Posts from the ‘Career Transition’ category

Why I Went to Graduate School

School sucks. I hated school so much that my brain would instantly fall asleep when I went to class. If I went to class. The same for when I got carsick or drove. Just an all around unpleasant experience. If I were an animal, I’d be a bunny. Who just passed out when shit got terrible. It all started in 3rd or 4th grade, when I started to get bored.

I had sleep studies done. They put me on adderall. Ritalin. I mostly just had more pocket money cause I hated that shit.

I tried everything.

Except going to a school that taught differently.

I went to Pinchot because it was what I thought school should be. You see, when I was looking at MBA programs like Stanford and MIT Sloan, they seemed like slogs. And they’d only teach me a tiny bit of the picture using a traditional teaching method.

Traditional is our tragedy as Americans.

I thought to myself, “higher ed should be taught on frequent, village-sized campuses, where everyone lives together in a community. And learns by doing at a rigorous pace with an inventive, memorable, workshop-based curriculum. The professors shouldn’t just be PhD’s like they are at MIT Sloan. They should have stories. They should have already made a big impact. And teach from experience.” I wanted entrepreneurial teachers who listened.

Sadly, I didn’t think this existed.

I opted out of getting an MBA even though it had secretly been a dream of mine to get those three, shiny letters. Walking away seemed better than throwing away a few hundred grand for something I’d do much better on my own (and did).

I put together a MOOC-based MBA. But only two weeks after I’d started, I found what I had been looking for.

At Impact Hub Seattle, we were suddenly awash with Sustainability MBA’s from upstairs. These new hosts were pretty great to work with. What’s more, they didn’t suck to work with.

Upon investigation, I learned about Pinchot (Chapter 3).

  • Taught systems thinking
  • Workshop and project-based
  • Everyone came from diverse work backgrounds.
  • The whole curriculum was integrated…like a system.
  • It was taught in the woods where we got to hang out and live together for almost a week.
  • The day I happened to visit, they were doing the Lean Canvas. Basically, my favorite thing to do.
  • The perfect amount of our assignments were, go out into the wilderness and write about it, then tell us about it.
  • While most schools studied systems, we did our own deep analysis by the end of December. It was also a white paper.
  • While most schools studied case studies, we wrote our own by the end of March. Our whole curriculum was a case study.
  • Our first field trip was living in a spectacular version of what’s possible on an island in the British Columbian wilderness.
  • While most schools took five months (a semester) to teach entrepreneurship and how to write a business plan, we did it accelerator style in three. We got one big assumption though (e.g. our technology works), so it was great for learning at the maximum speed. Cause the second year was for actually doing a business, not the first. But sometimes folks used both for a real business.

I’m not even mentioning the sustainability parts, which are HUGE. I think we are queued up more than anyone on the planet to deal with what’s to come.

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Even better, I transferred my second year to a Sustainability MBA program on Wall Street. It uses a non-integrated curriculum, so I can do deep dives into whatever I want. Which I have. And it still is almost entirely workshop and project based. Except now we work for clients at real companies to see what that’s like. Good, lord, I don’t know how people do it. Do meetings ever start on time? Seriously? How lazy can we be?

But I digress.

Can you imagine if traditional MBA’s taught this way? Both a sustainability-focused way and then a hybrid way?

The book, Makers and Takers, says that traditional MBA’s go into the program thinking that their job is to “benefit a diverse group of stakeholders.” But by the end of the second semester, they think that “greed is good”. And they think that the way to be greedy is to “increase shareholder returns at any cost and produce less high quality goods and services.”

What the fuck.

What’s worse is that every year we church out 156,250 of these people. Not you, of course. Because you’re not in a traditional MBA program.

Just the majority of 156,250.

Yikes.

Giving Voice to Values says that in traditional MBA ethics classes, they learn how to rationalize and justify unethical behavior and choices. Literally, a handbook of arguments.

So, I joined Pinchot cause I didn’t want to be an asshole.

MBA’s aside, most education in the US is garbage compared to what it could be.

Everyone knows the story of the Indian kids who were given a computer.

A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.

If children have interest, then education happens.

Arthur C. Clark

Our education squashes curiosity, so it’s no wonder that our skills gap is being filled with immigrants. Except that we stopped letting immigrants here. So we’re still going to have a bunch of unemployed people, and on top of that not enough skilled labor. Then American businesses will just die. And we’ll get wiped out because other countries are educating their people properly.

