7 Women Who Inspire Us to Set Audacious Goals

At the beginning of each year, I set professional goals that I share with none else, mainly to allow myself the freedom of audacity. I aim high, setting my stretch goals so far outside of what looks possible that I get a little scared just thinking about them. Much to my surprise, I’ve reached more of those stretch goals than I ever accomplished when I kept within modest, safe boundaries.

When we stretch ourselves outside of our own confidence, when we are willing to live on the edge of our ability, there is an energy, a drive that isn’t present within the confines of a safe life. And using personal achievements as a catalyst to create opportunity for others is just as important. Fulfillment does not lie within the fountain of provision and safety; it lies in the joy of daring to believe in the impossible and risking everything to make it so – and then carrying others forward as a result of our own journey.

Finding role models who exhibit proof that it is possible to build illustrious careers while carrying others forward has helped me broaden my perspective. Some are dear friends and mentors while others simply inspire me by how they are choosing to spend their lives. Here are a few of the women who inspire me to believe that within each of us lies the potential to be bolder, to think bigger, and to let go of security to create, solve, and give back to something that matters.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen

LAA-Headshot-Giving-2.0-e1437699555771 Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen inspires me because she has chosen to use her life’s achievements for the betterment of others. Upon reaching what others might have seen as the pinnacle of success in the academic world, she was only getting started. She has used her successes with its resulting honors and broader network as assets to empower others through her visionary philanthropic organization, LAAF. In addition to fueling worthy social impact organizations, LAAF embraces scalable, open-source tech that can teach others how to more effectively impact society through their own philanthropic efforts. She reminds me that women should not fear success or the trajectory into the public eye, because it is a powerful platform that can serve as a catalyst for the changes that women want to see in the world.

Gabriela Dow

Gabriela Dow SC Headshot CroppedGabriela Dow, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, has already achieved success as a journalist, serving at two CNN bureaus as well as CBS, and in multiple roles in the White House and Washington D.C., including public liaison in the White House. She is a serial entrepreneur who has been named one of the top nine people to watch in San Diego, California, where she is currently raising her family with her husband while also serving multiple roles in the community and running a consulting company serving government agencies. But it is not her successful career that inspires me, although it is quite impressive. It is her grounded, pragmatic view of life. Born into wealth in Mexico, she understands clearly the perks and clout that money can buy – and the constraints that living a protected life creates. Despite being thrown into poverty when her mother and siblings started over in the United States, she views that time in her life as being given “the opportunity to fail”. She is a role model for anyone who believes that someone else’s wealth and provision are an acceptable trade off to never fulfilling one’s own goals.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

iXwSMk4UFor the past two years, Anne-Marie Slaughter has headed up the think tank and civic enterprise, New America, while also serving as Professor Amerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was the first woman to serve as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, receiving the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award and meritorious service awards from USAID and the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe for her work. She’s also served previously as the Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affair, written or edited six books and over 100 scholarly articles and has accumulated a large collection of awards and accolades. She has done all of this in the midst of raising two sons with her husband, who is also a professor. Anne-Marie inspires me because of her voice and how she chooses to use it. She can speak intelligently and with conviction on a broad range of regarding policy, government, and civic innovation but also chooses to use her voice to point out the biases and challenges faced by men who opt to be the primary parent in a relationship. She advocates for change, not through strident, provocative or angry tirades but by sharing compelling research and personal anecdotes to articulate her point of view. Anne-Marie reminds me that I can speak up, hold strong opinions and do so without creating needless strife if I speak from a place of authority and respect to others.

Carrie Hammer

Carrie Hammer-HEADSHOTI have long lived under the belief that if I am thinking something nice about someone else, that whenever possible, they should be aware of the positive thoughts going their way. This mindset recently resulted in my meeting Carrie Hammer while attending a women’s leadership forum in New York City when I approached a gracious young woman to tell her how stunning she looked in the dress she was wearing. A talented designer who is a graduate of Parsons Paris School of Art and Design as well as the Tory Burch Foundation Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Carrie is taking the world by storm since her “Role Models Not Runway Models” fashion show in New York City in 2014 which featured the first ever model who modeled the runway in a wheelchair. She has already appeared on prestigious lists such as the Forbes 30 Under 30 and 15 Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2015. Carrie is an inspiration, because she is proving that it is possible to combine talent, drive and a mission to create one’s one mark within a highly competitive industry.

