March 08, 2017
In Honor of International Women's Day
Today is International Women's Day and there's no greater woman in my life than one who isn't alive anymore. Here's a toast today to my grandmother, a resilient yet loving woman who was born in 1916, the magical spirit who raised me. She was physically by my side until she died of cancer when I was 16, and has emotionally been by my side ever since.
Many years ago, an entrepreneurial friend of mine who also an author of technology and other business books sat me down to do a 'reading.' Mystical by nature, he is one of the few people I know who plays in both the science and spiritual realms, embracing them both equally and with ease. It was an aura reading and during my session, he saw a warm yellow glow around me, an angel of sorts he said, and as he described it, I knew it was same warm yellow as the shutters on my childhood home in upstate New York. This aura was a protector of sorts, he said, something I have always felt throughout my life.
You've likely heard the phrase 'he/she marches to the beat of a different drum.' There's always one family member who does just that and they are often referred to as the black sheep, the one who strayed from what the rest of the family considers 'normal.' It is often the different drum folks who appear to have no discipline externally, but inside, discipline drives them. It takes courage to take the internal road again and again.
"Just Trust Yourself & You Will Know How to Live." - Johann Wolfgang von Goet
She lived her life to powerful and passionate drum and raised me to live my life that way too. I think about that different beat often these days as our country cries in so much divisive pain. I recall a precious moment in the back patio of our wood paneled den, an add-on to the original house, and one my grandfather built by hand. I was cuddled up with a stuffed animal and one of those hand-knitted afghans that she had knitted as it was a cold winter's night. She said she planned to always be there to protect me -- her voice is as clear today as it was 40 years ago.
With my wide blue child eyes, I looked up at her and asked why I needed protection. With sadness in her voice, she said. "Because you will choose a more difficult path and I won't be there to help you. And, because you're a woman in a man's world." As children, we never think our guardians will disappear, leave or die because it's not in our realm of possibilities yet. I remember thinking: well I'll protect you too forever and ever, as small children do. There's always a forever and ever.
It took me many years to understand the man's world piece and how prolific it is, largely because I have always ignored traditional rules. They have a way of catching up on you however because reality is reality and as a woman, you'll eventually hit a stone wall you'll need to overcome in which case you need to make a decision: how do I want to cross over?
Mom always said to take the high ride and so I always have. There are times when we need to make tough decisions and be harsher than our nature, in order to stand up for ourselves and for what is right. That often comes at a price and as women, we often weigh the price. If we are protecting our children and a way of life for them, we may temporarily make that sacrifice out of love. And, sometimes we need to stand up and say No More, Enough. And, sometimes we need to bond together with other women to support what they're going through when you know they've been dealt a bad card and only by unifying can we overcome.
I applaud International Women's Day for being there as a day we can celebrate each other. I, like many women around the world, marched on January 21 (I even shot some video on the day), wrote about the proposed cuts on Planned Parenthood, and go out of my way to make sure no little girl suffers from poor self esteem. As a woman who went through Anorexia in my teens, it kills me when I see girls who feel unworthy and make unhealthy decisions because of it. We should embrace individuality, regardless of how we and the girls and women around us want (and need) to shine.
My grandmother and other powerful women in my life served as mentors and guides and in some cases, angels. Their faith in me gave me faith in a universe that will always provide what we need, when we need it....when we have faith in ourselves. Without family support and my dearest friends being far from my own back yard, I rely on that belief system which starts with gratitude and a sense of purpose.
Deep down, we all know our purpose and must live our lives beating to that purposeful drum, regardless of what that path and calling happens to be. Our inner voice guides us to that path and it's merely up to us to listen and follow that voice for true magic to happen. More often than not, I've been a solo journey since 16, and my grandmother's spirit has been with me, reminding me to take the high road, have dignity, honor, integrity and grace when ugliness gets in the way, whether that be in my personal life or business one. And along that high road, sometimes we need to make wrongs right and have the strength and courage to do the right thing, so that other women around us and who are not yet born, never deal with the same issues.
"Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History." Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
My grandfather played a role in that too. When I was a teenager and about to embark on a year abroad to South Africa on a scholarship within days, I had just ended playing a piece on the piano that my grandfather loved. He came up behind me sitting on that mahogany wooden piano stool and put his hands on my shoulders, a rare move for this disciplined and often hard man born into a 1916 world. "Whatever happens, I want you to know that I'm leaving you the house and everything in it when I die." Where did that come from I thought? It was so out of the blue. "Your mother made me promise that I would do this before she died and I'm going to honor it. There will be will anger towards you, not from your father but from your uncles but there is nothing I can do about that after I'm gone. They won't understand." Then he repeated: "I promised your mother and I agree with her: this is the right decision."
