May 01, 2012
Remembering the Strong Female Forces In Our Lives
This week, I couldn't stop thinking about them. Among "them" was not THE woman in my life who guided me, took care of me, shaped me. That was my grandmother and like most grandmothers of women in their forties, they're no longer a phone call away.
The benefits of being raised by your grandmother is that you are surrounded by older, wiser women at a much earlier age, all of which have stories, many of which remind you not to take the world....and everyone in it so seriously.
In my grandmother's circle was an incedible group of women who got together for lunches, martinis, and shopping, even in the 1930s and 40s when they were all healthy, raising children and had husbands that they 'navigated.' (see My Mother's Kitchen -- 2004 blogging days) and a dedication to mothers).
All of them strong, yet sweet...the kind of women who didn't tolerate weak character or housewives without some other mission or job. It wasn't the south, yet a couple of them have moved north for some reason or another. Most of us were "baked" in a small town in upstate New York and with that came things like country fairs, football games, horse farms, 4H, piano lessons, and more sewing and craft afficiandos than wine snobs.
Learning the basics of being a 'woman' of that time was part of living in a small town...you know, the traditional stuff: sewing a button, baking a cake, rolling pie dough the 'right' way, dance lessons, serving tea. Yet, they absolutely tolerated if not encouraged sports for women. While I regularly played many a' sport in school, none of these stronger older women who influenced me in my life played a thing.
In their walled garden, which I used to eavesdrop on from time-to-time, they often talked about navigating their family unit. Many women relied on my grandmother's advice (today, they'd call her a 'coach'), to help them negotiate things at home, whether it was getting their husband to purchase something to make their lives easier, or being able to work and play more while raising a family of 5, and so on. She was also the master peacemaker and networker.
The constant, common thread woven into all of their personalities was spunk and perserverance. I think about them often now more than ever, three gone, four still living. I dreampt about one of them a couple of nights in a row recently and woke up with my heart racing. "How old is she now?" I thought. "Could my dream be a sign that she's sick and in her last days" I thought. "Is she already gone and she visited me at night to say goodbye?" I thought.
The number I had for Bernie was disconnected which is never a good sign. She was with my aunt and uncle in the driveway waiting for me the day my grandmother died. I was too naive to believe my grandmother would actually die despite a long battle with cancer -- remember no one talked about stressful situations then...they just smoked and drank more martinis. They didn't tell me the news in the driveway that day nor did they go with me to the hospital. I drove alone and heard the news alone from some fatigued nurse who didn't know who I was and released the information about my grandmother's passing in a not so gentle manner. I was 16. I had no reaction until I belted in the elevator moments later but without shedding a tear - where was everyone I thought?
Among the faces that came in and out of my mind were all the strong women in my grandmother's life...my life. I imagined their pain learning the news I had just been given, knowing that not all of them had known yet.
My grandfather wasn't in the driveway that day but Bernie had been. Perhaps she wasn't 'authorized' to tell me? I'm highly intuitive and yet something blocked me from connecting the dots after seeing Bernie's red blotchy eyes on that very sad and long summer afternoon when I was "sweet" 16.
I learned a lot about Bernie and these strong female forces in my life, almost all intuitively. When we visited her house, I had to pass time while the 'grown ups' played their cards and drank martinis. It was the 70s - there were no cell phones, online games on TV or computers.
And, no one had a parenting rulebook that said your kids had to be in bed by 8 every night. It was a time loaded with boundaries, an era when adults dicated the agenda, not children.
I used to crawl on my hands and knees through their attic, unpacking boxes and snooping inside. I'd roam through the closets, dressing myself up in her hats and oversized jackets. Downstairs, I'd hear her strong laughter dominating the table and that beautiful and feminine way she egged the men on exuding her confidence and wit. A gift. I even knew it then but didn't have a label for it. My grandmother had it too.
Audrey was a little more refined in public yet exuded the same strength and gift. She's 95 now and lives in Florida, alone. I managed to get her on the phone for a long chat a few years ago. I feared she'd barely be able to hear me or keep up with my pace, but the first thing she did was drill me, like I was still 18. I smiled as I listened to her first question, which may have come before hello: "are you still playing the piano? I hope you're still playing the piano" suggesting that my grandmother would be shedding more than a tear had I not let her gift and now my gift, pour out into other people's silence.
Truth be told, I had stopped playing but a piano remains in the house and I told her, I can't imagine any house without a piano and will always feel that way. She tells me she's trying to order music online now (online in her nineties -- really?) but some of the music she's looking for is hard to find. I imagined Colony Music in mid-town would have it I told her, a place I visit every time I'm in New York just because.
