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Sherry Lansing Headshot

A Season for Everything

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I like the quote "There's a season for everything." I've
always had this great fear that time would run out and
life would have passed me by. I realized that I didn't want
to die at my desk. I wanted to do something else and
began to wonder: Am I defined by my job and if so, what
kind of a person am I? Is this really what I want to say
with my life? Of course, I loved the movies and the movie
business. I ran Fox for over three and a half years, produced
movies for ten years, and then ran Paramount
Pictures for over twelve years. I loved my job, but at a
certain point it became repetitive. The highs weren't as
high, and the lows weren't as low.

So I asked myself: What is it that really gives me
pleasure? The answer is giving back. From the time I was
twelve, I'd always been carrying these little tin cans
around, trying to raise money for causes. I've always
loved that kind of activism.

But it was a process -- it took five years. I talked to
everybody about it -- to my husband, to my girlfriends,
to my therapist, endlessly. I thought about the people I
idolized -- people like Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther
King Jr. -- and what they had done with their lives. And,
in my teeny tiny way, I wanted to do what small part I
could to follow in their footsteps.

I thought: What is my worst fear? Would I be bored?
Would I have enough to do? Would I miss my job? I
remember someone once asking me, "Will you regret not
the things you did, but the things you didn't do?" So
I concluded that I'd have no respect for myself if I didn't
try to do something different. I thought, What's the
worst that can happen? If it's a mistake, okay, I'll go back
and make movies; you are allowed to change your mind.

Somewhere in my midfifties I realized that I was
seeing a line of sorts -- and that line was sixty. So, with
sixty looming, I did it. It just felt right. I knew it was the
right time, and so I retired from the entertainment
business and committed myself to a career in philanthropy.
I formed my own foundation dedicated to cancer
research and education. I serve on the board of the Carter
Center and the California Institute for Regenerative
Medicine, which disburses $3 billion in funds for stem
cell research. I am a regent of the University of California
and chair of its Health Services Committee. With my
partner, Civic Ventures, I'm starting a movement, Primetime,
for those sixty and older to retire and give something
back to the community. The funny thing is that I'm
busier than I've ever been.

My advice on overcoming fears is to prepare for them.
Talk about your fears -- with your friends, your family,
or in therapy, which I believe in. And then confront
them. You don't have to do it fast, but once you've done
it in your head, once you've visualized the worst-case
scenario, it becomes easier to put one foot in the water
and then the other.

I honestly can tell you that this is the happiest time of
my life. It doesn't take anything away from what I was
before; I still love movies, I still love my old friends. But
now I have so many new friends, and I'm constantly
learning new things. The big difference is that I control
my own days and set my own agenda; I don't do anything
that I don't want to.

I was in Paris recently and went for a walk in the
Tuileries. I've probably walked through the Tuileries
twenty times in my life. But I realized it was the first time
I'd ever been there without a cell phone attached to my
ear. It was a moment of pure joy. And I realized how
lucky I was to have given it to myself.

--Excerpted from On Becoming Fearless ... In Love, Work and Life.

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