I guess it had something to do with both of them wanting to protect me. The truth is that the money I got from that corner house in small town America barely scratched the surface. Living in Silicon Valley, it didn't even cover two years of rent after taxes but in her own way, it was an effort to make sure I was taken care of as the only girl in the family. And sadly, my grandfather was right. My favorite uncle whose knee I bounced on as a child, who I devoured oysters and drank wine with as an adult and who I understood the most, never talked to me again.
This has very little to do with me being a woman as it does family dynamics and the fact that situations like this after a death are not uncommon. It saddens me in this world of growing divide under the current leadership however, that we don't pay more attention to what connects us rather than excuses to break important bonds, whether they be family ones or personal ones.
We have to remember that our view of how life should be and how people live their lives, is one microscopic view, such a small lens of which to see the world around us. And, as women, I feel the need to think beyond again and again, is even more critical. Putting ourselves in someone else's shoes (when it's a man's shoes, think about how he was conditioned - this is key), gives us the strength to break through barriers.
Women, at least the ones in my circles around the globe, have exceptional nurturing spirits. The feminine energy is known for this and now more than ever, we need to cherish it and share it with everyone around us. And, we need to do whatever we can to not just give girls and women the ability to shine, but to thrive and make their own choices about their bodies and their lives. Here's to the incredible women still living in my life whose heart and spirits touch me every day.
January 14, 2017
Proposed Cut of Planned Parenthood Funding by New Administration
As I listened to the discussion over the new Administration’s (can’t even say his name) proposed $250 million cut of Planned Parenthood on NPR this week, I thought "is this a throw-back Thursday joke of some kind?
This de-funding proposal, as all listeners of the latest developments know, is for standard women’s reproductive health services since federal funding doesn’t fund PP abortion. As someone who has lived in Africa twice and helped to bring on TEDx speakers to address the importance of birth control and empowering women in Africa and other developing regions of the world, I find it astounding that in the supposedly most developed country in the world, we’re having this conversation in 2017. Apparently most Americans still support Roe v. Wade (most recent numbers from Pew Research say 69%) and we've come so far with women's equality and rights or have we?
I was raised by my grandparents which means that my conditioning came from people born in 1915. Think about it. When I went on the pill for the first time after returning to the U.S. from living abroad, it came from Planned Parenthood – I wasn’t in an at risk category but felt safe going there when there were few people I could talk to about birth control. The grandmother who raised me died when I was 16 and I wasn’t about to turn to my grandfather. Yet, an interesting thing happened after I finally disclosed it to him. He said, “smart move – I’m glad you took the initiative, especially without your mother here to guide you.” Then we started talking.
He told me about a hospital scene when my grandmother was giving birth to my dad and the doctor asked him if there were any issues, what his decision was: to save my grandmother or the baby? I asked him with my wide open 21 year old eyes, “What did you say?” “Of course, I told him to save your mother. What kind of question is that?” as if I was a fool for not knowing the answer. My eyes watered up. Pro-lifers will likely say that the baby’s life is equal to the mother’s and sure, it is – after all, in an ethical argument, all lives are equal. After all, if there were labor issues in this scenario, I wouldn’t be here to write this heartfelt stream of consciousness or whatever it is turning into. Moments after his response, it occurred to me that the doctor asked my grandfather to make that decision. “Didn’t mom have the right to make that call herself?” I asked him. “No,” he responded. “It was the man’s decision.”
My grandfather was about as Republican as it gets, conservative about a lot of things and born in 1915, was an adult during times like this and yet he was pro-choice. Here we are having this conversation over a hundred years later as to WHY any government has a right to decide for a woman about her reproductive health? To decide for or in any way, impact a woman’s constitutional rights? Oh United States of America in all of your intellectual, financial, military and world power glory, haven’t you become smarter? Don't you know that women and diversity are the pulse of this powerful land?
How and where did this country get so lost? To a place of putting other desires above honor, truth and dignity. We have charted into a new world and definition of what it means to be an American or at a minimum, what American will now project to and come to be defined by the rest of the world.
Let’s not be so complacent or remotely okay with a new status quo, one which has begun to suggest that a man or woman’s honor, word, integrity, or conduct means nothing. How do we explain that words, conduct, and honor are not fundamental to America's ideology to our children who are watching and listening every single day? Words can’t describe how I feel as a woman listening to what is happening to this country and knowing what is yet to come in the next four years. The PP cut is just the beginning of many decisions that will take us far far back in time.
