Break All the Rules

Not society’s rules, or cultural, parental, and organizational.

My Own Rules!

I used to say a lot of things. Here are some Heatherisms:

Fine men are like fine art. Look, but don’t touch.

Things are only awkward if you make them awkward.

Insecurity is the source of all conflict.

But I also have/had a LOT of rules for myself.

I will never do yoga. Yoga is for patient people.

I’m an extrovert. I could never live in the country again.

I can’t work on someone else’s dream.

I am done with camping.

I will never be a housewife.

I can’t has been a very interesting one lately. I’ve been getting annoyed whenever someone says, “I can’t” and they really mean, “I won’t.” Like, helllooo00oooo, you’re missing an opportunity for personal discovery. I’m such a hypocrite 🙂

Yesterday, while hanging out with a friend in a gorgeous seaside town, she shared with me half a dozen rules within the first 30 minutes and why I should follow them.

Here’s my favorite:

If a guy is asking you out and gives you his business card instead of asking for your phone number, rip up the business card and forget him because ::insert 900 assumptions::

But as we were talking about how Seattle is just like her hometown – and Port Orchard is just like mine, she asked,

Do you have to go back to your hometown, or somewhere like it, to deal with what happened there? To move on?

I, too, had pondered this question. Now, a big shitstorm surrounded my moving. But when I was looking, a small voice did say, widen your radius to Western Washington – the boonies. And I’m glad that I listened, because as much as I hate it, I’m just stuck with myself.

I’ve daydreamed for the past four years about moving back to the country, ever since I closed ARCBio. A dozen times, I’ve looked at off-the-grid cabins in Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, and more. I’ve daydreamed about trail running and exploring the woods all day and writing all evening. I’m pictured myself carrying firewood and falling asleep to the sound of a crackling fire. Or sitting at a tiny table with a chair, and writing out a whole novel on top of a hill full of wildflowers and later, grasslands. Spending an hour here or there working on my passive income business, while my two Golden Mountain Dogs and blue pitbull frolocked about me. I’ve even daydreamed about the struggles of shoveling snow, chopping wood, and using an outhouse (composting, of course).

But most of the time, I hate myself. How could I live in the woods by myself, with only myself, when I can’t stand myself?

Impacts of Living in the Woods So Far

  • I’m awkward as fuck. On the phone, in person, and saying goodbye. I guess there’s a first time for everything, but I’m pretty much forgetting how to socialize. So, maybe it doesn’t come as naturally as I thought? I still consider being around other people energy-giving. And I wonder if that’s why I’m awkward…cause I don’t want it to end! haha
  • I stare out the window a lot.
  • My breathing has dramatically improved. I have 14 plants in my bedroom and live in the woods. I breathe a LOT of oxygen.
  • For the first time ever, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait for summer.”
  • I see rainbows every day, mostly from light going through a glass door.
  • I’ve driven to the grocery store just to get out of the house.
  • I’ve found produce that is just as good and just as inexpensive as California.
  • I look at the moon almost every night.
  • I’ve remembered my fearlessness around wild animals and cute and scary ones.
  • I’ve gotten eye-fucked by every tall, handsome white dude I’ve seen. Definitely a boost to the self-esteem!
  • Oh, and I’m writing. Like right now.

Well, hey, this list doesn’t look so bad!

double rainbow in my backyard

View from my bedroom window. The rainbows looked like they’d been painted on.

Empty and Meaningless

Here’s a list of things that I hate about myself:

  • Addicted to food
  • No grit
  • Impatient
  • Slow reader
  • Dwell on things
  • Terrible memory
  • High dopamine
  • Sensitive
  • Overwhelmed by climate change and disaster
  • Don’t understand the point of doing anything ever about anything

So, let’s talk about Transformation.

Life is empty and meaningless. I totally get that. But while others find it empowering, I find it debilitating.

When my kindergarten teacher first asked me what I wanted to be I was lucky enough to live somewhere with little light pollution. And in 4th grade, when I’d look up at the stars, I’d feel so small, insignificant, and sad, that I was like,

um, what’s the point?