Joanne Wilson

150408122429-dreamit-athena-joanne-wilson-780x439Joanne Wilson is an inspiration to me on so many levels. I first discovered her through her blog, Gotham Gal, where she shares insights about her life in New York or about the places she visits, about parenting or recipes she’s recently enjoyed, and about the companies she invests in and the women entrepreneurs that she meets who inspire her. She is an indefatigable advocate for women, putting her own money behind the businesses that resonate with her own values – and racking up an enviable success ratio as an angel investor. She is also the vision behind the Women Entrepreneurs Festival, held each year in New York City and bringing together 300 attendees for a day focused on the challenges and success faced by women entrepreneurs at every stage of business. It was her festival that helped me build a network of support outside of my own city, and it was the panelists curated for the days’ sessions that often helped me resolve the challenges I was facing in my business. But she inspires because of her willingness to be accessible. Yes, she protects her time as we all must. But more than once when I needed advice about the terms of an investment offer or how to find investors while working to close my own round, she made introductions to people within her network that she thought would be a good fit. She gave me feedback on my pitch deck. And she gave me honest, raw advice. She didn’t have to do any of that; she didn’t know me from Adam. But she did, and it helped me take steps of courage while armed with knowledge. She reminds me of the importance of being willing to help others when and where we can and to remain as accessible as possible no matter how demanding life becomes.

J. Kelly Hoey

photo-3Forbes has described Kelly Hoey as one of five women changing the world of VC for women. She’s also been called one of the 100 most influential women – and one of the 25 smartest women – on Twitter. When I first met Kelly, I was completely unaware of the massive amount to accolades, awards and prestigious lists already in her arsenal. We met for a cup of coffee, and if I add in the cost of the plane ticket to New York City, it was a rather expensive cup of coffee, even by gourmet coffee standards. But it was the best investment in a cup of coffee I ever made. Through our conversation that day, I not only gained an invaluable advisor and mentor, but a dear friend who is willing to tell me the hard truths, because she understands that friends tell each other what they’re doing wrong as well as building up courage and confidence through praising what is being done right. Kelly walked away from a thriving law career to become an angel investor and went on to help found an accelerator for women in mobile. She is a highly respected strategist, columnist, author, and a consummate networker. But my inspiration from her comes from the wisdom of how and when she uses her influence and voice. She is outspoken and is not at all afraid to call someone out when she believes it is merited. But she chooses when and how to use that voice, and by doing so, is taken seriously when she does. She reminds me that a voice and platform become so much more powerful and useful when we choose when and how to effectively convey our values.

Minerva Tantoco

Minerva TantocoMinerva-Tantoco started coding in the ’80’s as a pre-med student, where she used a mainframe to run statistics for a psychology class and later studied programming. She holds four patents, has directed tech for UBS, Merrill Lynch, Fannie May and Palm, and she currently serves at CTO for New York City. An incredibly savvy, brilliant woman, Minerva inspires me because she chooses to champion other women, bringing a strong, positive voice and role model for young women both in her own city and across the world. Our company participated in this year’s NYC Big Apps competition, supporting a group of young teenage women who were part of the YWCA NYC Geek Girls Club, and it was not lost on me that Minerva cheered those young women on when they were pitching their mobile app ideas to adults who were much older and more powerful; she bolstered their courage and gave them confidence by using her voice on social media to cheer them on. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll soon discover that interspersed with posts addressing cutting edge tech, she shares kudos to everyone from young women in STEM program to women serving in leadership positions. She reminds me that is it vital that we use our position and our reach to lift others up, to use our successes to encourage young women to be brave and bold in their own choices, to not fear failure or to believe that failure is anything other than a roadblock to be circumvented on the way to a goal.

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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.

 

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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?

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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.