Meryl Streep summed it up in 5 powerful sentences in a response to the President’s Elect’s distasteful mocking of a reporter’s disability: “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a move. It was real life. It was the moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. Because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing”.
May 08, 2016
In Honor of Mother's Around the World & My Own
The truth is, I used to reflect about Mother's Day every year and even write about it occasionally. My mother who was actually my grandmother -- Irene was her lovely name -- was one of the most inspirational woman I've ever known and I've encountered a lot of amazing female souls over my lifetime. It wasn't until later in life that I learned that Irene was the English name for Renee and the French name came from my mother's side who apparently came from several generations of French heritage, although we rarely talked about that.
I always assumed I was much more English than anything else until Ancestry.com told me otherwise and I realized just how dominantly French my background really was. In fact, my nearly 30% Italian genetic make-up was even more prominent than the English side of the family -- their DNA seemed to have passed over me somehow. When I think of her, I think of roses. I think of tulips too, since we planted them together and without fail, they sprouted from our upstate New York garden every spring.
What set her apart was her ability to be raw and truthful, raising issues people were uncomfortable hearing, but doing so in the most genuine and diplomatic of ways -- her English mother Ida taught her well perhaps although given what I knew about my great grandmother, my guess is that it was simply unique to Irene. I've never been able to live up to the level of dignity and elegance that she showed everyone around her simply by walking into a room.
I learned so much about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and what it was like to be a woman growing up in the 1920's and 3o's simply by being a good listener in my mother's kitchen, one which was never modernized. Its retro white cupboards remain until this day even under new ownership.
I wrote about the connection between My Mother's Kitchen and blogging on my personal blog 12 years ago (yes, I've been blogging for a long time) and that wasn't even an early entry. Her sassiness and loveliness will always be remembered and while it is no doubt tragic that she never witnessed my wedding day nor has she seen me as an adult woman facing so many of the same challenges she did over forty years later, her voice and the decisions she made never leave me.
She was one to take the high road, which I've had to do on more than one occasion, especially in business when those who you encounter are not as ethical and honorable as you had hoped.
I wasn't planning to write about Mother's Day this year -- honoring her memory is a wonderful thing to do, but often so painful that it derails me from a forward march, which is more and more necessary every day as I see myself age as she had and for many of the same reasons. Given how much I've traveled and where I've lived (ten countries), a part of my life she also never witnessed, I have been fortunate to discover other incredible women who while may have never replaced her, were integral to shaping how I see the world....through sad and nurturing and yet still innocent and deliciously loving female eyes. While most of these women are no longer with us, kudos and hats off to Josephine Blodgett, Betty Cummings, Donna Blodgett Ambrosino, Bertha Blodgett Herkel, Audrey Farnum, Bernie Daggett, Shirley Lockwood, Dona Badman, Callie Marcellus, Adelaide Sachs, Maryjane Fredericks, Nila Edwards and Charlotte Lawton. Seeing each and every one of them in my mind's eye brings a smile and a comforting imaginary hand I can somehow hold onto during tougher times. As for the others, one of these days, I will write about all of them, but for today in honor of mothers around the world, the Clinton Foundation came up with a great list of six moms they want to honor this year, who share an unyielding desire to support their families and give their children better lives. As they so beautifully portrayed, "regardless of their starting point, it’s the upward mobility these moms are working to enable that’s important. This Mother’s Day, and every day, we’re honored to help empower moms to build better lives for themselves and for generations beyond." I chose three of the women they honor today who are part of the Clinton Foundation's initiatives - for the others, please read the original piece on Mom's That Inspire Us. CHRISTINA MWALE, SMALLHOLDER FARMER, MALAWI Christina Mwale, a smallholder farmer with the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI), lives with her son on a small farm in Malawi. With each harvest, Christina hoped that she would finally grow enough crops to support her family and earn an income. But more often than not, the harvests would yield less than before. With the help of CDI, Christina was able to learn new farming techniques that have helped her improve the quality and quantity of her crops, and increase her earnings. Her new income has enabled her to move her family into a new house. And she is also using her money to purchase land so she can generate a higher profit from her harvests in future seasons. Christina has become a leader in her community. She finds being able to support her son and share her knowledge with other smallholder farmers in the community to be the most rewarding parts of her work. SHARON BOYD-STRUTHERS, ART TEACHER AT ROCKEFELLER ELEMENTARY, ARKANSAS Sharon Boyd-Struthers, a mother and grandmother, is an art teacher at Rockefeller Elementary in the Little Rock School District. She epitomizes the wonderful relationship that the Clinton Center staff has with educators across the community. Sharon is a regular attendee of the Clinton Center’s annual professional development workshop held in partnership with the Arkansas Arts Educators Association, which supports teachers in continuing their education. During the Clinton Center’s temporary exhibit, Chihuly, Sharon lead a summer-long program, where she taught children the art and creativity of glass fusion. Upon completion of the Chihuly exhibit, the Clinton Center was able to support Sharon and her students with the addition of a second kiln for her classroom. She understands the important role a teacher plays in a child's life, and whether it's with her students, her children, or her grandchildren, Sharon goes out of her way to provide young people with enriching opportunities. (PHOTO CREDIT: ST. BERNARD PROJECT) EVELYN STEVENS, NEW YORK Evelyn Stevens lived with her son Khepera in a home in Far Rockaway when Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm badly damaged the first floor of their home, forcing Khepera to move out. The loss of her home and Khepera moving out was devastating to Evelyn. Evelyn quickly began to take the necessary steps to repair and rebuild her home. She received assistance from FEMA and Flood Insurance and then used that money to hire a contractor to start the reconstruction. Unfortunately, the contractor ended up being fraudulent and never started the work. Determined to rebuild a home for her and her son, Evelyn applied for aid from various nonprofit organizations. The St. Bernard Project, a CGI commitment maker and Clinton Foundation partner, answered her request to assist with the rebuilding of her home.
