Disruptors: 5 Women to Watch in Health Tech

Women in tech may remain a minority, but don’t tell that to the majority who work in health tech where they are innovating, problem-solving and collaborating to create uncommon opportunities.

I recently spotlighted 5 such women who represent just a smidgen of those tackling obstacles in wide-ranging areas including digital health, wearables and biotech. Though they are as diverse as the technologies they stand behind, their shared passions urged them into new frontiers.

Read my latest piece for Women2.0 here (and if you’re an entrepreneur, don’t forget to sign up for the upcoming San Francisco Fall Conference while you’re over there!)

Chrystal City, VA: From Concrete Jungle to Thriving Tech Hub

Haven’t heard of Chrystal City, Virginia, yet? You will.

Whether you’re a startup founder, investor, innovator or just looking to make your next move, Chrystal City is a budding tech ecosystem ripe for the taking.

My latest piece appears on the singular Women 2.0 website (if you haven’t checked out their site, Meetups and media platform, do it now… great insight shared for women and men alike). Check out the article and, as always, let me know what you think!

Why Chrystal City Just Might Be the Perfect Place to Launch Your Startup

 

Why Advice to Younger Self is Worthy of Our Reflection

“Don’t worry so much about all the things you’re thinking. I’ve learned a different way of thinking; instead of getting wrapped up in my thoughts full of fretting and contradictions and worry, I’ve learned to just appreciate my thinking as it comes and goes.”  -Norman Fischer, abbot San Francisco Zen Center

I gotta hand it to my parents’ generation. Baby Boomers, it seems, aren’t satisfied with blending into the background as they age. Instead, they are resolute in their continued efforts at life- at living, at offering their insight and experiencing each day as something new to be cherished and to be learned from.

Though America has long been known to shun aging in all of its forms, perhaps we’re at a tipping point; a place where finally those among us with the most experience have a platform to share their wisdom.

It falls to us ‘younger ones’ (however young or not our years may reflect) to listen, to assess our own ever-evolving lives, and to accept that we- all powerful in our careers and family lives and spending power- may not, in fact, have all the answers… now, or ever. Perhaps that’s the secret of it all.

I’ve witnessed myriad blogs, articles and books devoted to the concept of offering advice to one’s younger self. Lessons learned through lives lived oozes from the pages of some of my favorite new readings (check out Arianna Huffington’s latest Thrive to see what’s on my bedstand currently). And just this morning, as if on queue from my own readings and inner-thinking, KQED’s Forum featured an hour-long program of ‘What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self’.

As I sat in my car at the delayed red light, I turned up the volume and listened to the words of wisdom spoken from 40 and 50 and 80 year olds to only themselves. No lectures. No judgments. Just reminders of love and introspection that comes from experience.

“Relax,” said many of the show’s call-in participants, famous and otherwise. “Things will happen as they happen.” And, “Follow your passions. Even if you can’t make any money off of them, do them anyway.” (I like to think this blogging thing falls into that latter category).

One woman’s advice to herself was particularly poignant for many where I reside in Silicon Valley- an area swarming with youth and excitement but always tempered with an air of uneasiness, expectation and stress.

“I spent my 20s being a good girl, being a graduate student, working hard to please my bosses, to climb the career ladder and do what I thought was expected of me,” spoke a woman from San Jose whose thick Indian accent offered such calmness. “But I was plagued by analysis paralysis. I was on the linear part of life back then. I wish I had written to myself reminding me that I should not have stewed in misery, spending too much time over-thinking things and living for others.”

The abbot of San Francisco’s Zen Center, Norman Fischer, spoke eloquently about minding to the little things in life. Cleaning, gardening, cooking… these are things that youth often relegates to chores and dismisses them as something where no meaning can exist. But Fischer reflected that in fact meaning exists in everything that we put effort into, from our relationships and friendships to the things that make up our days.

He then closed with his final piece of advice to his younger self, which dealt with what so many others have articulated so well… with many words and with few. Our thoughts dictate our lives. When we dwell on the negative (something I recently wrote about), we do a great disservice to all that we might have accomplished.

“Today, I can discriminate between a thought that can be beneficial and a thought that comes from confusion; I don’t need to be thinking about the latter,” said Fischer, a man whose spent the better part of his life living, reflecting and meditating. “To be able to tell the difference between a thought that is useful and noble and a thought that comes from our confusion is worthwhile to learn how to do. Relax around your thoughts- don’t be pushed around by them.”

As a thirty-something, these remain lessons I’m still learning. And however painful they may to acknowledge- to suck in- to gulp down- to confront inside- they deserve my attention. Not because someone told me to do so, but because one day I too may write an ‘Advice to my younger self’ piece. In fact, I think I’ll start one now.