These past few weeks haven’t been easy, but they’ve also been stellar. I’ve sat with the self-loathing until it turned into action. I’ve stewed and thought and daydreamed, and felt like it was healthy. I’ve discovered endorphins, after a lifetime of useless and self-sabotaging dopamine. I’ve had tons of mini-breakthroughs (carrots are delicious! country sausage is the greatest food on the planet. and bread hurts me more than helps me, mostly cause of the dopamine). When I look at the stars, I feel small and insignificant, but no longer hopeless.

Yesterday, I had planned to go to Seattle and didn’t. I didn’t feel like it. Routine, discipline, and happiness were more important.

If I’m going to live in the country, and I have the luxury of doing nothing but focus on myself for the next two months, what do I do?

  1. Get grit.
  2. Deal with boarding school.
  3. Deal with death (in general, or the fear of it. As Shay Carl says, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!”)
  4. Become skilled in endorphins.

Like most great things, after time pondering and considering, it came to me in a flash!

For the next two months, I will be a housewife.


When I moved into the last place I lived in, I met the wife and househusband. He was a New Orleans chef, part-time professor, did all her laundry, and much more. Without thinking, I said, “Wow. She hit the jackpot.” Turns out, I was supposed to say, “He hit the jackpot”.

I have spent my whole life having zero respect for housewives. It’s probably from a profound lack of empathy from a profound lack of acceptance of my own mom. It’s also probably because I see it as a waste. But what if it wasn’t a waste? What if the whole thing was just a story I made up? That housewives were wastes of people (god, that sounds awful, but it’s really what I thought).

I want to meander the way that many of the investors’ housewives I’ve met or heard about have. But more than that. I want to do all of the things I’ve been severely allergic to or too afraid to do for as long as I can remember: gardening, yoga, staring at the stars, painting, romance, piano, letting go. Who knows what else!

This time is a gift for myself. My hope and dream is that come June, I love myself.

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Mindless Self Indulgence

The Time Paradox? Sounds Contagious

I recently took Zimbardo’s Time Paradox quiz and found the results so unsettling, that I emailed the man himself.

I took your Time Paradox assessment. Other than present hedonistic, I ranked the opposite of ideal on every other scale. I have long suspected this, but am stuck; meditation helps incrementally. Will you please send the assessment answers that someone with an ideal time paradox would have? I’d like to experiment with patient, intentional, paradigm shifts of each question over a period of one month. Please send me the ideal responses to the assessment. I will happily share the results with you. While I don’t have an official background in psychology, I took many psyc courses during my bachelors in Biology.

Dr. Zimbardo, Stanford Prison Experiments guy, emailed me back that very same day, less than a month after his debut on Tim Ferriss.

What is the time paradox? I’m not going to link the book cause Amazon reviews said it was mostly academic, and otherwise useless. But here’s what you need to know:

The Time Paradox is not a single paradox but a series of paradoxes that shape our lives and our destinies. For example:

Paradox 1
Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.

You ever have a conversation with someone, and when it’s over, you start replaying the conversation in all of the ways that it could have been better? All of the ways you could have been more compelling, likeable, smart, or witty? It’s living in the past, in an unhealthy time paradox. Playing into feelings and hangups and giving them power is a form of indulgence and can lead to depression. So, it’s starts with no longer indulging, which takes effort until it doesn’t.

tetris comic

Indulgence, aka left and right snakes, are not welcome here.

Earlier this week, I discovered a future time paradox with the same result.

After a happy afternoon and evening with someone, I subconsciously continued the conversation in my head to ask all of the questions I didn’t think to ask. But I had to stop when I couldn’t speak for the other side. This was very frustrating as I’d never had this problem. I kept getting a stick shoved into the spokes of my bicycle wheel brain that said, “But you don’t know what his answer would be. The conversation is just…over.” Then I became annoyed as I have no desire to get to know someone over the phone, and up until now, curiosity and patience have not gone hand in hand. I know this sounds like a small thing, but I have spent a LOT of my life having conversations with other people in my head. And I’ve talked with others who have too. #staypresent

Two things happened. I realized that I wasn’t replaying conversations, and instead trying to continue them. Hey, that’s better than normal! The other was that I had no control. Hanging out was over, and no amount of curiosity or impatience would get it to continue. That’s just the way it is. So I let go. Time will pass before we see each other again (and I’d sure like to). But even this, I cannot control. All in all, I’m happy with how this turned out.

