Susan Schmitt Winchester – Healing at Work

Susan Schmitt Winchester

Healing at Work

A Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve

Susan brings a wealth of experience to the topic of resolving career conflicts and overcoming your past.  You really can build the future that you deserve!

Susan is very transparent as she shares her own story and how it shaped her career.  

Game Changer Network host, Chicke Fitzgerald

Interview of Susan Schmitt Winchester by Chicke Fitzgerald of the Game Changer Network

Healing at Work: A Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve

Did you grow up in a dysfunctional or chaotic childhood that made you feel uncertain, unloved, unsafe, anxious, never good enough? Are you shocked to discover that you’re still feeling that way now that you’re a professional adult? Are limiting beliefs getting in the way of the career success that you deserve? Do the stress and worry you suffer at work rob you of your joy and self-acceptance?

You don’t have to be imprisoned by your past. No matter how bad it was. And you’re not alone! Healing at Work: A Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve, by career experts Susan Schmitt Winchester and Martha I. Finney, gives you the skills and insights you need to thrive in your career and in life.

Building on the principles that “damaged is not doomed” and “the rest of your life is yours,” Winchester and Finney incorporate world-class career advice, principles of positive psychology and the latest research in neuroplasticity to help you see how you can use your career and workplace experiences to build the life of happiness and success that you desire.

In Healing at Work, you’ll learn how to create the life and career that you deserve, based on joy, optimism, meaning, and a healthy sense of being welcomed and appreciated.

Enjoy the interview with Susan Schmitt Winchester

About Chicke Fitzgerald and the Game Changer

Chicke Fitzgerald is the CEO and founder of Solutionz Innovations, LLC and The Game Changer Network, Inc.   The Game Changer Network provides authors with a platform to tell their story about how they are changing the game in their world.  The show just celebrated its 10th anniversary.  Chicke has interviewed over 300 authors, celebrities and experts.

She is also the author of the Game Changer, a business fable about transformational business design.

Click on the image to order a copy of the Game Changer.

Show Transcript

Good morning. This is Chicke Fitzgerald. And we have a really important topic today. And it’s an unusual one for this show, because we don’t normally talk about career conflict and, and the emotional side of work.

We have with us today Susan Schmidt Winchester, and she has written a book called Healing at work a guide to using career conflicts to overcome your past and build the future that you deserve. And Susan, welcome back. We have we have talked in the past, and I am just so excited to dive into this with you. Tell us a little bit about your backstory.

Sure. Chicke. Thank you so much for having me on the show, I really appreciate it. So a little bit about my backstory, if you were to look at my resume, you would say, you know, that’s a pretty impressive resume. I’ve been a human resources professional leader, executive, now going on 34 plus years, and I’ve had an opportunity to work in some amazing fortune 500 companies.

But what people often don’t know is that what really fueled my career success was an unconscious limiting belief I had about myself that I was not good enough. And you know, so if I go back to my real backstory, growing up, and by the way, this isn’t about blaming parents or anything of that nature at all, I think our parents do the best they can. However, my dad had some real issues with rage, an unpredictable rage. And, now, you know, as an adult, I can look back and realize he had his own childhood trauma.

The impact on me was a belief that was my fault when he would get angry. And so I would navigate my my environment to the best of my ability to create a sense of safety by becoming a, you know, like an extremely effective people pleaser, and a perfectionist, you know, so if I can just be perfect, you know, the good little girl, maybe he will rage and scream and yell. And so, with the way that translated is, I didn’t realize, you know, if I went to college and graduate school, and started my corporate career, I had no idea how much that past actually was unconsciously influencing a lot of my behavior in the workplace.

That’s essentially what led to the creation and partnership with Martha Finney, my co author, the book healing at work, which is really intended to be a way of thinking that the workplace is actually a place for using conflict to your earlier point, Bumper Car moments. That’s what Martha and I call them like, when you crash into one another at work. That can set up a whole series of emotional triggers, that launches us back into our past beliefs about herself. And you know, it’s how do we manage those moments much more effectively, then how unfortunately, I did for like, 30 of my 34 years. people pleaser perfectionist, etc. So that’s a little bit about me and the journey so far.

