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.

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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.

Want to be Successful? Get Over Yourself and Seize the Opportunity

Andre Moore knows what it is to watch a bright future disappear – not once, but twice. Being forced to reinvent himself after thinking he was on the right path to success has helped him learn that seizing the opportunity is worth it, whenever and however that chance comes.

His first devastating heartbreak came early in his life when several letters of intent from major colleges and a promising career in the NFL evaporated into nothing after he was injured during his junior year of high school. The eldest son of several siblings raised by a hard-working single mother, the young Alabama native metamorphosed overnight from a rising star to a young man with an uncertain future. As he watched one door close on his future, he chose to follow his heart and enlisted to serve his country while still in high school, first in the National Guard and then as a medic in the Army. But, once again, this calling was cut short when Andre suffered a debilitating injury the day before his unit shipped out. Devastated, he returned home and contemplated what to do with his life. At the invitation of childhood friends, he moved cross-country to make a new life for himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly earned certification as a dental assistant before enrolling in the University of New Mexico.

 

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

My son, Jonathon, became friends with Andre when the two began studying together at the university’s library. Most weekends, Jonathon came home from Andre’s loaded with leftover ribs or chicken. After pilfering his leftovers one afternoon, I asked my son why Andre wasn’t selling his ribs. Despite eating them cold out of the fridge, his ribs tasted incredible. When Andre was invited to attend a Startup Weekend event, he and Jonathon jumped at the opportunity to flesh out the idea of launching a food truck. The team took second place and treated the entire audience to Andre’s ribs, converting many into a solid fan base.

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When Andre recently discovered that one of my good friends, J. Kelly Hoey, was coming for a visit, he created his own opportunity by offering to help out by delivering his ribs for one of our meals. Kelly was flying out from her home in New York City to support our network for women entrepreneurs I’d launched in 2014 with my cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews. We’d invited Kelly to be a part of our first Women’s Conference, Haute Highlights, as the final keynote speaker as well as serving as a judge that night at our benefit gala, Haute Night Out. Kelly had even volunteered to be the guest speaker to kick off the Teen ABQ Startup Weekend which my younger son was helping organize.

Andre found a way to not only be of help but do so in a way that also put him in the same room with someone with knowledge and connections he wanted to meet. On her last day in Albuquerque, Andre arrived at our door loaded with steaming hot ribs and wings – as well as a long list of questions. While Kelly dined on the meal he’d prepared, she shared advice and answered his questions.

We can learn a lot from Andre. I wonder how many times we let our own fear, laziness, pride, or insecurity get in our way. How often do we succumb to that inner whisper that it’s too scary, that others will discover our lack of knowledge, skill or talent or won’t want to help us – and so instead of acting, we let opportunities slip away simply because we can’t get over ourselves enough to seize the moment?

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

I recently attended an event designed to pair out-of-state investors with local entrepreneurs while riding a chair lift at the world-class ski resort in Taos, New Mexico. My husband and I made the drive to support our entrepreneurial community. An avid skier, my husband hit the slopes while I opted to hang out with the non-skiers. After chatting a bit with the group at the ski lodge, I found a quiet spot where I could work. At the end of my table sat a woman who was one of the founders pitching at the event. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her twice start to stand up before sitting back down. Finally, with a deep breath, she got up and approached an out-of-town investor working nearby. She introduced herself and asked if he would be willing to answer some of her questions.

When she returned to her seat next to me, I smiled. “Way to go,” I said. “Way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I had to,” she replied. “These investors are only here today. Right now. This may never happen again, so it is now or never.”

She seized the moment despite the struggle it took to get beyond her own fear of approaching a complete stranger who, on the hierarchy of startups, might have seemed far above her. And because of her action, she left the event richer for the opportunity – including now having a new connection who would likely remember her when she was ready to seek funding for her startup in the future.

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity, don’t hesitate. No one else is going to pave the way for you to reach your dreams, and even when one dream slips away, there are still opportunities to reinvent yourself. Don’t be lackadaisical with your life, and don’t squander precious opportunities. Get over yourself to find courage to seize the opportunity. It is the surest path forward – no matter what you want in life.

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