What I’ve Learned: Suzan Tillotson

What I’ve Learned: Suzan Tillotson

Posted 8/23/2017


President, Tillotson Design Associates

Love what you do in your work and your life. You spend a lot of time at work, and you should really love it and love the people that are around you.  As bosses, we tend to think that our employees work for us and do everything because they like us. What I’ve learned is that young people coming out of college work because they love what they do and it’s that love that makes them successful and happy.

Learn a lot about one thing and make yourself a specialist. This is something I figured out before I went to college as a woman starting in engineering, which is a field that didn’t have a lot of women—especially 35 years ago!  I needed to know a lot about one thing to be marketable and hirable.

If you work hard, you can pretty much achieve what you want. My father is an immigrant from Turkey and from a pretty wealthy family; we lived in Turkey until I was about 6. My father brought us to America and started from the ground up when he’d had everything handed to him on a silver platter before. He built a great life for us, and my brother and I never wanted for anything. My parents always expected the best of us; we don’t complain—we do what we have to do. Work ethic is very important.

Rely on people you trust to give you another perspective. I’m a bit hyper and easily distracted, but my brother is more calm and decisive than me. My biggest challenge is in managing people, and my brother helps me put it in perspective and doesn’t judge me. I’m super fortunate to have someone in my life like my brother that I can call and ask for support.

Be kind and accept other people. My mother was Methodist and my father was Muslim, and we lived in a lot of towns in the south and around Texas. Our family was a strange one, but I learned to accept others and never judge anyone by their religion.

Develop strong roots in your family and heritage. I moved around a lot as a child and lost touch with my grandparents in Turkey, but my husband was born and lived his whole life in one place. I was fascinated that you could grow up in one place and live there your whole life, and I liked the idea of having those roots. My husband was the reason we took our two boys to Turkey every summer and why they’re now close to our family there. There is value in deep roots, and you need to work at developing them.

The reason I work so hard to succeed is for my family. My workplace was the sort of place where you just pretended your family wasn’t going to impose on your workspace, which is kind of sad because you miss a lot as they’re growing up. But don’t feel guilty about it! At the end of it all, I’d say I do my work because I love my boys, and they drive me to succeed. I work as hard as I do for my family, and it wouldn’t have been half as rewarding to work just for myself or my husband.

Don’t be repulsed by the way someone looks, because you don’t know anything about that person and you can’t be judgmental that way. When I was 12 I was diagnosed with cystic acne, and I had a very bad case of it that made it look like I’d gotten my head stuck in a beehive. It challenged my confidence, but it also taught me to reach out to others who were more on the outside. I still try to give everyone an opportunity, even if most people would never give someone the chance they’re looking for.

Just be happy. If you’re happy in work and home and confident and kind, good things will come to you. In turn, be compassionate and kind to others. We all just need to be happy.


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