Well, I love the metaphor of the bumper cars. And you know, the interesting thing is, well, first of all, that was one of the things about the book that jumped out at me because I love the cover, which actually has the bumper cars at the top and, you know, one of the nuances of that that photo, well, it’s not a photo, it’s the art on your cover art is the bumper cars are two different colors. And I know that that’s not by mistake, right? That we bring everything with us right into that that bumper cover arena. Right? And, and we’ve all been there at a fair or you know, even at Busch Gardens, they’ve they’ve got a bumper car track, where you get in the bumper car, and you just want to have fun, right? You know, maybe you’ve got your kid with you, or maybe you’re just being a kid yourself, right? And you get in and you just want to have fun and there’s always someone who is in there who just wants to ram everybody and that that is actually wildly hysterical to them.

Right and the person who doesn’t want to be hit and who is guarded — maybe they you know, have whiplash, you know, another time on the track, right? And they’re anticipating that right it impacts their ability to have fun, right. And this happens at work all the time.

If anyone is aggressive, they are seen to be that person who is out to, you know, really damage other people, when quite often that actually isn’t what’s happening at all. But the the way it’s received is that way. So I am I’m truly fascinated by this because and I think you and I talked about this before I happened to grow up in just an amazing family. I didn’t, I didn’t have an angry father. I mean, my parents were very, very loving. In fact, my dad was pastor and my mother was the organist at the church and the music director, and they were unconditional love embodied. So my first encounter with any level of dysfunction was in the workplace.

Yep. Well, that’s because the research shows, unfortunately, that two thirds of us nearly two thirds of us have come from a dysfunctional past. You know, so you’re lucky you’re in that 1/3 of people who didn’t experience negative adverse childhood events.

The reality is the the CDC and Kaiser Permanente did a study a number of years ago, where they discovered they talked to 17,000 American adults, and ask them if they’d experienced one of 10 adverse childhood events. And those are pretty severe things. You know, and so the reality is, is that you’re going to crash into people, just because of the nature of so many of us experience, some of them affect how we show up at work?

Yes. Well, absolutely. And again, it doesn’t make us a better and in some ways, we are ill prepared, right? So I had never seen anger in my home. Right? I am back in those days TV, you know, you didn’t see things on TV that showed you what real life was like, right. So I was completely stunned by it.

And, I will say, even today, when I encounter someone who has dealt with trauma, as a child, I am still ill prepared to handle that, because I can’t put myself in their shoes and, and so that’s a flaw in my own style, right, that I’m having to figure out how to deal with. So I think the timing of this discussion is so perfect for me.

And I know that you have had some experience in the marketplace with the book. And I would love before we dive into the book itself, I’d love to hear about your experiences of how the book has impacted. Well, first of all, let’s talk about who did you write it for? Right? And then talk to me about the impact and the feedback that you’ve gotten?

Sure, well, I wrote it for the two thirds of us that experienced at least one, you know, childhood trauma. And by the way, I never would have thought of my childhood as trauma related. Until I took the survey, I felt category of experiencing four or more of the 10 adverse childhood experiences.

So the books really written for people who have come from a dysfunctional past, right? In their careers, and oftentimes, our professionals, a lot of executives also relate highly, you know, high achieving people often come from a dysfunctional past. Because they’re overachievers they’re, you know, they’re all the traits that come from underlying limiting beliefs about ourselves. I can’t do it, right, I’m stupid, I’m not good enough.

So I really am writing it for primarily professionals and executives, who come from a dysfunctional past. But what I’ve discovered on this journey is that many people, like you come to me and say, you know, I didn’t experience any of those things. But I, I have some limiting beliefs about myself, or I’m working with people that are causing a lot of headache for me, and I need to understand it better. And so the audience has become much bigger than I expected, is it’s not just for the two thirds of us, but it’s really for everybody.

I think that that is so true. And and again, you were sharing before we got on the air about the business school graduates, right, and what’s happening with them is they’re coming in, they’re getting this great education, hopefully a leg up over people who just forced to create and and they’re entering the workplace feeling like they don’t have enough or aren’t enough. And so I think those of us who who didn’t experience that and aren’t adept at dealing with it, we need it every bit as much. So share with me a little bit about the specific feedback that you’ve gotten about the book.

Well, I had the opportunity last summer to work with Jack Canfield, the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, the series, a co author of that series, which of course was highly successful. And, and he said that of all the books, he’s read hundreds of books that he’s read, he put my book in his top five favorite, which was just such a huge honor. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to use some of his his comments on on our new cover, where he really talks about this is such a needed book for the world right now. So that was a huge honor to have that endorsement from now amazing.