Then we got onto men. She's dating a younger man (mid-eighties) but his eyesight is failing so she often has to drive on longer hauls (1-2 hours). Without complaining, it was clear she did most of the work and I kept wondering, is there ever a time when strong women like us ever get 'taken care of?" Before we hit the grave? She told me that her biggest beef was that he was a fan of George Bush and she couldn't really get him to change his mind. "These are the compromises you make for companionship," she said.
I was reminded to listen to my inner voice...the wonderful intuition that women have, rely on and use regularly for all sorts of things, yet it's a skill and gift that doesn't list well on paper or in the boardroom.
When I was 18, I lived out of my car for awhile, not far from where Audrey and her husband lived in Florida at the time. A workaholic from the beginning of 'life' itself, I had three jobs, two boyfriends and was eager to save as much as I could for travel. Frankly, rent just seemed like a waste of money when I was working 6.5 days anyway. Somehow my highly intuitive grandfather discovered this through his Sherlock-skills over 1,500 miles away and sent Audrey to deal with me. What was and is remarkable for a woman born at the turn of the century is how much she understood my need to do precisely what I was doing.
They had traveled in academic circles, lived in Paris for awhile and let's be clear, did not and would not ever have slept in her car or on a park bench in her life. Yet, it was okay that I did, for then. She believed in the process of life and that everyone's process is different. Her handwritten letters which I receive every year and have since I was ten demonstrate her perserverance, her tolerance and her inner strength - letter after letter, word after word, you could sense her gratitude and faith in the world, and her positive role in it.
Marcie was a long time neighbor who grew up in the south on a farm. She was #8 in a line of 11, her youngest sister from Pittsburg being the only other sibling alive. She has also lost two children of her own and her inlaws husbands and wives are all gone from cancer and heart disease.
When I couldn't reach Bernie, and countless Google searches didn't pull up a thing, I called Marcie considering it a universal sign and nod that it's time to reach out to these strong female forces in my life. It's these quiet nods that we have to not just listen to, but act on, for it is action on these nods (messages if you like, from our inner voice aka the universe), that allow US to DESIGN our lives, not let someone else design them for us. From this place, we proactively live life, not react to it. We become the creator, not the victim. The designer, not the canvas.
Alongside my grandfather, she taught me to drive. Through the neighborhoods we went in a beat up old Chevrolet. She asked, "I was trying to recall how long ago that was again?" Its amusing how much easier it is to come up with a precise number to that question to someone in their mid-eighties than it is to the hot 30 year old man you just met from Argentina.
Three things were on her mind: how much harder it was to do physical things, the climate, remarking how much warmer it was this winter and how odd the weather has been in recent years, and the economy.
I on my iPhone and she on the same square black GT phone she has had in her kitchen since 1966, we talked about my life in the "bubble", the Silicon Valley eco-system that doesn't seem to subscribe to recessionary issues that affect the rest of the country. That said, it is increasingly becoming harder for people around me to keep up with the accidental millionaires and billionaires who are sprouting up overnight as a result of some freak paranoia acquisition play by an industry giant.
This led us to gratitude and reality checks. She told me about a time in the early forties when she put an apple on her father's tab in the country grocer on her way home from school one day and her reaction to the scolding she received when it was "discovered." Given that she has the same strong, resilient streak that all the women in my grandmother's circle had, she decided to take charge of her own decisions and got a job in an ice cream shop. It was 1944 she recalls and she made just under $3 for two days of work.
It's hard to imagine numbers like this today, yet despite what salaries have become, the majority of Americans can't pay their bills on time or if you happen to live in a major metropolitan area, afford the $1M+ that it cost to purchase a home today. And so, people don't or they go bankrupt.
It seems as if everything is inflated around me...last time I walked down Fillmore Street, I don't remember seeing so many unremarkable $500 tops and $800 bags. Shopping culture and consumerism despite the economic situation remains high (read my blog post on Qatar's over-the-top growth) and yet, the happiest people I know have less. Only two days ago, I came across a photo with a quote from Justin Wolfers at the Aspen Ideas event saying "Richer countries are overwhelmingly happier than poorer countries." From a viewpoint that poorer countries are full of people with sicker family members and less ability to save them, I agree.
In my experience traveling to 80 countries and living in nearly a dozen, it feels like the people I've met who have had less and live simpler lives with less stuff, are richer in spirit, and are focused on doing rather than earning, less weighted down by money.
So, I'm not sure if I agree with you Justin, but I do agree that communities where economic and social balance becomes far out of whack, depression and a feeling that the world doesn't make sense can certainly be higher.
People from the old world, Marcie, Audrey, Bernie and my grandparents among them, understood contrasts, balance and gratitude and had so much more resilience, kindness and empathy than what I encounter on a regular basis. It's not that the world has become a harsher place, it's that we may all too busy responding and reacting to things being thrown our way (on and offline), that we may have forgotten to tap into what and who we know best - ourselves.