September 19, 2013
TEDxUNPlaza: 3 Women on Empowerment & Trusting In Yourself
I was involved in the first ever TEDxUNPlaza event this week in New York City, a full day TEDx event focused on the theme BRAVE with 24 speakers who inspired over 300 people at the United Nations Building.
Considering how many conferences and events I've been to over the years where there have been so few women on the main stage or on panel discussions, it was refreshing to see the very first session of the day focus on women empowerment.
While two fabulous men were also in this session: Steven Rogers, a professor at Harvard Business School and Dr. James Doty, the founder and director of the Center for Compasion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, this post focuses on the three awe-inspiring women who moved me with their passion, commitment and perserverance this week.
New age yogini Deepika Mehta, writer and animator Brenda Chapman and healthy living educator Sarah Hillware rocked the TEDxUNPlaza stage Monday morning.
Deepika Mehta faced a severe emotional challenge when she was told she may never walk again. Today, she speaks from a place of gratitude now that she is not only walking again, but entertains people with her dancing and yoga movements.
She has also trained with some of the top Indian film stars and is one of the youngest instructors to teach at one of the most celebrated Yoga festivals in the world, The International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Brenda Chapman is another great model for resilience who credits her mother for giving her the courage to be where she is today. She says that young girls are trained to be passive and reactive whereas young boys are trained to be proactive. While that may be less the case today than it was twenty or more years ago, old habits are still engrained.
Role models can teach resilience she asserts. And, she says, "they can be family members, teachers, role models...they can be women, they can be men, they can be you."
Brenda has always had a passion for storytelling and movie making and ever since she was a little girl, her dream was to work at Disney. Not only did she achieve her dream, but she became the first woman to direct an animated feature for DreamWorlds Animation's The Prince of Egypt and more recently directed the Pixar film, Brave, the very theme of this TEDx event.
Like Sarah Hillware would echo later on in the session, Brenda talked about the importance of girls having role models, even if they're distant ones. She also reminded us that it's not just about the successes that result from what we learn from those role models, but failures as well. "Failures are just as important as our successes," she says.
"Inspiring by example is a key way you can pass along your inspiration," she adds. "If you can look into a little girl's eyes and let her know that you believe in her, you might just transform her life."
So true, I reflected as I thought about a few people who did that for me when I was 5, 10 and later as a teenager. Was there someone who inspired and encouraged you along the way?
My Take Away: maybe the nieces, daughters and cousins in our lives won't have to fight some of the same battles we had to fight, but there will be battles and stepping up to be a mentor can make all the difference.
Sarah Hillware started her talk with the same tone, as if she was picking up the thread from Brenda's important messages but extending the importance of mentorship to education and health awareness, which is both her strength and her passion.
Says Sarah, "when you educate a boy, you educate a person. When you educate a girl, you educate a family and a community."
Her background in health and educational systems and as founder of Girls Health Ed, she asserts that health education isn't just about physical health, its about inside out wellness. She asks: how do we translate these ideas and the energy that we have into concrete action?
Perhaps having a community base in adolescent health in schools is a key ingredient to getting things moving.
Some of her stats back this up, including the direct correlation between health, particularly mental health and school attendance. Based on her work's outcome, she focuses on three core goals: Positive Development, Individual Goal Setting and Community Inclusion.
