We bought a bed.

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…)

We need more people like Phil Weiser

Phil Weiser is running for Colorado Attorney General and he is a man we should all support with our time, money, and voices.
I’ve known Phil for nearly a decade. Phil has demonstrated, time and time again, his commitment to the best interests of our community.  Among other things, he’s worked on Governor Ritter’s Innovation Council, was critical to bringing the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to CO, and when he was Dean of the CU Law school, he successfully pioneered an entrepreneurial program at CU that successfully integrates the local business community.  (Imagine that, law and entrepreneurship!)  More importantly, he’s already working to transform the government from the inside out through the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (of which I am a quasi-mentor) which takes motivated individuals inside of the government and gives them resources to make big changes with civic issues.
Through his list of accomplishments, you can see that Phil knows how to execute.  But looking more closely, you can see that Phil is phenomenal at navigating complex situations between powerful institutions and groups that result in a mutually beneficial outcome for all.  He knows how to drive positive change and collaboration among people because Phil’s values and motives are in the right place.  He is one of the best humans on the planet, and individuals like Phil will be the catalyst to getting our government on the right foot.  With Phil in a leadership role in our government, great things can and will happen.
When Trump was elected, I vowed to get more involved in our government.  For me, this means supporting individuals that I know bring the right qualities to office and that I trust to make hard decisions.  Phil is that guy.
Consider donating your time, voice, or dollars to help Phil’s campaign.

The lost art of a constructive debate

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.

An entrepreneur loving on strangers

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 jacqueline@revolar.com and she’ll find a way to get you a device.

Thanks Jackie for loving on people that need it right now.

 

 

Moving forward post election

While I do vote at every election, I have always stayed out of public conversation around politics.  As a child, when the extended family dinner conversations turned to politics, it always resulted in anger and yelling, ruining the evening for everyone and dividing the family.  I don’t remember constructive, curious conversations, only defensive and offensive ones.  And with the proliferation of political rhetoric on Facebook, I deliberately opted to keep my opinions to myself, wanting to preserve the relationship with my family and friends and not wanting to add to the political raging in people’s feeds.  I believed (wrongly) that, in this case, silence could keep us together.
This last election was no different for me.  I did vote.  I voted for Hillary, with confidence that I selected was the right one “given the options”.
But I kept silent on why I voted for Hilary b/c I didn’t want to invite argument.  At the time, it didn’t feel like it mattered anyway, most everyone I knew were voting for Hilary.  My twitter feed was full of Hilary supporters, ditto on Facebook.  The news was basically mocking Trump for his last imbecilic contradiction.  I went to Lisbon for WebSummit mildly nervous for being out of the country during the elections, but predicting that Hilary would win by a landslide.
Wow.  Was I wrong.  Horribly, terribly wrong.  I was blindsided. My bubble, and my silence, was a huge part of the problem.
My initial reaction to Tuesday was total disbelief. The election was rigged!  It HAS to be rigged!  Trump yelled so loudly and often that the elections were rigged, of COURSE he’d rig them!  Then I was convinced we needed to move to a different country and honestly thinking about where we would go.  Basically I’ve spent the last 5 days feeling scared, angry, and betrayed.  Scared because what does this mean? Trump likes to hurt anyone who speaks negatively about him, does that mean my first amendment rights are at risk if I speak negatively about him now?  Angry at myself mostly – how I could be this  insulated from how the rest of the country feels??!  Realizing the thickness of my bubble, and the insulation I have from the rest of the country was a harsh and painful awakening.  And I feel betrayed, betrayed that the media led me to believe (or I let myself be led to believe) the rest of the country felt how I did.  Betrayed that my fellow Americans don’t have the same set of values that I have.  I’m not talking about position on political issues, I’m talking about values.  Values like respect for one another, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.  Values like truth.  Values like modesty.   Values like respecting our planet.  Because to me, this election wasn’t about political issues.  It was about values.
As I’ve slowly started to accept what has happened, I’ve talked to a handful of Trump supporters (to get out of that bubble I mentioned above), I hear that their election wasn’t about values, but it was about change.  Hilary meant more of the same to them, while Trump represented radical difference.  It was less about his stance on issues (although some did believe his stance was better), less about what he thought about building a wall, or his position on global warming, or disrespecting women – it was about the radical shakeup he’d bring.  Trump was, as Norman Lear said in his talk at #SummitAtSea, the proverbial middle finger of America’s right hand.
In America, I don’t believe we’re having the same conversations, which is why nothing ever feels like it’s moving forward.  And I think the only way we’re going to start having the same conversations, is to get back to the basics of values.  Let’s all get on the same page about values, because until we can all agree that “all people are created equal” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” and “religious freedom” that our constitution and history declares – we can’t ever agree on the political issues at stake today and we will continue to have subpar candidates, on both sides of the aisle.
So today, in order to become a more active participant in the shaping of our futures, I uncomfortably  and publicly commit to 2 opposing actions:
1) Actively seek out and listen to others who don’t share my beliefsfor a genuine attempt at understanding those outside of my community.  We can’t move forward if we don’t understand.  Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean hearing and embracing and respecting those who disagree with me.
2) Speak out about the values I hold to be self-evident, not to preach but to invite conversation, and to  help shift media’s attention from negative hate mongering, to positive attributes like love and trust we share as humans.  As Seth Levine has just said, “…the US needs a strong and vocal counterbalance to the hate and bigotry we just empowered”.
I hope you join me in both actions.

Why the diversity conversation is so hard for me

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.

Middle school students and entrepreneurship

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.

 

Evening Events

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.

Random Act of Kindness

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 KanguEFCO, Application Developers AllianceKiva 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.