Because I was so surprised when our country elected Trump, I’ve been on a personal campaign to get out of my information bubble. In order to achieve this, I’ve been deliberately exposing myself to media sources I wouldn’t otherwise read, and most importantly, diving into the comments sections of these channels to attempt to understand people’s perspectives.
In reading comments – I thought I would discover why people think building a wall is a good idea, or why banning muslims is a sound move, but what I discovered was much worse.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where you stated an opinion, and the other person took such an antagonistic stance that you ‘fought back’? In fact, it became more about the fight than about the topic you’re fighting about, just to win?
Almost every single comment thread I read devolved into throwing insults. I honestly don’t recall a single thread where the individuals engaged in a healthy debate. Rather, it quickly got personal, people insulting others’ intelligence, with the original topic being lost in a sea of vitriol. Don’t believe me? Go head and read into almost any comments thread in political news right now. The anger people feel is downright terrifying.
And it strikes me – maybe this is the core of our problem today. The core of our problem isn’t that we all have different opinions, or that we elected Trump, or Dems Vs GOP, or any of the issues people are fighting today. It’s that we, as humans, have forgotten how to treat each other with respect when we disagree and stakes feel high. And because we’re treating each other with such antagonism, the fights keep getting more and more vicious. If we continue on this trend, pretty soon we’ll forget what we’re even fighting about, we’ll just be focused on winning regardless of what we’re winning. Then, we all lose. IMHO, electing Trump was merely a symptom of this underlying problem in the US.
My ongoing goal is to never attack someone for a differing opinion, rather try to understand their orientation and perspective, and help them try to understand mine in a constructive, non-antagonistic way. If you’re looking for skills on how to do this, I loved Difficult Conversations – it helped me improve all my relationships at work and at home, and really helped me identify how I was shaping the world around me.
My friend Ryan Frankel is publishing a book, and he asked me to write an excerpt for it. I made some edits for this blog, but I thought I’d share it.
When I was in college in Gainesville, FL, on the weekends my friends and I would visit a nearby rock quarry that was filled with water. Picture a limestone, man-made lake surrounded by high cliffs, with alligators lurking lazily in the waters below (all freshwater in FL has alligators in it!) The highest point of the quarry was about 50 feet above the water, and our weekend activity was to hang out at the top of that cliff, drink too much, and dare each other to jump in. Occasionally someone did.
The day I jumped is seared in my mind, as an out-of-body experience. One where I watched myself as an observer. A mist had settled over the water so you couldn’t see the surface, the air was thick with humidity so you were perpetually perspiring, and the sky was gray with low clouds. Frogs and alligators croaked, cicadas were so loud you had to shout at someone next to you, the smell of damp earth was pungent, and the air was cool on my skin. I don’t know what compelled me to jump. I was relaxing comfortably on a blanket listening to my friends prattle on about nothing important, and suddenly there I was, standing at the edge of the cliff, trying to see the water through the mist, listening to the alligators I could not see, and hearing nothing other than my blood thrashing in my ears. And without thinking about what I would land on, I jumped.
The way down was exhilarating because a 50-foot freefall takes longer than you’d think. The water was hard and cold, and I never swam faster to the shore than I did that day for fear of alligators. I wasn’t hurt in any way, other than stinging body parts from the impact of the water. By the time I got back to my blanket, I was breathing hard, trembling with adrenaline, and felt more alive than I had in a long time. My friends thought I was crazy (I was), but every time we went back there, I jumped again and again. And I dreamed about jumping when we weren’t there. To this day I dream about going back there and jumping into the mist to the sound of the unseen alligators croaking their warnings beneath me. I’m honestly not sure I’d have the courage to jump again, but I dream about it.
Entrepreneurs do this every time they start a company. They fundamentally understand the risks of ‘jumping’ into a startup, but they don’t dwell on it, or they would never do it. They have confidence in themselves that they’ll figure it out during their freefall, and they ignore the sounds of alligators croaking their warnings. They have that level of “crazy” one needs to jump without knowing what they will land on.
For those of you thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, there are no guarantees. You could fail. The odds are stacked against you. You have you enjoy operating with extreme uncertainty, high stress, very few clear answers, wearing every hat, with little to no income… but if you think too hard about all that, then you’ll never do it. The best guidance is to just jump and figure the rest out on the way down.
And for those of us that work with entrepreneurs, that exhilaration rubs off on us. We bask in their adrenaline and they help us feel alive. When they jump, we get to help them create something, to author our own future, expand our skill sets, participate in the blanket party at the top of the cliff, and hope no one lands on an alligator. They take the risks, they create jobs, they change our realities, and the rest of us soak it up. Every day I am thankful I get to work closely with entrepreneurs, I salute their bravery and hope that I can be there for them when they get hurt. Founders, I salute you.
I read this awesome post by Katie Womersley and I love it. The quick synopsis is that people who identify with a specific stereotype could cause them to do WORSE. I believe in diversity and think it makes all of us stronger, but I don’t actually identify with ‘being a woman in tech’. I have never liked the label, and part of me resents it a little bit. I am just ‘in tech’. Or rather, I just ‘am’.
Recently, I’ve become fascinated with this idea of the player and the victim, and I’m seeing it everywhere. The player is someone who looks at the situation and wonders how they impacted the outcome. “Wow, that was a big fight. In what way did I create or contribute to the situation to cause that fight?”. The victim is someone who takes more of a blaming stance. “That jerk took his bad mood out on me”. I’m seeing it literally everywhere. “The investors don’t get my business” vs “I’m not articulating my business in a way that makes investors excited”. “You don’t trust me” vs “What am I doing that causes you to doubt me?”. “My startup failed b/c we ran out of money” vs “My startup failed b/c I didn’t understand the economics of my business well enough”. “This meeting is brain damage” vs “I have an experiment I’d like to try with the format of this meeting, if you’re game”
I worry that being identified as the victim here, as a woman in tech, creates victims. In fact I can think back on 2 specific situations where I walked out of a meeting extremely frustrated from not being heard, thinking “I’m just in a room full of men, THIS is what they mean by being a female in tech”. But in retrospect, I took the victim stance. I should have asked myself “What am I doing that’s contributing to my inability to get my point across?”. If I can answer that question, I can take myself to the next level (which I have by the way!). Blame them for not being included in the boys club, and I move backwards, never in control of my own destiny.
