On Giving Thanks and Giving Back

Like many of you who are reading this – at least those of you in the United States – I woke up to a social media feed parade of photos of pies, dinner rolls, and other delightful dishes being prepared for Thanksgiving dinners. And in the midst of those photos was a shared post from my dear friend J. Kelly Hoey, expressing her gratitude for her friend’s initiative, Project Batman. Curious, I clicked the link.

I hope you will, too.

Today, in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day.

It’s the day we give thanks as a nation for our bounteous provisions, our blessings, our lives. Whether we live in extreme wealth or extreme poverty, we collectively celebrate our good fortune to call the United States home. And we spend this one day grateful for what we have and what is possible.

Today, I will bring to mind and be grateful for the many blessings I’ve known in my own life. I will spend time enjoying amazing food prepared and shared by those I love. I’ll enjoy the fellowship of family. I’ll be grateful for one more Thanksgiving with all of my children together and be grateful for the remarkable adults they are becoming.

I know that even my health is a blessing. I am also quite aware that I did nothing to deserve being born into a country where the stability of the government and freedom granted to its citizens have enabled me to live in a manner that most of the world will never experience. I know that is a blessing, and so I will be grateful and not take it lightly.

But today, as I give thanks for the many blessings that I enjoy, I am also keenly aware of so many that are living in tenuous circumstances, their lives ripped apart and their loved ones missing or gone – and so I will be grateful, too, for the individuals who see that incredible need and pray for them … and then turn those prayers into actions which change for the better the lives of those in need.

bc305334-c33b-46ec-9d9e-77073f3cc833_profileOne such woman – and there are many – is Megan Morgan, who has launched Project Batman, to provide coats and winter clothing to the many refugee children spending their winter in a refugee camp in Turkey.  Because she saw a need and cared enough to organize this initiative, children living as refugees will know warmth, if only for one winter. They have lost their homes, their security, and, often, their loved ones. And because of Megan Morgan, for every individual who donates $25, one of these children will not go through a cold winter without proper winter clothes.

DSC_0265-1024x681I think of Sara Corry who chose to uproot herself from a very secure life here in the United States to move to Ghana to establish a sewing cooperative, Batiks for Life, to give homeless mothers a marketable skill while paying them a living wage to create beautiful batik scrubs for medical professionals.

I, like Kelly, am grateful for individuals like Megan and Sara who rise up to meet a need, who move far beyond gratitude for their own blessings to give back to others.

If today, on Thanksgiving, we are not moved by the plight of others – and moved by more than just a passing emotion as we scroll through our social media, then we’ve lost the real spirit of Thanksgiving. And so I encourage everyone who reads this post to find some way to give thanks by giving back – to help another, whether it is inviting someone to share your day that would otherwise be alone, to take a plate of food to a lonely neighbor, to say thank you to those who are not with family today to ensure the safety of our city, the care of those in medical need, and the stability of the services we enjoy. And if you’re inspired to do so, I hope you’ll find some way to help someone less fortunate – through initiatives like Project Batman or one of your own.

We’re All Guilty When it Comes to Judging Other Parents


When I said that I was running a conference and getting ready to go on stage and couldn’t get to the school before school let out for the day, the assistant high school principal told me that maybe it was time I made my son my priority.

She has no idea.

She has no idea about the changes I made in my life to be more available for my youngest, who is twice exceptional and has had a very difficult time navigating the innane structure we call public school. She has no idea how difficult it was for me to make the decision to go to work after being a stay-at-home mom for well over a decade. She has no idea the number of hours I volunteered when my older kids were in school, or how many of those hours were spent volunteering my own time answering phones in the very office where she now sits every day. She has no idea of my own heartbreak when I would arrive home from my part-time job at 3 AM on a Sunday morning to find my youngest asleep, curled up in a ball on cold tile near the garage door, where he would wait for me until he fell asleep. She doesn’t know that it was his inability to cope with my job that motivated me to launch my own company where I could be the boss and decide my hours. She has no idea how hard it was to have to fly out of state that first time I left him at home with his dad and his older brother — or the growth in confidence I saw in my son because of my travel. She has no clue about the number of times I have walked out of meetings in New York City, San Francisco, and everywhere in between to help him talk out his frustration and walk through his options to make a better choice in a difficult situation. She has no idea — none at all — about my life, my commitment to my family, or my own personal struggles in making all of the different demands on my time and my life work on a daily basis.

