In Honor of Laura Ziskin
A few weeks ago I read a Hollywood Reporter headline that made me catch my breath: "Spiderman Producer Laura Ziskin Dies."
In 2008-2009, I spent an intense year and a half working on Ziskin's personal passion project, Stand Up 2 Cancer. The time I spent working on this project and with Laura herself was far from easy. In many ways, it was the most emotionally difficult work I ever did. Because of the passion the leaders of this project poured into it, the expectations were extremely high, and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders to make sure that I was always giving the absolute best, even when doing so was beyond reasonable for my own well-being and sanity.
I left this project shortly after my best friend was killed in a car accident, as that moment triggered a realization for me: I needed to follow my own passions, not allow myself to drown in someone else's.
Reading about Laura's passing, however, triggered another very different realization for me.
I suddenly recognized just how much I learned while working with her. Not technically: that I did on my own. But how much I learned about being a successful business person, a successful woman, and what it takes to be an acting force in the world.
I learned that if you really want to be successful, you have to care about what you are doing and feel that your actions are worthwhile. At the same time, I also learned that you must protect yourself along the way, and by this I mean: *you* and only you are responsible for carving out time in your life for the things and people you love, and for the projects for which you care.
And I also learned that as a woman, you don't take "no" for an answer. Instead, you take it for a challenge, and find a new way to approach whatever problem generated that word.
I also learned to laugh when easy solutions are found for difficult problems, which often happens when you step back from a daunting issue and look at it from a relaxed perspective.
Most importantly, however, I credit Laura with teaching me this: a successful business woman is one who will expect the world of the people she hires, but will also both allow them to make mistakes *and* return their hard work with generosity. She did this by keeping us well fed and recognizing us with gifts when appropriate. Today, I try to do this by being a mentor, a teacher, and giving as much of my knowledge to the people who work with me as I can so that they can then turn around and do the same for someone else.
I'll admit that Laura frightened me. But she also inspired me. Her passing is a loss to the world, to Stand Up 2 Cancer, to her family, and to all those women who should be grateful that someone like her paved the way for us to become leaders as well. She has left so much behind, however, and after realizing how much working with her taught me, I can only say that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity.
If you are reading this, please visit www.su2c.org and consider launching a star in Laura's honor, or just learning more about what drives such an influential person who devoted herself to her work.
*Photo: I took this photo of Laura just before we launched the first iteration of SU2C.org in early 2009, just outside of her office on the Sony lot.