Today marks a monumental day in Mark (husband!) and my life.
We bought a bed.
Now, I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Our mattress has been sitting on plastic-wrapped box springs, on the floor, for 5 years. Prior to that, our old mattress was on one of those free frames that comes with the mattress when you bought it, and I think it was the same frame I got in college.
The bed represents the first piece of furniture we actually *bought* in our adult lives. You know, something that we didn’t get on Craigslist, or Ikea, or was a hand-me-down or gift of some sort. In fact, the Ikea furniture that’s currently in our master bedroom replaced a used, falling-apart dresser that I literally bought for $20 FROM THE CLASSIFIED SECTION OF THE NEWSPAPER when I was a sophomore in college. It was that old.
As a 42 year old professional woman, grown adult, and mom, the fact that we didn’t buy a *real* piece of furniture until we were in our 40s, juxtaposes 3 conflicting emotions. Pride, envy, and embarrassment.
Mark and I are surrounded by people with more money than us. They have nicer houses, nicer cars, nicer gear, nicer clothes, nicer appliances, nicer STUFF, and people who actually afford things like interior decorators. Some of them are more ‘successful’. Some of them inherited it. Some were just damn lucky. And I admit I allow it to affect my sense of self-worth. The ‘keeping up with the Jones’ effect. I feel myself often apologizing to friends for the beat up dining room table, or the front steps that are falling apart, or the kitchen that desperately needs upgrading. I certainly have my moments of envy that my furniture is mis-matched and hand-me-down, or that my yard wasn’t designed by a landscape architect, or that a color specialist didn’t match my wall color to my throw pillows?—?and I do envy these Houzz-perfect friends and neighbors and magazine articles. (The lesson in here is “live in a shitty neighborhood well below your means” and you won’t fell pressure to keep up with anyone!).
However, there’s huge freedom in NOT GIVING A F*CK. Spilled wine on the sofa? Whatever. Big scratch through the dining room table? That’s cool. Broke the front-porch chair? No problem. Our house could burn to the ground and there are 3 objects I would be sad to lose. A pillowcase that was in my grandmother’s dowry, a lamp my father made out of a bowling pin when he was in his 5th grade shop class, and an antique guitar amp in Mark’s music studio. The rest could burn. I am not owned by my stuff, and I love it. In fact, I was reminded of this today as I drove to pick up the new bed in our 20 year old truck with 120K miles on it. The paint has totally peeled off the hood down to the metal, the dashboard is cracked like the Grand Canyon, and you have to detach the battery from the truck every time you stop it because some electrical poltergeist drains the battery to zilch in an hour. But you sit up high, you have to drive slow, and it makes the most phenomenal throaty bass 8-cylinder growl when it idles. It’s like an old man who’s history included decades of undefeated world fighting championships. He moves slow but WILL CRUSH YOU if you mess with him. I LOVE driving this truck, I could mow over 10 fire hydrants and would only feel joy that the truck could pull it off without dying. I am not owned by my stuff.
But when I let myself, I AM owned by that feeling of ‘keeping up with everyone else”. I have to work hard at not letting it bother me. Like somehow I’m not as worthy because my house doesn’t feature the latest seasons fashion (or really, any season’s fashion). It takes effort to push the feelings of inadequacy away, and to be my own reference point, rather than use someone else’s situation as my reference point.
Today, when I was unpacking the pieces from the bed that I a) picked up to save the $199 delivery fee and b) assembled myself to save the ‘white glove service’ fee?—?I was staring at the photos that hang on our dining room wall, and I was reminded why I’m okay with not owning nice stuff. The pictures on our wall are large photos I took while Mark and I traveled. 2 of them are from our trip to South America, where we blew the down payment we were saving for a house. That trip was 3 months long. We were in 5 countries, and featured epic backpacking the “W” in Torres Del Paine National Park, a 5 day trek through Incan trails to end at Machcu Picchu, and a huge mountain bike ride down the Worlds-Most-Dangerous-Road in Bolivia. The other pictures were of Aleka and Jackson when we took a 2 month sabbatical to go surfing in Costa Rica. Jackson turned three on that trip, Aleka learned to swim, and I surfed every. single. day. In short, we save our money for travel. I’d happily go into debt for an adventure. But go into debt for a sofa? Or a new retaining wall for the planter out front? Barf.
The other thing our lifestyle has afforded us is the ability for Mark to stay home full time with our kids. And while it’s a huge sacrifice he’s making, and honestly his job is harder than mine, I know our kids will reap the reward of our thrift for their entire lives. They are emotionally well grounded and get the attention they need to help them become productive, happy adults.
I don’t write this post to brag, or to judge, but rather to say that life choices are complex and often come with conflicting emotions. Honestly, I’m envious of my neighbor’s perfect landscaping and their design eye (they have the cutest little container on their front porch that stores umbrellas! It looks like a pair of rain boots. How sweet!) I feel embarrassed that our house is “that house” on the street, bringing the average price down. Sorry! But on another hand, I’d trade a monthly lawn service for a trip to the Egyptian pyramids any day of the year.
And at the end of the day, the fact that I even have these thoughts to begin with is a sign of the abundance Mark and I have in our lives and that all of these so-called-problems are manufactured, privileged, first-world problems. We are blessed with the stuff we do have, the lives we live, the opportunities that surround us, our health, our families, and our love for eachother…
So Mark, here’s to our first piece of furniture, that I bought ON SALE!. (And if you know anyone who wants to buy 2 twin box springs, still in the plastic wrap, ping me! We’re saving for Panama…)
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.
A friend of mine (and a Techstars company), Jackie Ros from Revolar, emailed me a few days ago with a fantastic offer. Revolar makes a personal security device – it’s like a little button that you can ‘wear’, and if you feel unsafe, it will call for help on your behalf.
Jackie’s email said “My Muslim friends are telling me they are having their hijabs ripped off, one was told to hang herself with it because it is no longer allowed here. My Latino friends are being yelled at to stop speaking in Spanish and told to go back where they came from. One of my female friends on Facebook was told to “shut up (b word I won’t type)” because she is a woman and “our country has spoken.”
To combat this hate, Jackie & Revolar are offering the Revolar device for $59 – which is normally $99, to anyone that currently feels unsafe. If you feel like you’re at risk because of the election, Revolar wants to get it’s device in your hands to help keep you safe. Enter discount code #givefirst in the shopping cart, and if you’re REALLY broke and can’t afford the $59, and you really are in danger, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll find a way to get you a device.
Thanks Jackie for loving on people that need it right now.
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:
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.