Thirty years in the entertainment business, starting as a receptionist at a talent agency and ending last year as the chairman of the entertainment division at CBS, Nina Tassler is known for having great instincts and making spot-on decisions.
After all, it was on her watch that CBS returned to being America’s most-watched network (for 12 out of the 13 years she was in charge). Tassler is also the TV executive who green-lighted such megahits as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “NCIS.”
So when Tassler announced last year that she, then only 58, was leaving the C-suite to start the next chapter of her life (a turn of events that was as jaw dropping as some CBS prime-time season finales), you know that a lot of women in Hollywood paused to consider, if not reconsider, their own career plans.
“It took a few years before I could wrap my brain around the idea of leaving my job, which I loved, and I had many, many sleepless nights,” Tassler says. “But a life crisis—in my case, a dear friend’s dying from cancer—makes you reframe your goals and ambitions.”
Ultimately, she decided she had done everything she wanted to do in network TV, having re-established the network by building new prime-time, late-night, daytime and summer schedules and helping to devise new business strategies and economic models. She was ready for her next act, and she “wanted to have enough time and fuel in my tank for it,” she says.
First on Tassler’s agenda since becoming an advisor to CBS: finishing her labor of love What I Told My Daughter, a book of essays that she co-edited and which came out last spring. Currently, she’s working on a number of projects that emphasize her focus on inclusive content creators, including a half-hour series based onThe Middlesteins for Showtime. And later this year, she’ll be speaking at the Conference for Women in Philadelphia, Austin and Boston. In the meantime, here, Tassler shares her top career advice.
#1. Really listen when people are talking.
“This is something I actually told my daughter. In this age of technology, you especially need to look people in the eye when they’re talking and engage with them. That way you both know you are hearing each other. I also told my daughter to be an advocate for inclusion rather than exclusion. Be the person who tries to include everyone.
#2. Do the job you were hired to do to the best of your ability.
“I know firsthand how easy it is to get caught up in office politics and lose your way. But a producer at Warner Brothers, Bob Singer, gave me this advice early on in my career, basically telling me to block out the noise that was inhibiting me from doing my job. If you’re too busy focusing on the next career move, you won’t expand your knowledge and understanding of the field. As a footnote, Bob also told me: There will always be someone down the hall making more money than you so don’t bother worrying about it.”
#3. Whatever you do, it’s simply not possible to make mistakes in your 20s.
“My friend Iris Grossman, who is an agent, told me this when we were reminiscing about our careers and I was preparing to give a commencement speech at Boston University, a true honor. The point is that this is the time to explore and take chances—and learn.”
#4. There’s no limit to what you can do if you don’t get hung up on who gets the credit.
“John Kimble, my boss when I was an agent, told me this, and it’s one of the most liberating things anyone has ever said to me. If taking credit and ownership is a driving principle, you will miss out so much on the experiential quality of working, the joy of learning and collaborating. That said, you shouldn’t be totally ego-less. Just keep in mind that there is so much benefit from the process of sharing and working together.”
#5. Accept that fear will always be a factor in the formula for success.
“Fear is a great motivator. But whether it leads to success depends on what you do with it, whether you acknowledge it and confront it. Failure is also a component of success: you learn the most from it.”
#6. Make sure you know who you are before seeking a mentor.
“I know this counters the standard advice about mentors, but don’t rush out and find one before you know your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to accomplish in your career. That’s because you don’t want a mentor to replicate. Rather, you want someone who complements your character and shares your ideology and principles.”
#7. As a mentor, be sure to show the whole person, warts and all.
“The stories about our flaws and failures are as important as the ones about our triumphs. Tell your mentee about your shortcomings, when you’d been incredibly hard on yourself, where you wished you’d done something better. Resilience is essential to success, and it’s the most undervalued trait.”