Great.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hypotheses for the Successful Adoption of Mental Models around Entrepreneurialism

  1. Learning
    1. The vast majority of people have experienced oppressive, suppressive, overly structured, unimaginative, wasteful learning methods for the majority of their education. These methods are based on the industrialization of the world in the early 1800’s and haven’t been updated with the pace of technology and science, despite being scientifically disproven and one-upped again and again. Bureaucracy and insecurity prevents us from improving education. It’s our greatest tragedy in America.
    2. The vast majority of people have not experienced a proper workshop with a proper team in a proper space. Experiencing this would make a positive and profound difference on how they see the world, themselves, and their life. Some percentage of these people will have a viral difference on the people around them.
    3. It’s been a while since Americans learned by doing, such as apprenticeships. Which is such a shame, since they’d be so easy and economical now, and other countries are doing them.
  2. Empowerment
    1. The vast majority of people have not experienced a proper work environment and culture.
    2. The vast majority of people do not know how to plan for the future and are not prepared. They also have no hope for retirement.
    3. The corruption behind ITT Tech and University of Phoenix continues to set off a tidal wave of disenfranchised, negatively impacted students. When ITT Tech closed in Sept 2016, just at that time, they had 40,000 students and 8,000 employees. Students have been suing since 1998. That’s a lot of people, their families, and a giant chunk of our country.

Hypotheses for the Target Audience (at least one is true)

  1. They have no hope for retirement.
  2. They don’t want to have to work for anything.
  3. They’re afraid their job will be replaced by a robot. For example, truck drivers, factory workers, and accountants. In addition, I predicted that self-driving cars would predominate major cities within 4 years. Last Friday, Tim Ferriss predicted 3.

In which direction should I go to run a beta test? A small pilot with about ten people in the boonies. Eastern or Western Washington?

I say this with urgency as I’d love to just target kids and the education system. But the reality is that no one’s invested in our kids for a while, especially not us. And, we don’t have enough time to wait for them. We need engaged adults now. Like, right now. Now. Yes, now.

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New Job

A few months ago, I said to my friend, “I think something interesting is about to happen around community. I have no idea what it is, but I want to find out.”

I got a new job. Turns out, hanging around Seattle for two years and doing a lot of stuff gets you cold email referrals.

The job is building community. A very special one. 

cartoon bowing perpetually

Boom

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Am I A Wantrepreneur?

diagram of the wantrepreneurial cycle of delusion

The horror!

Wantrepreneur is a derogatory term in the West. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists use it to describe people who like the idea of entrepreneurship, but fail at execution.

Wantrepreneurs:

  • Think that entrepreneurship is easy. Set your own schedule, be your own boss, you’re Facebook.
  • Like the idea of being an entrepreneur. The identity of entrepreneur. The extroverted ones go to meetups and stuff and feel super cool, like they always have a great conversation piece.
  • Think they have come up with an original idea and are terrified that someone will steal it. Their business is crippled by attempts to protect the idea, either through isolation or the black hole of patents. But they don’t google the idea to see if it already exists. And they direct no effort to validation or getting their first customer. And oftentimes, successful business takes a village that they can’t create if they don’t talk to anyone.
  • Think that entrepreneurialism means being in control, often after a lifetime of feeling like they lack it. But true entrepreneurialism is about focusing on what they actually can control, which is typically only themselves.

Chapter 1: A Hustler

I started my first business in 6th grade selling lists of the hottest boys to local socialites. This was before printers, so it was a handwritten list that I updated whenever I felt like (usually weekly), and for $5, you could look at it.

Then I sold concert tickets. Which failed miserably because as it turns out, I was the only one willing to pay premium prices for tickets to sold out festivals and concerts. I had convinced my Dad to be an investor in this one, and I lost all of his money.

Fast forward through a bunch of shitty and not so shitty businesses to undergraduate school.

I thought that I needed this piece of paper to do real things and real businesses. I did not see it as an opportunity to explore, discover, experience, and learn, so I asked my Dad what I should major in. He said biochemistry, and at the time, it was an excellent choice. I ended up with biology, and it took over six years. It was here that I discovered that I’m not someone who can accomplish a goal that I don’t fully buy in to. Buy-in is so important!

Why do I want to go to college?
Because I was told that I needed it to get my ticket punched.

What is getting my ticket punched?
An easy ride.

Yeah, I was one of those. A super super senior. On the upside, in addition to Biology, I’d thoroughly meandered through English, Psychology, and Film.

But I desperately wanted that easy ride. And turns out, the path of least resistance results in a waaaay longer path.

Chapter 2: A Quitter

The search for the easy path started when I heard, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Instead of asking why this was true, I asked, “Why bother being strong at all? It sounds terrible. Let’s just avoid the trauma altogether.” I didn’t know about post-traumatic growth.