Four Things That Are Not Failure But Feel Like It

photo by Rachel Abeyta

photo by Rachel Abeyta

Fail early.
Fail often.
Fail fast.
Fail faster.
Fail better.
Fail forward.
Fail towards success.

Here’s a thought. How about we just stop with all of the marshmallow mantras about how failure is good? Failure is not some ethereal goal, and it’s irresponsible to try to sell it as such. Failure means we got something wrong – sometimes a lot of things wrong. It means we lost, and if we’re talking startups and entrepreneurship, when founders fail, so does the team, the investors and customers. Failure is lack of success. Look it up.

I understand the motives behind the attempts to rebrand failure as a positive; the stakes are high. The Kauffman Foundation recently reported “… new firm entry rates are actually falling and young firms are closing at higher rates than before.” We definitely need to find ways to expand the pipeline, and it’s good there are programs and a growing culture promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. But we really shouldn’t be rebranding failure as a good thing as a reason to participate in anything, really.

But perhaps the real fallacy is that we often view certain experiences as failure when, really, they’re not. I see failure as the absence of any option to move forward. Failure is not the moment of initial disappointment, the first sign of rejection or the first time something doesn’t work out. Here are five things to consider:

Rejection is a Detour, Not a Roadblock

While I’d known my husband long before we started dating, when he decided that he wanted a first date with me, he had no idea I’d recently made the decision I didn’t want to date anyone for a while. He and I were both attending a birthday party for a mutual friend. He spent the evening trying to get me to talk to him, and I spent the evening trying to avoid him. He didn’t make it easy. He was charming, funny, witty … and very persistent. When I rebuffed him, he acted like he didn’t notice. When I got up and walked into another room, he followed. When I sat down in the last chair, he found another and set it beside me. He saw rejection as a detour, a challenge, not as a roadblock. Needless to say, he got that first date, and we were married a year later. That was almost 27 years ago, and it would have never happened if he hadn’t viewed rejection as an opportunity to get to yes.

How hard do we try for something we want? If we lack tenacity, we could interpret a setback as failure and quit before we know if we could have been successful.

Not All Opportunities are a Good Match

I well remember the time I was invited to pitch to an organization that seemed like a perfect fit. And while the pitch itself when very well, it came completely off the rails during Q&A when I was forced to spend all the allotted time addressing a clear bias held by one individual on the panel. Even before I walked out, I knew the answer was no. It felt awful.

Sometimes biases, bad attitudes or things outside of our control will make it impossible to win. When that happens, it is imperative to review the experience to learn everything we can about what went wrong. After that, our only job is to put it behind and move on. Don’t look back, don’t waste time on the what-ifs, just move forward. Realize the experience has left us better prepared and more seasoned for the next time.

Disappointment is an Emotion

If I’m completely honest, I’ll have to admit that I almost dread it when I discover I’ve been nominated for something. That may seem odd, especially when it means that someone out there believed I deserved it. But no one I know enjoys that horrible, sinking feeling of sitting in a crowded room as someone else’s name is announced as the winner. It’s not that we begrudge someone else the win, but that losing just feels awful. One thing to remember is that disappointment is an emotion that goes away. Instead, it helps focus on the fact that someone else believed in us and decide to believe a little more in ourselves.

When One Door Closes, Sometimes Better Opportunities Begin

Having doors close is a rite of passage as an entrepreneur. Not allowing it to derail us is what makes us tough enough to run a business and build something from nothing. And, sometimes, what begins as a lost opportunity results in new opportunities. When I applied – and wasn’t selected – for the Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) Accelerator, it felt like defeat. But that rejected application instead created the opportunity for a new connection and eventually led to a wonderful friendship with the founder of that accelerator, J. Kelly Hoey. We can see a door closing as defeat or as an opportunity to expand our network and move forward another way.

Failure always feels bad. And, really, it should. But when we get the courage to put ourselves out there, win or lose, we are better for it. We expand our own tolerance for fear and risk, and that is so important. We also learn that we can survive disappointment and end up more committed to finding a way to move forward. Fear of failure is paralyzing, but the determination to avoid failure is catalyzing. And that’s certainly more empowering than the marshmallow mantra that somehow failure is something we should do more often.