Listen to our latest episode in the player here, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Susannah Ludwig was born in the 1970s without an esophagus, a condition that almost no children survived at the time. But, by what some would call a miracle, her family had recently moved to Washington DC for her father’s residency in the one Children's Hospital in the nation where there were surgeons who knew how to handle her condition.
There was no blueprint for her treatment, so every day that she survived was unprecedented. It would be understandable if surviving against these terrible odds made Susannah want to play small and stay safe. But, not Suz. She chose to believe it was all a sign that she had to live and love extra big.
“I had been given the gift of still being here. And I realized that if I was gonna still be here, I wanted it to be the best life it could possibly be.”
After an esophageal transplant, she boldly left her marriage and her career as an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker and set to work envisioning exactly what she needed for her richest life. There were two non-negotiables: “A true partner who met me exactly where I am, who could help me balance life, co-parent with me, be a financial partner, and who could share the same vision for how we wanted to spend our time and how we wanted to raise our kids. I also wanted financial freedom.”
The little girl who barely survived has become a woman who truly thrives and uses her life to help others do the same, and though she’s spent much of her life in hospitals as a patient, she is better known as a healer.
“The life that I have now is far greater than even what I could ever envision.”
In the last four years, she has changed careers; moved from Brooklyn to suburban Long Island; and transitioned from being a divorced mom of one child to being remarried to her ideal partner with a blended family of four kids. In this episode, you’ll hear Susannah’s extraordinary, and yet totally relatable, story of how she dreamed a life of great big love into being.
If you’re ready to turn up the volume on your life, here are a few steps to guide you through the process. And stay tuned for a big announcement on Monday to help you amplify your dream-growing!
Dreaming whatever you need into being.
Step 1: Write your truest needs down in as much absurd detail as you can.
Step 2: Take a deep breath and take in your vision as a whole. Notice what stands out to you. Maybe there are patterns? Maybe there are a few details that stand out among the rest?
Step 3: Highlight the things that go beyond wants -- the needs, the non-negotiables. Take another deep breath. Zoom in on your needs. What do they say to you?
Step 4: Reach out to an Uplifter in your life. Tell them your dreams. Feel free to respond to this email. I'd be honored to hear what you're dreaming into being.
Susannah Ludwig is a life coach and expert on transitions. As a coach, she loves helping her clients learn about resilience and get from where they are to where they want to be – moving steadily toward the life they long for.
Aransas Savas (00:02.020)
Welcome to the Uplifters Podcast, the show where we celebrate the women who inspire us and learn from them so that we can all keep rising higher together. You just heard a beautiful description of my cherished friend, Susannah Ludwig.
Susannah is a life coach and an expert by choice and default on transitions. Her specialty and her work is helping her clients shift from where they are to the life that they long for.
Aransas Savas (00:45.908)
And Susannah may know more than her fair share about transitions. In the last four years alone, she's gone from being an Academy Award-nominated film producer to a coach, from living in Brooklyn to now suburban Long Island, from being a divorced mom of one child.
to being remarried and a blended family of four kids, from being fearful of dogs to becoming a loving dog owner. And when I think of Susannah, I always think in terms of journeys from patient to healer, from barely surviving to truly thriving. And in this episode, you'll hear Susannah's extraordinary and yet totally relatable story. While learning the powerful skills and systems she has developed, she has tapped into from her own inner wisdom that allow her to keep moving forward even in the most daunting situations.
Thank you for being here, my friend.
I am honored is not even a strong enough word to be here. You've literally been a miracle from the moment you were born. So to tell your story, I think we need to start there.
Okay. So I was born, I'll age myself because I have no hangups about my age, in 1971, eight weeks early, weighing two pounds. And the reason I was born eight weeks early was I was born without my esophagus, which my mother and my father, my parents didn't know until I was born.
So, and at that time, most of the babies who were born with this birth defect that I had, a very large percentage of them did not survive because there was not a lot to, a lot known about how to treat those babies. So in 1971, I was actually the second child in the country at that time to be given a certain kind of surgery where they created a new esophagus for me from a piece of my
But what that meant was that I spent pretty much a good part of the first two years of my life kind of in and out of the hospital having various treatments, , ever since becoming an adult, I have always felt that there was sort of a magic to me still being here. And that there was a reason, there was a purpose. And that I was, because I overcame all of that and then have continued to overcome health challenges as an adult.
that there was something I was meant to do with that.