To me, the X-Men were the ultimate easy-riders. Xavier said to mutants, “Come live at my estate for free and be a hero because you won the genetic lottery of magical abilities and superhuman hotness.” I saw what I wanted to see, which wasn’t how powers were extremely challenging to control and being a hero meant persecution, fear, and loads of baggage. I saw Jean Grey as a badass, not as a target for love triangles, enemies, and cosmic entities. My filter blocked the broken bodies, death toll, and persistent tests of moral fiber and strength of will. Plus the time toiled away in the Danger Room, where everyone worked hard. I never saw their failures and how they just kept picking themselves back up and trying again.

Unfortunately, my lizard brain, after decades of denying my cravings for challenge, invented a self-defense mechanism I’ve named Self-Sabotage Sally. Whenever I’d lose sight of possibility, I’d quit.

The most tremendous instance of this was ARCBio. I was introduced to some folks at IBM who had a problem that I could solve. I didn’t know how to solve the problem, but I knew that I could. And after two months of figuring it out, I landed a year-long contract to do it.

At first, I wanted ARCBio to revolutionize in vitro (non-animal) testing. The European Union had just banned animal testing for cosmetics, and I wanted the US to do the same. But by the end of the first year, I burned myself out and got fat. By year two, I revolutionized non-animal testing, but didn’t share it with anyone because I didn’t think anyone respected or listened to fat women. I hated myself. In year three, I focused on maximizing shareholder profit. I was the only shareholder, so I had a pretty sweet lifestyle business. I ate my money. By the beginning of the fourth year, I could see myself doing ARCBio forever, but was miserable as hell. I refocused on scaling the business and hiring some full-time people to run the lab. But by the end of the year, I quit.

Here are a few of the thousand reasons why I chose to close ARCBio:

  • I was so unhappy that my experiments were no longer reproducible. After spending years optimizing scientific protocols to the point of absolute reproducibility, all of my experiments failed. With clinical precision, I tested every single perimeter to figure out what was going wrong. At the end of the day, the common denominator was me.
  • I was a horrible boss who made an intern cry through an email. I was the villain.
  • One of the people I was working with was incredibly toxic and we all knew it. He’d spent years 2-3 blaming me for a mistake that he finally confessed to (he hadn’t taken good enough lab notes…::facepalm::). He was brilliant, which is why he was kept around, but he and I were like, “oil and water.” IBM was my biggest customer, and I worked with other groups, but I couldn’t see a way to avoid him.
  • I had fallen out of love with the life sciences after hearing the same story for the twentieth time:

“I found the cure to cancer and big pharma bought it up. I thought they were going to bring it through clinical trials because I couldn’t, but they locked up the cure and threw away the key.”

The same went for diabetes and others too. I was heartbroken and jaded. Other things about the life sciences were crushing including the regulation and corruption. I swore off the whole industry.

  • I hated California. But the business was in California, and I couldn’t see a way to move it elsewhere.

California was a whole other story.

I lived in San Jose, my first time living in a big city. This part is going to be very not PC, but this was my experience. Skip down to Chapter 3 if you’re from Seattle.

In Baltimore, people of color are so frequently and publicly beat down (figuratively and literally), that you can give unwanted attention a single look, and they would start heading the other way. To this day, I cannot imagine what it is like for super attractive women who are constantly threatened and harassed physically and verbally. To this day, I cannot imagine what it is like for people of color who are constantly oppressed and disempowered.

But I digress. In Baltimore, I felt like I had power and control because of my white-looking privilege. San Jose was completely different, where I was a target.

In Man Jose, men outnumbered the women 1.23 to 1. One-third was Hispanic and one-third was Asian or Asian Indian. It was a tough place to be a woman, where I would get the same attention I got in Baltimore except these men were relentless. I was seen as a white hole that could be captured with a wide enough net and enough intimidation, heckling, and body-shaming. Not a great selling point for diversity. Perhaps they should include an equity workshop with every work visa.

But I digress.

I was at dinner with a Korean and two Indians. One of the Indians said that he was only in the US to fool around, and that if he got a white girl, great. But if not, whenever he was ready, he would call his mom and ask for a wife. She’d send him a binder with Facebook-like profiles of all the suitable girls in his village, and he would pick one. Did the girls have a choice? Yes, but they never said no. The other Indian guy chimed in and agreed. Ultimately, they did not see women as equals, but as something to be acquired. The Korean guy was jealous.

Another time, I was downtown at night when an Indian guy yelled at me across the street. He was with his friends, and when I smiled and shook my head, he yelled, “Whatever. You are fat and disgusting anyway.” And this was my experience in San Jose time and time again.

The Hispanics would drive alongside me in their unmarked, white vans while commenting on my appearance out their window. As a single, white-looking female in a big city for the first time, my mind would run with the horrific possibilities. The best case scenario was when they’d just yell at me and drive away. Other times, I’d have to walk to places other than my home until they went away. The same went for when we were both on the street, but they were much more aggressive when in their vehicle.