 

Hubris & Sophrosyne

Combing through my LinkedIn feed for the day, I stumbled across a headline which grabbed my attention. The 5 Qualities of Successful Young Leaders began as many how-to articles do that target the up and comer’s. I nearly closed the window to turn my attention to another piece when I read the fourth and fifth pieces of advice: Personal Identity and Self-Awareness.

As I’ve been emphasizing these attributes in my own life lately, I decided to read on.

“Your role should not define you,” writes Alex Malley, CEO of finance services at CPA Australia, syndicated columnist and host of a TV show. “The most effective leaders are not defined by their own success or the title they hold. You will see on many occasions a person’s life unravel when they lose their leadership role. This is often because they have unwittingly allowed their title to be their identity and confidence.”

What Malley points out is that we tend to allow our professional roles (and defeats) define us. We tell ourselves tidy stories about our successes, but the slightest disruption in the stories we tell ourselves can wreak havoc on us professionally, personally, emotionally, and physically.

That’s not to say that it isn’t essential for each of us to have a clear purpose and feel adequate in the steps we take to reach our goals. We ought to recognize when we do things right; we need to feel appreciated and acknowledge the work we have done. But even if we achieve a role which was once a mere dream, we must remember that there must be something more. Career coach Bud Bilanich writes about the importance of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), “The mightier your purpose the more likely you are to succeed.”

It’s when we become so intertwined with our current state of being at work- or in life- that hubris takes over in a way that even the Great Bard himself couldn’t conjure up.

If hubris offers us a cautionary tale of what to watch out for in our professional lives,  then sophrosyne reminds us of what we can do to counter it. Referencing the goddess who escaped Pandora’s Box thanks to her self-moderation and restraint, the ancient Greeks heralded the ideal of sophrosyne as a state of healthy mental balance brought about by moderation and self-control.

A lofty goal that we can only attempt to achieve, a state of sophrosyne is more often than not neglected entirely by our modern society. There’s not a thing wrong with shooting for the stars and attaining them through hard work and will power, but when times get tough- as they are sure to do many times throughout our lives- we must have the poise and recognition that we are worth more than the job titles (or cars or houses or watches or whatever) that we have attained.

I think a state of sophrosyne is an important word to pay homage to in our daily lives- professionally as well as personally. To recognize that no one aspect of our lives singularly defines us. For young leaders, old leaders, those who aren’t yet leading and those who never will, we are all simply the sum of our parts at any given point in time- adjusting to life’s ebbs and flows for a clearer view of ourselves and what we can ultimately offer.

 

Focus on the Possible, Not the Probable

I was raised by a high performer. Not only did this have the natural effect of producing a Type A offspring, but it also gave me the opportunity to see firsthand the power of mind over matter.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting many of the ideas and motivations that my mother has long sworn by. The same lessons that helped her achieve what the rest of the world gawked at are pretty damn applicable to life in general: to our work, to our relationships, our parenting styles, our goals, our lives.

My mother learned to focus on the possible, not the probable. It’s easier said than done, as anyone who’s faced hard times can tell you. Most of us dilute our brain’s capacity for the possible with negative thoughts instead; we dwell on outcomes that are anything but certain; in the process we create that which we believe. It’s a personal manifest destiny that generally skews toward the negative.

In a nod to our collective ancestral past in which any given decision could literally mean the difference between life and death, researchers and psychologists point out that our brains tend to emphasize things that haven’t worked so well for us in the past more than the things that have gone our way. It’s as if we take for granted that which we do well, while harboring doubts about things that might go awry at some point in the future because of past hangups.

Getting over this natural inclination to protect ourselves is no easy task. And let’s face it- we don’t want to walk around with amnesia or completely forget lessons of our past. But we also don’t want them inhibiting our future growth and the possibilities that we can create for ourselves.

Renowned sports psychologist Jim Loehr explains, “If you put a lot of energy into fear, the muscle of fear will grow with investment. On the other hand, people that are very happy and high achievers in a positive way have the ability to take the hit- acknowledge it- and move on with a positive belief moving forward.”

Before my mother won the gold medal in the Olympics- before she set a World Record with her team mates- and before she made the US Women’s Swim Team- before the American Records-and before she swam in college…. my mother failed many times. At times, her failure to achieve what she wanted in the pool led her to nearly quit the sport she loved. Those times, she’s often said, is when she had to dig deep. Leveraging the words of her father in her head, she told herself to change what she could and let go of the rest. In so doing, she rejected the idea that a past failure or shortcoming somehow dictated a future outcome.

When we devote our time to negative thoughts, we honor them and slowly reap their unforgiving rewards: anxiety, anger, frustration, impatience. Worse yet, we lose that moment- the thought, the action- to expend our energy on the positive.