In order for these goals to be achieveable, she believes that all interventions need to be relevant to the individual and the community depending on the challenges they face every day. For example, in the western world, standardizing a course on body image in our schools would greatly benefit women. In the developing world, a course on menstruation and menstruation management would be more relevant and therefore more beneficial.
Sarah ends with encouraging people to get behind programs and behind girls we can help in our own lives, thinking from a proactive not a reactive place. She also strongly believes we need to redirect research towards prevention. Hear hear Sarah. We couldn't agree more!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.
May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 17, 2013
5 Important Issues From 5 TEDxBerkeley Speakers: Help Us Pave the Way
As a co-curator of a TEDx event, you have a joyful honor of bringing important issues you want to see brought to the table...to the table, or in this case, a TEDx stage. Having been involved in the curation process at TEDxBerkeley for a few years now, there are speakers and writers I've met along the way who have haunted me -- positively and negatively -- the latter often provacative enough that regardless of whether it's a pretty story, you know the story must be told.
Personal issues that keep me awake at night include the ugly embrace of processed food, climate change & the implications for wildlife and the world, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, our sad state of healthcare and education, and women's inequalities. There are countless others, but there's only so much that can absorb my already noisy back channel at any given time.
At TEDxBerkeley this year, we were able to bring some of those conversations to attendees.
I have always wanted Robert Neuwirth to speak at TEDxBerkeley ever since I first heard him speak at PopTech a few years ago. He is best known for his work with squatter communities and poverty. He wrote Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, a book describing his experiences living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai.
He brings us on a journey to West Africa and how locals came up with a creative way to source their own energy when the government couldn't.
Lagos residents use energy conservation. In his time in Lagos, he saw people get their water in large canisters not from fresh water sources or private wells. The Lagos government claims that it provides safe drinking water in sufficient quantities to its people, according to a newspaper he read on his way out of the country and yet, its far from reality. There is no real functioning water system in Lagos and other things are not efficient either. Apparently they waste N1.5 billion by leaving their computers on standby.
Kim Polese was the opening speaker for this year's theme of Catalyzing Change. In alignment with the theme, she addressed the communications gap between education providers and students. Students don't know what courses to take so they can succeed in the 21st century.
Our challenge is to preserve the excellence and transform old curriculum she says. "We face a new crisis, the skills gap, which is a crisis which is affecting everyone so we need a revolution in the teaching model, a few of which are MOOC (massive online open courses) and passive versus active participants in online open courses (small online classes) in SPOCS, Small Private Online Classes.
The revolution is not about cutting costs, it's about this new transformational learning model that is more engaged and also it allows for mass distribution to more people. Only 50% of undergraduates receive a degree in six years. Moreso than that, 55% of students need remediation.
The typical student attends multiple universities, which equates to lost dollars and time because so much of the credits don't transfer over. Often, a student takes "on average" over a year of credits they wouldn't need to take.
One idea: What if we offered and made those transfer of those credits seamless? Think about what Visa did to revolutionize the credit business, by swiping a card and it just works. If we standardize undergraduate classes so the credits can be applied as seamlessly as a Visa card is used today to pay for products and services.
The STEM gap (science, technology, engineering and math) aka rouhgly 33% of students who just felt that they weren't prepared enough is widening......in the U.S., we lag behind most developed countries.
Five out of every new jobs will be in STEM related jobs in the next decade and yet we're lagging behind countries like Singapore, France and other developing countries. If we just focused on increasing the number of STEM graduates by 10% can produce 75,000 more STEM graduates by the end of the decade, which is close to what Obama's goal is for higher education.
Women are turning away from computing, the percentage at its all time high was 34% and now its down to below 15%. The first programmers were women. During World War II, the army recruited a group of women out of the University of Pennsylvania to calculate bolistic trojectories and they called these computers women. She refers to the work of TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra.
Known for his work in education research, Sugata Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.
Many who keeps tabs on education will know him for his project called “Hole in the Wall”, an experiment he conducted in 1999, where Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall near an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC and walked away.
Over time, while a hidden camera filmed the area, the video showed children from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process, teaching themselves now only how to use it themselves, but sharing that knowledge with their friends.
His goal is lofty – he invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs). He asked for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”
Second in the session was Eden Full who is the Founder of Roseicollis Technologies Inc. She studied for two years at Princeton University and is currently taking gap years to work on her start-up full time after being selected for the inaugural class of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Named one of the 30 under 30 in Forbes’ Energy category two years in a row and Ashoka’s Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Eden founded Roseicollis Technologies Inc. to take her solar panel tracking invention called the SunSaluter to developing communities and established markets that need them.
