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.

Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve

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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.