Going Home

My father holding my daughter, 1991

My father holding my daughter, 1991

 

 

(Click here to read on Huffington Post)

Tonight, my mother and my brother moved the bed out of her guest room.

Tomorrow morning, a truck will deliver a hospital bed to take its place.

And sometime after that, an ambulance with my father in tow will make the trek from the hospital to my mother’s and father’s home.

Only a week ago, he was sitting on a bench in the warm afternoon sun surrounded by loved ones, relatives, and friends, greeting and shaking hands with anyone who wanted to see him.

Six days ago, he was sitting on his own couch with his beloved dogs, Molly and Cassie, by his side.

Five days ago, he was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother eating dinner before walking around his house, checking and touching this and then that as he moved from room to room.

Three days ago, he was shopping with my mother, helping her push the shopping cart. But his hand kept dropping from the handle. He couldn’t hold the grip with his right hand.

The ambulance arrived and whisked him to the hospital. It appeared to be a mild stroke, and the staff decided to keep him overnight just to watch.

Two days ago, my dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had a rough night and started having a bit of trouble swallowing. The doctors had some serious, painful talks with my mother. They used words like “new baseline for his alzheimers” and “might not get better”.

One day ago, Dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had enough trouble swallowing that he didn’t eat, and he didn’t get out of bed. The doctors had even more serious conversations with my mom. They said things like “can’t go home without round-the-clock care”.

Today, my father didn’t get to go home as planned. He failed yet another swallow test. The doctors had more bad news. They used words like “hospice” and “quality of life”. But then, with my mother’s gentle cajoling and patient care, my dad ate some mashed potatoes and pudding. His first food in days.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home. He won’t walk through the door, and he won’t sit on the couch with his beloved Molly and Cassie. But he will be home. Around those he loves and those who love him. My mom says, “We’re just going to go home and live our life.” Sure, it will be with hospital beds, and nurses and social workers. But it will be home.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home.

Melting Down in the Frozen Foods Aisle

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There was a tension in her tone that made me look up from the frozen food section, my quest for finding the no sugar added grape juice concentrate completely forgotten.

At the other end of the aisle was a young mother, her back to me. She raised her arms to her head, holding it for a moment and then pressed her hands to her eyes, her back straight and shoulders tensed. A young boy was busy pulling a box of cereal from the stroller in front her.

“Just stop!” she said, the tenor of her voice filled with anger. But more than that, there was panic and desperation, too.

I’d been there before and knew she was close to her breaking point.

I hurried away from my cart until I was beside her and gently asked her if she was ok.

She looked at me, her eyes full of tears. “No, no I’m not,” she said. “I just can’t think. He keeps pulling things, and asking things, and I forgot my list and can’t remember what I need to get. And I have to remember. I have to.”

The little boy was now standing in front of me, holding up a plastic tow truck which, despite the cardboard packaging, was emitting loud honking noises. I squatted in front of him, still looking up at the young woman beside me.

“I’ve been there. It’s hard,” I said. “How about I talk to your son here for a minute while you gather your thoughts?”

“Thank you,” she said. “I need that.”

She roughly brushed her eyes with the back of her hand, and I noticed her hand was shaking.

She stood there quietly for several minutes while I conversed with her young son. He showed me every button on the truck, how the lights flashed, and how he wanted to take the truck home if Mommy would let him. He told me he was three and that he needed a truck that had a hook on the back like this one. He was a ball of energy and talked nonstop for the few moments I visited with him.

Finally bored with the truck, he set it down and hurried to the stroller packed with several items of food and tugged at the box of cereal still lodged underneath several cans of vegetables. He said wanted to show me the new cereal they were going to buy.

His mom, now calm, thanked me for helping her. She told her story to me as we took up most of the space in the frozen vegetables section of the grocery store. Her husband had dropped her off with her son so that she could use a $50 voucher a local food pantry had given her little family. She’d forgotten the list at home – the list where she’d calculated exactly what they could buy with that voucher. And as the panic rose over not knowing what to get, she felt herself buckling under the weight of the responsibility – and the feeling that she’d failed. The nonstop talking and questions of her happy three-year-old were just too much for her.

And with the gift of space in those few moments, she’d collected her thoughts and remembered the missing items on her list.

As I walked back down the aisle to my abandoned cart, I heard her conversing gently with her son.