OMG! I’m happy and let go. And I didn’t even have to do ayahuasca!

Some would say that thinking about this at all is indulgent. I have to disagree. What if you just suck? And no matter how different you wish it was, you’ll just always have to try?

This is how I’ve seen life lately, and I gotta say, the most useful thing I’ve done is accept it. And write. Cause I can peel myself like an onion much more quickly than anyone else can. I’m also reading Grit, and the reality is, I don’t have a lot of it. Well, not enough to do what I want. Oooobviously, I’m going to build it up, which thank god, the author says is possible. But the bar is pretty low at the moment. I’m pretty sure boarding school sucked up a big chunk of my grit, which is why I’ve been bringing it up lately.

grit book cover

Making up for lost time here.

Finding Common Ground

Earlier this week, I was talking with a recovering crackhead about the business he wanted to start. I don’t say recovering crackhead to be crass or politically incorrect, but because that was his identity. And recovering crackhead is concise.

I asked him if he’d gone to the library yet, the one thing standing between having enough money to start his business and not. He said no, “I need to get a library card.” I prodded, and he came up with more reasons.

I asked him what he says to himself when he thinks about going to the library. He responds, “I’ll go tomorrow”. What else do you say when you don’t go? “I fucked up…again.” I asked him if he saw himself as a fuck up, and he immediately responded, “No, not a fuck up. I just fucked up again.” Then he paused, seeing the story he’d been telling himself for a long time. It was a tender moment.

Several times, he mentioned that the values of his business were honesty, dependability, and something else. Each time, he got the same look in his eye as when he said he’d fucked up again. Finally, I asked, “Can you tell me a story about each of these values? Something you could say to a potential customer?” He couldn’t. I said, “I know that for me, the values that I used to hold onto were ‘aspirational values’. They were values that I wish I had or that I saw in other people and got jealous of. But they weren’t values that I actually lived into because they were the values I struggled with the most. They were wannavalues. And I struggled with them because I was getting rewarded for not having them.” He looked at me stunned for a moment, and then laughed. “You hit it right on the head.”

His story was that he was a fuckup, and that by living into it, he got to be right that he was a fuckup and avoid responsibility. He had gotten to the point where he was a good person doing what he knew he was supposed to do for society and family, but he had a barrier to doing it for himself. His values were indeed, aspirational values, but it didn’t mean that they were inaccessible to him. He could choose new values that were current, or he could stick with the old aspirational values intending for them to become authentic. Either way, he could choose them for his business because the business would be a reflection of him.

When our time was up, I realized why I grow so much when I’m around other people – human relatedness through vulnerability and authenticity.

I never experienced either of these growing up. I think it started with my parents’ generation. Many of them believed that good parenting was pretending that they never did anything questionable or bad, and that they had grown up perfectly without making any mistakes. I looked carefully at this when I was in grade school. The most mature and wise kids had parents who admitted their hangups and failures – and their learnings! These parents allowed authenticity and transparency to serve as common ground with their kids, and as they got older, relatedness. Unintentionally, it was built on a foundation of acceptance. And because of that, these kids grew in leaps and bounds. Whenever I could, I called them my friends.

It’s possible for parents to lead by example at the same time as being real.

I have tried many times to read the autobiographies of supposedly inspirational people. Each time, I’d toss the book aside after a chapter or two and say to myself, I have nothing in common with this person! I may be imperfect, but at least I’m not inauthentic! Only after listening to Tim interview over a hundred people who have respect in some field in circle, I realized that everyone’s just as human as me. Tim does his best to bring out their authenticity, and this is what enabled me to listen. Turns out, authenticity doesn’t come naturally, is a muscle that must be exercised, and no matter how hard we try, we won’t always be authentic to ourselves or others. Everyone is a fuckup to someone in this world, so we may as well do what we want.

Thanks to Tim’s work, for the first time in my life, I experienced inspiration from another person. Well, a real one at least.

jean grey as phoenix

I think we’ve finally moved on.

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Ouch, I Broke My Identity

Yet another person has told me that I suffer from trauma. As you can imagine, this is not something I ever want to hear.

The first time was when I went to see a therapist about stress eating, and she said, “Heather. Your Dad got cancer, you went through a very sad breakup, your school is going out of business, you’re in perpetual financial stress, you’re freaking out about climate change, and more. You need to acknowledge that you’re experiencing trauma.”


