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Doing Brilliant Things You Suck at Doing

Two years ago I came up with an idea, as I am inclined to do when I have ideas, I immediately bought some domain names to add to my ever growing list of domain names.  I knew it was a brilliant idea because it was all about filling a need I desperately wanted not to suck at, Pitching. I was going to start a conference and online forum all about learning to pitch my ideas without shaking like a leaf, about learning to give the kind of keynote that gets a standing ovation at a conference, about negotiating a contract, or knowing how to talk to my clients, or writing a press release that actually got talked about by the press. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but knew I needed to get it done.

I’m a doer, I’m a maker, I’m a conversationalist, and being a maker and a doer (admirable skills that have certainly gotten me far) I love making and doing things that are useful to my friends, and I am great at telling my friends about it because of that. But talking to audiences, the media, or handeling myself in a normal business presentation situation… not so much… I suck. I’m not a business person, I never trained to be one. I’m a doing and making person, and it shows.

“Sucking,”  is of course, the layman’s term for “failing”, and failure – the fear of failure – is some scary shit. I know there is a “Fail fast, fail often” mantra out there (at least in the tech entrepreneurial world,) but I didn’t set out intending to fail, and that mantra is one of the dumbest entrepreneurial phrases I’ve ever heard. Starting something is not about failing, it’s about doing cool shit the best you can, it’s about making something that doesn’t suck, no matter how badly you suck at doing it, or in my case, saying it. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how badly you suck, you’re probably way ahead of the game, you are better than the scads of people too afraid to even try and build something.

I vacillate from roaring like a lion, to leaning on the stereotype that women are horrible at pitching themselves and their own projects and accomplishments. I get gun-shy if I’m doing too much talking. I have been conditioned to blend in, be a good girl, and not rock the boat, no matter how much success boat rocking has gotten me in the past. The compulsion to sit back and let my projects get “discovered” like models in a shopping mall is overwhelmingly prevalent. The fear of failure coupled with the fear of doing something I have been conditioned not to do my entire life is sometimes paralyzing, and I won’t lie, I have from time to time fallen into the role of the stereotypically meek woman, because it’s an easy, well trodden path. It’s always been a struggle to put myself out there.

My brilliant idea, Pitch Refinery, is scheduled to take place in just a few weeks (Sept 22nd and 23rd.) The speakers are stellar, the venue is paid for, the volunteers are ready, but the audience… lets just say they’re all going to have front row seats if I don’t figure out how to do all the things I built Pitch Refinery to teach me to do… it’s truly the most redonkulous catch-22 ever, but I’m going to do my best, even if my best totally sucks. My speakers say not to worry, people will show up, and I have to have faith that they’re right, because they’ve “been there, done that”  – they are all very smart business owners, they’ve been on TED stages, written their own books, made their own money and write regularly for publications like INC., Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review – but I’m still nervous that this super cool thing that I’m doing, the thing that will teach me to operate way outside of my comfort zone, the thing that all my entrepreneurial and freelancing friends said they need to go to,  is something I’m going to totally suck at pulling off.

I have a feeling that they say “fail fast, fail often” so they can pretend that being sucky is what they were aiming for in the first place, but I can’t subscribe to that. I’m building something amazing, and no matter how much I suck at telling the world about it, failure is not what I’m aiming for. You can learn to not screw it up right along side me at Pitch Refinery, get yourself a 20% off ticket, I’ll save you a seat, just in case you want to sit in the front row.

 

 

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Humping

Bugs, Fried in Thailand Was going to let our seven year old continue to think “humping” was putting your butt on someone else’s head, until he announced to our neighbor he’d humped his sister “lots of times.”

He was so embarrassed when I told him that teenagers sometimes referred to mating as “humping” … at least they did in my day… and it occurs to me, the kid probably has no idea what “having sex” means, since we always use the term “mate” (thanks Discovery channel.) With the way kids whisper it to one another, like it’s dirty and gross, if he’s heard it, he probably thinks it’s some kind of icky dessert grown-ups eat in secret, made with bug larva.

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Yes, I Feel Guilty About Dropping Off the Corporate Ladder to Raise My Kids

Since Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was published, there has been an ever-increasing buzz online about workplace flexibility and how businesses and employees — women, in particular — are managing . This debate is nothing new; parents have been struggling with how to do their jobs well, spend enough time with their children and spouses, and take care of themselves for many years. Nowhere is this struggle more apparent than the leadership and boards of business, and while I’m not the only one to express “Have you read Ann-Marie Slaughter’s piece?” fatigue, it is still totally a real issue, and if you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably had more than a few exchanges with me about the future of work and family. What I probably haven’t shared is that I feel a ridiculous amount of guilt for not holding onto that ladder leading up to corporate boards and corner offices. I love my little family, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I let down career women everywhere by doing what women historically do, I chose my family over my career.  I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

When a woman is primarily responsible for the care of children and home, it can be difficult for her to take on increased responsibilities at work. And though men have increased their domestic responsibilities in recent years, women still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, and although my husband would gladly debate that, especially since I’m organizing  Pitch Refinery and running Where are the Women and CWDevs all at the same time, it’s still true for many women, even if my truth is hotly debated.  Add on top of that an inflexible work environment and it becomes clearer why women are not rising to the top of the career ladder. I dropped out of corporate structure as soon as I knew I wanted a family, because really, what’s the point of having it all if I am too exhausted to enjoy it?  And as Slaughter discusses in her piece, her job in the White House required long and inflexible hours. Slaughter left the White House to return to her job as a professor at Princeton University — certainly not an easy job. However, she was better able to control the way she worked. Had her job in the State Department been more flexible (a stretch even to imagine!), perhaps she would have been able to stay. If jobs like Slaughter’s — prominent positions in government, c-suite level positions, board memberships — were more flexible, perhaps we would see greater advancement… and holy hell, imagine how many women (and men) would advance in their middle management careers if we gave them some breathing room, where right now there is no flexibility and no time to make the “extra effort” at work or at home.