My heart went out to that young mother. I’d been in her shoes – that overwhelmed place of too many things crashing down at once and then lashing out at a child in that moment. And I’ve felt the shame of being that mom. I felt a deep respect for her, because in that moment when a stranger reached out, she accepted the help. That is not easy.

It was a good reminder that sometimes all we need is a kind word, a moment of generosity, to help ease the burden of living and avoid melting down in the frozen food aisle.

Learning To Lead: advice to startup founders

image1-e1403467816939A lot of times when we launch a startup, we’re like a duck out of water. We have no clue what steps to take to launch a business. We ask help from others who are more experienced, and we depend on their guidance to help us meander through the challenges of getting a business off the ground.

But at some point, a founder has to stand up and decide that it is time to be in charge.

When I was selected to pitch in front of investors from across the United States during an investor’s summit, I was still figuring out how to be a leader. I had a lot of confidence and believed passionately in what we were doing, but I’d also just brought on a team of developers and co-founders who were far more experienced than me. I was feeling a bit uneasy about how to lead us forward.

For several weeks, I met with a team of mentors from varying areas of expertise who were all tasked with helping me prepare for my presentation during the summit. Week after week, I received divergent advice, sometimes even completely opposing instructions from my team of mentors:
Less words and more photos on the pitch deck.
More words and less photos on the pitch deck.
Scrap the images; don’t scratch them.
Ask for more money. Ask for less.

During the early mentor meetings, I would try to please whatever looked to be the consensus of the group and would shift directions, change my pitch deck, change my talk … all in an effort to get the approval of this team of experts who I saw as more knowledgeable and experienced than me.

And then one day, in frustration, I pushed back and started telling them what my vision was, what I knew I needed to say, what I wanted my pitch deck to look like. The results were remarkable.

Once I truly embraced being in charge, it made all the difference. I realized that each of the mentors did exactly what they were supposed to do – give me their advice and feedback based on their own experience and knowledge. It wasn’t their job to give me consistent feedback. It was my job to take all of that feedback and use it to clarify my own position.

Once I owned my own vision and message, this group of mentors with very different opinions all came together behind me and expressed approval for the way the presentation was shaping up.

No one wants to follow someone who doesn’t know how to lead. If you are a founder, learn to lead. Learn to own your vision and have conviction. Stick a stake in the ground and declare what it is you’re doing. What problem are you solving, and why is your solution so important? Understand that and let it drive everything you do. You’re the boss, so when you need to, push back and draw a line about who and what you are as a leader. It won’t guarantee success, but not knowing how to lead will guarantee.

Fishing For Trash: Sometimes the Solution is Really Simple

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When Jaime Lerner, three-time mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, two-time governor of Parana State, and serial entrepreneur, was faced with dirty rivers killing the fish as well as the livlihood of local fishermen, cleaning up the river became one of his top priorities.

“When a fisherman caught a fish, he could keep it,” said Lerner at the global panel discussion of renowned city leaders and mayors during the New Cities Summit 2014 hosted in Dallas, Texas. “But when he caught trash, we paid him for it. So the fishermen started catching trash. And that cleaned up the rivers, which led to more fish for the fishermen to catch.”

Imagine that.

Paying fishermen for trash.

Lerner took an environmental problem caused by the bad habit of local citizens and turned the problem on its head. Instead of passing stricter laws or using the heavy hand of government to force its citizenry to comply with better habits, he made it more enticing to do what was better for the environment.

So often the solution to a problem is simple but lies outside of the normal context of our approach. Looking for the reward in changing behavior is often the most expedient path to change.

A great lesson for all of us.

Three Things You Need To Know About Failure

Mourning

I recently had a conversation with someone who was pointing out how many times I’d failed to meet the same goal. It felt pretty awful, especially because I knew it was true. But in that moment, I also realized that I could either accept that as my permanent truth, or I could look a bit deeper at why I was failing. In the process, I discovered three powerful truths about failure.

Sometimes failure to try is our way of gaining space until the time is right.

Two years ago, I suggested that my talented, artistic daughter open an Etsy shop to sell her handmade cards, calendars and posters. I campaigned pretty hard for the idea. The entrepreneur in me wanted to see my daughter take control of her own destiny and share her talent with the world, but the mom in me wanted her to find her own path, whatever it was. So I backed off and left her alone when she made it clear she wasn’t ready.

Well, for the most part, I backed off.
Except when she would show me something she bought on Etsy.
Or someone would mention Etsy.
Or I would mention Etsy.
Ok, to be honest, I probably didn’t leave her alone as well as I should have.