Positive thinking brings about the most productive days… but that’s another post to stay tuned for!

 

A Man & His Violin

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”  – Bob Dylan

For five years, we’ve been living across the street from a man who I’ve never spoken to before. Though I’ve seen him countless times meticulously tending to his front lawn with a push mower that’s been around at least as long as I have, I’ve never done anything more than give him a quick ‘Hi’ or a wave while running by.

Yesterday, that changed. With my dog on leash, I crossed the street and noticed him coming around the corner with that rusty mower. His short, staunch body muscled it’s way across the lawn, the old blades turning like a trusty old friend.

“Good morning!” I exuberantly said, breathing in the smell of honey suckle and the freshness of the morning sun.

“Hello there!” he replied, giving me a smile.

I couldn’t just drop a conversation now that I’d been the one to start it. I scrambled and spat out, “I have to ask you about this push mower of yours. We’ve been contemplating purchasing one ourselves. How bad is it, really, to mow with?” I asked with a grin.

“I wouldn’t have any other mower,” he said with a pause. His dark eyes glistened as he squinted at me. His calloused hands met his brow and wiped away the sweat. “I’ve been mowing with it since I was a kid. It’s the reason that at 59 my doctor at the VA says I’m still in pretty decent shape!”

I chuckled and introduced myself. He did the same. Then we conversed for a good long time. The lawn mower conversation gave way to other mechanical tools that he still utilizes despite society’s best intentions to modernize him. I learned all sorts of things about him.

That he was one of 13 kids (you read that right). His family moved to San Jose when he was young, settling in a nice working class neighborhood which has seen its share of changes over the years. When his parents died, he got their old pre-Victorian home and has faithfully tended to it ever since, remembering how he used to pass his days as a kid by tending the garden and drawing with his sister out back. He was very proud when recalling the day his dad- a Mexican immigrant- pulled into the drive with a shiny, red Buick convertible in 1964. He used to wash it until the chrome sparkled and cruise along Santa Clara Street with his brothers.

He served in the Army during Vietnam and came back home to work as a steel cutter. He had no college degree but that hasn’t stopped him from making some rather ingenious mechanical tools and inventions. He once had a job nearby at IBM where a team of young engineers had created a mechanical process which proved inefficient, costly and detrimental to the health of the workers manning the machines. Noting the insufficiencies, he fabricated a new model which worked seamlessly, saving the workers time rolling out each piece while keep them from hurting their backs. “They paid me $100 for what I created” he confided.

Maybe because I interview people for a living, or maybe because I’ve been craving new perspectives on life, but I kept listening intently to his stories and asked him questions to gain new insight. His six decade’s worth of experience seemed to roll off his tongue, with each new tidbit of information giving way to another story and another contemplation.

He clearly went from job to job at many periods throughout his life, and his lack of formal education proved to be a barrier along the way. But nothing deterred him. Instead, he did that which pleased him- that which made him think, which made him problem solve, which made him create- on his own time.

“I’ve widdled hundreds of tobacco pipes, ” he said with a glean in his eye. “I’ve sold some to friends, but mostly I just give them away. A few people told me later they were offered a thousand dollars for them!”

His pride, though contained, was evident as he told me of his other creations. “I also got into sculpting back in the 70s. I made a gorgeous little sculpture inspired by Greek mythology for my niece once. When her house burned down, it was one of the only things that remained because it was made of soapstone.”

“But my prized possession, Bonnie, would be the copper violin I made.”

At this point, I’d heard so much about how he had gone through life always pursuing his creative genius (despite the very real practical considerations that undoubtedly nagged on him) that I could almost muster enough belief that he had, indeed, carved some elaborate violin of copper. But something about my look must have given me away as a skeptic.

“If you have another minute, hold tight… I’ll be right back!” And with that, my new friend ran into his house like a kid anxious to show off his new Christmas toy, returning moments later and toting a case that indeed looked like that belonging to a violin.

He made his way over to me and my dog, placing the case on the corner of a bench on his patio with care. He popped the locks, one by one, and unfurled the coverings inside to reveal the most astonishing amount of glistening orange metal I’ve ever seen.

“Whoa,” I uttered, staring at this instrument that sure enough looked exactly like a violin.

“It plays well, too,” he said, taking out a bow and playing a few chords. “This I did completely myself- I didn’t use none of them stickin’ kits. That’s not the real deal.”

“It’s so unusual!” I said. “Why copper?”

“One of my brother’s had just done a job and had some remnants remaining of copper. I told him, ‘ Look, I’d love to make a violin out of metal. Can I use some leftover copper?’ And he gave it to me. Took me about 300 hours to craft.”

