Why I Don’t Feel Guilty for Being a Working Mom

IMG_0251I recall the exact moment I decided that something had to change.

I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.

But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.

I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.

Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.

There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.

But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.

But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.

I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.

And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.

IMG_3102The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.

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5 Things I’d Like to Tell My 7th-Grade Self

  I recently was invited to keynote at a Microsoft Digigirlz Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And while I was very honored to keynote the event, I struggled a bit with what to say. I kept thinking back to what I was like in 7th or 8th grade and wondered what that girl would have wanted to hear. And finally, I decided that was the girl I needed to talk to. Here is the advice I would have given to the 7th-grade Me:

Never, Ever Play Dumb

I’m not sure when it happens, but somewhere beyond those first early grades when we, as girls, raise our hands high and eagerly answer questions in class, we somehow learn how to play dumb so others around us don’t feel bad for not knowing something we know. I know I did this – a lot – and I never felt good about me when I did.

As girls, we do this thing of pretending we don’t know an answer so the guy we’re with doesn’t feel bad that maybe, just maybe, we might be smarter than he is. Or we stay silent about how easy we thought a test was when our girlfriends at lunch are all saying how hard it was. But here’s the thing: if someone has to think you’re dumb to hang out with you, you’re making the choice to hang out with someone who will never like you for who you are, for all the special, unique quirks that is the wonderful version of you that lies awake at night imagining great adventures or ideas. So be true to that girl. She deserves it. I’m not saying to rub anyone else’s nose in how smart you are; I’m not saying that at all. I’m just asking that you make a promise to yourself that you’ll never, ever pretend to be dumb to make someone else feel better. Just be you, be humble, and be nice.

Be Adventurous

Have you thought you wanted to be a part of a sports team and decided to try out only to discover halfway through the season that you really didn’t like it all that much? Well, if your mom is anything like mine, you had to finish out the season so you didn’t let your teammates down. And then the next time you were curious about something and wanted to try it, you thought about getting stuck half a season doing something you didn’t like and, instead of exploring this new curiosity, you held back and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck with it if you didn’t like it.

Well, those lessons are good for us – about not letting down teammates, about keeping our word and living up to our commitments. But we also need the freedom to explore new things in a way that lets us back out if we don’t like it. How will you ever know if you don’t try it? Find ways to explore things that you’re curious about. There is nothing at all wrong with dipping your toe in the pool to decide first if you like how the water feels; you don’t have to commit to diving into the deep end or doing nothing at all.

Check Your Stereotypes at the Door

How do you decide what it takes to be a good doctor or teacher or artist? What does a doctor look like? How about a teacher or artist? We build up these stereotypes, and we try to put ourselves – and everyone else around us – into this box that easily defines who that person is, what their role is, and what skills and traits they should have to be good at that particular role.

Don’t put yourself in box by deciding that you don’t fit the stereotype of what someone in STEM looks like. And don’t decide that it is all you can be if you do fit that stereotype. There are so many approaches to doing things that integrate across different disciplines that the possibilities are endless. Find something that strikes your passion, that you can’t stop thinking about how to solve that problem, and go do that. If you love art, don’t think you can’t be a part of STEM. You have no idea how much we need artists in this new digital world – artists who know how to think outside the box, to imagine how to communicate through color and lines and thickness of letters or shading to evoke just the right experience for someone accessing a website, a mobile app, an interactive kiosk in an airport that needs to appeal to multiple ethnicities and cultures. That is no easy task, so bring your talents to help solve problems that excite you.

Don’t Make it Hard for Other Girls

This one is so important. There is this part inside all of us that we want to create this environment where we feel comfortable, and we can unconsciously make it harder for other girls if they don’t fit inside of what we think our world should look or feel like. The next time you’re talking about something that’s a higher level idea and a girl you may think isn’t all that bright or isn’t interested in topics like yours – the next time one of those girls asks what you’re talking about, don’t dismiss her. Tell her. If she isn’t interested, she’ll disengage on her own. But don’t be the girl who doesn’t let girls outside of the stereotype into the smart girls club.