I didn’t know how to handle any of this and didn’t have any friends or support. I would have nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep or leave the house at night. I constantly strategized escape and fight scenarios.

At some point, I got so fat that the harassment stopped. Then I’d be told I was fat and disgusting, so I’d start to lose weight. Then I’d get fit, receive unwanted attention, and would binge eat again. This was a vicious cycle. Well, it still is. Damned if I’m fit, damned if I’m not. And I let it cripple myself and ARCBio.

Chapter 3: A Wantrepreneur and a Hypocrite

When I first moved to Seattle, I spent a year and a half working on over 100 businesses. I used to say that as if I was bragging, like I’d defeated 100 businesses.

During the era of 100 businesses, I found myself overwhelmed and stressed. When I counted, I realized I was working on 9 different projects, both with others and individually. I was unfocused and there were always reasons to not do something.

  • I didn’t want to do a STEAM coworking space because two people I respected didn’t give me its blessing, Seattle already had 37 coworking spaces at the time, and a well-publicized and funded makerspace had recently failed.
  • I didn’t want to do decorative, portable plastic raincoats because plastic. And plastic is based on the petroleum industry and so on. And I’m not going to do better than China.
  • I didn’t want to do purse inserts because they’re already a thing. And I’m not going to do better than China.
  • I didn’t want to pursue Refreshing Renton because all of the industry people I spoke with gave me dozens of reasons why it wouldn’t work. I wanted Washington to be the first VOC-free state. Turns out, I was too early because a year later, almost all new Seattle buildings were tested for indoor air pollution and VOC’s.
  • I didn’t want to do Caffeine Vape because of, well, the target demographic. It felt wrong. Turns out, caffeine vapes are now a thing.
  • I didn’t want to do a restaurant that focused exclusively on business lunches with inhalable cocktails that had you buzzed in seconds and sober in 15 minutes. Because food was hard.

There are tons more that can be found in countless pro formas, pictures of whiteboarding, lean canvasses, and Evernote’s up the wazoo. A lot of them are at Ideas from Last Night, a graveyard for my killed ideas. You’ll find that most of them are now real businesses run by other people.

After watching this happen over and over again, my Dad finally worked up the courage to ask me something that had been bugging him. I’ll paraphrase.

Are you a wantrepreneur?

graph of wantrepreneur vs. entrepreneur vs. heather

The horror!

There are two things to point out here.

  1. Validation of an idea didn’t mean whether or not it worked. I never had any doubt that any business I wanted to do would be successful. But what I did doubt was whether or not a business was for me. Tim Urban of Wait But Why points out that every economic revolution has people freaking out about what to do with their lives – create widgets or come up with something new? For me, it was also, “Is this what I want to do for the next five years?” And, “Is this going to make a big enough impact on the world?”
  2. I also noticed that when I got serious enough about a business to have a cofounder, my cofounder would often leave to become an employee. I have a graveyard of cofounder agreements. I don’t know what the problem was. Was I getting the cofounder too early? Was I picking the wrong cofounders? Was it me?

I can recognize a wantrepreneur more easily than I think others can for two reasons.

  1. I was a wantrepreneur to the tune of 100 businesses.
  2. During this time, I did pro-bono small business consulting at Impact Hub, a coworking space in Seattle. I did paid work for small businesses too, but they were already up and running. I really thought that I could help founders, but soon became frustrated at the inaction. They would talk on and on about their idea, would say they’d do the next step, and never would. The most popular was due diligence or a pro forma. Have you googled to see if anyone else is doing this? Have you made a pro forma to see how this could meet your financial expectations? I realized that this procrastination was not only a form of self sabotage, but a self-defense mechanism. It’s easier to imagine being an entrepreneur than to find out that the idea your whole future hinges on won’t work. By the way, no one’s whole future hinges on one idea.

Chapter 4: A Student

So I decided to give school another shot and do it right this time. No more easy ways out for me!

I joined a Sustainability MBA program with a heavy emphasis on leadership and personal development.

From this, I finally got that I could have it all: positive environmental, social, and economic impact. But it had to start with figuring out my own shit.

