Anne-Marie Slaughter is the current President and CEO of the New America Foundation. She was formerly the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and Dean of its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She is an academic, foreign policy analyst, and public commentator. She served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department from January 2009 until February 2011 under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is an international lawyer and political scientist who has taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and is a former president of the American Society of International Law.
My Definition of Success | My definition of success is a life of meaning. I have wanted to work in foreign policy since I was a teenager; I am half-Belgian and have always moved between cultures. I grew up wanting to make a difference in the world. Over time I have come to see that how high you rise is less important than the awareness when you die that you devoted your life to something larger than yourself. That can mean being a government or international official or NGO worker; it can also mean being a devoted parent or child or spouse caring for those you love.
I Am Driven By | I constantly seek out new challenges, driving myself to do things I am scared of but that I know will teach me new skills and help me grow.
My Highlights | As a professor I am very proud of having mentored many wonderful students who are now professors or lawyers or government officials making a difference. I am proud of having made the Woodrow Wilson School a stronger and better place. I am hugely proud of having been the first woman director of policy planning and working for Hillary Clinton. But I am proudest of all of my family – my husband, our two sons, and my wonderful extended family.
A Key Talent | The most important strength I believe I have is courage: the courage to stand up for what is right and the courage to push myself to take risks, even when I am frightened. My mantra is that when you feel that ache in your stomach at the thought of something – the kind of nervousness that you had on the first day of school or any time you had to do something new as a child – that is a sign that you should make yourself do it. That is how you learn and grow. A second talent that is equally important is being very honest with yourself about what you are NOT good at. Do not pretend: face it and compensate for it. For instance, I am great at vision, at motivating people, at connecting big ideas to action. I am less good at following through on the details; I often let things fall through the cracks. So I have to work with someone who is very good at the things that I am less good at.
Principles I Live By | If my sons never remember anything else about me, I hope they will hear my voice echoing in their ears saying: “Do the right thing.” We have a basic moral instinct: not to lie, cheat, deceive, or wrong other people. At the same time, we all make mistakes. So the most important moral lesson I try to live by is to be honest about your own mistakes; to stand up and accept responsibility, apologize. NEVER blame others if you can help it.
Critical Skills I Develop | Aside from overcoming fear, I have worked hardest on controlling my emotions; waiting before speaking or sending an email. My passion is an important part of who I am, but it often needs to be put aside. The other critical skill I continually work on is “putting the work ahead of the people,” focusing on the work that needs to be done rather than the feelings of the people doing it. It is very important to be sensitive and empathetic, but we must demand a certain level of professionalism.
Dealing with Doubt | I now make my living through public speaking, in part. I can stand up in front of an audience of a thousand people and speak without notes. Yet I was terrified of speaking in public until I became a professor in my 30’s; even then I was frightened of public audiences until I was nearly 40. I simply continued to put myself in situations where I would have to speak, learning through experience. Now I know that if I could conquer that, I can overcome anything.
Performing At My Peak | I wake up every morning and spend 20 minutes sipping my coffee and reading a novel. I take long walks. I take vacations. I get as close to 8 hours of sleep a night as possible. Working all the time burns you out and makes you less productive, not more.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Know what you are not good at and hire people who can compensate for it. And follow your heart. If you are unhappy in your work, you will not succeed.