I’m not saying that prejudice and bias don’t happen. They do. And they did in both of those meetings where I was frustrated. But the only way I can change what the world thinks of me is by not playing the part of the victim. I don’t want to play the part of a woman in tech – but rather of someone who excels in her role, who can adapt to constantly changing and fast paced environments, with people that I do and do not identify with. It’s not about me being a woman. It’s about me kicking ass at whatever I chose to.
Thanks Katie. Don’t lets stop this conversation.
I just spent the morning alongside David Brown, talking to 115 middle school students about entrepreneurship. I do this periodically and it’s one of the most fun days of my year. The amount of unbridled energy and enthusiasm in the room is always palpable, and the kids have wonderfully insightful questions on how to startup a startup. Questions like:
- What should I do if someone tells me my idea is stupid?
- How do I know if my product is a good idea?
- What happens when you fail?
- How do I identify my target market?
- Once I identify my target market, what kinds of questions do I ask them?
- What is better, a product business or a service business?
- How do I get the money I need for my startup?
Rewording some of these questions, they sound identical to the same topics we often discuss at Techstars. I can only imagine that if we really taught entrepreneurship to kids at this age, imagine how much more quickly adult entrepreneurs could move through the stages of a startup. Maybe they would be less afraid of failure, know more about when they’ve hit product/market fit…
I’m all for teaching kids entrepreneurship and wish more middle schools did it. Consider pushing your local school to add it to their curriculum, or mentoring a young student if they have a program in place already.
I get a lot of invitations to evening events – all for great things. Startup judging events, student entrepreneur events, networking events, happy hours, open houses, startup launch parties, and more. I could go to an event a night easily, and often times its more.
When I was in my 20s, evening events were great fun. But now that I’m, uh, not in my 20s anymore, evening and weekend events are really hard because I have two young children. I travel a ton, I’m often away, and the only time I get to see my kids is 2 precious hours in the evening and on weekends. And weekends are even tough because I’d like a LITTLE personal time – so even on the weekends I’m not with them 100% of the time. So when asked to attend an event at night – I want to join you, I really do, but the decision I have to make is between your event and my family.
I’m often asked how to make startups and the tech environment more female-friendly, and my easy answer right now is “hold lunch events instead of evening events”. So tech, consider hosting more lunches! Bonus, you don’t usually have to buy alcohol and the food is less expensive. 🙂 Or at least hold happy hours where the event is done by 5:30 or 6. That way people (notice I didn’t say women, I said PEOPLE, because this is a family issue not a female one) with families can still get home for dinner and bedtime, like we did with our 7 Weeks of Awesome series at Techstars.
As an aside, I look forward to the day when my kids are old enough that they don’t want to hang out with me anymore and my evenings will be more free.
I spend a lot of time meeting new people who are interested in becoming Techstars mentors. Recently, at the end of one of those quick 30 min meetings, the guy I was meeting with, Ben, said to express his gratitude, he’d like to extend his personal Apple Employee Discount to me, giving me 25% off anything in the Apple store (for personal use of course). Fabulous! I’d been wanting an iPad mini! So I bought myself one on the spot, enjoying that discount.
Later that evening, I got an email from Apple telling me my order was cancelled because Ben was over his hardware discount quota. I didn’t think this was a big deal AT ALL, it was overly generous of him to offer in the first place, but he was embarrassed when I told him and he spent too long profusely apologizing.
Two days later, when I got to my office, there was an iPad Mini (the expensive one!) sitting on my desk from Ben. WTH??? There was no way I could accept a gift like that. I don’t even buy my husband gifts like that! When I tried to give it back, Ben basically said he wouldn’t take it back and that it was his ‘random act of kindness’ for the month. So in an effort to make it right, I donated what is equivalent to a few iPad Minis worth to Impact on Education who provides tablets & training to at-risk youth who are struggling to read. I can’t tell you how great that felt, just to keep Ben’s kindness going. So I kept it going…
With friends that owe me money, I ask them to redirect their repayment to one of a few different charities instead (like Kangu, EFCO, Application Developers Alliance, Kiva or Impact on Education!) Almost every time I buy coffee, I also buy a cup for the person behind me. I’m constantly looking for opportunities for random acts of kindness. In fact, you were one of the reasons I decided that my TEDx Brooklyn talk was going to be on Giving First. Which led to discoveries of other generosities including this homeless guy who was rewarded nearly $200K for returning a diamond engagement ring, or this tragic story about the Gruners and their 18 month old son.
So thank you Ben. The iPad was the smallest of the gifts. You reminded me how much fun and rewarding it is to surprise and delight people on a regular basis. Keeping that momentum going is one of my big goals for 2014.
Karen Nyberg, a female astronaut, landed back on earth today after 6 months in space. I saw the news with photos of her reuniting with her preschool aged son Jack. I don’t know why, but the story really affected me. I can’t imagine saying yes to a ride on a rocketship with the knowledge that survival rates are low and I might be killed leaving behind 2 small children. But I can’t imagine saying no to the opportunity either. I mean, it’s a ROCKETSHIP! I imagine the decision must have been excruciating for her, and all I can say is Karen, today, you’re my hero.