Not every person faces their mortality at such a young age. You talk about that giving you a sense of purpose, that your life was here for a reason. How has that belief influenced the way you live?
When I was 21, I unexpectedly needed to have my esophagus transplanted.
And I had just graduated from college. I was a young adult. I was about to start my new life as a college graduate. And then this major surgery happened. And so at that point, I was old enough to really understand it or try to understand it. And I think coming out of that, I really faced mortality in that moment because it was a scary time. They weren't sure, you know, the doctors were hopeful and thank God that procedure worked. But again, it was experimental. Like there is no real roadmap to my health condition. So it was hard for everybody involved. And I think my reaction has been,. One is work hard, play hard.
So I bring a full zest to every day that I get to be alive. Number two, I have immense gratitude for every morning that I wake up and I get to open my eyes and still be here because there for sure have been times along this journey of my health when I didn't think I would get to be.
And number three is I really try every minute to fully express to the people I love how I feel. Because I think that looking death or one's mortality in the eye makes me, I'm very aware of mortality all the time, both my own and everyone around me. And so I just wanna be really clear that everyone I love really knows how I feel.
And I don't really hold back. I think, I mean, you probably know as your friend, most of the time, as my friend, most of the time when I'm texting or writing, I'm always signing off with how much I love you. It's just the way I roll. And many years later when I became a coach, my mission statement as a coach is to share love.
I feel that life is for living.
And you've way surpassed any expectation of your life.
Aransas Savas (12:26.616)
When you were first born, what was the expectancy?
I don't know that they even knew because I think what I had was such a rare thing that they couldn't even really say.
Aransas Savas (12:58.892)
And it's not even about just having this really rare disease, but surviving well into adulthood. And I have to think, because you were born into an extraordinary circumstance without which you might not have survived. Uh-huh.
so my dad at the time of my birth was a resident at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. And if that, and so my family, both sides of my family are originally from Philadelphia. And my family, my parents were living for the first and only time in their marriage outside of the Philadelphia area while my father was doing his residency in Washington, D.C.
It just so happened that the surgeons who knew how to handle my situation were also in Washington, D.C. So if I had been born in Philadelphia or somewhere else, I might not have made it.
And my father later reflected to me that, you know, in those early years, he often questioned, like before I was born, why didn't he get a residency in Philadelphia? Why wasn't why weren't they allowed, you know, because that's where their family was. Why were they not in their home city? But he realized after I was born that there had been a reason.
Aransas Savas (14:25.824)
Yeah, there's something that just feels so divine about the timing and the situation that I have to think further strengthens this belief that you are not here by accident. What do you believe your purpose is?
I really think my purpose is to share love. I really think it is. And I know that sounds sort of like a new agey thing to think, but I really feel like I am here every single day to bring love to everyone in my life, whether that's my husband, my children, my parents, my siblings, their families, my clients, my friends.
All of it. I just feel like my job is to just express how much I love them all and hope that in doing that, that will enrich their lives and open up them to do the same so that there's sort of a ripple effect.
Aransas Savas (15:27.356)
Hmm, yeah. So talk to me about the middle years, between 21 and now.
Yeah, so the middle years were, you know, after that surgery in 21, I eventually did, you know, sort of have launched my adulthood. I...
fell in love with my first husband. I lived in Washington, D.C. actually for a couple of years right after college. Then eventually I moved to New York to be with him and we built a really beautiful life together. And I built a career as a film producer, which was very successful and very fun and I loved it. And had a really great life in Brooklyn for a long time. When I was 35, I needed to have another pretty major esophagus surgery that was pretty serious.
and kept me in the hospital for quite a while. But I recovered from that, and a year later, I ended up having my son Jack, which was the greatest blessing of my life, really. Not only...
because of who he is, but being able to have him was a huge blessing that I never thought I would get to do, and I did. And we lived in Brooklyn, my ex-husband, Jack and I, for a number of years after he was born.