Then I think I’d mentioned that I just, you know, through a professional connection, but then on a personal basis ended up connecting with a man and amazing man named Dr. Mark Rittenberg, who is on the the team at the Berkeley Haas Business School, he teaches he’s one of the teachers professors for the MBA and Executive MBA students. He got so excited about healing at work, that now all of the Berkeley business MBA students and EMBA students are reading chapter five, which is why the workplace is a lab for emotional dealing, and also partnering with him to create a syllabus to potentially teach elective course at Berkeley, for the business school, on applying the concepts from healing at work, he feels that, you know, one of the greatest needs that people have when they come to the Business School is is, is addressing the underlying limiting beliefs that they have about themselves. They have everything else super bright, incredibly talented, coming from the best schools. And, and he saw this as a gap filler to help him build the future leaders of the world, essentially.

Well, I love that. So you use a term in the book, ASDP and, you know, you mentioned that you wouldn’t have even thought that you were one so so what the heck is an ASDP?

ASDP stands for adult survivor of a damaged past. And when Martha and I were writing the book, we thought we needed we need a name, we need to name ourselves something. And, you know, there’s a term out there a COA adult children of alcoholics, but we thought that was too narrow, we wanted a firm to really reach out and speak to many of us that have come from a dysfunctional background. And the concept is that we’re now adults, but we don’t even realize sometimes how much we’re carrying the heartache from our childhood with this, that’s the A is the adult. And as adults, we can make different choices, which is basically what we teach in the book. As the survivor, you know, we we’ve experienced things from the past that are worrying tense that affected our central nervous system, how our brain works.

We have an opportunity to leverage that resilience that comes with being a survivor, and actually reshaped the neural pathways in our brains, we use the science of neuroplasticity to to enable people to find ways to really rethink their responses at work. ASD is the damage. That’s the coming from a dysfunctional past, but it is the past. And the last, you know, the last piece of that is the past is that that did happen. And we can have a very different future.

Martha and I use a phrase the rest of your life is yours damaged is not doomed. In other words, we can reshape our brain to have different responses. And the rest of our life is ours. And that’s the concept of ASTP is it’s really to encapsulate all the strength and you know, the compassion and the empathy and the ability to read the dynamic of any room because we learn how to do that as kids. How do we leverage that and actually create a completely different set of beliefs about ourselves, as well as different responses, particularly in those bumper car moments. Right?

And so you talked about the workplace being allowed for emotional healing. If you come into a company or into a situation and you know, again, it’s like coming out onto the the bumper car track. You don’t know why the other people are there and you don’t know what they have come from. And so how can it be a lab for emotional healing if you aren’t controlling the situation?

Yeah, there’s so many reasons why the workplace is an amazing laboratory for emotional healing. We don’t have time to go into all the details, but Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, wrote a book called flourish. And in his book, he talks about five ingredients to flourishing. He has an acronym karma, P stands for positive emotion. Let’s see if P e is engagement, R is relationships, M is meaning and as achievements, all of those things can be experienced in the workplace. You know, so, positive emotion you get hired for the job, you are selected over everybody or something. With positive emotion engagement, we were talking before the discussion, how companies have to change and create much more engaging experiences for people.

There’s so much investment being done by organizations to create more engaging more positive employee experiences in the workplace. That’s another reason. The ability to have relationships with people we would never have otherwise, as a result of meaning, you know, many companies have a greater purpose, my company is all about making possible a better future. Our jobs have meaning and then finally, achievements, we can achieve all kinds of things. However, I think the greatest reason why the workplace is a lab for emotional healing is because it’s full of full of those bumper car moments. Every time we crash into somebody, or someone crashes into us, or in our own brains We’re crashing around is an opportunity to practice new responses.

I feel like I lived 30 years of my career on the unconscious wound a career path, that is not a good place to be. And what we’re teaching in the book and using conflict is how do you step onto the conscious healing career path, and you use those bumper car moments we deconstruct a bumper car moment, and we teach people the thinking of conscious healing responses versus unconscious rooted responses. And so there’s just a lot of practice time in the workplace, that as soon as I get emotionally triggered, I think to myself, Oh, Bumper Car moment, what’s going on? How much of my unconscious past is influencing my response, how I’m feeling about myself, how I’m reacting, how much anxiety I’m having, you know, in the past, how much alcohol was I consuming to take the edge off of all that?