Here are a few things I’ve learned these past two months:

  • Once I figure something out, I lose interest. No matter how much I think the world needs it. And come hell or high water, I won’t bring it to the world or finish. The best of example of this was when I was holding women’s events. I discovered that most of my attendees were looking to make a career transition. So I informational interviewed and researched my way to the secret sauce of a successful career transition. But my writing didn’t keep up with my learning, so it just sits on my Evernote and a few blog posts.
  • Someone on my school team thought I should bring more of my own experience to the table. At first, I was like wah. My experience is mostly in the life sciences. And we don’t do any life sciences. But now I realize that I tend to just translate my experience and skills immediately into action. Then, I communicate the action with no explanation.
  • I have a fear of abandonment in teams. For years, I peeled myself like an onion only to discover that my fear of abandonment started when I was a baby. My Mom had read a baby book that said she should never pick me up when I cried, because otherwise I would never be independent. Sadly, this was incredibly damaging, even though my Mom had the best intentions. What I didn’t know was how this manifests itself when I’m working with other people who I deeply care about. I will do absolutely fantastic work for the first half. Then I will react to an externality such as competing commitments or negative feedback, hopelessly decide that I’ve let everyone down, and will hide lest I screw up things even more. I will communicate the whole time and complete my work, but it won’t be my best and every task feels like an avalanche. Others will be supportive, but I won’t hear it. Because…
  • I don’t hear or remember good things. I literally filter and forget them. For example, shortly after Trump got elected, I was leading Circle at school. When it was over, I spent half the day pondering what I’d done wrong and what I could have done better. While talking with a classmate about this, she stopped me and asked, “Do you not remember when [the cofounder and Director of the school] thanked you, talked about how much of a difference this had made for him, and everyone clapped for you?” Suddenly the memory came back. But I don’t remember the other times.
  • I want to save the world from climate change. It is my deepest desire. But I am doing nothing to fight climate change right now, and it’s all rooted in ego. I just want to be the hero.
  • Nothing makes my heart swell more than heros. Like Dumbledore’s Army or the Order of the Phoenix. Or all of Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows Part II. I watched all of Harry Potter over the holidays and it was glorious.
  • I’m a liar.
  • I’m a hypocrite.
picture of my cork board with cards that say nice things

My latest experiment.

Chapter 5: A Balance

I have an undisciplined pursuit of more.

But by having an undisciplined pursuit of more, I’ve ended up with less.

picture of balancing feedback loop of my strengthsfinder results

Yikes!

What we have here is a balancing feedback loop. A problem presents a challenge. The greater the challenge, the greater the impact. The greater the impact, the greater my interest in it. The more interested I am, the more I strategize. The more I strategize, the more actions I come up with. The more actions I try, the more solutions I come up with. The more solutions there are, the less challenging the problem.

If we started with a less challenging problem, the whole loop would repeat again with less challenging, so less impactful, so less interesting, so I quit. I’m not enough of a perfectionist to do a third redo to include the quitting, but just know that there’s a line that goes out of Interest to something like Rate of Quitting.

My goal is to stick with something, so I want to turn this balancing feedback loop into a reinforcing loop.

What are the leverage points? What variables do I focus on?

For starters, I’ve found 100 problems and didn’t commit to any of them. There’s no shortage of problems. If I redid this again, Problem could be a stock with unlimited supply.

Next, I’ve definitively proven, at least in my mind, that I love, love, love challenge. No more easy ways out for me!

Impact is tough. I can’t save the world, at least not singlehandedly. And knowing how systems work, it can’t be by doing one thing. Since it’s the challenge that influences the impact, maybe the challenge needs to be big enough that problems need to have a constant flow.

Oh, shit. I just realized that the goal of this system is to be heroic. Yikes!

picture of systems diagram

Okay, okay. Here’s a redo. Click to enlarge. 

I find out about these challenges and once I understand them and have solutions, sometimes I’ll go straight to feeling heroic and QUIT. Wtf.

So, the leverage point is somewhere around ideas to tackle the challenge. Feelings can be pretty powerful, but in this case they’re causal!

Time to head to work. Happy New Year!

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They’re just jealous

When I was growing up, my mom regularly told me that I was smart. She also told me that she felt sorry for me for being smart.

Rather than tell you a Heather’s Chinese Mom Proverb, I’ll quote Ernest Hemingway

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

For the vast majority of my life, I was an unhappy, narcissistic, lonely asshole.

Now think back to when you were a kid. When you were in lower school, were you asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What was the answer that you gave?

The first time I was asked this, I said, “Happy.” My teachers were quite displeased when I refused to give a different answer. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I was left with helplessness.

The second time, I said, “A teacher.” This turned out to be much better. It’s the first time I remember lying. I mean, I’m sure I did it before that, but this was the first time I remember. And so, every year after that, I said, “teacher,” and teachers loved it. From this, I was left with approval and being liked.

I got so good at being agreeable that by fourth grade, I was friends with everyone. There were two girls who were considered “the most popular girls in school.” One of them asked me if I liked rap and without thinking, I said no. She told everyone and half of my friends stopped talking to me. Rap and hip hop were a pretty big deal at the time. So was this whole “fitting in” and “being accepted” thing.