And then when he was about four and a half, I got divorced from Jack's dad,and started on a whole new chapter and journey where Jack and I moved out and created a whole new life, the two of us. And then eventually after that, I met my now husband.
after about five years of dating.So much is happening in that chunk of time. you've built a marriage, you've built a career, you've created a child, and there was some point in there where you said, things are not the way I need them to be. What, what did you long for?
AAfter about three and a half years into Jack's life, unfortunately, I had another really bad flare up with my health that was pretty serious. I was looking around and realizing that I loved my career, but that it was not the most financially stable.
and that my marriage felt taxing to me. And it's not anybody's fault, it's just the way that it was.
So after that period with my health, I had just turned 40. And I was looking towards my future and realizing that once again, I had been given the gift of still being here. And I realized that if I was gonna still be here, that I wanted it to be the best life it could possibly be.
Aransas Savas (20:21.232)
Mm-hmm. I hear you moving toward something that felt more stable, more grounded, and a greater sense of ease is really sort of what comes out of me. What was the life you began to envision for yourself at that point?
Yep, yep, yes, exactly.
Well, I'll just say that the life that I have now is far greater than even what I could ever envision. And that is so exciting to be able to say that I, you know, what I envisioned was one thing and what I got was even better. I think the main thing that I wanted to envision there were two sort of facets of it. One was a partner who was a true partner who met me exactly where I am, who could
helped me balance life, who could co-parent with me, who could financially be a partner, who could share the same vision for how we wanted to spend our time and how we wanted to raise our kids, who had the same values in all ways. So one was, a big part of it was that. And then the other part of it was a life in which there was financial freedom.
Aransas Savas (21:35.528)
I hear so much specificity in your description. I think that's so important as you know. I feel like I received my husband in much the same way, and that I said to my mother, this is what love, the love that I want.
Aransas Savas (21:59.376)
the love that I know I need would look and feel like. And I wasn't describing physical characteristics or qualities, I was describing what the experience of it would be like in a way that's very similar to what you're describing. And I did the same as I described my first career and the mentorship that I looked for. And each time that I've done that in life, I've found that
it finds me because I open myself up to it and I recognize it when it comes. So what was that like for you? when I was single, I was on vacation one time and I sat down and made a list of all the things I was looking for in a man. And some of them and because I'm a little crazy, there were 92 things on the list. And some of them were ridiculous, like, I don't know.
Like, likes Broadway theater, which, you know, to some people might not be important, but to me, I was actually excited to find somebody who would want to go see shows with me. And some of them were much deeper and more meaningful, like has a spiritual practice, is close with his family, loves children, maybe wants more children. You know, like those were the kinds of things. And then I kind of put the list away after doing the download for my brain. And then about six months after I met Dave, I found the list. And he is 87 of the night.
Aransas Savas (23:49.714)
Do you believe that was a coincidence?
No, not at all. And I think that, to your question about the specificity, it's just as much about what you want as also what you don't want. Because when we figure out what we don't want, that helps us to be clearer about what we do want. And sometimes, especially in the process of dating, but also in the process of anything, really, understanding that is helpful.
Aransas Savas (24:00.785)
Aransas Savas (24:18.580)
Mm-hmm. It's understanding yourself and acknowledging the truth of yourself instead of hiding it from yourself or others or just following down the road that was laid out for you or expecting it.
That's right. Like one thing I always joke with Dave about is that Dave was a foreign correspondent for many, many years. And he's not anymore. if I would have met him when he was a foreign correspondent, I'm not sure that I could have dated him. Because he was on the road all the time, and often without notice. That was just his job. And
that would have been really, really hard for me. And I think I know that about myself, but luckily the timing worked out, And it just goes to show how knowing yourself helps you to figure out what works and what doesn't work for you.
Aransas Savas (25:16.972)
I think that's such a good point, too, as we start to talk about what these last five years have been like for you. Because I think part of what happened, and you'll tell me if this is right or wrong, part of what happened is you got really clear on what you wanted, what you valued, and got really honest with yourself about what that looked like And in doing so, allowed yourself to really honor that in your choices. And then.
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Aransas Savas (25:46.232)
It set you up so that when that was not easy, it was not clear cut, it was not convenient in a lot of ways. As we talk about what happened in these last five years,It was challenging in a lot of ways. And yet I gather that from this...
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-mm. Mm-mm.
