WeFestival: A Conversation with Joanne Wilson and Susan Solomon

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Joanne and Susan, circa 1970

For the past several years, I’ve waited impatiently to find out if I would be one of the lucky few invited to New York to attend the annual WeFestival, a Women’s Entrepreneur Festival (and thus, the name). I’ve written previously about my experiences at the event, and when I discovered that this year I would be attending as a panelist, it felt like things had come full circle. After gaining invaluable advice from panelists in previous years, it is a privilege to now have the opportunity to possibly help someone else.

This year’s WeFestival, which already boasts an exciting lineup of speakers, is scheduled for April 13 -14 in New York. But this year’s event will be different in several ways. I recently had the chance to ask Joanne Wilson, one of the original cofounders of WeFestival, and her sister, Susan Solomon, about the changes happening within WeFestival and to learn about some of their future plans, including the exciting news that additional events are already slated for Berlin and Los Angeles.

joanne_wilson-8062Wilson, a well-known blogger and angel investor based in New York City, says shaking things up was a necessity after spending five years in partnership with New York University to host the event which brings together 400 women entrepreneurs from across the globe. “It was time to either pack it in … five years is a good run … or to change the game,” says Wilson, who had growing concerns that the current format had become too formulaic. “I knew there was more to do, but it wasn’t going to happen under the umbrella of NYU.  It had to become a business where there was a support system to build something unique and powerful based on five years of experience and feedback from many of the attendees.”

While conferences abound, WeFestival has gained a reputation as being a unique experience. “It is the only conference where I see “real women” who are in the trenches,” says Wilson. “As women, we are all in it together to be heard and connect to a community – to learn and listen.  It is quite powerful.” Among her own personal highlights from previous events, topping the list for Wilson was her opportunity to interview the iconic Diane Von Furstenberg.

meWhen Susan Solomon expressed interest in the new venture, Wilson knew she’d found the perfect partner in her sister to help steer the new direction for WeFestival. Solomon is committed to nurturing the interactions and relationships borne at the event. “Our goal is to assemble a broad, diverse set of women entrepreneurs who are committed to their venture. This includes women from all sectors of the economy, ethnicity, age and business stage,” says Solomon, adding that the decision to move the event venue was also strategic. “We looked for a space whose environment could mirror the true experience happening at the event. Instead of having the ‘closed’ doors of traditional conference rooms, we chose 1 World Trade Center for its fluid and spacious flow, allowing us to marry the experience and the environment.”

One tradition the team is keeping is requiring applications, which are still being accepted through the end of January. The limited number of slots available for WeFestival are assigned after all applications are reviewed, says Wilson. “I am blown away by some of the heartfelt stories from women. And then I am amazed on some of the applications where someone has obviously not taken the time or energy to write something meaningful.”

She adds, “We want people who are truly putting down their guard and really want to be there.” Solomon adds that, in keeping with the goals of WeFestival, the application process ensures that a broad spectrum is represented at each event.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The new WeFestival is built like a true startup. “Susan is my side-kick here.  That’s it. She has driven the entire back-end.,” says Wilson. “We have a few freelancers, but essentially, it is just us. We like lean and mean operations.”

Despite the lean team, WeFestival’s online community is already growing. Says Solomon, “We’ve created a Slack community so women can connect all year-long – not just at the event. While we used Facebook before, we’re hoping that through Slack, we can create a real sense of community and camaraderie.”

What does remain consistent across the old and the new WeFestivals is the draw of Wilson, herself, who has cultivated a strong following of her blog, Gotham Gal. She has remained surprisingly accessible to women entrepreneurs despite the increasing demand on her time, thanks, in part, to the attention she has garnered as a highly successful angel investor who not only advocates for women entrepreneurs but invests in them as well.

Says Wilson, “I have become the poster child for women entrepreneurs.  It just happened.” She adds that, for her, WeFestival connects directly to that. “I really believe we are changing women’s lives and in turn the long tail effects families, the economy, people. I hear from women years later on how the festival changed their lives, or that they finally launched their business, or they have a meet-up monthly or have found their business partner.”

The event certainly changed my own journey by helping me realize the incredible value of finding a supportive community filled with role models who looked like me and spoke like me and made me believe in myself. And while discovering the value of this community didn’t change at all the hard work or effort required to build a company, it completely changed my mindset – and that, really, changes everything.

Handing Out Awards to Women: How it Fosters Success

hautehonorscheckin (1)This past Thursday morning a sold-out crowd gathered inside of Albuquerque’s Balloon Museum at 7 a.m., not for an early morning hot air balloon launch, but to celebrate fifty nominees and honor the finalists and winners. The nominees – mostly women, but some men – were being recognized for their contributions as humanitarians, leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and as advocates for women. While some of the Haute Honors 2015 nominees were well-known, for many others, it was the first time anyone beyond a select few were learning about their accomplishments and contributions.

