Gillian Zoe Segal joined to discuss her latest book, Getting There: A Book of Mentors. In Getting There 30 luminaries in a broad range of fields (Warren Buffett,Sarah Blakely, Michael Bloomberg, Kathy Ireland, Anderson Cooper, etc.) let their guards down and share their secrets to navigating the rocky road to the top.
Getting There is filled with inspirational anecdotes, practical career advice, and wisdom applicable to life in general — but what I found myself most interested in talking to Gillian about was how on earth she managed to get access to such an incredible group of influential leaders!
Gillian’s story demonstrates how one can achieve greatness by being persistent, creative, and strategic. We can all take lessons from her:
What motivated you to write Getting There?
Growing up I never had a mentor. At a certain point in my life I found myself continually looking at highly successful individuals wondering, “How did she figure out her career path?” and, “How was he able to become so successful?” I had a strong personal desire to sit down with those I admired and learn all they had to teach. I figured that others would also be interested in this material, so I decided to make a book out of it. The finished product turned out to be way more inspirational than I had even imagined. I was really impressed with how much my subjects were willing to share.
Were you worried about being able to gather such an impressive group of subjects?
Definitely! Getting people to participate was the hardest part — especially because I had little or no connections to start. It took me five years to put Getting There together.
How were you able to do it?
In short, it required a lot of polite persistence. Early on, I had lunch with an old college friend. I was telling him about my difficult time getting “A-listers” to participate in Getting There (my requests were mainly being ignored or rejected). He told me, “Never take a no from somebody who can’t give you a yes.” Those words really helped me persevere. What they mean is don’t let a rejection from a gatekeeper stop you.
So how did you get past the gatekeepers?
I used all the traditional routes — emailing, writing letters, making phone calls, asking in person. If I got a “no” from a gatekeeper (an assistant, publicist, agent) I had to discern whether it was a real no. A lot of times I got rejected by a gatekeeper and my target never even knew I had asked. If I thought that was the case I would figure out another way to approach.
I never took any of the rejection personally. It is all part of the process. The people I was contacting are all extremely busy and none of them owed me anything.
I wrote an extensive article about my networking techniques for LinkedIn. Here is thelink.
You did all of your interviews in person and also photographed each subject. Were you nervous?
I predominantly wanted to make sure that I made the most out of the limited time I had with each subject. I knew that in order to have a great finished product I needed to cover a lot of ground. If I didn’t get my subjects to let their guards down and really open up the essay would not be worth reading. I was sometimes worried about pushing things too far and getting too personal. I was also worried about taking a good portrait of each subject. It’s hard to do that in a short period of time.
Did you ever have any regrets after you interviewed these people?
In hindsight there are always things you’ll wish you had done a bit differently. The good thing is that I usually had a follow up phone call with each subject and got the opportunity to make up for anything I omitted then. I am very happy with the finished product.
What was going through your mind when your were interviewing Warren Buffett?
Warren Buffett agreed to interview for just 10 minutes — so I had to make sure I was really efficient with my questions. That’s what I was preoccupied with at first, but he and I ended up talking for about an hour. The wisdom he has to share is invaluable. I am such a HUGE fan of his. Everyone should read his essay.
What’s been the biggest change in your life since writing Getting There?
It’s given me the opportunity to meet incredible people see new things. I gave a talk at Google in California and really loved touring their offices/campus. That was a highlight.
What inspired you most from your interviews?
I was inspired by the fact that not one of my subjects had a smooth steady rise to the top. They all endured failures and setbacks. The stories and wisdom in the essays keeps me going. No matter what stage of life you are in, it is never too late to learn something new, improve, and be inspired.