March 14th, 2017 – Capstone Project Update for School

Well, these past three months have been a complete disaster. I tried to get out of my lease, and finally succeeded. I started moving this past Saturday. But when I returned on Sunday to pick up some more things and take a shower, my roommate started screaming at me that I didn’t live there anymore and tried to drag me out of the apartment by my arm.

This was the most traumatic experience of my life. I’ve never been physically assaulted like this.

I finished moving that day, thanks to the support of my friends and the landlords upstairs.

I want to stress at this point three things that I think will tie in nicely to my March update.

  1. Literacy is power. A history of integrity and honesty are bonuses. If I hadn’t documented the things my roommate had done, I wouldn’t have made the case to get out of my lease with losing only $700; it would have been much more. Literacy and the ability to write are SO IMPORTANT.
  2. Financial security is power. I can’t believe I just said that. As someone who considers herself comfortable with uncertainty and calculated risk, I now know that living without recurring income does not work. I’ve lived my whole life with a giant pile of money that dwindled down. And then I’d use my white privilege and opportunism to grow it back up within a month or two, only to have it dwindle down again over time. Sadly, I was toward the end of it when I moved in with this roommate. I did not have the financial means to lose the money and just move.
  3. My body knows what’s up. Over the past three months, I’ve had my humanity, confidence, and will chipped away, bit by bit. By the second month, I was an apologetic shell of a human being. I had stopped exercising, reading, writing, quit my job, started stress eating again, slept for 12-14 hours a day, and more – all signs of depression. Then, I woke up one morning needing to quit smoking pot – it’s because my body knew that I needed to see what was happening. Immediately, I started to experience intense and traumatizing nightmares each night – most about the roommate. Then I randomly decided I needed to use the last bit of my financial security to start boxing. It was because my body knew that I needed to develop strength and clarity through exercise. Before, I was full of repressed anger and confusion that I couldn’t source. It wasn’t until I started doing boxing that I could see some semblance of hope – that there was a way out of this. And that it would take non-financial resources to do it.

For the past two weeks, I’ve worked with a nonprofit that economically empowers folks from disadvantaged communities through teaching and coaching entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial mindset.

The first workshop, last Monday, when we last spoke, was spectacular. It was in a neighborhood called Lake City in North Seattle. Outside of the library where we were meeting, a row of drug addicts and homeless loitered. Cars parked out front, from which parents with kids hurried in and tried to avoid them. My colleague and I parked in the garage underneath the library, to find it reeking of urine and weed. I later heard that needles were regularly found there.

When participants of the 6-week cottage food workshop began to arrive, they were mostly white. One was a stay-at-home dad who just quit Boeing. Another was a former marketing guru with a boob job, wanting to start a line of health-food products.

Cottage food is a business structure where you can cook in your own kitchen. You can’t make more than $25,000 a year. It’s meant to help people validate a business concept and make supplemental income. It’s not designed to be a livelihood. Even the name, “cottage food”, to me, seems inaccessible.

The workshop was fabulous – they asked amazing questions that stumped the teacher. I was completely impressed – until it clicked that this was not our target demographic. I asked the teacher about it afterward, and she said that the majority of the impoverished were in South Seattle. The organization thought they’d make this North Seattle one so that it could be accessible to folks who lived north. As I asked her probing questions, she said, “We’d probably need to only have events in South Seattle if we wanted to increase the likelihood of reaching our target demographic.”

Two days later, I went to the South Seattle workshop. Almost everyone was either Muslim, black, or a single mom. One couple, a black man and white woman, soon realized that this was not the place for them – they made furniture from driftwood for wealthy people and were already up and running. At the end of the class, they got 1-1 consulting with the teacher.

This workshop was completely different. The couple asked most of the questions, but most others sat with their arms crossed. The teacher continuously said things like, “You’re not like Bill Gates. You don’t have to dream that big.” The woman next to me, a Muslim Samoan, didn’t speak English very well. I helped her go through the workbook. At the end, the teacher said he would find her someone who spoke English and Samoan to help her. She politely declined, but the teacher insisted. It wasn’t clear if it was because she didn’t understand or some other reason, maybe cultural.