She has absolutely no idea.

But, all the same, she made my life — and my son’s life — incredibly hard that day, if for no other reason than to teach me a lesson because I wasn’t the mom she decided I should be.

Let’s don’t do that to each other.

Life is hard enough, and we’re all just trying to figure it out. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve worked part-time from home. And I’ve worked as an entrepreneur where I basically work ALL the hours in a day when I am not taking care of my family.

None of these roles is easy or perfect. And none of us gets to decide what works for someone else.

So the next time you start to tsk-tsk and judge some other mother or father, remind yourself: YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

In fact, all you have is a wrong attitude.

And that, at least in my book, means you have even more to work on than whomever you are judging.

That woman who judged me? She works as an administrator at a school. That is a full time position with many evening hours required. I can bet that I am often at home more hours in a day with my son that she is with her kids (if she has any). But she judged me in that moment, because I am a CEO who travels to other cities and who runs conferences and has obligations that sometimes mean I simply cannot drop everything to drive to school to sign a piece of paper that says that I understand my kid had his phone out in a class when he wasn’t supposed to. I sent an email — while standing backstage. I spoke to someone by phone (while my cofounder took the stage in my place). But when I couldn’t make it to school by 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, she made a decision to refuse to release the phone at the end of the day to my son. She made that decision after I begged her not to — not because I didn’t want my son held accountable but because it created a risk for my family. She was well aware of the consequences of what she was doing — leaving my son without a phone to call 911 in an emergency. She chose to send a kid home without his cell phone, knowing he had no home phone. I think the most astounding comments from her and her colleagues were that I was the one who decided to get rid of our house phone (really — what about every kid out there without a house or a phone?) and the suggestion that I could just go buy a burner phone (um, maybe the part about me not being able to leave didn’t quite sink in — and, besides — really? Do you know more than a handful of parents in your school that have money to blow when an administrator makes an arbitrary decision to keep personal property overnight which also serves as a child’s sole access to a phone line? How did administrators become so elitist that this is a valid response in their mind?).

So I’m left to wonder who cared less about the kid in question. The one begging the administrator to find another way to punish a kid other than leave him without a way to call 911 or the one who decided his phone could stay locked up overnight after being made aware of the consequences of her decision.

Well, that’s a lie. I don’t wonder. I know. And I believe that any school district that doesn’t think about the consequences of withholding phones overnight when many children no longer have home phones — and many don’t even have homes — and that if school boards and administrators are not considering the liability of lawsuits generated from such a policy, they should be. It will happen, and it won’t be pretty. And for the family that suffers the tragedy that results from that policy? They will never recover the loss that some school personnel decided was a negligible risk and worth the possible lawsuit.

I’ve been guilty of judging other parents myself, so I’m including myself in this admonition: Let’s do better. Let’s support each other. Let’s make life a little better, a littler easier, a little less lonely for the rest of the parents who are trying to do their best, the same as you or me.

Put yourself in the shoes of the parent you are judging. Could you live with their stress, with their obligations and responsibilities? Probably. Most of us rise to whatever we have to face. But why do we feel ok about ourselves, even self-righteous, about tearing someone else down whose parenting and lifestyle looks different than our own?

It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing. So is teaching. Maybe instead of assuming we’re at odds, we ought to find ways to support each other and make it work better for everyone.

That’s the world I want to live in, no matter how many hours a day it takes to make that happen.

Girls Deserve to See Themselves as Heroes: Kudos to GoldieBlox


I first met Debra Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, when she spoke at the Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York City a few years ago. Her vision of a toy company for girls that fostered engineering concepts inspired me then, and her continued push to bring new role models and break down stereotypes continues to inspire. Her company’s newest video reminds us of how few heroes in media are female.

For those of you who think this is a tired, worn out mantra, I encourage you to watch this video of Jimmy Kimmel asking boys and girls about what would happen if a woman was president.