The bumper car moments are the opportunities, and we tend to avoid conflict, we want to avoid conflict. There’s a wonderful book, I’m not gonna remember the name of the author right now called discord, which is all about leveraging conflict, for benefit for positive outcomes. And so in the book, that’s what Martha and I do is we take a number of typical workplace scenarios that can create conflict, and deconstruct it and teach people a process a three step process for navigating differently in the moment, it was bumper car moments.

And so give us examples of of the bumper car moments you might run into.

Oh, my goodness, I’ll use one of my own, although I could use many describing colleagues and fellow people that I work with. But so this goes back a few years, I was going through a period where we were in the company going through a strategy process.

That particular week, there was a lot of focus on talent, of course, because of everything with the pandemic, and the war on talent and the great resignation. And there were several comments made by one of my colleagues throughout the week that felt somewhat negative about our work in the talent space, which of course, is my field. And by the third day of this meeting, I was getting emotionally triggered thinking, my my thinking my old thinking was, Oh, I’m not good enough. I’m not doing enough. I’m a bad HR leader, you know, all these negative emotional reactions were going on in my head. So this person didn’t even realize he was creating a bumper car moment for me. And by the third night, we were getting ready for my team’s presentation. Next morning, I was a basket case, I was stressed, I was anxious. I was tear, tearful, you know, feeling poorly. And I thought, oh, my gosh, I’ve got processes because I cannot be effective tomorrow when I have to present.

So I went through my three step process, I call it the rapid power reclaim. And step number one is about creating choice. So when we’re emotionally triggered, and we’re stuck in that fight, flight, or fight flight, or freeze mode, I freeze, we are in our reptilian brain, we cannot, we cannot access our prefrontal cortex to be able to make good executive decisions. And so the very first step in creating choice is to process the physiological response. And there are several different ways to do that.

In this particular case, I took a pillow and just started beating on the bed, all the emotion, getting it out of me, yelling, screaming, processing, whatever I was feeling, just getting all that out of my body. We cannot have choice when we’re stuck in an adrenaline work. That’s not a good place.

The second step is elevating action. And so if I had not had a specific strategy for how I was going to elevate my action in the morning, I was not going to be effective. And so what I did is I took a post it note, you know, think post it note, and on it I wrote, this colleague is not your dad. Your team has done a great job creating the strategy. You have options, you know, you’re you’ve got lots of options, right? I just put that little pink sticky note under my camera on my computer the next day, and we had an amazing experience the present issue could not have gone better.

The last step of the process is called Celebrate and integrate. So once you’ve elevated your action, you’ve got to take time to really appreciate that response and celebrate it. And I have had to learn how to celebrate some not refitted. We’ve, there’s lots of strategies to do that. But in the act of celebrating, we start to integrate it into our identity. That’s how we change those neural pathways. And so that’s one example of using that rapid power reclaim, rather than getting triggered, staying stuck, feeling emotional, feeling defensive, feeling inept, you know, it’s changing state, essentially, and then celebrating it to integrate it into our identities.

Well, Susan, I can tell that there is so much more that we can dig into here. We have been talking to Susan Schmidt Winchester, and she and Martha Finney wrote this incredible book, Healing at work a guide to using career conflicts to overcome your past and to build the future that you deserve. And again, being someone who did not come from that past I can tell you that if if you have people around you who are going through some of the things reading this book can actually be an incredible tool for you.

I encourage all leaders to get a copy of this book and have it as a resource. You know, have it be one of your top five books like Jack Canfield did. Susan, thank you so much for your time and I just am so grateful for you for sharing your own experiences and being transparent about how to how to come out on the other side because you’re right the rest of your life is yours.

That’s exactly right. Thank you Chicke. And if listeners are interested, they can find me at

On my website, I have a link to get the free chapter five when the how the workplace is allowed for emotional healing. And of course you can find the book on Amazon. It’s the like you said the two bumper cars facing off. That’s the book.

Perfect. Thank you so much Susan.  Have a great day.

You’ve been listening to the game changer. Ideas, inspiration, innovation, with Chicke Fitzgerald


Scroll to Top