Hautepreneurs’ Strategic Plan

The annual breakfast awards banquet and shop local event, which also provides free booth space to twenty women-founded businesses to offer attendees local options for holiday shopping, is the final event which culminates a yearlong agenda of events, workshops and classes through Hautepreneurs, an organization which I cofounded in 2013 along with Jessica Eaves Mathews, who is a national speaker and author, successful serial entrepreneur and personal coach through her Brave Wings program. With the help of our dynamic board of directors, who are all successful women entrepreneurs and community leaders, we are executing on a bold, strategic plan to create a sustainable framework built on a strong support network, targeted training and peer mentoring in order to increase the ratio of women entrepreneurs and leaders achieving high level goals and running successful companies.

Public Recognition

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Why does Hautepreneurs’ strategy include an awards event? Because it turns out that women, as a collective gender, aren’t all that good about bragging up their own accomplishments. This results in a dearth of visible examples of success to serve as inspiration and validation for other women beginning their journey or struggling to overcome barriers. By creating an environment that celebrates the accomplishments of women from a wide variety of industries and at varying stages of their journey, we create an atmosphere that encourages women to lift each other up, to share their own accomplishments, and to believe it is possible to achieve high levels of success.

Training, Mentoring, and Access to Capital

In addition to our awards program which fosters a mindset of celebrating accomplishments and our annual national women’s leadership conference, which teaches women the value of learning from successful peers, our Hautepreneurs strategy also includes Design Councils, which provides ongoing privacy-protected peer mentoring and weekly free office hours to provide one-time mentor sessions with those seeking help within the community. More focused programs address training for successful crowdfunding campaigns, access to peer-based micro lending in partnership with Nusenda and Living Cities as well as women-led venture investing, and our signature yearlong accelerator program with both a nonprofit arm for women facing significant barriers to success, Haute Hopes, and Hautecelerator, a fee-based accelerator for women-led businesses which do not fit within the more common but tightly defined accelerator models open to investable startups; Hautecelerator offers these businesses vital mentoring and training needed to achieve the next level of growth or to resolve current challenges or barriers to success.

Showcasing Successful Women in Male-Dominated Industries

One of the things I love most about the Haute Honors awards is the wide variety of industries and experience levels represented by the nominees. It includes highly underrepresented demographics like Women in Tech, like Akamee Baca Malta, who was honored for the innovative work she and her team are doing at As Girls Grow to help expand options within the hot industry of girl-focused STEM toys thanks to the continuing success of groundbreaking, women-led companies like GoldieBlox. But Haute Honors awards also include women who may not see their work as groundbreaking or worthy of praise, despite overcoming significant obstacles. This year’s honor, Kathleen Edwards, is one such woman. She cofounded Hear Kitty Studios with her spouse, initially running the company out of their home; today, she has grown the studio into a high-demand audio post-production studio that now serves New Mexico’s film industry, contributing to projects like In Plain Sight, Battlestar Gallactica, The Night Shift, and Manhattan.

Highlighting Trail Blazers as Role Models

12313620_1010233905685690_5342308703444982121_nEach year, the annual awards banquet recognizes the achievements of several women who have served as trail blazers, offering a clearer path to success through their own successful careers, such as one of this year’s honorees, Ann Rhoades, the founder of People Ink. She was part of the founding executive team which launched JetBlue Airways and continues to sit on their board. She previously served in top leadership positions for such corporate giants as Promus Hotel Corporation and Southwest Airlines. When women who are hitting the wall within their own journey, it is vital that they know where to look for inspiration. Honoring women who have served a trail blazers proves that other women have accomplished great things – and they’ve done so without losing ties to community.

Recognizing Men Who Champion Women

Haute Honors also acknowledges the inspiration we find in teens who are already pursuing big ideas as well as those making significant strides towards success. And each year, the awards culminate in recognition of men within the community who have gone above and beyond to create opportunities or support the efforts of women. One of this year’s honorees actually emailed our organization after discovering he was among the nominees, suggesting that perhaps there had been a mistake. He was completely unaware of the number of women-led startups which put forward his name for consideration for the Champion of Women honor a result of his support and mentorship to their teams. He never pictured himself as a champion for women despite his actions directly affecting the potential of success for several of those he’d mentored.

What happened this past Thursday morning was exactly what we’d hoped: several women who were initially surprised to find their name among nominees were even more surprised to receive a top award. Men discovered through anecdotes and feedback from others that their support and advocacy of women had not only been noticed and valued but that it had changed the trajectory of success for others. And new role models were held up as inspiration and hope for the rest of those in attendances.

Fostering a Culture of Support

It was a morning of celebration, support and hope for the future, with those in attendance taking to social media to lift each other up and inspire others to be braver, bolder and bigger in their dreams and goals.

Accolades as Inspiration for Growth

The Haute Honors Awards event is but one of a wide variety of programs offered as part of a successful framework for women to become successful, but it is a vital one and the perfect way to end the year. With public recognition comes confidence, and with confidence come bravery. And when bravery leads to bold new steps of growth, that is when the potential to shift the ratio of highly successful women-led businesses gets that much closer to reality.

Girls Deserve to See Themselves as Heroes: Kudos to GoldieBlox

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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

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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.

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.

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