Mary Elisabeth

on Fridays I burn my fears…

Ideals

Ever since I was in middle school I’ve been journaling.  I still own my journals and have slowly (very slowly) been transcribing them for a future writing project.  I recently took a look at an entry in the master journal, so far, and discovered an entry from my senior year in high school.  The following is a reflection I wrote and shared on a retreat I led in high school.  The topic of my talk was “ideals”.  Here’s what I had to say:

Who am I?  Who are you?  What distinguishes me from you or you from the person sitting next to you?  Besides the obvious, hair color, eye color, each one of us has his or her own set of ideals which distinguishes us from one another.  Ideals are what you stand for and what you live for.  Our ideals are who we are and what we believe.  Last night we were asked to look at the movie of our life and to think about our pasts.  Hopefully during that time of reflection you came across some of your values.  In my movie I found that my three main ideals are loving others and myself, living in the present, and valuing my time with my family.  My ideals stem from my values.  An ideal is an ideal with the “L” of love added to it – it is a good idea I pursue with love and determination.  An idea is something in the head; an ideal is in the heart.  Ideals make our whole lives possible and in order to achieve our goals we must determine our values and ideals. 

Ideals play a huge role in our lives.  We all have ideals, values, desires and goals which influence our actions.  An ideal is a belief or goal that each individual must choose for himself in order to make his life meaningful.  Ideals require constant time, effort and energy.  And even though we may never reach them, or we may fail to follow them, they affect the way we live our lives for a certain period of time.  For instance, in the past I made a goal to make the varsity girls’ basketball team.  I took great strides toward achieving my goal and I desired so strongly to make this team that I spent numerous hours training in a gym.  On another note I also wish to treat others with respect.  For this reason I am nice to others and don’t put them down.  Our actions are reflections of who we are and what we believe, and others often take notice of our actions.  Sometimes you can tell someone’s ideals based on their actions.  When I notice someone taking time out of their lives to help someone out, or smiling and greeting everyone they’re putting their ideals into action.  People who work hard in school clearly value their future and the importance of education just as those who volunteer value helping others. 

Some of our ideals are internal, and reflect what is important to us.  Ideals are the reasons behind our attitudes and values.  For example, I want to do my best, put forth 100% effort, and work hard in all that I do.  To me “it’s more important to do my best, rather than to be the best.”  I strive to do the right thing even when no one is watching.  I also desire to be honest with not only others, but also with myself.  Furthermore, I work to live in the present.  After reading a book, “The Present,” by Spencer Johnson, I discovered the importance of being in the present, learning from the past, and planning for the future.  Even though I try very hard to live by my ideals, I often fail to do so.  I don’t always put forth all my effort when I’m doing something, and I do compare myself to others.  Through one specific failure to live by my ideals I learned a great lesson.  I failed to be honest with myself and others during my high school career.  I failred to express my true beliefs because I wanted badly to fit in and maintain friendships.  Over time, I became accustomed to conforming to how others acted and thought, and I found myself miserable.  I was doing things I didn’t really want to do, and being a person that I really wasn’t.  I didn’t want to be a “designated driver” watching others act foolish.  I didn’t want to be the goody too shoes being taken advantage of.  I didn’t like being in situation where others were putting each other down with phrases like “you’re ugly, you’re fat, why are you so stupid?!”  Because I value seeing the best in others I didn’t want to listen to others put each other down.  The more I heard these phrases, the more I began to believe they were true, even when I knew they weren’t.  I had to get myself out of this situation.  At this point I had to be honest with myself.  I spent a great deal of time discovering who I really was and what I truly valued and ultimately made a choice to be myself.  Through my failure to be honest with myself is others I discovered more of my ideals, and began to recognize my own ideals, rather than live by the ideals of others.  

Some of our ideals are external, that is how we want to be seen by others.  Most people want to be liked by others, so their ideals reflect this desire.  For me, I want others to see me as I am.  I want them to view me as a dedicated, hard worker, who is spiritually devoted to God.  I hope people think of me as a genuinely nice, happy, friendly and loving person.  Because I desire people to see these qualities in me, I act in a way that enables them to shine through.  I smile at everyone and greet others with a friendly “hello,” tell others the truth, and genuinely attempt to express my love toward everyone.  Sure there are days when I fail to portray these qualities, but setting external ideals sets goals which influence my actions for how I act around others. 

The third type of ideal is Christian ideals.  These ideals stem from the life and teachings of Jesus.  We cannot accomplish these ideals without the help of Jesus.  God gave His toughest commandment to humanity when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Loving one another may sound easy, but loving as Jesus loved us, to his own death, is hard.  Jesus asks each of us to take the love and understanding shown to us and pass it on to others.  I owe it to myself and others who live in this world with me, to at least try to understand the Christian ideal.  Each day I try to live by the ultimate Christian ideal, to love others as Jesus loves me.  I strive to see others as well as myself through God’s eyes.  For me, it’s easier to see others through God’s eyes rather than see myself through God’s eyes.  But I continue to work on recognizing God’s love of everyone, and expressing that love to all I encounter.  I must love others and myself in spite of our faults.  Each time I can forget myself and help someone else I’m putting the Christian ideal into practice.  I also desire to help others out by volunteering my time and giving to those less fortunate.  Volunteering is a great way to live out the Christian ideal because it’s an expression of loves towards God’s people.  I recently discovered that Jeeps Guyesky has spent every spring break on Habitat for Humanity, volunteering his vacation to help others.  Talk about an example of living out Christian ideals.  I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God is first, others second; I am third” on numerous retreats throughout high school.  This is a perfect philosophy to live Christian ideals.  Our Christian ideals affect the ways we live throughout our entire lives. 