Then, I met the other popular girl’s mom and said, “Doesn’t she kind of remind you of the Wicked Witch of the West?”

My bad. Seriously. I’m such an asshole.

Confused and pissed at feeling abandoned, I asked for guidance from the adults. I was told that it was because I was smart. “The other girls are jealous of you.”

I can’t begin to tell you how unhealthy this was. All I wanted as happiness. I couldn’t have that when I grew up, and I sure as shit wasn’t going to get it now. Obviously, I was screwed. The adults were doing what they thought was best, but they’d created a nasty system that you’ll soon see play out.

As a fourth grader, I still had my optimism, so I tried to rationalize my way to a solution.

  • Feeling liked and approved of is better than feeling helpless and abandoned.
  • But being smart results in feeling helpless and abandoned, as does telling the truth.
  • Smart people tell the truth.
  • Don’t be smart and don’t tell the truth.
  • Don’t be yourself.
  • If you slip up, none of it will matter
  • ?????

Before I could figure it out, I had my last day of school.

Mom said, “Say goodbye to all of your friends. We’re moving to China and this is your last day of school.”

Now, we didn’t move to China. But that was our last day of school. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone.

For the next year and a half I was homeschooled. The entire time I felt confused, helpless, and abandoned. During these formative years, these feelings became quite powerful and ingrained.

In 6th grade, I went to a new school.

mean girls

Can you guess which one I was?

Finally! My chance to not be myself! To be who I should be!

But yet again, the same story played out.

  • Have a ton of friends
  • Lose all friends

Every single female I know has lived this story. The steps in between may have been different, but the beginning and the end were the same.

What’s worse is what the adults told all of us.

The other girls are just jealous because you’re so much smarter than them.

Yikes. It was bad enough that the prettiest girls in school were the most popular, but now the smartest were the least popular. And no matter what happened, I wouldn’t be happy when I grew up.

The unhappiness peaked in high school, when adults took off the gloves.

Stop being so sensitive.

I’m sure that there are non-gender-conforming and self-identifying as male humans who identify with this story. We were all just too smart and too sensitive.

What did you tell yourself?

I told myself, There’s no way I can win. 

But my human nature was to try. As a result, Self-Sabotage Sally and I were best friends. She taught me how to never be myself, to live in my head and never be present, and to fuck up at the worst possible time so it all came crashing down. She taught me that there was no way I could win.

When I started to recognize it, I was able to break the cycle.

To quote someone I admire

I never realized how cool I was until I started being myself.

Me too.

But I’m still experiencing the aftermath of Sally.

mean girl

Dammit, Sally, not again!

You see, at some point I had decided that being smart meant not having to try. So, when I didn’t want to try I didn’t, and when I did, I did. I thought that being smart was a free pass to do whatever the fuck I wanted. 

Then I talked with some folks who I thought were smart. And I learned that they try. WHAT

As you can probably tell, I had made a lot of assumptions about myself, life, and other people that didn’t get me to happiness. And I was fundamentally living in a story that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t get happiness. When I realized that this was going on, I got upset and mad at myself for wasting so much time. But that wasn’t getting me any closer to happiness either.

I’m happy now. But only because I’m myself, I love myself and others, and I challenge myself constantly. Instead of living in the past and future, fear and hope, I continually checkin to see if I’m being present. Turns out, I was missing faith and trust the whole time.

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Entrepreneurship – 2009 until Now

Chapter 1: ARCBio, Inc.

I started ARCBio less than six months out of undergrad. ARCBio was lonely, stressful, and maddening. But it was also rewarding. I learned more in just over four years about business, the life sciences, and myself than I think I would have doing anything else. My mission was to eliminate animal testing from all cosmetics in the US, just like the European Union had. I wanted ARCBio to impact the regulation of the entire life sciences industry.

And then I got to business. And nothing was what I had thought. You could say I was a total n00b who got schooled by Good Laboratory Practices certification, bureaucracy, office politics, and a million other things. A lot of the time, I was in my own way. I only succeeded thanks to the support of others.

It took over 4 years, but I made my first $1M and was ready to figure out why I was so unhappy. So I saw a life coach who introduced me to Landmark. I said, “I want to be the best person I can possibly be as quickly as possible.” After three months he said, “I don’t normally tell people this, but just do Landmark.” When I did it, I knew why.

Quotes that helped me through

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.
~James Allen

Don’t be yourself – be someone a little nicer.
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

Would I rather be feared or loved? Umm, easy: Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.
~Michael Scott

Insecurity is the source of all conflict.
~Me

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.
~Mary Wollstonecraft

The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.
~G.K. Chesterton

You should never settle for who you are.
~Michael Scott

Things are only awkward if you make them awkward.
~Me

Chapter 2: Cofounderslab

I closed the company and did some soul searching. I was 29.