The SunSaluter won the Mashable/UN Foundation Startups for Social Good Challenge and was awarded the runner-up prize at the 2011 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. While at Princeton, Eden initiated and curated TEDxPrincetonU. Proudly Canadian, she was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. After coxing for the Princeton lightweight women’s team, Eden was selected to be the coxswain for the 2012 Rowing Canada’s senior women’s development team, where they won a gold medal at Holland Beker and the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, beating the German Olympic boat.
She shared her story about her patent-pending solar invention called SunSaluter which she has been using in East Africa. Provided extra electricity every day for one 60W panel to charge, plus not just the benefit of getting extra water but clean to people every day. She tested it out in a polit in Nyakasimbi Tanzania and thereafter with a partner in Kirindi Uganda. The goal is deploy 200+ units to 15,000+ villagers.
Curt L. Tofteland is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program. During his 18 years of work with Shakespeare in corrections, he facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Lucket Correctional Complex, producing and directing 14 Shakespeare Productions.
"It is within the silence that we discover the absence of self," he said to TEDxBerkeley audience, as he opened with lines from Shakespeare. "We arrive in this world, naked and alone and we leave this world, naked and alone; we take with us our memories and we leave behind our deeds," he says reading a story that addressed life issues such as dealing with truth and ego.
May 17, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On Politics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, On Women, TravelingGeeks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
April 03, 2013
Kundera's Immortality: A Person is Nothing But His Image, But a Woman is Nothing But Her Truth
I just finished yet another Milan Kundera novel: Immortality. He is, as always intense. I happen to be one of his fans, one who patiently understands the flow of his meandering style, knowing the poetic philosopher in him who needs us to read each and every line.
It's as if I'm in his head when I really listen to his meanders, and can even sense where and how he is sitting as he writes a passage, can feel the women he has known and not known and all the intricate details which make up his life, or least the bit which give it meaning.
The first meander centered around image and the premise was that a person is nothing but his image. "Philosophers can tell us that it doesn't matter what they world thinks of us, that nothing matters but what we really are. But philosophers don't understand anything. As long as we live with other people, we are only what other people consider us to be. Thinking about how others see us and trying to make our image as attractive as possible is considered a kind of dissembling or cheating." (I'd add, dying).But does there exist another kind of direct contact between my self and their selves except through the mediation of the eyes? Can we possibly imagine love without anxiously following our image in the mind of the beloved? When we are no longer interested in how we are seen by the person we love, it means we no longer love."
I thought about a kind of love which isn't whole, one which leaves behind fragments...mere fragments, as if flashes in time like two ships passing in the night, a long weary night. Or the kind of love that leaves behind the violent yet exciting sound of a thunderbolt on a stormy night, one which will never be repeated in precisely the same way again.
These are loves we never fully understand just as Kundera's characters never fully understand theirs. As humans, we ache to understand love and what went wrong in love. We grasp for that understanding and repeat the story in our heads as if its a mathmatical equation we must analyze, even if only in our mind's eye. In that analysis, which we continue to play over and over again like a broken record, we must have an answer, a truth of some kind, for surely it can't possibly just be about an image, of an image...hers, his, your own.
We look for the truth amidst that analysis as a way to better understand ourselves and perhaps to better understand humanity; in that understanding, we think we will find a love which is whole, the kind that is rich in color and texture and full of so much vitality and connection, there is no space for fragments.
If we speak of image and of love, we must of course speak of and to the feminine voice, which brings me to my second favorite meander. It couldn't be a Kundera novel without women, who are brought in as almost subcategories into bigger themes of existence, like Chance, the Dial of Life, Image and of course Immortality itself.
From painters Rubens and Goethe to author Hemingway and a radio host, lawyer and professor in Paris, we hear about their desire of women, their inability to escape from women and their adventures with women.
He asks, isn't the story of Ruben's life nothing but a story of physical love? For the artist who looked at women as "life itself?" We hear from Rubens as Kundera's character, an acute observation when one day he can't remember anything substantial about any of the women he bedded. The details, their names, their parents, their childhood, any anecdote other than a flash of an instance.
Rather than continue to conquer a future of a string of women, he decides to revert to the past, as told to him by the hand on the dial (of life), of which Kundera dedicates an entire chapter to.
Rubens reflects, "but how is one to be obsessed with the past when one sees it only a desert over which the wind blows a few fragments of memories?" He decides that yes, one can in fact be obsessed even with a few fragments.