Mayim Bialik, who plays a scientist on Big Bang Theory, actually just became a neuroscientist in real life. But she pretty much fits that stereotype, right? What about Alicia Keys? Do you picture her as brilliant – smart enough to discuss ‘hard’ topics? She graduated at 16. And Elizabeth Banks graduated magna cum laude from UPenn. The point is that we sometimes jump to snap judgments about others based on what we see on the outside, but most of the time we’re wrong. Don’t be the girl who makes it hard for other girls to feel welcome in STEM.

It’s Your Life, So You Get to Choose

Don’t ever live someone else’s dream or become the character that someone else believes you should play in this thing called life. Even if it is that you are so good at math that everyone keeps telling you that you have to go into something that uses math – as if you owe it to math. You owe nothing to math. You owe everything to being true to yourself. So if there is this thing inside of you that says I may be good at math but I love art – then listen and explore that idea. Maybe you’ll land back at something in math but maybe you’ll do something really cool with art that no one else could have ever imagined without your incredible math skills. And if you’re a fantastic artist but you are curious about how cells break down and become cancerous? You have no idea how your ability to imagine things visually may play into this whole world of discovery around science and curing diseases. Don’t live someone else’s dream or let others define your life or your interests. Your unique view of everything around you may be just what the rest of the world has been waiting for. Anything is possible – so embrace your curiosity, embrace those around you, and explore your interests so you can contribute something amazing to the world that can come only from you.

Why I Participated in Bizwomen Mentoring Monday

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point this last year, I started receiving emails from complete strangers who hoped that somehow a few moments of my time might help them with the next step towards their own dreams and goals. At first, I replied to every single email that arrived, but it didn’t take long to no longer had the bandwidth to answer every question or to volunteer my time for every invitation.

I was in the midst of determining what to turn down and what to say yes to when I attended this year’s Women Entrepreneurs Festival. I posed the question to a group of women entrepreneurs, and Debra Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, offered up some advice that helped me gain clarity. “That is the question,” she said. “What I do is come up with strategic goals for the company. Then every month I come up with what are my goals towards those greater goals and use that as a filter. So when any opportunity comes in, if it is not hitting those goals that I decided on, I’m going to tuck it away.”

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I’ve used that principal to make several decisions since that conference, and it’s worked well for me. And when I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a mentor for the upcoming Mentoring Monday, a national initiative spearheaded by Bizwomen, I again used this filter to decide. The event pairs women business leaders with women in their own community through speed-dating style sessions, and this year’s event was expected to encompass over 10,000 participants at 40 locations throughout the U.S. Because the local event in my city would host 150 attendees, I saw it as an opportunity to spend a morning sharing whatever insight might be useful with anyone who wanted to talk with me. I will admit I was a bit skeptical that anything of real value could come out of 7-minute conversations that were started and ended by the ringing of a cowbell, but I was willing to try.

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What actually happened – at least for me – was profound. When the speed mentoring session kicked off, a woman who was maybe in her forties hurried up and sat down across from me. She wasted no time getting to her point. “Here is where I am,” she said. “I’m good at my job and like it, but I’ve been at it for a long time now. I have this thing I think I really want to do, but I don’t know how to get started or whether I should give up my current security to try to pursue it.” I was expecting softball questions and, instead, ended up with someone facing a life-changing crossroads. For the next six and a half minutes we talked about life’s scary decisions – weighing worst case scenarios against the payoff, how to explore new possibilities without destroying what was currently working. We discussed the need to gain enough reference points to understand if something was a passing interest or a burning passion as well as the option of taking baby steps – and the struggle of knowing when to go all-in and risk our security for the chance to do something that really matters. I have no idea if our talk helped or not, but it certainly inspired me to see someone seriously weighing the cost of pursuing her dream.

The procession over the next hour included women of all ages from college students to retirees, all with unique issues and perspectives. Some wanted advice or access to insights based on my own journey. One woman waited in line for her turn because she thought the event would be the perfect time to sell her product to me.  I spent the remainder of her seven minutes talking about strategic sales and customer validation. I’m pretty sure my response wasn’t what she wanted, but I’m really hoping she was listening.