Returning to and relying on ourselves and trusting our own intution for guidance and our life path may be the best gift we can give ourselves. Refer to my review on Rescue America: the urgent calling to return to what made America great.
How well I know these women or knew my grandmother is not as relevant as the impact they had on me, and the inner strength they have provided and still do, even those who are no longer walking on this physical land.
It's always about our journeys and the joy and yes, even sorrow, we leave behind along the way. Within that joy and sorrow are lessons learned and gifts we share and receive, strength, courage and empathy passed on from our tribes, in my case, a tribe of strong fabulous women I think about often. And, when their smiling faces and emphathetic hearts come into clear view, there's sunshine in the house and my day somehow gets breezier and lighter as I think about them weaving in and out of my life. Never gone, just displaced and forever cherished.
A few blog posts on happiness worth referencing:
- What Motivates People Across Cultures
- We're Happier When We Share
- Bhutan's Gross Happiness Experiment
- On Laughing More
- Money Doesn't Bring You Happiness
- On Death (but one that will bring you comfort)
- Tony Hsieh on Happiness & Profits
- First Image (women/wind): 3D Art
- Path: Wharton Executive Management Site
- Bird with wings: Society 6
December 19, 2011
Steve Jobs Life Lessons: How Do They Play Out In Your Own Life?
The 600 page Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson isn't one I've picked up yet but Lance Ulanoff recently finished it and wrote a piece on Mashable about lessons learned -- aka insights -- from the man who was mysterious to so many of us, being described as creative, driven, intense, mean, focused, innovative, entrepreneurial, masterful, and a genius.
He has been ranked up there with Einstein and by others who are either bitter, anti-Apple or who worked with him and just didn't like the man, as lucky albeit smart.
Below is the list of so called lessons gleaned however for Lance's take aways, read the original blog post, which also includes a page of fabulous inspirational quotes, one of which includes this reminder, "don't settle." I think about that phrase today more than ever.
As we get older, we realize that we have less time to "settle" and live an extraordinary life. When we're really young, even if we subscribe to living a life far beyond "settling," we don't have the wisdom or years behind us to know how fast the decades march on. We often live in the moment which is a beautiful place to live, yet the perspective of time has little meaning.
Next to each lesson learned below, are my own reflections and experiences of working in the technology industry, many of which reflect back to Steve's decisions and mindset. Also refer to my "so long Steve Jobs" blog write-up here,
One of the most frustrating things I deal with in working with start-ups with small budgets is how many compromises need to be made on a consistent basis. It has also made me and the entrepreneurs I work with learn how to become more resourceful along the way. That said, I think about the "one chance to get it right" more often than not and this means stepping up to the plate. Work the long hours, hire the right people, don't undervalue marketing or positioning, get the product out there before your competitor jumps ahead of you...the industry just moves too fast.
Make Your Own Reality
My take away from this is connected to "not settling." It's also about building a better life by not accepting the reality you've been given, for you almost always have the power to change a current reality. Sure, you can come up with every excuse in the book: I don't have the money, I don't have the access, I don't have the education, I don't have the resources, yet Gandhi didn't let don'ts, even if they were different ones, get in the way of his success. Steve Jobs didn't either. I say this to teenagers whenever I get the chance: Don't let someone else write your life story or dictate how the chapters should unravel. This one still keeps me up at night sometimes.
Control Everything You Can
This is counter to so much of what the social media afficiandos and purists believe, which is centered around collaboration and giving up control. The latter is also something I see as a new "American" behavior even outside the technology industry where parenting is often about collaborating with your kids rather than disciplining them.
Control helps keep things on target, your vision in tact and products on schedule but it also can result in alienating people around you, not allowing others' creativity to flourish and the inevitable...once you're out of the way, what happens to the company and its products?
Control can deliver great things - look at Picasso's paintings and Steve's iPhone. Yet, those I talk to give Apple three years with Steve gone. I'm not sure that I agree, but you get the idea.
Own Your Mistakes
This is probably one of the hardest things to do, particurly when a bad decision negatively impacts a large group of people. But it's also PR 101: when you do a "dirty," whether it was intentional or not, own it, apologize, commit to fixing it and move on. If Clinton had done that earlier and embraced his actions from a place of leadership, perhaps we wouldn't have spent so many cycles focused on blowjobs more than the state of our economy. Europe trivialized it and we behaved like high school children, including "some media."
I love this one. Sometimes we know ourselves but don't "give" ourselves what we need and so I'd add to know thyself, trust thyself. One of my favorite quotes and it isn't a Steve Jobs one: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic
Is it fantastic or is it outstanding? I prefer the latter because it takes us beyond fantastic. Fantastic is an experience, which Steve Jobs certainly created for us again and again, but outstanding is a way of living, a way of being.