We need more women running for office, running companies, and we definitely need more Debra Sterlings creating companies like Goldieblox. It is why I was so excited to see Akamee Baca Malta, founder of As Girls Grow, an Albuquerque-based startup, at our national conference for women entrepreneurs and leaders, HauteCon 2015. Like the founder of GoldieBlox, Akamee is using her talents and expertise as an engineer to create play-based, STEM-friendly products for young girls. She attended the conference thanks to a scholarship from Nusenda, a New Mexico-based credit union which recently won a national award for their creative approach to delivering wider access to capital to those with no or poor credit scores through peer-based lending. Nusenda covered the cost of attendance to HauteCon 2015 for ten entrepreneurs, including Akamee, to ensure that cash-strapped startup founders were provided access to both the content and the networking opportunities available at an event created specifically to empower women leaders and entrepreneurs to achieve a higher level of success.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.


Until there is more gender balance among leading roles in entertainment, government and corporate leadership, our sons and daughters will continue to believe the stereotypes perpetuated in the news,  media, and their everyday lives. Until more women hold leadership positions – including the White House – and the toy aisles in our department stores provide more options for girls that defy cultural stereotypes, we need to see more videos like GoldieBlox reminding us that yes, indeed, girls deserve to see themselves as heroes.

Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve


When Sara Corry entered her yearlong HauteHopes Entrepreneur in Residence program with us in February of 2015, Sara told my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews, that her biggest barrier to success was the lack of an e-commerce site to sell her company’s hand-sewn scrubs. Sara’s company, Batiks for Life – Scrubs on a Mission was partnering with another company which would alleviate many of the other barriers to begin working with women in need in Ghana. With the partnership in place, it allowed Sara to focus on her website.

After only a few weeks, the partnership dissolved. Sara now faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds of achieving her goals. Instead, she used her goals as fuel, believing that the significant need of women living in untenable situations was far more important than her new barriers to establishing a permanent sewing cooperative which would teach employable skills to these young mothers living on the streets. Her positive mindset was tested many times during the months she has been in our program, but she turned each difficulty into a stronger resolve to move forward. This past week, Sara finally landed in Ghana. The new Batiks for Life website is not only live but already selling scrubs, and she is now independently launching her sewing cooperative with funds raised by her successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded its original goal in the first 48 hours.

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where all seems lost. Whether it is an investor declining to come in on a desperately needed round of funding, a pivotal customer passing on the opportunity, a partnership dissolving or a key team member choosing to leave, every startup faces dark moments when survival looks impossible. But I firmly believe that it is our self-talk, the story we tell ourselves in those darkest moments, that determines which startups survive and which ones die.

This isn’t to say that a negative outlook has no value; it does. We all need an Eeyore on our startup team. It’s the Eeyore on our team that keeps us grounded, reminds us of the dangers of drinking too much of our own Koolaid, that points out the problems that lie ahead. The Eeyore in a startup is aware of the increasing competition in a similar space and constantly worries about a competitor getting traction. We all need an Eeyore on our team to be our voice of caution and instill a sense of urgency.

But when the loudest voice we hear – whether inside our own head or from our team – is negative, the focus shifts away from growth and, instead, sees danger around every corner. Instead of being used as fuel to work harder, every post on social media about a potential competitor becomes a distraction and where we might have explored potential collaborations, we only see is the enemy. The toxic voice of negativity can turn every setback into a death knell, becoming a self-fulling prophecy. Entrepreneurs must see the impossibility of it all and still believe there is a way to make it happen. They must be champions of hope – not ignorant hope that pretends difficulties don’t exist – but hope that sees the difficulties and still believes that with some creativity and hard work, success is possible.

Sara will miss our upcoming HauteCon 2015 National Women’s Conference, with two days of content cultivated to help others aspire, achieve, and elevate. And while I am sorry others won’t get to hear her tell her story, I’m pretty sure she’ll find ways to continue putting hope in the forefront through her blog about her experiences in Ghana. On days when things may feel a bit dark for me, I am sure her voice of hope will remind me that our future is what we choose to see ahead. It really is whatever we decide it will be.

Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset


In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.


Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.


A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.

Before You Insult That Quirky Kid in Your Class …

That odd-ball kid, the one who lives in their own dreamworld, dresses like a Hobby Lobby explosion, and just makes you a bit uncomfortable with their odd quirks or bizarre comments that seem to have nothing to do with what you are teaching? The one who you think disrupts your class on purpose just for the attention? The one who even the other kids in class treat like a pariah? Before you decide you’re helping the kid out with a dose of honest truth or harsh reality so they can get their act together before it’s too late, watch this. You may just be a bully with a teaching certificate.

September 11: What Do You Remember?

When I was a little girl, my grandmother’s generation commemorated the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with somber ceremonies. I can still see her and her older friends sitting around her kitchen table, each recalling in vivid detail where they were when the news arrived about the surprise attack which launched their generation into war.

Because I had not witnessed that day or lived through the years of war and rebuilding that followed, I couldn’t understand their need to drag up the past year after year. It seemed odd, this need to feed on these old memories instead of letting the past stay in the past.

I have now become my grandmother’s generation.

As September 11 approaches, I find that a wash of memories and emotions have settled on me once again. Not vague, fuzzy memories but moments of intense clarity, where even the smells and sounds of that day are as clear as if it were happening today.

I didn’t experience 9/11 as a New Yorker watching iconic landmark in my city burn. I didn’t experience that day as a resident of our nation’s capitol, hearing sirens for hours as rescuers battled to save the lives of those within the Pentagon. I didn’t know a single brave passenger on the plane which plummeted into an empty Pennsylvania field, saving countless other lives at the cost of their own on. I wasn’t stranded in an airport or on a train as our nation’s transportation system ground to a halt. I didn’t even have any close relatives who were called into immediate action to respond to the rescue efforts or the increased security on that day.

In many ways, nothing in my life was immediately affected by the events that unfolded on 9/11. I was a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother with a one year old at home and two older children in elementary school. For much of the morning, I wasn’t even aware of the terrible tragedies playing out far from our quite neighborhood. In reality, the only immediate concrete effect I experienced on 9/11 was having to pass through a hastily erected security barrier manned by armed National Guardsmen to pick up my children from their school after it was closed due to its proximity to a flight control tower.

But I distinctly recall the moment I heard about the first plane crashing in the heart of New York City. In that moment, uncertainty and fear crept in. I spent the day glued to the radio and watching live coverage. Insecurity crept in. I saw men and women falling to their death and black plumes of smoke billowing from gaping holes in glass and steel buildings. Sorrow flooded in.

But then something happened.

Hope and courage arose, not only for me, but as a nation. We were inspired by the hordes of selfless, fearless firemen, policemen and citizens streaming back inside burning buildings to save others. We were sobered and moved with deep respect for the ultimate sacrifice that so many paid for their courage, and it reminded us that there were still many among us who were driven by the right motives, who cared about their fellow man, who loved their country and their way of life enough to give their own in protecting it for others.

I well remember the mood of our nation shifting. We got angry. We refused to live in fear or to allow that day to define us as Americans. We determined as a nation that we would not forget or fail to honor the unexpected sacrifices of those who perished.

While there is plenty of debate about the positive and negative changes that resulted in our nation from 9/11, I am not interested in dredging up those arguments today.

As September 11 approaches, I want to focus on the courage, selflessness, fearlessness, and compassion I witnessed within so many in our nation. I want to remember the pain and heartache that is ever present in those who lost a loved one or were injured. I want to honor the lives that were cut short.

My youngest, that seven month old baby I held in my arms as I cried while watching the footage on the news, he is in high school now. For him, 9/11 is a fact in history. He has no memory of that day, and because of it, he wonders why I want to talk about where I was when I heard the news. It’s okay that he doesn’t understand. I hope our nation remains at peace so that he never has to understand. I hope he never has a day that changes everything for him as a citizen of our country.

I now understand my grandmother’s need to talk about the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. I understand her gathering with her friends because of their shared experiences on that day. I understand the need to remember it all just one more time.

I understand, because after 9-11, I have become my grandmother’s generation.