The fact that it was a genuine, playable violin was enough to impress me. But the detail and thought he put into this thing that would eventually be tucked away in a box to show the random stragglers like myself who inquire about it was beyond belief. It was Anton Chekhov who said that he wrote some of Russia’s most beloved plays “for the drawer”… that is, for himself. And here, this man standing in front of me who had painstakingly devoted so much time to a single creative project also did it for something well beyond that which comes from outside affirmations.

The entire thing shone bright, from the decadently curled copper scroll to the chin rest. Carefully etched along its body were magnolia flowers. “I used to do etching. Mostly on plexiglass… plexiglass is really good for etching plus it’s cheap. So I thought I’d etch some flowers on this to give it life. It came out really nice. Wasn’t hard at all.”

Put me to shame. This man- not a success by the world’s standards- had nonetheless offered so very much by way of his own careful cultivation of creativity. I left with my dog soon after to take that walk we hadn’t yet taken, recalling Chekhov’s comments and letting them settle heavy on my brain.

I had been searching for some answers yesterday, and found that my neighbor had an invaluable one to share. No matter what life tries to dictate to us, we have the choice to live the way we want and pursue the things that are dear to us. We aren’t caged, no matter what confines we find ourselves in. Beauty simply exists where we allow it to, whether or not other people recognize it.

And so that boxed violin may sit for many, many years unagitated by the world and still glistening orange from its dark home. But I won’t forget it.

 

 

 

 

Tackling the Hard Stuff

This morning while checking Twitter and LinkedIn as is my daily habit, I stumbled across a great little article by Debra Walton, Chief Content Officer at Thomson Reuters. Speaking about the choices successful women make, Walton writes, “feeling uncomfortable and insecure is the natural result of stretching yourself, of pushing your limits. If you never get that feeling, you are not trying hard enough.”

Aha! So I’m not the only one who feels like I’m in over my head at times. Good to know. I’ve spent the better part of three decades lost in the cerebral frenzy of second-guessing my actions sometimes. Perhaps nowhere more so than in my work.

I’ve found myself tackling projects for clients which I arguably did not have the expertise or experience to tackle. I began my writing career by reporting on new technology in Silicon Valley. And I did it for free. Some call it silly, but I called it opportunity. And a way to keep my mind busy. When I later accepted a job with a local start-up as head of their communications some years ago, I had never worked in a communications department- let alone worked for a startup.

I tackled these projects not because they made me feel comfortable, but because they offered a new opportunity for growth, exploration, career and much more.

By accepting new opportunities that fall out of our ‘comfort zones’, we climb another rung on the ladder of life. Had I never written a 500 word article, I wouldn’t have ever learned what it takes to write a 2,000 word article. Had I lacked the experience working for a start-up, I wouldn’t have realized that it’s a lot like working for yourself- you need to be your own best resource and make opportunities for the organization where once there were none.

Wayne Gretzky was a master of self-discipline, achieving success far beyond that which anyone dared

Wayne Gretzky was a master of self-discipline, achieving success far beyond that which anyone dared

Too often in work and in life we rest on our laurels. We think that we either cannot achieve our goals or that we’ll understand how to achieve them through some divine intervention and everything will turn out swell in the end. But I’m here to bust your bubble- and my own.

Life doesn’t work that way. Success- in all of its many forms- comes from a deep desire and the will to carry it out. We must identify what it is what we want. Next, we need to take baby steps as my mother often reminds me. For me and my writing career, this meant doing some things for free. Not fun. Not what I’d want to do again. But don’t close a door because it doesn’t look rosy on the outside. You really don’t know until you step inside what awaits. Lastly, we need to re-assess our vision of personal success- at work, at home, within our bodies and our minds- and make adjustments throughout our lives.

We have the bad habit as human beings of projecting our own ideas about success onto other people. When we see someone who has achieved what we want for ourselves, we tend to assume that they’ve ‘made it’ and that once they arrive, there is nothing more to do.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Successful people are always striving for more. And if they do achieve that which they have dreamed of and worked so hard for, they turn their attention to new things. Bill Gates could have easily retired in his tender 30’s, living forevermore as a billionaire many times over. But he didn’t. Instead, he and his wife formed one of the most influential grant-giving foundations in the world, boring full steam ahead to new endeavors, new problems to solve, and ultimately new satisfaction.

So the next time you fall victim to a thought of ‘not being good enough’, remind yourself that no of us are ever good enough. We all start somewhere. And when we do achieve that which we set as a goal, we turn our attention to a new opportunity, no matter how daunting it may seem.

One last quote for the day which is appropriate to close out the blog on:

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after the other.” -Walter Elliot