I won’t recount the whole workshop, but to say it was the opposite of the North Seattle one would be an understatement.

The workshop spoon fed participants everything that they needed to know to start a successful, viable business, capable of supporting themselves and their families. This was not a workshop for people who could “just google it.” Most of them did not have internet access, and had to rely on the public library. Some of them were not US citizens, and would be contributing by providing daycare and other off-the-radar services.

When I get back from Residency, I’m going to comb through the data that the nonprofit. I’ve also started pro-bono consulting with them. I want to test a hypothesis that I have.

Assumptions: Most entrepreneurship programs throw participants into the deep end of the pool. While the intention is to ensure that everyone can swim, I believe it’s really a weeding out process between the ones who will “make it” and those who will not. The reality is that most of the time, participants are not from disadvantaged communities with a lifetime of oppression and an externally ingrained “can’t do” attitude.

Hypothesis: The nonprofit has an approach that works for folks who have a “can’t do” attitude, but since they’re there, probably a “can do” attitude. Rather than throwing folks into the deep end, they nurture folks. They are available by phone for questions every day. If someone can’t figure out how to set up a Facebook Page, rather than saying, “Figure it out,” they’ll make the Facebook Page for them. They continuously empower participants until the participants one day, they stop calling – their business is up and running. They have confidence in themselves. They’ll occasionally be stumped by something, and will ASK FOR HELP.

It has been an incredibly fascinating and inspiring experience. I went to another one that Wednesday night and this Monday night. More to come.

To close the loop on personal shit, I moved to Port Orchard, which is an hour and a half away from Seattle, including a ferry ride. I live with a sweet couple in their 60’s. The house is huge – about 3,000 square feet. My room is bigger than most of the apartments I’ve lived in for the past three years. I have a view of the water from my window – I can see it now. The wife reminds me so much of myself, and really gives me hope that I can create a life for myself. That it is possible for me to thrive, despite all of my hang-ups.

view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window. This picture doesn’t do it justice. Just know that it’s spectacular, especially with a good cloud day.

Present Day

I’ll spare you the 20 or so pages I wrote about the roommate situation, and instead leave with you with what I learned:

I’ve learned out of this experience that I never get blocked creatively and productively, except for when I’m in a toxic environment. I’ve learned that I am not personally developed enough to be able to handle this kind of situation or to have conversations that make a difference. I’ve also learned that at some point, I just don’t want to deal with it. It’s not worth it.

excerpt from tools of the titans about how a shitty environment stifles creativity

And of course, my morning Tool of the Titans fits my life perfectly.

I’ve learned, most important of all, to listen to my body and my spirit. None of this learning was worth the cost.

So, let’s talk about listening to our body. For me, it starts with letting go of my identity(s). If I’m attached to an identity of who I am or who I should be, I don’t listen.

The first time I remember letting go of my identity was when I went to boarding school. While there, I was disconnected from the “real world” for almost two years. Every night, I’d recite my old friends’ phone numbers. Then, I’d fall asleep to playing alternative songs in my head. I refused to accept that I was there, in central Florida, surrounded by barbed wire and Jesus.

And one day, after about a year, I started to sing show tunes. Soon, I forgot everyone’s phone number, and the alternative songs were replaced by The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof. I took on the identity of Anne of Green Gables and was in “the depths of despair”. But at least I accepted it.

topol from fiddler on the roof

Topol, the OG of the shimmy.

It made boarding school much more bearable, and at times, enjoyable. I was able to master and control myself, and therefore my situation. I gained the respect of my new community, and they accepted my secularism as much as I accepted their Southern Baptism.

Since then, I’ve broken down and rebuilt my identity over and over again. Always, it involved letting go.

But the most recent one, I’d argue, has been the most difficult to part with.

A couple of months ago, I decided to break away from the identity of entrepreneur. I’d started businesses, helped people, been engaged, and engaged others. In times of crisis, I was unstoppable. Whenever life was uncertain, I’d default to what I knew would pull me through: being the entrepreneur. If I pick that apart, I discover that being an entrepreneur means being present and courageous and resourceful, tenacious with grit, trusting my gut, seeing possibility in crisis and trouble, and so much more.

Sounds pretty good!

Then I realized what being an entrepreneur really meant to me: being the hero!