Don’t Hold Back
Ahhh, is this one of the reasons I love Italian culture so much? Or why people like Steven Spielberg awes us time and time again? Don't just give it to them baby, but give all of it to them. As big, as great, as dynamic and as extraordinary as you can.
Surround Yourself with Brilliance
This is a general lesson for great leadership. Outstanding leaders do this time and time again. Choosing and "curating" the right team for a project is a skill of a master. And, rather than be afraid that who you surround yourself may just be more brilliant than you, you embrace it.
Build a Team of A Players
Ahhh, mediocrity. There's nothing that drives me crazier than mediocrity, particularly in business. And "real" A players I'd argue don't waste time trying to convince you that they're A players; they just execute.
Sure, this largely applies to person-to-person contact, whether it's about managing your team or being ethical with your board and calling the right shots. That said, when I see this statement today, I think about truly being yourself amidst a world of cluttered voices on the web.
When I see a tweet, I think "are they doing this as a way to game the system and up their Klout score aka "perceived influence" or are they doing it from a centered, balanced place? aka "this is who I really am and what I really think".
Or, are they trying to deliver an aura or image of what they think is respected by their peers, some of whom haven't been behaving so well lately?
Scrambling to get respect from the gate keepers is all around us and some of the conversations I'm hearing and part of behind closed doors is astounding.
I think to myself again and again, "are we really having this conversation? Is sucking up to X or Y influencer while burying who you really are worth it? It's a game not worth playing because it's a life not worth living. And, yet it's happening all around us. In politics. In technology. In life.
There are some people who you would build a moon for even if 1,000 people in a row told you a moon couldn't be built. Steve Jobs had that gift which resulted in outstanding products that changed the way we live our lives. Richard Saul Wurman had that gift when he developed the TED Conference concept. Tony Robbins has that gift when he stands in front of thousands of people. Obama has that gift through his calm and articulate embodiment. Being persuasive by being "real" and "intentional" is the most powerful gift you can give.
Show Others the Way
We all need mentors whether we think we do or not. Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes the student and sometimes when we think we're the teacher, we end up being the student. I would add to this that the real talent in showing others the way is finding out how people learn and showing them the way in their modality or language. Some teachers only know how to teach from their own modality which leaves a huge percentage of people either bored, pissed off or simply confused.
While it may seem like an awkward aside to raise here, it feels right as I write this. I wish women would stand up for women in business more than they do. I know a lot of incredible women who help, inspire, nurture, fund, and more, however what I haven't personally experienced is women taking risks to help pave the other for others in their peer group. (risking a powerful relationship behind closed doors by speaking up or making things right, speaking up publicly or simply taking the time to encourage in a deep and meaningful way).
By the latter, I don't mean sharing. As women, we do this well. We listen, we share and show our girlfriends we "understand them."
I get some of the reasoning behind why we say no: we're already overspent and don't have the time or energy, we want to reserve that energy for children and family when we're already doing so much, we don't want to risk tampering with a connection that has been instrumental in getting us to our current positions because quite simply, it ain't an easy compromising ride to get there. And so on. That said, the majority of people who have "shown me the way," have been men.
Trust Your Instincts
Steve Jobs was a master at this and most great leaders are too. Women btw are really good at this in their personal lives and we need to know that its an incredibly rich asset in our professional lives too. The best leaders are strong enough to go to a place of solitude when the noise of external voices telling them what to do becomes so loud that they can no longer hear their inner voice. Our inner voices always lead the way.
Silicon Valley is great at taking risks and it all started with the guys at the forefront, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak being instrumental in the early days. One of the things I see with companies outside the U.S. is that risk taking is less embraced because it's not part of their culture.
There are always exceptions of course: great products are great products, and great leaders are great leaders. That said, I have seen hesitation and uncertainty first hand in working with start-ups and entrepreneurs now from France, Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and others. If you truly believe in something, there's no room for fear and doubt. Trust, believe and take the risk because if you don't, someone else most certainly will.
Follow Great with Great
When I read this, I thought of what those who have been to the top know all too well, "you're only as great as what you've done lately." That said, there are entrepreneurs in the Valley and elsewhere who had a successful exit and never "created" anything else. Yet, they're still part of the conversation, at all the VIP dinners and are even funding other startups because they have the money to do so.
You know the drill: you get access when you have one of the following: power (connections to people or things other people need), money (you can buy that access), position (you hold a title at a major company or in government and can use your influence to help), in the inner circle (are part of a prestigious family, went to college with or are buddies with someone of influence and so the latter three are automatically waived).
What's truly remarkable is when none of those things matter, you push them all aside (or simply ignore them) and just consistently keep building great things that benefit people. Steve Jobs showed that he was capable of that with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Pixar. Other "greats" do the same.
Make Tough Decisions
Tough decisions often make you unlikeable, at least to one group or person. I had a reflective conversation in a long cab ride recently with someone who worked with Steve Jobs in the very early days. He attended a small gathering of like-folks after his death somewhere in Silicon Valley.