I found as I walked back to my car to make my next appointment, that I was energized and inspired by the dreams and goals of the women who had spent their morning talking to me. It’s a good thing to remember when our lives get so incredibly busy in the midst of growing our own companies – that while it becomes vital to protect our time to reserve the  necessary bandwidth needed for priorities, it is also important to carve out time to give back. Even when we give, we still get. For me, that takeaway was well worth my time.

 

Is The Story of Your Life Holding You Back?

squarewordWe all have stories. You probably know your own by heart – those few rehearsed sentences that explain how you’ve ended up where you are in life. We hone our answers a bit every time, and after a while, we begin to believe that the version we share with others is the real truth about our journey. But far too often, those rehearsed fragments which explain away our choices, that cover up our mistakes, disappointments, failures. The gloss of our public rendition allows us to hide from the real truths that have shaped our journey. By the same token, we can color the way we forever view our own journey by the way we choose to frame the story about any given experience. If we focus on the negative, we may miss the bigger truths. And that’s the real tragedy, because it isn’t until we explore the reasons we tell the stories we do that we can begin to understand how our stories may be coloring the way we see ourselves and may be the very thing holding us back from what we really want.

Everything Is Ruined

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)One of the first times I discovered my very young daughter might become a talented artist was when I entered her room as she applied her own finishing touches to our marriage license. It would never, ever look the same. I wasn’t even sure it was legal now with all the damage to it. (It is. No one gets out of their marriage vows that easy.) For days, I sulked. I felt angry at my daughter for ruining such an important piece of our history. And then, in a moment of clarity, I realized this new version was better. Does anything scream married quite like a first-born’s scribbles all over the license? By simply reframing how I perceived the experience, something that was devastating was transformed into what remains as one of my favorite memories.

At My Age

IMG_3548-EditOne of the youngest applicants for HauteHopes, Alissa Chavez, started her company after an 8th grade science fair project. When Jessica Eaves Mathews and I launched HauteHopes, our goal was to establish a nonprofit scholarship fund for disadvantaged women entrepreneurs. But when Alissa applied, it took me a by surprise. She’d gained national visibility – including being featured in Glamour Magazine, and had run a successful crowdfunding campaign. She didn’t seem like the kind of entrepreneur who would facing disadvantages which were significant enough to prevent her from bringing a viable business to life. But because of her age – despite her drive, vision, intelligence and technical capabilities – she couldn’t find an investor willing to take a chance on a teenage girl. Alissa recently joined our ten other finalists on stage at our first benefit gala where each finalist had 90 seconds to pitch their business concept to the audience as well as judges that included a congresswoman, a commissioner, and J. Kelly Hoey, the highly influential and powerful networker and angel investor based in New York City. Not only did Alissa land as the judges’ top choice, but she was named the audience choice as well.

IMG_3674-EditOh, and the most inspiring part of this story? Another of the scholarship winners chosen by the judges has also faced the same struggle with age – but on the opposite end of her journey. Already in her sixties, Judith Costello is banking her years of experience as an art therapist and artist to finally launch her dream – a destination art experience for couples, families, children, the elderly. Age should never be the story we use to hold ourselves back – or to allow others to hold us back.

I’m Not Qualified

IMG_3102When I first founded APPCityLife , I worried that others might not take me seriously. I wasn’t an engineer, I didn’t come from the tech world, and this was my first startup. As time passed, and my company gained its first few customers and employees, I grew more comfortable with my story of inadequacy. “I am unqualified for everything I do,” I’d say, rather proud of that fact. I was proud of what I’d created despite the disadvantages I’d faced, and I thought this story perfectly summed that up. But recently I realized my statement wasn’t one of empowerment at all; it was a safety net. If my company failed, well, who could blame me? I wasn’t qualified, after all. And if it succeeded, I was right up there with miracle makers. I don’t say that about myself anymore, because the truth is that I am very qualified for what I do. I’ve learned every skill I’ve needed and have grown to fill whatever the role has demanded. Funny enough, since my new story leaves no room for anything less than all-in, I’m not only happier but I’ve grown so much more comfortable in my role.

