Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Amy Sullivan

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Dr. Amy Sullivan, Director of Behavioral Medicine, Research and Training at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, will be talking about overload, stress, and self-care at our upcoming 2018 Women’s Leadership Summit. We recently caught up with her on some of those topics, so here’s a sneak peek:

Q: What would you say is your central mission for the work that you do?

A: It is really simple. From a personal perspective, it is helping people to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. This happens through value-based goal setting, self-care, self-compassion, and dealing with difficult emotions. My mission from a global perspective is to normalize and not stigmatize mental health issues #NormalizeNotStigmatize. I want people to be more comfortable talking about these difficult things.

Q: You’ll be speaking about overload, stress, and burnout at our upcoming Women’s Summit. Have you always been interested in helping women to manage these things, or was there something that triggered that interest and passion for you?

A: In my 20s, I was a college athlete who thought I could do anything. In my 30s, I got married and had children, as well as some health issues, and I realized that my self-care and attention to my little people and husband needed to be amped up. I was in a predicament, though, because I am absolutely passionate about what I do for a living. I am one of the lucky ones that loves every aspect of my job, and so I knew I could not sacrifice that because it’s such a huge part of my identity. I did, however, need to adjust how I work and when I work.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle that professional women face today?

A: There are so many obstacles that professional women face—everything from imposter syndrome, to bullying, to unconscious biases about women in leadership. However, I think that we as women struggle the most when we are not balanced, when we think we have to be everything to everyone, and when we feel forced to give partial effort in any area of our lives (home, our health, relationships, or career).

Q: It seems like much of what you do involves mentoring and helping others to develop different, healthy ways of thinking and living. What have you learned about mentorship over the course of your professional career?

A: That it is essential! And more importantly, I have learned to seek out mentors in all of the areas that I need guidance, which is every area of my life.  One of my mentors is a male neurosurgeon who helps me in leadership development, one is a female psychologist who is much further along in her career and helps me with issues specifically related to my profession, one is a young neurologist and residency director who helps me with my supervision skills for my own fellowship training program, and two others are colleagues and friends who help me with work life balance. I also have an executive coach who helps me put this all together, and I’m involved in multiple women’s leadership programs, where I learn from other women. Finally, I rely on my husband, extended family and friends to guide me. It takes a village, and as you can tell, I take mentorship, coaching, guidance and help however I can get it.

Q: That’s fantastic! It seems like you really seek out guidance from others regularly now. What is one piece of wisdom you wish you had known early in your career?

A: That I don’t have to be perfect at anything. I use the 80/20 rule in which I realize that 20% of the time things are not going to work out how I envisioned and that is ok because 80% of the time they do. As a former Division 1 basketball player I am intense and competitive, which details me at times. I realize that I want to be perfect and simply can not and I have to be ok with that

Q: What do you hope we can all do or create for the next generation of women?

A: I have a 7-year-old daughter, and I work with her on knowing her worth and using her voice to express that worth. Systematic and unconscious biases are stacked against us, but we can manage our own feelings of inadequacy. My daughter is very tall (like I am), and I often see her shrink down to blend in. I remind her that leaders are unique in some way, shape, or form, and she needs to be proud of her height and strength. I find that women struggle with self-image, and so we really focus on improving this with her. This work is hard because we have ingrained beliefs about ourselves and our leadership potential, but it is incredibly important to show confidence and self-esteem and to ask for what we are worth. Hopefully, we can all make that clear for the next generation of women.

Q: Do you have a productivity tip that you swear by?

A: Yes, be where you are in that moment without thinking about what is coming next. It’s a trick from my trade called mindfulness. This is great to help you focus and accomplish the task at hand.

Q: Is there a book you would recommend for professional women?

A: I can’t tell you how many times I have read Lean In. I think it is imperative for all women in leadership. The other book I like is Primal Leadership.


Women’s Leadership Summit: FLUX will take place November 9th 2018 at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron. Tickets available here