A question was presented to another person in the group who also worked with him: did she "like" him?The response was one of silence and no one said a word. A lot of people didn't like him. A lot of people didn't like Picasso.
I'm not suggesting being an asshole is a formula for success but some great leaders who are also artists are often unliked. Steve Jobs was an artist and while he was unliked by many, he was also a visionary who created great things, including inspiration for others to find their own genius inside of them. A gift. Making tough decisions is part of that gift.
Presentation Can Make a World of Difference
It's amazing how many people still rely on traditional Powerpoint slides for presentations. Boring ones. Frankly, I hate speaking in front of large groups and feel "more secure" about my delivery when I use visual aids. Quite simply, its a crutch that helps us move the presentation along when what we should be doing is telling a story from our heart and life experiences that educate, inspire and ultimately move people to action in some way.
Some of the greatest TED talks have used some visual aids, even a slide or two, but 80% of their presentation is about flow and about story. If storytelling isn't the essence of what you deliver, then it most likely isn't an outstanding presentation.
Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity
I would add to this since balancing your intensity isn't the whole picture; balancing your life is what you need so you don't burn out and can find peace with what you signed up, aka your career. If you're not working part-time or gave up a job to raise a family, you're probably spending more time in your work life than any other thing you do. Striking a balance is critical to sustaining happiness and peace with that decision. Life is a long road. Balance sets you free.
Live for Today
Steve Jobs was much more able to go to that place after he learned about his terminal illness. While intellectually we know that we should live for today even when things are going our way, very few people do.
Isn't living for today just another way of saying "be present"? And yet, even if we've hung out in Buddhist temples, spend quiet time on yoga and meditation mats, it's hard to live a very present life all the time. Our brains aren't wired that way. At the core of our decision making, even important ones is our lizard brain, a pretty unevolved part of our bodies. Refer to my post on Linchpins, lizard brains & getting uncomfortable.
While there are people who share their wisdom and bring others up with them as they themselves rise to the top, I see sharing explode when people hit their forties, whether or not they have children. Something happens when you've reached a certain plateau -- call it wisdom, call it inner peace -- where the race no longer matters. Sharing matters more and for some, it's the only thing that matters.
For the original once again, go here as it was my inspiration for this variation...
October 20, 2011
Historian Stephanie Coontz on Rebalancing of Genders
She talks about when and how women not just in this country but worldwide, started to rebalance the power between sexes.
It starts happening between genders when women not just started to work but got paid to work. After they get into the workforce, literacy goes up, they get a choice of who they got to marry, and then labor laws changed among other things.
If you think about it, the countries with the lowest rights for women are the countries where women have the lowest access to the labor force. Sexual harassment didn’t come force in the U.S. until 1993.
Two thirds of divorces are initiated by women. Countries like China have had an 800% increase in divorce over the past 25 years. Countries which are socially more conservative, where women have experienced job independence but not other independence have gone on strike with marriage and motherhood.
Look at an example of what happens when women are empowered. In Guatemala, women are still exploited and underpaid and yet $12 extra income in the hands of a Guatemalan mother adds healthy weight gain and balanced diet into the mouths of her children whereas it is an extra $166 extra income in the hands of a man to get the same result.
Look at countries like Italy, where women don’t have as many rights, the woman who tastes that independence In Sweden, there is no such association.
There has been tremendous reversal for women in the U.S. for women who were born before 1960 versus after 1960. For women born before 1960, if a woman had higher education and earning, they were more likely not to marry or get a divorce quickly. Women today with higher education marry later and they’re less likely to divorce.
The bad news is that today in the U.S., where women also work, most children six and under have both parents work outside the house, but the laws and rules of conduct in the workforce haven’t caught up with those trends.
A few stats: in the U.S., business family work policies is last among all wealthy countries in the world. America doesn’t believe it to be “class privilege” to stay at home with the family, nor does it have a national childcare system or standards. Even the medical leave act in the states is lower than any other country.
There is the highest work family stress in the U.S. than any other country and they work the longest number of hours in the world, including Japan.
“We have to redefine work balance,” says Stephanie. Women’s access to careers has been the greatest achievement for globalization but we can no longer sustain a work regime where we are expected to be available to employers 24/7, and yet still take care of all other human needs at home.
She adds, “we have got to have a better balance between work and home and culturally, we have to embrace it and respect it. We need to redraw the boundaries of our personal lives in the same way we have our professional lives. “Mapmakers, bring it on and make it happen,” says Stephanie as she ends her talk.
October 18, 2011
WITI 2011: Videos of Women who Inspire
Here's a glimpse from this year's WITI event (Women in Technology), held in October 2011 in San Jose, CA.