But then, Rubens discovered a peculiar thing. In those fragments, they are not moving. In other words, memory does not make films, it makes photographs. What he recalled at most were a few mental photographs. He didn't recall their coherent motions, but only short gestures, but only in the rigidy of a single second."
One day, a lover he saw over many years decides not to see him again, an incident he he becomes fixated on trying to understand, certain that something must be wrong, something he could somehow resolve. Then, he thinks of an Australian woman he decided never to see again and she too, was rejected for reasons she couldn't understand. He wonders if he can understand them himself.
Throughout our lives, don't we all have stories or chapters of stories which have ended yet we didn't understand the reasons why? Maybe later, at some future time, we begin to understand those reasons and other times, we don't and perhaps never will. Time marches forward, each of us never understanding why her or his story ended with yet another person, another association, another encounter.
He quotes Aragon's "Woman is the future of man." One of the main male characters in the book explains what he thinks Aragon must have meant.
"This means," he says, "that the world that was once formed in man's image will now be transformed into the image of woman. The more technical and mechanical, cold and metallic it becomes, the more it will need the kind of warmth that only a woman can give it. If we want to save the world, we must adapt to the woman, let ourselves be led by the woman, let ourselves be penetrated by the Ewigweibliche, the eternally feminine!"
Later he goes on to say: "Either woman will become man's future or mankind will perish, because only woman is capable of nourishing within her an unsubstantiated hope and inviting us to a doubtful future, which we would have long ceased to believe in were it not for women. All my life, I've been willing to follow their voice, even though that voice is mad. But nothing is more beautiful than when someone who isn't mad goes into the unknown, led by a mad voice....The eternal feminine draws us in."
It reminded me of how important it is for us as women to go to our source of strength through that eternal feminine, each and every time we need an answer...the real truth.
It is that source that will guide us out of muddy complicated waters which are led by masculine ego, give us the power to say no when the world forces us to say yes, provide us with the clarity when it is being fogged up by mindless chatter aimed at sinking the very core of who we are and most importantly, ensuring we return to a place of authenticity, love and purpose so we won't look back years from now as we pass along meaning to a child and not be able to say: I embraced and lived a true life.
Yes. To be able to say I lived a true life, one which I painted on a bright white clean canvas, one which was virgin before I myself lay down the paint brush.
To be able to say I decided what was me and what wasn't me and along the way, returned to that eternal feminine strength for the truth. In this truth, I'd be my own character and not a facade of another in a novel I didn't write, nor would I dance to another's drums I didn't subscribe to or respect.
Oh, such a noble way to live, I can hear my great grandmother saying. And yet, it has less to do with noble, and more to do with truth. Men have this instinct too, even if it shows up with a different voice, a louder thunder and in an external embrace.
When we become lost, which will happen often on this long life journey, we mustn't forget our truth, that for which we will accept and not accept as a definition of who we are. We must never ever forget that.
It's ironic that Kundera weaves Goethe in and out of his chapters because just then, at the moment I had turned the corner of the final page of the book, I thought about a quote that I return to often for a source of strength, one which rests on the front page of this blog and has since the very beginning. As I thought of the source of the quote, my heart began to race....it is nothing shy of a quote by Goethe himself...Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It may be only ten words of Johann's wisdom, but they are ten very powerful words: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.
Photo credits: hplusmagazine.com, templeton.org & artmarketblog.
March 04, 2013
TedActive Write-Up in Upstart Business Journal
What can an entrepreneur get out of TED or TEDActive, where today the lineup includes everyone from a yo-yo champion to a punk, burlesque singer to SpaceX and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk?
I was interviewed by Upstart Business Journal's Teresa Novellino over lunch one day about my experience at TEDActive last week, my first 'Active' event after attending many TED's over the years and a growing number of TEDx events around the globe. Here's a link to her story. Below, I am hanging with TEDx Bordeaux organizer Emmanuelle Roques. Yes, Bordeaux France, the place where fabulous wine comes from and let's just say I'm a fan.
BTW, I spoke to a number of French entrepreneurs, academics and geeks at the event, as well as people from nearly every continent. It's one of the things I really loved about the TEDActive experience: it was incredibly international with over 72 countries represented this year.
Photo credit: Teresa Novellino.
September 30, 2012
MIT's Jodie Wu, an Inspiration & Force Behind Change in Tanzania
Enough people know I love Africa and the fact that I have spent time there and lived there.
Combine these known facts with her entrepreneur and technology work and it makes sense that we'd have a lot to talk about.
I also love meeting women CEOs who are an inspiration to be around and in the midst of all this background, did I mention that she's only 25?