When I first moved to Seattle, I joined a website called Cofounderslab. I knew I wanted to start another business and that it had to meet some positive constraints.

  • Fun
  • Scalable
  • Hugely Impactful
  • Cofounder
  • Customers will love

I met and worked with some of the coolest and most intelligent people on Cofounderslab. Here are the most interesting ones:

  • A serial entrepreneur with mad coding skillz.
  • A genius Swiss web developer who built a video platform in two weeks with multiple interruptions.
  • A robotics engineer.
  • An insect entrepreneur.
  • A veteran who’d invented his own electronics repair device.
  • A YC alum.

Here’s an analogy that will help describe why this was so amazing.

Do you prefer:

  • Smartest person in a dumb room
  • Dumbest person in a smart room

or

  • Nicest house in a crappy neighborhood
  • Crappiest house in a nice neighborhood

I was definitely in the first category in Chapter 1. As a result, I got regular dopamine spikes, didn’t have many close friends, and was extrinsically motivated. Other times I experienced imposter syndrome, surrounded by PhD’s at IBM.

But with Chapter 2, I felt like I was engaging with peers. I discovered that passions were not a real thing, and that mine were fleeting. Lastly, I could start a company in anything and everything, I just needed to choose.

Chapter 3: Pinchot

After touring most of the coworking spaces in Seattle, I chose Impact Hub Seattle. They had the right vibe, layout, and host program where I could exchange membership for making coffee and giving tours.

On the fourth floor of the building was Pinchot University. Ironically, they sold Master’s-level certificate programs and two MBA’s in Sustainability.

After working with numerous Pinchot students at Impact Hub, I decided to check it out. The visit to Islandwood sold me on Pinchot, and I enrolled. They offered workshop-based learning, low-residency, an executive + sustainability MBA, and more. Every student got a coach, and I was lucky enough to get a healthcare executive one. It was just what I was looking for and more.

Our orientation was at Channel Rock, a beautiful island three ferry rides away in British Columbia. We experienced six glorious days in the stunning Canadian wilderness. I never wanted to leave.

While sitting on a cliff, cushioned by moss, overlooking islands and ocean, I got really angry at humanity. I seriously asked myself if the right thing to do was to let humanity kill ourselves. After two angry pages of writing and perturbing, I saw an opportunity.

I believe that I will get to witness, if I survive climate change, a massive unleashing of human creativity and prosperity. I believe that every single human being is born full of love, creativity, joy, and curiosity. When life happens, these features can become diminished. Some people mistake evil for happiness. I believe that we now have the technology to do a phenomenal job of starting from scratch after sh*t goes down.

What I want to highlight here is that I saw myself working in the life sciences.

I resented the life sciences because I felt beaten down by it. The life sciences was too stubborn about change, especially waste management, firing teams for clinical trials, big pharma’s buying patents and throwing away the key, and a million other things. There were too many opportunities and too many industries to go back to the life sciences.

But while sitting on that clifftop, I realized that the experience I had was not unique to the life sciences. If I really wanted to make a difference, I needed to accept that I loved the life sciences and that there was no running away to another less terrible and more amazing industry.

In that moment, all of my resentment and baggage vanished. I felt liberated.

Chapter 4: Researchful

Three days later, on 9/11/2015, I met [name redacted].

[name redacted] was working on Researchful while CTO of another organization. He had worked for several startups but really wanted to start his own thing.

After two months of working together and gaining real traction, he sent me an email saying his company had offered him a pile of money, a ton of stock, and wanted him to move to San Francisco. He had to cut all ties with Researchful. With everything that had happened, I was shocked and hurt. This was the perfect segway to my building a life sciences empire that saved the world and brought humanity to the prosperity the universe needed. He was also amazing to work with.

We had a Skype call where I asked him point blank, “May I have everything in writing?”

He agreed.

For another month, I ran with it. But I was back to being unhappy.

I revisited my positive constraints.

  1. Fun
  2. Scalable
  3. Hugely Impactful
  4. Cofounder
  5. Customers will love

It wasn’t fun, and I had no luck finding a new cofounder.

I loved Researchful. It was going to revolutionize how clinical trial research was done to the tune of tens of billions of dollars all over the world. But combined with a long-term relationship breakup, my Dad getting cancer, having to move with no time to prepare, and seeing the impending doom of my school, I was stressed. Combined with climate change, my executive coach said, “You need to stop working on this company and take time for yourself.”

picture of girl from snoopy selling psychiatric help for 5 cents

This isn’t what I paid for.

Researchful was the perfect storm I had been looking for. There were no competitors, several investors wanting to give me money, one client lined up, and tons of industry changes coming together. Plus, I’d already done a business by myself. This time, I would do it successfully.