October 07, 2011
Great Women at WITI: Isn't it Better to Have a Life of Oh Wells Than What Ifs?
Clearly I don't get to New York often enough, by now I would have met writer and products guru Maya Baratz, who is currently working on new products at The Wall Street Journal.
She started out by asking the nearly all women audience at WITI (Women in Technology International): How many of you are still waiting for your mentor? How many of you spend your time trying to prove someone wrong?
Mentors were a common thread throughout her talk. It's not that she doesn't believe in having them, but if you can’t find a mentor, don't wait around to get ahead.
"Waiting for a mentor is like waiting to follow someone else’s lead," she says. "Follow your own."
On innovation, she says, "innovation is about being unreasonable and along the way you sprinke it with reasonable."
She encouraged the women in the room not to be reasonable. "You don’t need to succeed," she says. We can fail. Women are shy of taking big risks and want to ensure they can succeed before moving forward.
Hear hear Maya. And to add to that, not only are women more afraid to fail, but they're more likely to hold back when they've accomplished something great. Many entrepreneurs will tell you to fail fast, early and often.
Failure is nothing more than feedback. And, when you do succeed, she encouraged, "don't just move yourselves forward, but move your female colleagues forward with you."
AND, taking risks was emphasized and re-emphasized. In other words, isn't it better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs? True innovation is about taking a leap of faith and that almost always means taking risks which can lead to failure.
"When you do fail," she adds, "speed up your recovery process. You shouldn’t spend your time reacting to failure. If you get stuck on the anger side, you’ll probably be stuck there for awhile. Leading a proactive life is dusting yourself off, getting up and trying again."
Women-led start-ups fail less than men yet women make up less than 10% of venture-backed startups.
The bottom line is that we don’t toot our own horn which makes us feel a lot more boxed in. We also don’t have role models to look up to....at least not enough of them.
It’s important for every one of us to tell our own story and get it out there, embrace what we've accomplished rather than be afraid of it.
She spoke of actionable things we can do now to further our lives. I can't agree enough that this is what it takes to grow. There's nothing truer than this (and having the our belief systems) to get ahead. We can have dreams and goals but if we don't get them down on paper and take steps to get there, it won't happen. When we have a little "win", it's human nature to own that win and use it as ammunition to move forward. It works for me.
I call them baby steps. Rather than think of the magnitude of the project OR all the potential obscacles that could get in the way OR the skillsets you don't have, just act. Baby steps are important because baby steps = action and action leads to results.
It's a bit like serendipity versus having a strategy, where serendipity is reactive and strategy is being proactive, infused with passion of course. Ask yourself what action can you take to make things happen?
Says a woman in the audience, "look at the way men talk about entrepreneurship – it’s okay for a man to take crazy risks and put themselves out there." Another truism.
Yet, how many times have we all thrown an idea into the wind and received negative feedback? So have hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Success stories today had dozens and in some cases hundreds of no's before they got to yes.
If it doesn't have immediate positive feedback, it doesn’t mean that its not a good idea. It may just mean that it’s new and it hasn’t been tried yet.
It's also okay for men to get tons of exposure and not just be okay with it but embrace it. I'm working on a photo book and have been turned down by a few women. Two very prominent women in the industry declined because they said they were "overexposed." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard the response - twice. Overexposed? Really? Would a man decline an opportunity and say I'm overexposed?
Are you kidding I quietly thought when I heard the response. Deep inside, my reaction wasn't quiet - it was miffed, saddened, disillusioned and frustrated. I also couldn't help but feel that important female voices and insights wouldn't be part of an important project. Moreso, as a woman who's struggling to get support and access to great people to make the project succeed, I thought, "am I going to rely mostly on my male industry buds to help move this book forward in places I can't?" Again. (I had to say it, but yes, again).
We need to support and embrace women's journeys around us and there's no better way to do that than to be aware of their journey, where and how they're struggling and step in to help, even if its in a very small way. Baby steps. They matter.
It's also important that in the entrepreneurial process that we don't self judge ourselves but even moreso for women.
Obviously it's not the first time I've attended women events and conferences. I have been a regular at BlogHer since the very beginning, have been a member and attendee of various women organizations, attended an all girl's school and was active in 4H as a child which, while it wasn't for women only, there were predominantly girls in my club and the same applied to other clubs in my immediate area.
Yet attending WITI, a three-day event full of inspirational women in technology who are embracing challenges and hearing great talks like Maya's and others, is a reminder that while it's not easy out there and we may even recall some of the common mistakes we have made as we hear other stories, its freeing to talk about it and in the process, get feedback. Feedback can lead to action.
Not once in that session did the word confidence come up, not that I remember at least, although it certainly came up elsewhere and throughout the three days. Women don't have enough of it. Period.
I notice lack of confidence more than anything else and not just in business situations but in our personal lives as well. We need to remind women around us that they shine and tell them often.
