The Day I Understood the True Price of Success

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My father’s beloved Molly, who refused to leave his side in his last days.

I well remember the sound of the crunching of gravel as two young men steadied the heavy gurney between them. I stood in the doorway with my mother and siblings, all of us holding hands, witnessing this last journey my father would make — down the walkway he’d poured, away from the home he had built. It was his final farewell, the end of the long goodbye that had been his journey since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s several years before.

But more than those memories, I recall with vivid clarity the sound of gravel crunching under my own feet, of my keys jangling together as I pulled them from my purse to start my own vehicle, of my own half-sobs as I struggled to hold back my own tears as I followed the van carrying my father’s body down the driveway and away from our parents’ home.

I almost wish I couldn’t recall the feeling of my heart breaking over and over as the little girl inside begged for time to grieve with family, to cry and remember the small moments that had made up our fifty-some years together as a family. The little girl inside had to stay quiet that morning so that the grownup could do what needed done.

I had a meeting within the hour with an investor, and as much as I needed to grieve, I also needed to fulfill the commitments I’d made to my cofounders and employees to secure the capital we needed for our startup.

While I am quite grateful for the grace I found to get through that meeting, I am well aware that the personal cost was incredibly high.

As business owners, we calculate and plan for a lot of costs — operations, production, marketing, new hires. We make and refine projections to understand when we will break even or start making profit. But very few of us begin this entrepreneurial journey with the same level of preparation for managing our stress, fear, exhaustion or the dynamics of our personal relationships.

I had already launched APPCityLife when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the demands I faced with growing a startup resulted in very limited bandwidth to help my mom with the many hurdles she faced as his disease progressed.

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My dad with my eldest son several years before Alzheimers was diagnosed

When I took time out of my work schedule to be with my parents, it was time not spent our business. When on travel or overloaded with meetings or work, I missed out on time with family that I couldn’t get back. I endured many sleepless nights worrying about how to give more, do more, and be more to my team and my family.

Life is messy, and it doesn’t come in neat little packages that focus on one thing at a time. In the middle of our ambitions and professional goals, we often come face to face with tragedy or heartache — and finding the mental and emotional balance to cope with it all can be quite difficult.

For me, finding that balance has meant embracing a healthy dose of pragmatism about what I actually owe others in the way of sacrifice and what is my own misplaced guilt.

I’ve learned to be more efficient and disciplined with my time, getting up earlier to take advantage of the quiet time in the morning before the day gets crazy. I mute text messaging and email notifications from everyone except my family and colleagues so that I can be more focused on what I am doing in the moment.

I give myself permission to be “off the grid” to recharge whenever I can.

I am grateful to be part of a supportive team that picks up the slack for each other when the demands of life and work clash. In the time that we’ve been together, all of our startup’s cofounders have faced similar difficulties as my own — and all of us have had to balance the needs of the team with the needs of our own and our families’. We’ve done our best to carry each other through the difficult moments in our lives. For me, this mutual support is one of the markers of a truly successful startup team.

Oh, and the investor I met with that day?

They didn’t invest.

Others did, and we’ve since enjoyed an incredible time of growth in our startup.

But I’m not sorry I made the effort. I learned I was stronger than I thought — and that knowledge alone has allowed me to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of fear. I am also learning that it is ok to define better boundaries for myself on what is reasonable sacrifice to seize an opportunity or meet an important milestone or deadline — and what is unnecessary or off limits.

There is a lot of conventional wisdom telling entrepreneurs to sacrifice more, give more, and push harder in order to succeed — and it really does take being “all in” to succeed. But we don’t talk nearly enough about what to do or how to cope when life happens to us on our way to success. Nor do we talk enough about redefining our own view of success to include emotionally fulfilling, healthy lives.

Maybe it’s time we do.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc.

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But What if I Succeed: How Fear of Success May Hold You Back

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We talk a lot about fear of failure and how it can impede the progress of an entrepreneur, but we rarely talk about the opposite barrier that can be just as difficult to overcome — the fear of success.

For some entrepreneurs, the fear of success can be even an more powerful barrier to moving forward.

During a recent conversation with several entrepreneurs, one of the group mentioned that she didn’t know what was holding her back — that the more things that fell into place, the more she found herself putting off and even unconsciously sabotaging the next step to reach her goal.