I’m not telling you anything new, and problems of workplace inflexibility affect men and women, but outcomes in career achievement point to the fact that for women, the results of workplace inflexibility have a much greater impact on their advancement. Despite the fact that women outpace men in graduating from college and compose more than half of the workforce, women hold only 16% of board positions at Fortune 500 companies and 14% of c-suite level positions at Fortune 500 companies. Like me, women are leaving the workforce before they reach these levels in their careers; too often it is because they cannot take on increased responsibilities at work while having time to raise their families and care for themselves. My guilt about not pushing through the glass ceiling and helping to change the ratio is real, I am built to succeed, I love solving problems, but for this particular problem, no solution was the right solution, so I picked the best one I could find, which was to drop out of the corporate arena and do my own thing, and it was a hard one to make. Now, maybe I’m no catch to begin with, but I’m not the only woman who has made this decision. Businesses are going to continue to lose some real talent if the way we work doesn’t change. Businesses want women to succeed; businesses need women to succeed. But women’s advancement will continue to stagnate until businesses make a concerted effort to change the way work gets done, because right now many of us feel damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. I know there are multiple women and men starting small business that work around their schedule, me included, but this kind of change needs to be systemic to really see any traction, and for that we need to come up with solid solutions.  For those of you willing to add your voice to solving for x (xx, xy) check out the next paragraph and join the conversation happening at The Center for Women in Business’s Idea’s Exchange. Those of us who feel guilty for letting go of the ladder can’t change the past, but we can change the future of women and families everywhere.

The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University is exploring the ways in which American businesses can better attract, retain, and advance women by structuring work in a new way. We need to be ready to take on global challenges, and businesses will be hard-pressed to achieve success without a diverse workforce that includes women at all levels, and as long as women are pulling double duty at work and at home, we’ve got to talk about balance. As part of its work, the CWB is hosting an online Idea Exchange, beginning July 17. Men and women are invited to participate in this forum to discuss ways businesses can improve work to better retain and advance women, and better serve everyone, whether they are raising a family or not. We have a long way to go, but many businesses want to change the way we work for the better, and that’s good for everyone.

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Thank You For Being Alive, Mother Fucker

My husband went for a guy’s weekend with his friends, they take a trip together every year. It gets increasingly more complicated for them to get together as they build careers and make families. I mostly give him my blessing, it’s important for men to keep their male friends after they get married. I read a paper about this once, how men drop their friends after marriage but women don’t, anyway, I think it’s important to have a support group outside of your marriage, friendships that don’t depend on so many details…

A few of these trips have been bachelor parties, which of course, is unnerving, but manageable.  I have to trust that as long as my husband plays by the house rules and doesn’t do something he will regret for the rest of his life, these things aren’t anything to worry about.  I did NOT feel this way about bachelor parties when I was pregnant and nursing, back then, they were most definitely off limits. You can blame it on the hormones of pregnancy if you like, but it doesn’t invalidate the way I felt.  That’s the funny thing about marriage, as it matures, as the hormones and feelings work it out, the house rules change, if just a little.

Our calendar says that my husband’s flight home was last night, I remember him telling me he’d be home in time to help take the children to school in the morning, but… he wasn’t. I called his phone but there was no answer. I had to decide between denial, worry, or anger to get me through this morning. I chose the first as my exterior expression while the other two ran through my mind in the background, setting fire to every senario. I rented a car to try delivering both children on-time to their schools (which are across the city from each other, and start within 15 minutes of one another.) This is so much easier when my husband is home, weekday mornings don’t work well without him.

On the way to the car I found a four leaf clover, a common mutation I am told, not that lucky at all, but I held onto it for a while, just in case. I opened the door to the rental car and the alarm went off. The car wouldn’t start. While the rental company tries to fix it, it becomes apparent we’re going to be late for at least one child’s school. We leave the car broken and beeping, I left the four leaf clover in the front seat, it was an accident, I considered retrieving it, but left it, telling myself it meant something to find luck and leave it in a stalled car. One child made it to school on time, one child stayed home with me. The fires of worry and anger in my mind are too mentally exhausting to withstand the bus trip and necessary school office interactions to sign the kid in as tardy. I’ve already pictured every ditch my husband’s body might be found in, there is no way I could walk into that school office alone without the weight of thinking I might always be alone bearing down on me.

After 8 hours of wondering what happened and twice as many connections to his voice mail, Mr. Pierce picks up the phone, relief washes over me. “Where are you?” I ask. “Venice Beach.” he says. “I thought you had a flight home yesterday.” I say. “It’s tonight.” he mumbles. “That’s not what you told me and that’s not what’s on the calendar.” I say. “Well, it’s tonight.” he says. “Thanks for being alive, mother fucker.” I growl in anger before hanging up the phone.

Somewhere in Venice Beach is a man half awake, probably hung over after a long weekend with his best guy friends, the ones he hardly ever gets to see. In his fog he’s probably wondering what he did to deserve such a pleasant 6am wake up call, he’s probably wondering if the house rules changed while he was snoring. But if he’s smart he’ll realize love is an unfeeling bitch at the other end of the telephone line, a really… lucky… bitch.