She’d been working in fashion for only a few years when the opportunity to work at Vogue came up. With an interview with famed (and feared) doyenne Anna Wintour planned, Suze Yalof Schwartz did her prep work.
“I had been doing all the editorial reports for Giorgio Armani, so I could identify every accessory, every outfit, every designer,” she says. “She asked me who my favorite designers were, and I started at her ears and went down to her shoes. And then I got the job.”
Suze, in short, is a closer—and a doer, as she’s quick to point out as well. Those two qualities served her well in fashion’s pressure cooker. But their true value really began to shine when she left the industry she’d dedicated more than two decades to in her mid-40s and took a leap.
A lifelong New Yorker, Schwartz wasn’t necessarily itching to move to LA in 2010. But a job offer her husband was considering proved too great a pull.
For a few years, she worked for Lord & Taylor, parlaying her experience as accessories editor at Glamour magazine (where she’d ended up for more than a decade) and years on TV as a makeover artist into something similar on the West Coast.
The stress of bi-coastal travel was getting to her when her mother-in-law suggested she try meditation. That it proved an epiphany isn’t the part of the story we wanted to focus on. Meditation has helped plenty of people detox from our new digital addictions, AGEIST team included. And Suze thought that if it worked so well for her, it would do so for everybody.
“I had tried float tanks, Ouija boards and psychics,” she says. “I’ve gone to crystal shops, read [the past-life bestseller] Many Lives, Many Masters, but I’d never done meditation and when I learned that by closing your eyes for three minutes, and slowing your breath you could be calm.”
A journalist by trade, she investigated what was out there, from classes at UCLA, to Shambhala meditation, to transcendental meditation. An editor at heart, she realized there was nothing out there that presented meditation in a utilitarian, accessible way.
“I used to do Good Morning America and The Today Show, four days a week when I was working in fashion,” she says. “I realized every TV segment is designed so that in five minutes – you walk away knowing how to proceed with your life. At the beginning they explain it to you, in the middle you practice it, and in the end you accomplish it, and then the segment is over. We should make that so that the meditation sessions are kind of like a TV segment, where you learn all about it, you understand the science, they walk you through the program, you do it for yourself and then you leave.”
She had a name for her idea—Unplug Meditation—and she had a goal: to open up a studio. What she didn’t exactly know, was how it was all going to go down.
“I’m very lucky because I’m not a thinker, I’m a doer. Of course, I could do this – why couldn’t I.. someone gave me great business advice: Don’t worry. You’ll learn everything as you go.
Indeed, whenever she hit an inflection point or hurdle, she crowd-sourced answers or called in favors. She asked her Facebook community focused questions and got quality answers. She created an unofficial barter system, trading styling advice or media training for help with graphic design, or legal advice. She was also open to the fact that, with all of that, it still might not work out.
“I don’t believe we need to define ourselves by what we do. I don’t confuse what I do with who I am,” she says. “For anybody who is thinking about it, if they’re interested in something, they should explore that. It’s so rewarding, whether it wins or fails – it’s exciting.”
Unplug Meditation now has two studios in LA and employs 60 people. There have been lessons aplenty. What she thought of as a simple exercise that she could make more accessible and cool, was potentially lifesaving to some. War veterans suffering from PTSD came to her, as did people struggling with pain management, doctors and CEOs.
“We’ll do gratitude exercises … and, guess what, in a room of 65 people, everybody is grateful for different things, and are having a different experience. So everyone walks out with powerful experience but it’s all different,” she says. “And we don’t use words that trigger people emotionally … You can’t say something like what makes you happy – well, some people don’t ever feel happy. Our teachers are teaching for the person in the room, and not themselves.”
This week, she has people flying in from Brazil and Germany to receive instructor training. She has no plans to expand from her two studios presently. Suze’s ambition is beyond brick and mortar. She wants to get everyone in the world to meditate.
Her app is available in 82 countries, but she wants to emphasize her 30-day Meditation Challenge, where those who register receive a link in their inbox every day that takes them through the practice and, hopefully, hooks them. She doesn’t feel the pressure of time either. The way she says it, her runway is still long.
“Sixties doesn’t seem old 70s doesn’t seem old, either,” she told me. “My mom is about to turn 80 and is traveling around the world without me. Twenty years from now, when I’m 70, I’m going to look back and think I was so young at age 51. I feel great. I don’t feel old at 51. I feel exactly as I’ve always felt. I just don’t have the boundaries.”