You can imagine my surprise recently when she sent the text I’d been hoping to see for over two years. “So I know I’ve been really resistant against an etsy shop…” she wrote. Her text had phrases like “… but it occurred to me … I was looking at … and I kept thinking I could do better … and then I realized I should.”

It was in that moment that I realized what likely felt like failure to her two years ago when she said she didn’t think she could try this new idea was simply her way of carving out space. She needed time to muster up the courage and to own the idea for herself.

It wasn’t failure at all. It was simply not the right time.

Sometimes when we fail to try, we see it as failure. That perception makes it harder to find the courage to try the next time we see an opportunity. Sometimes no isn’t failure; it’s simply not the right time.

The skills we learn on our way to failure often carry us to our next success.

Sick person with headacheThere was a point in my company’s journey about three years ago where I couldn’t see my way forward. I was a nearing the end of my bootstrapped resources. My initial idea hadn’t taken off like the wildfire I’d imagined, and I saw a brick wall in front of me that felt an awful lot like the end. I didn’t sleep at night, and I couldn’t focus on anything during the day. I was looking in the face of failure, and it felt worse than anything I’d felt before.

One afternoon I started writing down all of the things I’d learned since launching my startup, from the mundane to the profound: how to write a business plan, incorporate a business, set up a bank account, pay corporate taxes. I learned to hire an accountant so they could pay corporate taxes and a lawyer to set up the business correctly. I learned the value of building relationships and a network. The list was several pages long, and at the end of that exercise, I realized I’d gained more skills in those three years than I could have any other way – all skills that would help me do something else if I did fail.

When I realized that even if I failed, it wouldn’t be a complete failure, that helped me focus and take control. We pivoted the company shortly after that, and within months, we were gaining traction and customers – a validation that this new direction was solving real problems in the market. We’ve grown a lot since then – acquired another company, hired employees, gained new customers, built out new technology – and none of it would have happened if I had accepted imminent failure as the complete story.

Nine out of ten startups fail. 92% of New Years Resolutions fail. And the number of diets that fail? That statistic is all over the map. Failure is part of the journey for most of us, in some part of our lives or another. None of us experience success at everything we try. Accepting that failure is a real possibility is very different than believing that failure is imminent. Changing our outlook when we begin to fail can change the outcome. There are often far more successes than failures if we just look for them.

Failure is often a result of stopping short of going all in.

Relaxing in a chairWhen I decided to not close up shop but to pivot the direction of the company, I also decided that there could be no holding back. I’d always had this thought when I was a solopreneur that if I failed, it was just me that would be affected. I told myself that trying at all took a lot of courage and was a success in itself. But once we pivoted, I committed to going all in – nothing held back. It was so much more terrifying than when I’d allowed for failure to be a viable option. But it also made all the difference in my level of willingness to put myself out there on the edge of my skills and knowledge. It was a scary thing to acknowledge that if I failed, everyone on our team would have to start over at something else, not just me.

Believe me, I am still very aware that our company could end up having to close its doors someday. I’m not naive about the odds. But I’ve witnessed the difference between a really good effort and going all in, and I’m convinced that it is only when we are willing to be terrified on the edge of the precipice that we find success. You know what else I’ve learned about going all in? Others can tell. They’re willing to get on board and get behind you when they know how committed you are to success. We’re still in the beginning of our growth, and we’ve enjoyed our growth due to the commitment and belief of an amazing staff, savvy investors and great clients who were willing to get behind our vision. I never take for granted just how remarkable that is.

Failure feels so much worse, eats at our self esteem, when we know we lacked commitment and effort. I’m pretty sure this is the root to the continued failure I’ve experienced up until now in one of the goals I set for myself a very long time ago. I’m having to remind myself to not be afraid of failure – it may or may not come. Be afraid of not going all in. That’s a much more bitter pill to swallow, and it will hold us back from ever enjoying the heady rush of finally finding success.

Why Successful Women Should Stop Hiding Their Emotions

Kym Hampton

Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.

Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.

None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.

I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”

Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.

I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.

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Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?

It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?

Self Talk by Rachel Abeyta

We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.

Morning Musing: Sacrifice

IMG_0216Don’t take on something new that is not worth sacrificing something else to make it happen. If you’re not willing to sacrifice something you’re doing now or give up something you currently have to make something new happen, you’ll never be willing to do what it takes with this new endeavor to make it succeed.