What is your story? Do you have one that just might be holding you back? Your story is your own. It’s not someone else’s, so don’t let them decide the words to yours. Be sure you don’t allow anyone else’s story to define yours. So often we give our power away and hang our happiness or success on the balance of someone else’s story. But mostly, just remember that our stories are not written in stone. Look at your situation, and if the way you see your life is holding you back, choose a different view. Find a way to frame your story that empowers you, lifts you up, and gives you the strength and courage to go all in. It’s worth it.

How We Gain Self-Respect

file9751272655027How many of you remember your first school crush? I remember mine. I waited for the tiniest glimpse of him in the hall on our way to lunch, and at the end of the day, I hurried out front just in case he didn’t ride the bus and I might have a chance to see him on the steps talking with his friends. I wasn’t even supposed to leave out that door to get to my house, but the hope of seeing him – it was worth it. I scribbled his name on the inside of the back cover of my notebooks (never on the outside where someone might see). I spent hours on those name-designs, each more elaborate than the next. And then it happened, right there on the steps where I’d waited every day for weeks: he actually said hi. I froze. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that he might actually notice me at some point, much less speak.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those name designs, because I’ve realized that we do the same thing as adults. We spend so much time arranging our dreams, talking about them, writing about them, reading books to get prepared, and taking classes to get ready to act on our dream. Sometimes our activities make us believe we’re moving in the right direction when, in reality, we’re just moving enough to not be disappointed in ourselves.

What is Your Dream?

What’s the dream you roll around in your mind? What holds you back? The fear of discovering we’re not capable and of being crushed by failure … that fear is so powerful. It drives us to inaction or partaking in small, meaningless activities that protect us against the big risk.

Recently, I and my cofounder created a nonprofit fund which helps disadvantaged women launch and build businesses. In just fourteen days, we received over fifty applications – all from women with dreams – some still just an idea and others ready to grow to a new level. We studied each application with our board of directors, all women entrepreneurs themselves, and after a very difficult decision, we narrowed it down to eleven finalists – all chosen because they have viable ideas for businesses and leadership skills. In addition, each applicant is facing disadvantages that make it difficult to achieve success without additional assistance or training.

Feeling Alone

We met with our finalists last night, preparing them for the upcoming ninety-second pitch each will deliver on stage during our upcoming benefit gala. We had a raw, honest talk about the scary process of making a dream a reality. Some finalists expressed concern about whether they were biting off more than they could chew, while others share their fears over gaps in experience, education or connections. We talked a lot about the paralyzing effect that was the fruit of fear. And in the end, we left with the understanding that each of us, as we pursue our individual dreams and work to bringing our vision to reality – we feel alone in our fear and our journey, but it is a shared experience, one that all of us must go through to get to the other side.

I am so inspired by these women who are facing their biggest fears head-on, and doing so despite sometimes overwhelming circumstances and challenges, because the compelling desire to realize their dream, take control of their future and help better the circumstances of others is finally more powerful than the fear of failing. It is a privilege to share a small part of their journey and witness their support of each other. Succeed or fail, this collective choice to be all-in and move forward is their first decision that changes everything and makes everything possible.

Who Else But You?

If you’re holding back on your own dream, consider this:

If you give up now or never get started, who will bring your vision into the world?

No one.

Really.

No one.

It’s yours, and if you give up when things get difficult or before you even start, well, then maybe it isn’t really a dream or a big vision at all but just a nice idea. If you don’t believe it is just a nice idea, then don’t let yourself build on platitudes. Platitudes are the sands of purpose and wash away your fortitude when problems arise.
Build on conviction and passion driven by a vision bigger than yourself, because when you do, you’ll have the fuel needed to carry you through the difficulties that can and must come.

Face Your Fears

The world is never, ever changed by platitudes. It is also never changed by the person who is willing to settle for less than all-in. And here’s what I’m learning on my own journey. When we start with the purpose to give it everything we’ve got, even if we don’t end up where we hoped we might, we find ourselves in a very different, usually better place than the one where we started. A diet of might-have-been is bitter and much harder to swallow than the disappointment of having tried and not met the mark. There is honor in pursuing big ideas, and when they do work? Well, then we really can change the world.