But it was a bad idea. Over the past year and a half, I had figured out what conditions I thrive in. In this case, success would not have been what I was looking for again.

And not working on Researchful was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It was also biggest risk I think I’d ever taken. I had no idea how long I’d need, what the outcome would be, and if Researchful would even be viable when I got back.

I pitched at my first Feature Friday event, won second place, and said goodbye to Researchful.

Chapter 5: Breakthrough

This was probably my second breakthrough, the first being when I did Landmark.

From February until June, I worked at a part-time internship to pay the bills, moved into a mother-in-law cottage by myself, and got to work.

Here are some of the things I tried for at least one month:

  • Meditation
  • Morning Pages
  • Affirmations
  • Visualization
  • Gratitude Training
  • Gamification
  • Trail Running
  • Swimming
  • Walking on a treadmill while reading nonfiction
  • Listening to music (realized I hadn’t done it in three years! Only podcasts for so long because they were more “productive”)
  • Baths
  • Progress excel spreadsheet
  • Planned extroversion (Fun fact: I’m an extrovert. Everyone but me knew this. I think I was in denial because I grew up in the 90’s, when it was cool to hate everyone and indulge isolation and depression. What a relief to make this discovery!)

The ones in bold are the ones that worked that I still do to this day. The ones in italic bold are ones that I do almost every day.

During this time, my Mom also visited. This Chapter was a chapter of letting go of control (she’s an avid Trump supporter). For you Pinchoters, it was a test of my assumptions.

Being tourists.

Being tourists.

At the tail end of this time, a good friend was interested in becoming the new cofounder of Researchful. Then an alum of Pinchot became interested in joining, conveniently as he was in the middle of Galvanize’s coding bootcamp. I had vetted a salesperson who I’d known for 7 years. The list goes on. It looked like the team was coming together.

Over lunch with one of my mentors, I found out that he was one of the partners at a fund. He asked me, “Could you pitch in 7 days?” Yes! I can recreate this perfect storm!

I got to work only to discover that in the past six months, six competitors had popped up. Direct competitors who were deploying our unfair advantage. An unfair advantage that clinical researchers had been begging for for ten years, now being done by six companies within six months.

I shared this with my friends. Many asked me, “Do you feel dumb for waiting?”

Now, you’ll hear a lot of folks say that investors want to see competition. Competition means that it’s a good idea because multiple people are doing it. But I can spot a good idea from a mile away, having tracked over a hundred for the past two years. I had also spent two years vetting investors who were cool with brand new ideas and being first to market. So, early on I had made a more subtle positive constraint that I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or compete on purpose. For me, it’s about the bigger picture, so if the problem is being solved and well, I’m not interested in competing. If I’m first and others follow, bring it on! That sounds fun.

So I had a call with one of the directors of our biggest competitor. I shared with this person my insights in the industry, and what I thought were the next big directions. At the end of the conversation, I said, “I’m just relieved to know that everything I needed to see happen in clinical research is getting taken care of.” Now, I could transition fully to Chapter 6 with peace of mind.

Chapter 6: Bugs

I spent today car shopping. It wasn’t great. I ended up getting nothing and renting a car for 3 days. I have big plans for that car. By the way, I don’t have a car.

You see. When I was figuring out where I wanted to live next, I narrowed it down to three cities: Montreal, Seattle, and San Diego. San Diego got ruled out because it was too sprawling. And a goal of mine had been to be car free.

Anyway, I chose Seattle and became car free on January 2, 2015, selling it for more than I paid because my Carfax told me to.

Then I had happy hour with the insect entrepreneur. She shared with me that she was hiring folks, including for sales. Without really thinking, I pointed to myself. It was slow, jerky, and felt incredibly unsure, but there my finger was, pointing at myself. 

And this morning, I signed the offer letter and employment docs.

These past few days have been full of verbal processing, asking people for their thoughts, talking with sales & marketing folks who work for startups (three to be exact), and more.

These were a few of the clues.

  • While hanging out with a friend, I said, “Well, if ever there was a job that I’d have, it would be that one.
  • While hanging out with another friend, I said, “If I don’t help take that company international, I should go to jail.” I mean, if that’s what insect entrepreneur wants, which I think it is.
  • I had a dream about the job. I don’t remember what it was, and I hope I told insect entrepreneur about it when we had our call.
  • I had another dream about it, anxious but super excited.
  • More calls.

I start tomorrow.

Here’s some solid advice my Dad gave me given my temperaments.

  • Don’t try to control anything other than your job.
  • Let others make their own mistakes.
  • If you do your job correctly, they will have enough money to do everything.
from website of betahatch

Thanks, finger!

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