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 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, 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.
For 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.
I 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 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
Forbes 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 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.