Here’s the thing about my wanting to be the hero and the entrepreneur – it’s all driven by dopamine.

You know how it’s easier to see other people’s shit than your own? Well, try looking in the mirror, except the mirror is your family, and you don’t know them well enough to be triggered by it. What a treat! Getting to know them has been quite a gift; I don’t think I would be half as successful if I’d grown up knowing them. Engaging with them brought me to a hypothesis – that we have high dopamine. It’s how we’re crazy and genius and contribute and self-sabotage, all at the same time.

It’s my hope and dream for my extended family to be unleashed, but I have no delusions that it doesn’t need to start with me. Fortunately, I’ve worked hard on my personal development, and self-awareness has its bonuses. And ready for the next level, I went to a naturopath and low and behold, my dopamine is high as fuck. She tested me for hormones, but then was like wait, this makes more sense.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am extremely committed to being myself and growing along with it, identity be damned. But I find it a little hard to do this when my brain is built for cocaine. And I can tell you from personal experience that dopamine isn’t even that great. It’s just ridiculously addictive. It explains why I haven’t really been a fan of drugs other than weed.

As much solace as it gives me that I am unlikely to become a (non-weed) drug addict (and yes, I’m still off the weed), it doesn’t change the fact that it’s because I have drugs already inside my brain! Suddenly, Wantrepreneurship make sense! It was all driven by feelings of being a hero, so it’s no wonder that my post-ARCBio entrepreneurship was so fleeting! And even ARCBio was created to save the animals.

Speaking of heroes, I’ve heard myself say an embarrassing amount of times lately, “He’s out of my league.” Ew! These are words that I never would have said as Heather the Entrepreneur. Or even, Heather the Hero.

I recently moved in with a woman in her 60’s who’s had one heck of a life. I asked her today, “Do you see yourself as a hero?”

I see myself as a servant.

Damn. I’m pretty sure I’ve read that somewhere, but I could see that she really meant it.

This woman was in love with a boy who everyone said was out of her league. But it worked out. I live with them, and it’s adorable af.

No one’s out of my league!

You see, I was asking her about this guy that I like. Every month I see him at an entrepreneur’s event, and I would’ve stopped going once the organizer stopped having after-events. But I kept going cause I wanted to see him. I wanted to talk to him. I just wanted to get to know him better!

This past February, I finally got my chance! Until someone who I love/hate sat down and started talking about skiing.

cock block

Up until that point, I was 100% into getting to know this guy more.

The next day, however, I woke up annoyed. Folks who want his time have to schedule it months in advance. He has no social life. He’s single. He has like 900 businesses. He travels constantly.

For the next few days, my body said, just ask him out! My head said, try to get on his calendar. Maybe you’ll have a company to talk about by then. Just email him to ask him out and maybe his assistants will talk him into it cause they’ll see the email first. And a bunch of other things.

Well, with moving to Port Orchard, and school, and all of it, I’d forgotten about it until this morning. I see him tomorrow!

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Musings on the Pareto Principle

This one’s going to be a little messy. Much like my life right now ha ha.

If we look at the Pareto principle, most of the Amazon rainforest is the same kind of tree.

some vines in the amazon rainforest

Don’t we all live in a jungle, of sorts?

How are the more rare trees doing?

Are they struggling to survive?
Is it because they have picky ways of reproducing or specific needs?
Is this pickiness balanced by some supreme contribution?
Would these same trees thrive in other areas, they just happen to be growing in a suboptimal environment?
Do some rare trees just struggle and are rare wherever they are growing? Or is there an environment for every tree, no matter how rare, in which it would thrive and proliferate?

What about medicinal trees?

Are the natural and botanical solutions to human ailments from the common trees or the rare trees?
If the rare trees are put where they thrive, do they still produce the solitions we need? Or do they start sucking along with more common?
Are the super solutions from the trees that are not only stressed, but also reproduce to a fault – once every 20 or 50 years?

What about humans?

If we think of ourselves as trees, most people are the same and there are a few that are struggling.
Are the ones that are struggling simply in the wrong environment? Or even time?
If the struggling are relocated, is it possible to find the perfect environment for anyone?
Are some people able to thrive anywhere in any time?

What about me?

