Be Limitless! With Laura Gassner Otting

Author of the book “Limitless” and former corporate headhunter Laura Gassner Otting found herself talking with high performing executives who had one unexpected thing in common – they weren’t happy. Gassner Otting found this fascinating and wanted to know more.

Like those executives, Gassner Otting was successful, having founded her own firm, then sold it to focus on new adventures. She too was accomplished, but she also found herself less than happy and unfulfilled. As Gassner Otting points out, our identities are often not set by us, but shaped by parents and peers. Not only that but we make vital choices when we’re too young to know better. In Gassner Otting’s words, “we’re asked to make a decision that’s going to impact the rest of our lives before we’re actually capable of making a good one.”

What is Consonance?

Roughly every seven years, our body’s cells completely regenerate. Similarly, the world changes, as do our minds, with great rapidity. All too often we say, “I’ll be happy, when…” As Gassner Otting points out, we shouldn’t defer doing what we really want to do. “Happiness is not fulfillment”, she points out. Instead, we should look for consonance – those occasions when “what you do is who you are.” When you’re rewarded for doing work that matters to you, that’s consonance.

Consonance has Four Aspects:

  1. Calling: a gravitational force pulling you to achieve your dreams. We confuse this with “purpose”, but a calling needn’t be a worthy or socially progressive mission. It can be satisfying material wants or needs, buying an amazing house or car. Calling as defined by Gassner Otting is a non-judgmental purpose.
  1. Connection: How linked is our current work with achieving our calling? How many of the tasks we undertake are essentially futile? Is attending a meeting, or being on a taskforce, getting us closer to our calling? “We confuse action for impact,” says Gassner Otting. We may be superficially busy, but not progressing our ultimate purpose at all. Our activities should be aligned with our values.
  1. Contribution: We must ask, how does this work allow us to live the lifestyle we want? Or achieve the goals we want? Women have too often been discouraged from ambition, as if it were unbecoming. Reframing ambition as responsibility may help. We are responsible for pursing our goals because they will benefit those we love and help with self-care too.

One thing that can help is focusing on five role models who have lived the life we want to, those friends and influencers who extol being ambitious without asking for permission. Literally change who pops up in our social media feeds.


  1. Control: How much personal agency do we have? Are we able to change things to bring things into better alignment? Gassner Otting created a tool for assessing consonance. Based on the 6000+ responses she received, only the control aspect of consonance seemed to have risen since the pandemic. This is probably due to the greater degree of flexibility that working from home or becoming self-employed has generated. Studies show that people prefer control over power when choosing a job.

We concluded with some tips for increasing consonance in our lives.

  1. Find What Fuels You

If we could choose to do anything, what would we do? Identifying this can help us find direction towards an ultimate goal. If something gives us energy, then we should find a way to work towards that activity.

  1. Make Deposits in the Future Bank of You

As Matthew McConaughey said in his Oscars acceptance speech, he considers his own future self as his hero. In other words, he’s trying to impress that future self with the work he does today. Suggests Gassner Otting: “think about who you want to be in the future […] and think what you will have had to learn”. Then, she encourages, set about acquiring those skills and experiences.

Gassner Otting doesn’t believe in “follow your passion” because it’s too simplistic. It’s too easy to balk at rejections and assume we may not have made the right choice. “Follow” is quite a passive way to describe what’s really an investment. All our actions are steppingstones towards a future goal.

  1. Go Smaller to Grow Bigger

Although it may sound counterintuitive, aiming for a smaller role in a higher office can be more helpful – i.e., PA to a CEO rather than head of a smaller department. As an assistant we may gain broader experience and hear about opportunities. Also, discovering skills outside of work can be very helpful, and can allow one to experiment with new roles. In Gassner Otting’s experience, the executives she interviewed who were most interesting had the most random career paths, with sudden left-turns and little linear progression.

  1. Make your Resume Work for You

In real life, circumstances get in the way of us pursuing our dreams. Given this, we can take measures to increase our available opportunities. Gassner Otting learned the concept of a “side quest” from her son, a gamer. While it may currently be possible to work directly on a big aspiration, perhaps we can put some of the smaller, yet essential, pieces into place and get there eventually.

  1. Pivot to Something New

When considering a career pivot, says Gassner Otting, there are several things we can do without risking it all. Firstly, we must calculate two numbers – the amount we need to make (minimum) and the amount we would love to make (maximum). We aim to land somewhere in the middle. Secondly, business owners have three variables we can prioritize: maximizing either profit, impact, or flexibility (perhaps two) at any one time. Never all three at once. Lastly, we can build our networks.

Ultimately, says Gassner Otting, if we’re not able to make time for something, perhaps it simply isn’t important enough to us. And if we have too many projects, and don’t know which to favor, first ask if any are time sensitive, and run them through the 4 Cs of consonance. If the idea passes those tests, brings us joy and we’re perfectly suited to do it, then we should prioritize that.

The real question is – is this thing you’re doing your goal? “You can’t be hungry for someone else’s dream’s” Gassner Otting concludes.