going to come first,” or, “No, church is not ever negotiable,” they pretty quickly came to love 10-10-10, because it gave them a window into what I was thinking and why. They started using it too, and use it to this day.

SU: In the book you said the 10-10-10 was your own, ‘Life Management Tool’. How do you think others can use this same concept as a life management tool? 

SW: 10-10-10 has been around since I first wrote about it for O, the Oprah Magazine, more than 11 years ago, and in that time, I have heard about it applied to every variety of decision — from the massive (do I marry someone?) to the minute (do I buy this dress?) Incidentally, I always advise couples and families to “10-10-10 together.” It is a great way to have conversations about complex or emotional situations.

SU: Most of our readers are moms who are trying to figure out how to be a mom but also find themselves and use their strengths to make money by starting their own business or side business? How do you think the 10-10-10 can help them? 

SW: If you’re a mom, everything that potentially draws you away from your kids is loaded with doubt, guilt, and concern. 10-10-10 helps you identify your values, and get a consistent process for making decisions about when and how to be a working mom.

SU: What advice would you give women who are trying to manage it all? 

SW: I have good news — it gets better! Your kids grow up, and one day, you discover you have time to do everything you want, guilt-free. Believe me, it happens! I am there at last, with my kids in their 20s, all happy, working adults. I have exhaled— hallelujah! Hang in there; it’s coming to you too.  I am now working harder than ever, and I without the old uh-oh feeling as my companion. BUT — I will NEVER forget that decade-plus I had, when everything was hard all the time. But I want to say this: Even though it was hard, it had many moments of joy once it became manageable. And manageable is possible, pretty instantly, when you have an operating principle to guide you. For me, that was 10-10-10.

We want to know how you are using the 10-10-10 in your life! Share with us in the comments below.

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