When I got home from WITI, it was ironic that I ended up watching two episodes of Mad Men, two I had seen before. Yet somehow, watching it immediately after attending WITI made me view it with new eyes. If you're a woman, you can't ignore how women were treated at home and in the office on Madison Avenue in the 50s (and elsewhere in the world). Yet, the writing is so brilliant and authentic, and the program so great, the art wins. The storytelling wins. It was our history. America's history. AND, at least for me, I saw all of it in my grandmother's kitchen, my aunt's house, my school.
Here's one scene from the episode re-watch: Betty's friend comes over to borrow a dress for an occasion and then flops down on the bed as she says, "it doesn't matter, I'm invisible." Women were invisible in the Mad Men era and in some cultures around the world, they're less than invisible today.
Sure, we've made great strides, but we still need to step up, embrace our experiences, share our stories, toot our own horns and take more chances.
While I didn't do individual write-ups on all the speakers and panels, other women who particularly inspired and moved me include IBM's Sandy Carter, Xerox Corporation's CTO and President Sophie Vandebroek, Coca-Cola's CIO Miriam McLemore, professor Diane Pozefsky, AT&T's Alicia Abella and of course WITI founder Carolyn Leighton. (left)
On that note, I'll end with a few reflective, incredulous and humorous quotes to ponder not necessarily in that order: (what do you subscribe to? Feel free to share your own in comments).
"Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work" - Barbra Streisand in 1993
"Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything." - Paris Hilton
"The happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history." - George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
"The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women ... merely adored." -- Oscar Wilde, The Ideal Husband
"Modern women are just adored. There's nothing but media telling us we're all supposed to be great cooks, have great style, be great in bed, be the best mothers, speak seven languages, and be able to understand derivatives. And we don't really have women we're modeling after, so we're all looking for how to do this.." -- Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010
October 06, 2011
MyLawSuit.com: The Painless Co-Pilot for Your Legal Issues
MyLawsuit.com was launched this week, a platform that delivers better Business and Consumer results in contingency fee litigation.
In a world which has become increasingly more specialized, finding a lawyer who is licensed in the right jurisdiction, handles your specific type of case and is willing to take their fee out of the proceeds only if you win, instead of upfront, is a very difficult process. MyLawsuit takes the pain out of the process by eliminating the friction on both sides: the site is free for lawyers, and clients only pay a percentage if they win for both their lawyer and the site.
Most consumers don't realize that a lawyer who handles cases such as auto injury oftentimes does not have the training or the funds to handle a case for securities fraud, patent infringement or an injury caused by taking a particular drug. However, we do understand that you won't go to a foot doctor for heart surgery and law is no different. You won't find qualified assistance by going to your family lawyer if your insurance company wrongly denies your claim.
MyLawsuit also helps to facilitate communication throughout the lawsuit and creates communities where people can turn to for peer to peer advice, information and dialoguing. And, if a lawyer is unable to afford the case costs to take the case, MyLawsuit also helps connect lawyers and individuals to funding sources. In a process that is one of the least understood and ultimately fraught with confusion and pain, MyLawsuit seeks to be your co-pilot.
October 03, 2011
Elizabeth Scharpf on Empowering Women in Africa One Banana Leaf at a Time
I just had an opportunity to see Elizabeth Scharpf speak…in Kentucky of all places. She was there with hundreds of others who showed up at annual Idea Festival for inspiration, and because they’re “curious about life and innovation,” this year’s conference theme.
Elizabeth is an entrepreneur, designer and founder of SHE: Sustainable Health Enterprises, which has a mission to improve the quality of life for people in developing countries. She is most known for her work in Rwanda that involves partnering with networks of women to make and sell sanitary pads made from banana leaves. Yes, you heard me right. Sanitary pads. You probably don't know the issue that women have "getting them" in Africa; I certainly didn't and I've lived there and traveled to a host of countries in southern and east Africa.
She started out her career working with the World Bank in Mozambique. When she visited a bag factory and learned that about 20% of women were missing 2-3 days of work per month because they couldn't afford sanitary pads, she wanted to learn more. Huh? Incredulous for women living in the west.
Many of the women use rags which aren’t always effective and the more she started digging, the more she realized that not only was it a global problem and a loss of productivity, but also a loss of dignity for women.
After learning that the cost of a sanitary napkin is only ten cents, she put a proposal together to raise $2 million. The result was a job from Nike. Yes Nike, the "shoe company." :-) They're supporting this initiative and Elizabeth is leading the charge.
She started in Rwanda and discovered that banana leaves were actually absorbant, so they started using these materials, which are cheap and readily available.
Her longer term vision is to go after low cost sanitation and low cost toilets which is the result of a lot of deaths in Africa. Additionally, there are a significant number of motor vehicle accidents in Africa, so what about bringing driving schools into help with that?
