Professor Susi on Entrepreneurship and Spirituality

Professor Natalie Susi has had a beautiful journey through entrepreneurship and teaching. Her experiences taught her about spirituality and her purpose on this planet: to give back what she has learned.

It’s clear that there’s something special about professor Natalie Susi. She operates her Warren Writing classroom with the intention of developing her students not only academically, but also as thinkers and communicators. She uses her vast experience as a female entrepreneur to push her students to reflect upon themselves, to connect the course material to successful behavior in the business world, and even to invite a business acquaintance to speak to the class. She goes the extra mile in her work simply because it’s her passion; it’s what the world compels her to do.

“I have been a teacher all my life,” Susi recalled. “When I say that, I mean I was a natural teacher. It’s what I’m meant to do on this planet. I started teaching, well, playing school when I was five. I was an only child, and I would teach invisible students. That was like my playground at my house. My favorite birthday gift was a blackboard that my mom got me because it was like a real teacher.”

Susi carried this dream with her while growing up and started teaching at a high school in her hometown in Delaware right after graduating from college. She later moved to California to earn a graduate degree in American literature at San Diego State University, where she would eventually come to teach as well. However, in 2009, budget cuts caused her to be laid off, forcing her to find a new career. She decided to become an entrepreneur, building a company in the alcoholic beverages industry. 

“I was drinking a margarita and I just sort of got this idea that I could make it better than it currently was,” Susi said, describing the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey after being laid off. “And this was in ‘08, so this was right before the skinny margarita craze hit the market. So it was good timing. ” 

Susi then founded Bare Organic Mixers, a company that produced natural, low-calorie cocktail mixers for people who were trying to avoid drinking extra calories. She managed all aspects of the company, including hiring personnel, social networking, raising capital and finding investors. 

“I had always wanted to start a business because I wanted to understand what it was to run my own schedule and have money, like be able to have an opportunity to actually make money so I could teach because I wanted to and not because I had to,” Susi said. Much of these experiences were preparation for her true passion for teaching.

Susi attributes her success to her mentors, career guides that she believes every new entrepreneur should find as soon as possible.

“As Tony Robbins [a business coach and self-help writer] says, ‘[mentors] decompress decades into days.’” Susi said. These guides often voluntarily help you with anything from starting your business, growing it, or sometimes even something more personal or internal. In Susi’s own journey, she found her key mentors particularly crucial because she didn’t have many other sources of entrepreneurial wisdom; aside from her mentors, she was completely self-taught.

After six years in the beverages industry, Susi sold her company to Ultimate Superfoods, a leading natural foods company. She continued to work with Bare Organic Mixers in Los Angeles until she decided that it was time for a change. 

“I woke up one day and realized this is really not making me happy, and I’m really not interested in doing this anymore,” Susi said. “I don’t care about this brand anymore. It was my baby. I’ve sent it off to college. I’ve done all I can do with it.” 

Through this entire adventure, Susi’s heart stayed in teaching, and it was something she found that she desperately needed in her life. She eventually earned a teaching position at UC San Diego where, after this intense journey of self-reflection and personal purpose, she ironically was assigned to teach a class titled “The Pursuit of Happiness.” She now teaches Warren Writing, a mandatory sequence of writing courses for students in Earl Warren College, and is a personal development coach and business consultant outside of the classroom.

“Teaching allows me and forces me to live in the present moment … teaching forces you to live in the present moment because if you’re a good teacher, you aspire to be an impactful teacher,” Susi explained. “You have to be with your students. And if your mind and your soul is physically present with them in the given moment, you’re with them … it causes me to be a better human, basically. That’s why I love doing it.”.

Through her introspective experiences with entrepreneurship and teaching, Susi has developed a variety of “spiritual” beliefs, and she attributes her Catholic upbringing to be the foundation of these ideas. 

“So my spiritual belief is the law of cause and effect — that we are all one,” Susi said. “It’s the idea that there’s absolutely something greater than us … so the spiritual belief is, you chose this life, you chose this body, you chose these people before you came into this body … then you can start to look at all the crappy things as lessons and be grateful for them instead of angry about them. So for me, spirituality is all about shifting from a place of fear to love.”

Susi stated that her spirituality originated from a “great need for understanding.” Susi called her parents “the most incredible people,” and described living in an Italian immigrant family that “passionately loved each other, but were passionately insecure about things too.” 

“They were constantly struggling with statements like, ‘this person could or would or should have done this thing, or if only we could have done that, you would have done this,’ Susi said. “A lot of living in the past and a lot of rehashing moments. I grew up as the mediator … I was sort of fascinated by what motivated people to be one way or the other.” 

Her family’s challenges with navigating the past are part of why she values teaching as a way to live in the present.

These transformative experiences are what developed Susi into the teacher that she is today, focusing on not only academic material, but also on her student’s intellectual and personal development.

“I would love for students to really get clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing here and really ask yourself this question … consider the thing that you’re working towards,” Susi advised. “Can I eat, sleep, breathe, dream, talk about it all the time? Or am I doing it as a means to something else? Really consider it because we live in a world where it’s really okay to do what you love to do every day, and it’s really possible.”

Photo courtesy of Natalie Susi.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 4/12/20 to provide additional commentary on Susi’s family.