Aransas Savas (26:07.392)
approach of specificity and valuing, you set yourself up to navigate those challenges with greater commitment and purpose.
Absolutely. And remembering why you chose the things you chose.
at every turn. so Dave and I dated for about four and four and a half years, we got engaged and then we decided to move to Long Island. And that was a very hard decision for me and not one that I was excited about, to be honest. I loved Brooklyn and Brooklyn was my, my happy place. But what I realized
Aransas Savas (26:26.649)
was actually being with him and having our family be together. That was more important to me than the where of where we lived. And so I got really clear like I said to myself you wanted the kind of partner and husband that he is.
Aransas Savas (26:57.669)
Does it really matter? What is the more important value? Is the more important value that you kind of hold on to your position of living in Brooklyn? Or is your more important value that you found the person finally that you wanted to share your life with and you follow that?
Aransas Savas (27:32.149)
Hmm. So in that way, it was a clear decision, even if it wasn't easy. Yeah. Yeah. So talk to me about these last few years. You got married, you moved.
Yes, it was clear. Yes, that's right. That's right. That's right.
Yeah, the last few years I got married, we actually got married twice because of the pandemic. So we had two weddings, which was amazing and crazy. We, I moved from Brooklyn to Long Island. We got a dog right after we moved here. So that was a huge new heart opening that I did not expect. And Dave has three kids, so we blended our family. So now I'm the mom to, a mom and a stepmom to four kids, which I, you know, it's funny, I always wanted four kids. And then I met him and that happened. So, and my life is totally different than what I ever expected it would be.
feels like it's on my terms. Even though that one decision of moving here wasn't totally what I wanted initially, the rest of how I've chosen to live my life and have my days is really up to me. And it's because I've gotten super clear about what it is that I want and how I wanna, going back to that original thing that you said about the lessons that I've learned from my health, is that I'm aware every single day that we have this one opportunity.
Aransas Savas (28:44.997)
Aransas Savas (29:05.834)
What are we gonna make of it? How are we gonna have the life we want?
Aransas Savas (29:16.024)
And so when you talk to clients that you coach about creating the life that they want, how do you guide them?
Well, the biggest thing is most people are afraid to say what they want. So the first step is really helping them get clear to say it out loud. And sometimes it's just like a little whisper and I encourage them to let it out. And then once they let it out, we can come up with the action steps of how you get it. The action steps are actually much easier than the admittance of what it is.
Aransas Savas (31:11.480)
You talk about really, truly loving your life right now.
Aransas Savas (31:19.327)
What brings you the deepest satisfaction?
I think in the times that bring me, I mean there's small things and there's big things. So the small things are that every night before I get to go to sleep I get to talk to my husband about my day and we actually try to have three meals a day together also, which we don't always do but we make a good effort at. And I, even in that small kind of ritual and time with him, I really don't take it for granted. I feel really lucky to just get to connect with him in that way and to know that he wants
Aransas Savas (31:28.718)
I want to connect with him. So that's one thing. But even in a bigger way, I would say, like the times when one of Dave's kids lives in California, so unfortunately we don't get to be with him very often, but the other three are local. And when we're all together, like playing a game or having dinner, it's really joyous.
Aransas Savas (32:16.152)
What do you hope your kids will learn from your life?
I hope they'll learn about resilience. I hope they'll learn about good communication and gratitude, I guess. Really getting clear on and saying what they mean, asking for what they need, but also having tremendous gratitude for all the things in their lives that are wonderful and knowing that they have internal resources when things are hard.
Aransas Savas (32:35.748)
Aransas Savas (32:51.532)
Yeah. So it is, it's, it all comes from within, doesn't it? And even though, cause I was thinking about that as you were talking just now, that as we talk about this really sort of magical feat.
Aransas Savas (33:10.560)
that we each accomplished in our lives by being able to say, hey, this is really totally, clearly, specifically exactly what I want. And then we watch it happen. You did it by writing a list and communicating with other people. We get to do it with our clients through coaching.
Uh huh. Uh huh.
Aransas Savas (33:38.560)
If you wanted to help someone else achieve that type of clarity and specificity about their own dreams in order to start to bring them to life, what advice would you give them?