You’ll never know if your vision will change the world unless you begin your journey. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Go all in. Don’t look back. And wherever you land – you’ll be a better person for having the courage to take the journey, because self-respect is a direct result of making the hard choices, facing the difficult fears and going far beyond any comfort zone – no matter the outcome.


 

Note: You can meet these women, hear their pitches and help choose the audience favorite on February 21, 2015 at the Haute Night Out Gala. Tickets are available: http://www.hautenightout.eventbrite.com

If you are ready to launch your dream or get serious about building your business, you can find inspiration, insight and the tools you’ll need in the year ahead at the all day conference leading up to the Gala. You can find out more here: http://www.hautehighlights.eventbrite.com

To get involved with our mentoring program or support our efforts, visit our website: http://www.hautepreneurs.com


 

Blind Auditions: Can it Change the Ratio of Women in Tech Journalism?

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

I am a huge fan of The Voice, especially the early episodes when a celebrity judge chooses a contestant based on talent and then discovers the person on stage looks nothing like what they expected. Sometimes the contestant isn’t even the same gender as what was assumed. So it was with great interest that I read a post by Dylan Tweney, the Editor-in-Chief at VentureBeat announcing Blind Auditions for his publication. He first noted the results of a study in which more women were added to top orchestras when blind auditions were instituted. Tweney went on to say that VentureBeat was implementing a similar approach for hiring new tech journalists. Based in the center of the Silicon Valley tech startup scene, VentureBeat’s new leader is hoping that his new approach will lead to more women journalists covering tech, but even he admits that only time will tell.

I am heartened by Twenty’s public commitment to finding ways to change the ratio of women tech journalists, if only at his publication. My first interaction with VentureBeat came when I was invited to pitch my brand new startup, APPCityLife, at the company’s first mobile event, MobileBeat 2010. Twenty startups were selected from the applications, and of those twenty startups, I was the only female involved. Among the rest of the teams, the judges, even the staff from VentureBeat – I was the only female to be found on stage.

I learned two very important lessons at that event. The first was that if I was to be successful as a female tech founder, I would have to be more resilient, more persistent – and willing to create an independent voice for our company, because I couldn’t count on coverage by the press if I was in such a minority. That realization created a sense of urgency for me, and over time, I’ve learned that having that kind of fire to your back gives you an edge. Sure, it’s higher stress, but it also is a great motivator. The second thing I learned is that being a woman in a male-dominated field has its advantages. When you’re in a field where women are scarce, I’ve found that some – definitely not all – women gravitate to you, want to create alliances and find ways to do business to help even up the playing field a little bit. Women also have the advantage of approaching their industry through a different filter than most of her competition, and the results are sometimes innovative solutions that meet a need in the marketplace in a very different way, setting her company apart from the competition. Female founders also have the ability to lead differently. I certainly found this to be the case for me. I was a mom tasked with raising toddlers before I became a CEO tasked with leading a team, and my years as a mother definitely shaped me into a different kind of tech founder. I’d like to think it’s for the better.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

And, thus, I find it encouraging that one of today’s leading online tech and venture publications is taking a new approach to hiring that may possibly more women writing about tech and venture capital in the publishing industry today. I am hoping the results are promising, because I believe if the final outcome is more women on the VentureBeat staff, it may become a catalyst for changing hiring practices at other publications as well. I believe with more women journalists contributing, we could find more women founders getting a fair shot at coverage in the media. We’ll likely find that the topics covered change as well, since women journalists usually have different experiences which lead to different reference points and even interests when approaching the same story as a male colleague. I think it will even lead to different water cooler conversations and debates among the staff which may reveal biases and provide an opportunity for growth.

The changes at VentureBeat are an exciting first step in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I’m hoping this isn’t the last thing VentureBeat or other publishers try. While print may reach far smaller circulations today than ever expected, online journalism has the potential to capturing a world-wide audience. The written word holds the power to change perceptions, reveal biases and bad behavior, drive the conversation and, sometimes, change the future of those who manage to gain the attention and interest of journalists. I, for one, am rooting for more of those moments in the public eye to be about women doing great things – not only for the sake of the women gaining coveted time in the public eye, but mostly for the barriers it will remove for younger generations.