She says to the audience, "if you want to get involved in social enterprise, I had a great education at Harvard but the best education I ever had was riding around in buses in Rwanda. When you see a misison that needs help, ask yourself, how are YOU going to help it?" she adds, "remember that its about them and about serving them.
The things that stick are what we can collectively do to serve the people we’re trying to help. Put your feet in their shoes and think, “what would help them out?”
This attitude and statement certainly is an empowering one and extends to every aspect of our lives, not just social enterprise. Hear hear Elizabeth for being so bold and diving into something so controversial and hard, yet so important and rewarding, not to mention "freeing" and empowering for women around the world.
September 21, 2011
How We Need to Teach Our Daughters and Sons to Think & BE
A man who views her as property-and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her-and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women-and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man. And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."
The above was posted by a friend of a close friend. Thought it was "spot on" and wanted to share.
June 30, 2011
Xerox's Ursula Burns and Forrester's George Colony on Innovation & Leadership
For those who are unfamiliar with the name Ursula Burns, she's a woman with a fascinating story. She started as a mechanical engineering intern in 1980 with Xerox Corporation and nearly 30 years later after leading several business teams, and acting as senior VP and President, is now Xerox's Chairman and CEO.
Sure, she is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and also the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company (another remarkable story), but "who" she is and her very direct personality, candor and warmth as a CEO is what makes her so special, not this historical fact alone.
In many ways, she is not the "traditional CEO stereotype" or personality if there is such a thing. What comes through in watching her on-stage, from afar, from her profiles in the media and from meeting her in person, is her authenticity, her passion, her human way of approaching complex problems and her acute insights into what to do when things go south.
In a fireside chat with Forrester's CEO George Colony at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto this week, she was spot on when she spoke of leadership and what it takes to be successful. "When you screw up, fix problems and fix them fast," she said. "You have to be fearless, make decisions and understand the difference between urgent and important." And, oh yeah, she adds, "you have to be nice."
When George responded with, "what about Ellison and Jobs?" two renowned leaders in the world of technology who are not known as "playing by the nice" rules (the very two examples I was thinking when she made the statement), she said "I don't care." Go Ursula! Among other examples, she brought up her attitude about honor and respect and how her kids would only address George as Mr. Colony not George.
Ursula says that she spends about 50% of her time making sure people are "tuned" correctly. A consistent message from the best leaders is hiring well and inspiring those hires to execute strategically and consistently. Having a motivated and aligned team around you is key.
That brings us to innovation, where you can't avoid but bringing up Apple. Says George of Jobs, "Jobs is once every 100 years. He's an Edison. It's not just about the fact that Apple knows how to innovate, but more importantly, how to streamline and simplify - taking the obvious and making it simple."
George spoke of Forrester's innovation network. In the value chain, there are different roles...you could look at Forrester as a broker, Apple as a transformer. Both are instrumental and key in the process. If the transformer happens to be outside the organization, then so be it and P&G has demonstrated that through in their own products and design efforts. The Innovation Network says we must 'expand the network.'
Ursula agrees with the outsourcing model and that to try and be and do everything internally is very limiting. She says, "there's more value on going outside the network for things you don't do really well. The value chain of research has fundamentally changed. Partner or parish is the reality in the research world today."
Access is what it's about and you can get better ideas and people by partnering. She has a lot of respect for failing she noted, but added that she meant for her research team, not her engineers.
George shared his thoughts on cloud computing: "If you think it's all about the cloud, you're wrong citing the App-Internet is where things are heading. He has teams dedicated to this area, where they're looking at the future of how powerful devices will work more seamlessly with powerful apps and what this will mean for productivity and innovation across multiple industries.
On future predictions, Ursula adds, "the big transformation in the future is not access. We have access to whatever we want and a lot of it." Her fear is that we have so much access yet may not necessarily understand or know what we're looking for. The real miracle will be in how we interface with all that data, a problem many of Silicon Valley's developers are trying to solve in some way or another.
I see an emphasis on interface & manipulation of data again and again with the kinds of things that start-ups who pitch me on a regular basis are working on. Sadly, I also see a lot of start-ups working on services that focus more on access and data rather than solving the curation problem. (see Steven Rosenbaum's new book Curation Nation).
Below is a four part video that covers George and Ursula's Churchill fireside chat, one which felt remarkably like an informal living room discussion. The authenticity and insights to probe deeper into real world problems, not just business ones, also came out as they discussed education and the energy crisis.
June 24, 2011
Bombshell Coach Gigi Belmonico Says Forget the Twitter Popularity GameBombshell coach Gigi Belmonico says forget the Twitter popularity game....
Now, see how you can slightly customize the same video with a little branding using Webdoc without any effort at all. Version below.
Disclosure: I provide consulting to Webdoc.