I know that I suck because I only thrive under specific conditions.
And those conditions change along with me, as I grow.
Will these conditions get easier to discover or less changeable with time?

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Elizabeth Holmes Was My Hero

picture of elizabeth holmes

The female Steve Jobs?

Elizabeth Holmes used to be my desktop background. She was my hero, but a hero who I could actually become. When I discovered her uniform of black turtlenecks, I realized that I, too, had a uniform: black Exofficio tank tops, jeans, and lime green Solomon sneakers. I wasn’t nearly as elegant. But I thought that since great minds think alike, I could be the next Elizabeth. It also helped that my middle name is Elizabeth, and we were born in the same year.

I read about Elon Musk, but other than comic books and a propensity to be the hero, I closed myself off to learning from him because I’m a woman. He is doing so much for the world, but he doesn’t face what I face. Whereas Holmes created accessibility in healthcare and was a powerful female leader. I often wondered, “How did she manage to retain so much control of her company?” My research confirmed that it was due to her brilliance, presence, conviction, and vision. I thought that she was better than me, but that if I worked hard enough, not for forever.

Every morning, when I turned on my computer, I would see Elizabeth on my desktop. And every day, I’d work harder, longer, and smarter. I wouldn’t settle for anything but a business that I could be proud of, that helped millions of people, if not the whole world. And day after day, where I failed, she succeeded. Still, when I’d see her picture, every morning was another to chance.

Then the WSJ exposed Theranos’s lack of viable technology. Their entire business was built on lies to employees, shareholders, customers, and the public. They ignored concerned employees and even tried to manipulate and bully one. I can only imagine the crushing pressure that Elizabeth faced to deliver on her promises, only to have another day of disappointing results. I imagine her saying to herself, like I’ve said to myself many times, “Just a little while longer.”

As an admirer and fan, I was devastated by the news of Elizabeth’s lack of integrity. I questioned whether a sustainable business was even possible. Was now still the best time to be a female founder? I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to meet the expectations of my employees, customers, or investors. And if I didn’t, what would I do? Would I ask, or even “force”, others to lie on my behalf? All in the name of innovation, progress, and humanity?

For almost a year, my future was shrouded in crushing doubt. And after six months of hard, really hard, work and sacrifice, I know better. I’ve learned that sustainable business surrounds us, their stories just go largely untold. And that there never has been a good time to be a female founder, so now’s just as good a time as any. I hate silos in organizations, more than any other destructive business force. And I’m an open book, often to a fault.

Looking back on my future, I know that I have a history of not sacrificing my principles for the sake of anything or anyone. My life has been filled with much suffering and heartbreak in favor of my principles, leaving a graveyard of relationships and opportunities in its wake. But now that I’m over 30 and have seen the impacts of compromise in others, I’m okay with it.

Only now do I realize how little I have in common with Elizabeth.

Most heartbreaking of all, I believe that Theranos could have disrupted the experience of diagnostic testing by pursuing the spa-like experience like Julep did for the nail salon. Or “democratized” it like Warby Parker did with prescription glasses and Dollar Shave Club with razor blades. These are solid, sustainable business models. And Theranos could have merged two profitable ideas while capitalizing on accessibility.

But that’s not the business model that Theranos chose. Every time I see her face, I wish that I could have been in the room when she wanted to be dishonest. Because her downfall wasn’t because the technology didn’t work; it’s because she wasn’t willing to pivot.

Knowing all of this, I was still left with one glaring question for years. As an entrepreneur, I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so pissed. Then, it suddenly hit me: the investors. They lost everything.

This past year, I studied what the MAST Brothers did with chocolate. They put beautiful wallpaper on chocolate bars marketed as “bean-to-bar” when it was actually standard chocolate. I imagine the conversations they had where they rationalized their marketing. And based on conversations with some partners at Deloitte, it’s fairly common for companies to choose “fake-it-till-you-make-it” marketing over the truth. Founders choose vision or “the greater good” all of the time. If it gets them the investment, marketing, PR, whatever they need, they’ll do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old or young company – everybody does it.

The difference between Holmes and the MAST Brothers is that MAST only got caught by the chocolate connoisseurs, and no one cared what they thought. The wrapping was too pretty, marketing too powerful, and profit margins too irresistible.

Theranos didn’t fail because it ran out of money – it ran out of time.

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