It all started in 1993 when Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook was selected as a White House Fellow under President Bill Clinton’s administration. Within a few short years, the former President tapped her as an advisor, then Barack Obama nominated her to serve as an ambassador to the State Department. No big deal, right?
But it was work. A lot of work, Johnson-Cook recalls. She still has vivid memories of having her own office inside the White House on the same floor as former Vice President and Second Lady Al and Tipper Gore. She would write speeches for Clinton and represented both commanders-in-chief at public and private events with other high-level officials. It was a “tremendous” experience – one she says she wouldn’t take back for anything in the world.
Although she loved her work, she understood that she needed to make time for herself and her family, so she developed the mantra “I give myself permission.” The mantra allowed hers to be human in the cluttered and frenetic world of politics. Work/life balance, she advises, is the key to building a successful professional and personal state of being.
As a result, she created Women on the World Stage, a two-week retreat that gathers senior-level executive women from all walks of life to reflect, rejuvenate and refresh before returning to their high-powered jobs. She moved forward with the retreat after discovering that many women operate in isolation due to work demands with little time for self-care and family bonding.
“It was so alarming to find that many women were burnt out and on their last leg,” Johnson-Cook says. “I realized that we can’t do everything alone.”
She knew she was on to something when over 300 women showed up to her first event in 2002. Since then, her retreats have taken her guests all over the world, including Bali and the Bahamas. In 2020, Women on the World Stage is scheduled to visit Dubai.
“I felt spirituality, sisterhood, and a safe place to just be,” says Whitney Barkley, a chief creative officer who attended Women on the World Stage’s last retreat in Palm Beach earlier this year. “No one was constricted by titles, who they were, or who they were not. Everyone had a place to be authentic.”
The common denominator, Johnson-Cook thinks, is that working women need rejuvenation, which is why her retreats operate under the three Ws: wellness, wealth and wisdom. The first leg of the trip brings together top health and wellness professionals who meet one-on-one with guests for tips and advice. Then, money experts come to teach participants how to handle finances and teach them to go from “making it” to becoming wealthy. Finally, comes the wisdom portion of the retreat.
“I do the wisdom one,” Johnson-Cook jokes.
Most of all, Johnson-Cook enjoys witnessing women connecting and forming bonds. “There is a global sisterhood that happens,” she concludes. “It is about giving yourself permission. No hard or rigid rules.”
In 10 years, she hopes the retreat can expand into missionary work in places like Africa and the Caribbean. She also plans on creating a sisterhood summit, modeled around the Clinton Global Initiative, where women worldwide can work together to create a lasting impact that goes beyond themselves.
Learn more about Johnson-Cook and how to participate in Women on the World Stage here.