She was a speaker this September at the event, the second year I made my way across country to Louisville Kentucky to meet interesting people who are help shaping the world.
Her company Global Cycle Solutions is a social enterprise developing bicycle attachments that improve the lives of smallholder farmers. In May 2009, as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at MIT, she led her team to win the MIT 100K Business Plan Competition, and in August 2009, she moved to Arusha, Tanzania, to launch her company.
Her vision is to end "cycled poverty." I had an opportunity to spend time with her before and after her talk. She says, "so much money is going into foreign aid and it's not being spent effectively. The typical person just needs tools and investment in their education. If they buy it, they need it, if they don’t buy it, then it isn’t good enough.
Fair enough. Even if the technology is advanced and might work in the U.S. or Europe, if Africans don't buy the product, then it means its not solving real needs they have every day.
In Tanzania, Bernard their inventor, is creating water pumps, grinders and pedals and working on designing a better bike for Africa.
Her favorite product they're working on right now is the solar lantern. She says with a smile, "it actually bounces like a ball but it doesn’t break. The most significant thing about the light right away is that when people use it, their productivity goes up right away. People can charge their phones at their houses rather than them having to walk five kilometers just to charge their phone, which is what people are doing today."
When she was asked by someone from the audience about how they decided on price, she said that narrowing down the "right price" was difficult, because it depends on their harvest and the timing of it. In other words, $50 is not a lot but they may not have the money to buy it until their harvest comes in. They are testing the pay per use model and when they have all the money, they can opt to buy their own.
Not a boat load of MIT graduates take off for Africa to start a company. Why Tanzania? She says she asked herself after graduation, “is it really going to make me happy working to make a larger corporation richer? What I love about working in Africa, you can see the impact of your engineering immediately – there’s an immediate satisfaction."
Having lived in Africa myself, I resonate with her sense of satisfaction and the immediate reward. I also remembered such a stronger sense of gratitude and appreciation than we have in the west.
On lessons learned? The best advice she received from one of her MIT mentors was “Just do it.” She also learned that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. She thought she’d be in Tanzania for two years and then move onto other countries, but she learned that two years wasn’t realistic at all. Jodie thought that they'd break even in two years, but they’ve been there for four years and she thinks she probably has another two years before she can move her projects into other African markets.
Other great advice she received along the way is one that everyone can learn from: “if any one task is taking more than 20% of your time, delegate and outsource it.” I laughed out loud when she talked about experiences hiring: “if I don’t love you during the interview process and want to go to lunch with you next week, then I won’t love working with you.” It's so true and yet sometimes we are blinded in the interviewing process because we think of skills more than we think of synergy, at least right away.
Jodie apparently pays all of her employees through her phone. She sees so many opportunities in that area and countries like Tanzania are miles ahead. “LEDs are becoming so efficient and that could change things dramatically for Tanzania and other parts of Africa. Remember that 90% of the population is off the grid,” says Jodie.
They’ve set up a group of village ambassadors who have become their evangelists. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of a virtual sales force but it’s organic...the way it should be.
Jodie is an inspiration and it's great to see her MIT education and knowledge pouring into an eastern African country that needs it so much.
September 01, 2012
Support "Founders Less Than Three:" Funny, Sexy Novel About Startups
The author? Boston-based Halley Suitt Tucker who doesn't think that there are enough entrepreneurs starting companies and creating jobs. Especially women entrepreneurs.
The novel is a funny, sexy story about a Boston-based accelerator where female and male founders and their teams fight it out to make their start-up company the next big thing.
It's a book with solid entrepreneurial advice, adventures, laughs, love and all the twists and turns starting a business involves, as they race towards their demo day, when the teams show off their start-up ideas and see who gets the best deal.
Halley says, "I especially want more women to become entrepreneurs because I think they are well suited to the unpredictable path a new business usually takes and I want people to learn the lessons of entrepreneuring via a novel, not a business book, and not a textbook."
Her book aims to inspire female and male entrepreneurs alike and make them all say, "I can do that!"
Help make her book a reality through Kickstarter. Any pledge that you make will contribute towards an editor, a proofreader, a book cover designer and as well as create a small budget for book promotion when the book is launched. $15,000 is her goal however even a pledge of $1.00 will get you a preview copy of the book in digital format as soon as it's done.
How cool is this? Some of the pledge levels let YOU write part of her book whereby you can create a fictional start-up, write their elevator pitch and give birth to an imaginary CEO. A pledge level above the imaginary company level is all about REAL start-ups, meaning, she'll mention your actual start-up company in her book and your CEO. As she says with humor, "My character will drink your soda."