I'd say two things. One is write them down. I think writing down is a huge thing. It makes a big difference. And the other is to look for models. When I was dating, I would be in the presence of other couples and I would witness their magic and I would take notes. And I would think, oh, see how that couple laughs all the time when they're together? I want that. Oh, see how he is so supportive of everything that she says? I want that. Oh, see how like they are talking about their future in a way that feels really aligned? I want that.
And I paid a lot of attention. And it helped me to recognize when Dave showed up and he had all those things, it helped me to see them because I had been paying attention to what else had been put in front of me.
Aransas Savas (36:24.056)
I've heard you say before that you believe that life doesn't happen to us, but happens for us. What does that mean?
It's all in the perspective. I could choose to feel, for example, victimized by my health or to spend a lot of time in the why me, why do I have to live with this health condition? Why did I have to go through a divorce? Why did I have to struggle financially? Like, I could choose all of that. Or I could see it as, if I didn't go through my divorce, I would never have the coaching practice I have right now. If I didn't go through my health struggles, I would never have the appreciation.
for the richness of life that I have now.
So it's all in how you look at it, and we can choose to make it what we want it to be.
Aransas Savas (37:16.224)
How do you help people make that perspective shift?
I think I try to point out what is going well for them, even if they're small places where they can derive their own joy or look at their own success.
I sometimes ask clients to make what's called a did well list for me, which is like a little list of all the things that they did well in a day, because they might not even be realizing how they helped someone at work or they helped their kid with a hard homework assignment or they they counseled a friend. And those things add up to having more confidence and having more feeling good about themselves and their place in the world.
Aransas Savas (37:37.797)
Aransas Savas (38:03.328)
One of the things we talk a lot about in behavioral science is self-efficacy and the belief that we are capable and we only get that through evidence. So I think your approach there is so wise because it gives people proof points to say, hey, look at you. You are doing this. You are making progress. You are capable. And you have all the resources you need.
Aransas Savas (39:26.116)
So let's talk about how you take care of you. One quick way you raise your own energy.
Okay. Uh, my favorites are exercise, meditation, and my friends.
Aransas Savas (39:44.252)
Hmm, one easy way you boost other women.
I think by just telling them how amazing I think they are. I think by getting back to that value of expression and being a mirror reflecting back all the ways in which I think they're awesome.
Aransas Savas (40:09.940)
one little way you elevate your community, the planet, or the world.
sharing my love.
Aransas Savas (40:20.476)
Tell me about a woman who inspired you who you believe would inspire us.
I want to talk about my friend Jennifer Salos, who owns a holistic health center in Maryland.
And she, not only is she like my closest friend, but also my mentor in learning how to take the best care of ourselves so that we can serve our clients in the best way possible.
Aransas Savas (41:20.700)
Hmm, incredible. I can't wait to talk to her. I can't wait to share her with the Uplifters. For all of you listening, you know that all of our guests come from our guests and listeners. So if there's a woman who inspires you, head on over to theuplifterspodcast.com to tell us about these women so that we can all learn from them. The thing that feels most important as we wrap this episode up.
Yeah, she's amazing.
Aransas Savas (41:51.496)
is to reinforce, and Susannah help me with this, but to reinforce that although your lived experience is unique to you, the strength and ability that you have shown in creating the life that you want through a clear, honest intention.
Aransas Savas (42:21.356)
is something that is available to every one of us.
Aransas Savas (42:27.244)
And all we have to do is take the time to really be honest with ourselves and then to boldly declare it. And I don't say only to underestimate how difficult that is because I mean, that's why we have our jobs because it can be really difficult to say out loud. Yeah, this is what I really want. And even though this is what my parents thought I should want, or this is what society says good looks like.
This is actually what I care about. And to say that, I think it takes us from a place of hiding from our dreams to boldly stepping into them. And it kind of, it's almost irrelevant what comes next.
Aransas Savas (44:02.412)
For all of you listening, if you were inspired by Susannah, reach out to her. There'll be links to her website in the show notes. Join us and all of our other guests and our beautiful community of Uplifters over at theuplifterspodcast.com. And please keep sharing these episodes. It matters. We have the potential to raise one another up.
And the more we surround ourselves with stories and messages that inspire us to boldly declare and go after our dreams, the more we all lift up higher. Thank you. I love you.
Thank you so much, Aransas. Thank you so much. I love you.