Finding My Wings: How I Learned to Lead

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It is odd when epiphanies come. Mine happened while I was standing on a busy New York City street corner with my husband as taxis sped by and sirens wailed somewhere nearby. My roots are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I absolutely love living there. So for me, this sense of belonging, of coming home, when I visit New York has always been a bit confusing for me. But in that moment standing beside my husband, who has not only shared the past 26 years of my life but has also been my biggest champion, I finally understood.

“This is where I learned I had wings. This is where I finally believed I could do this, that I had what I needed inside to grow into the kind of CEO I needed to become,” I said.

And, no, it wasn’t anything magical about the city that helped me find my confidence. I can clearly pinpoint it back to what I learned about myself when I attended my first Women Entrepreneurs Festival at NYU. The fifth annual WE Festival just wrapped up this week, featuring a stellar lineup of women investors from some of the biggest firms in the country and women entrepreneurs building some of the fastest growing, most successful companies around today. Attendees had the privilege of not only listening to the powerful story and asking their own questions of fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg, but also gaining insight and direct advice from successful entrepreneurs like Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox and Susan Gregg Koger, founder of ModCloth. This year’s event delivered, just as it has every year since I first attended.

In fact, I credit the beginning of my metamorphosis to Joanne Wilson, angel investor, advocate, blogger and cofounder of WE Festival. I had a chance to talk with Joanne recently and share with her the impact that her festival had on my own journey. When I applied to attend my first WE Festival in 2013, I’d already been in business for two years and had lived through the initial learning curve — my first hire, my first employee quitting, my first pivot, my first pitch as the only woman on stage in front of 500 total strangers. But when I arrived at WE Festival 2013, I was in the middle of an acquisition offer to bring on an entire team, one of whom was my spouse. It was terrifying, and I felt completely out of my league. My spouse and his cofounders were very successful serial entrepreneurs, highly trained engineers, and had worked together over two decades. I knew that the combined teams would be a winning combination, but I was filled with self-doubt and worry that I wouldn’t be able to lead the team the way they deserved.

That first conference I attended changed how I saw myself. That year, Joanne Wilson talked about the dangers of the toxic self-talk women conduct that diminishes our confidence without anyone else saying or doing anything. I realized that if a woman as put-together as Joanne had that same challenge, there was nothing wrong with me for the self-doubts I felt. It was normal, and I could combat that inner voice because it was poisoning the well of my creativity and confidence. It was a landmark moment when I learned to stop apologizing for whatever lacks there were in my past and to embrace my skills. We can all do that – we simply have to decide we’re going to stop accepting self-doubt as valid fact and get busy doing the things we are afraid we cannot do.

Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, was one of the panelists at that year’s conference, and it was her advice to me that empowered me with the tools to be a more effective leader. After sharing a bit about my acquisition plans, I asked the rockstar CEO and engineer what advice she had for me becoming an effective leader of engineers who were more experienced, more intelligent and more degreed than I would ever be.

“You get in the cage and wrestle with them, and you don’t come out until you’re the winner. They won’t respect you if you can’t do that,” she told me.

I realized that if this very successful technical CEO had to ‘wrestle’ with her engineering team, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Ironically, I’ve come to learn that this particular trait that is common among engineers is actually one I have come to highly value from our team, because their challenges vet our path and help avoid pitfalls. I’ve also come to learn that I really can lead, and believe my willingness to grow into this role is what allowed our team to focus on the difficult challenge of inventing the technology we needed to bring our vision to reality.

This year’s WE Festival was just as wonderful as I expected, with fresh insights, advice, and solid feedback that will help me be better prepared for this year’s challenges of expanding into new markets. Each year, I find that I’m in a different stage and still manage to gain what I need as takeaways from peers in the trenches and role models who are paving the way for those who follow. But I’m not sure any conference will ever have as powerful impact as that first year. It changed everything for me.

When I shared my epiphany with my husband as we stood on that busy New York City street, I was reminded why he’s still my best friend after all these years. “It may have taken a conference in New York to help you see you had wings to fly, but it didn’t for me. I’ve known it all along.”