She had come face to face with the reality that what was actually holding her back was an unspoken fear of what might actually happen should she succeed.

Success doesn’t come in a vacuum — expectations are higher, demands are greater and failures are more visible.

If you succeed in growing your company and become part of a bigger team, your commitment is no longer just to yourself — it is to every individual who is trusting you to do everything humanly possible to deliver on the company’s goals. And as those goals are successfully achieved, the demands grow exponentially to meet the growing collective needs of the team.

Being completely committed to meeting the demands of success is the only way forward.

Success beats us up almost as much as failure, because it makes us dig deep, stretch past our comfort zone, face our fears, face our flaws, face the dysfunction in our personal lives.

If, for whatever reason, you are fearing success, understand that it is not necessarily a bad thing — it means you are aware that there is a price to pay for moving forward, that it will change your life, your thoughts, your days.

Fear of success isn’t a feeling that should be allowed in the driver’s seat — it is simply a checkpoint on the journey that allows you to prepare for what lies ahead.

If you are to move forward, you have to want success more than you want to protect yourself.

If that fear results in settling for mediocrity, you’ll never know that other side of that fear — the satisfaction and thrill of witnessing a vision of what could be when it becomes reality.

The joy of success is a far more powerful driver than the fear of what success might change.

So take the leap, commit to being all-in. While success has a price, the rewards are so much greater than whatever you are imagining it will require of you.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc Magazine

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.

Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset

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In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.

Gratitude

Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.

Generosity

A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.

On Anger and Thriving in the Startup Pressure Cooker

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As the founder of a tech startup, I’ve certainly had my share of experiences where the choice to let go of anger has been the only way I could maintain the emotional and mental resources needed to weather the extreme highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Anyone who has been involved in a startup understands that the pressure to deliver on a vision with limited or nonexistent funds, personnel or supplies brings out the best – and worst – in each of us.

We say things we don’t mean. We say things we absolutely mean but might have had the wisdom to keep to ourselves under other conditions. We do things we regret. And, at some point or another, we end up on the receiving of those same experiences.

Sometimes the blame for the fractures in our relationships lies squarely on our own shoulders, and when it does, feeling angry is wasted emotion. It’s far more productive to serve ourselves a slice of humble pie and offer up an apology.  When it comes from an honest place, an apology opens the way back to peace. Building a startup is emotionally draining, even in good times, and making sure we aren’t weighted down by unresolved issues – especially when we hold the power to make amends – is vital. But it is the wounds which are result of others’ betrayal or wrong behavior, the ones which we cannot repair, which often disrupt our peace, cloud our judgment, and distract us from our goals.

One of the most important traits we need as an entrepreneur is the inner calm to persevere amidst the intense emotions of the startup pressure cooker, especially if our journey is made more difficult by the actions of another.

If the damage to our reputation or company rises to the level of needing to take action against it, then we shouldn’t waste our energy on anger. Immediately consulting a lawyer will clarify the available options, but the decision to take legal action is a serious one. While it may feel empowering to fight back, there is a high financial and emotional cost attached to public court battles, and every moment spent on resolving conflict through the courts is time not spent growing the startup or supporting our team. Sometimes legal recourse is the right course of action, but it is a decision that should only be made after very careful consideration to all factors involved.

But, by and large, most of the difficulties we experience with others do not rise to this level. That in no way changes the amount of pain and anger we experience. Whatever the conflict, whatever the cause of the anger, if we hold onto it, we will be the loser, because anger drags us down, changes our perspective, diminishes our drive and energy, depletes our hope for the future. If we allow it to grow, anger will eventually cloud our own vision and destroy our ability to lead our team forward to success.

So just let it go. Every single time anger once again surges to the surface, make the conscious decision to just let it go. We can choose to focus on the future, on the positive and not allow our painful experiences along our journey to cloud our own vision. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else on our team to preserve the emotional resources needed to achieve success.

And when we make the choices that allow us to preserve our inner peace, the reward is that the sweet savor of success isn’t marred with the bitter aftertaste that comes with lingering anger. And isn’t that why we began this journey of entrepreneurship in the first place?

Why I Don’t Feel Guilty for Being a Working Mom

IMG_0251I recall the exact moment I decided that something had to change.

I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.

But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.

I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.

Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.

There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.

But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.

But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.

I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.

And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.

IMG_3102The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.