We need our ideals because without them we are aimless.  Our ideals give our lives direction, meaning, and purpose.  Without ideals I would be a nobody going nowhere.  If I didn’t establish goals to be nice or to spend time with my family, my time would be spent completely different. 

Our ideals are not always constant.  They can change, in fact they should change and will change as we mature and grow spiritually, mentally, and physically.  As I have changed and matured, my ideals have changed and matured.  My ideals are as unique as the movie of my life.  If I want to change them, only I can.  In looking at the movies of our lives last night we could probably see how our attitudes and ideals have changed and developed, toward friends, school, family, work, and other things.  For instance, my ideals have changed in many of these aspects.

Regarding friends – I used to go with the flow and wouldn’t say what was on my mind, just so I could fit in and maintain my group of friends.  I limited myself to a small, selective group of friends.  When I recognized how miserable I felt hiding my true beliefs, and how unhappy with myself I was, I changed my ideals.  Rather than agreeing with my friends’ ideals I discovered, developed and began to follow my own.  Now I view everyone as a friend and try to initiate many new friendships.  I don’t limit myself to a small select group of individuals to hang out with.  I take the time to get to know and talk to as many people as I can.  Because I realized that I needed to change my ideals I became comfortable and confident enough in myself to initiate friendships. 

My ideals also have changed regarding my family.  As I get older, especially as college grows nearer.  I learn more and more of how precious my time with my family is.  I foresee the near future when I won’t be living with my family anymore, I’ll be away at college, so I’ve established an ideal to cherish every moment with my family and be grateful that God has blessed me with them in my lives.  Sometimes I lose patience with my family and always regret doing so.  When I find myself not consistently following my ideals I take the time to gather my thoughts in order to keep myself in check and continue practicing my ideals. 

As we look back over our pasts, we may also notice that there were times when our actions were not consistent with our ideals.  All of us have times when we don’t live as we believe.  However, it’s important that we keep trying to live our ideals, despite our failures.  The effort is what counts.  I mentioned how I strive to live in the present.  Yet, I often dwell on my past mistakes, and tear myself down about them.  I want to be viewed as someone who works hard and genuinely loves others, but there are times that I roll out of bed, feeling so tired that I fail to “cowboy up” to put forth my best effort and energy at school.  But a saint is a sinner who keeps trying, so I learn from my failures and continue trying to live by my ideals the best I can.  I always feel the best about myself and everything in general when my actions are consistent to my ideals.  It’s like the feeling you get when you’ve worked so hard to achieve something and then you finally do.  Like when you cross the finish line of a big race.  A feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. 

There are also times when we aren’t aware of our ideals.  We can devote our time, energy, and effort to something without knowing why or what that something is.  For me, I discovered many of my ideals after putting them into practice.  When I began to hang out less with friends from school and more with my family I began to discover activities that I truly like doing, and found that I didn’t like stuff that I thought I always had.  On the route to self-discovery I realized that playing basketball at Lansing Catholic wasn’t something I enjoyed as much as I had thought.  I found that I was doing things because I always had, but I had lost touch with myself, and became unable to notice what really made me happy.  After realizing that I didn’t like some of the things I was doing I was able to discover the variety of things I really do enjoy doing, like spending time with my family, trying new things (I happen to love surfing!), and learning and studying.  The more I know of my ideals the better I can live them.  If I do not stand up for my own ideals, how can I respect myself and expect others to treat me with respect?  It is up to each of us to recognize our ideals because we are the only ones who can devote our entire lives to them. 

In order to discover some of our ideals, we might ask ourselves some questions.  I want you to write these down.  How do I spend my time?  What do I like to do?  What don’t I like to do?  When do I feel my best?  How do I view and treat myself and others?  Who do I admire, love and respect, and why?  Take some time right now to answer a few of those questions.  When I answer those questions I realize that I enjoy spending my time with my family, learning, coaching girls’ basketball and providing services to others.  However, I don’t like partying.  I always feel my best after doing something I love, or doing something for someone else and brightening their day.  For instance, I feel great selling my Italian water Ice to people who absolutely love it and smile as they eat it.  I love seeing others happy.  Of course I also feel great after doing something for myself, treating myself to something that I like as well.  I attempt to view others and myself through God’s eyes and treat others and myself with respect and dignity.  I admire all of my family because they show such great love for me and others and passion for what they do.  I tend to develop many of my ideals based on what my family members do out of love.  For instance, my parents began a Capital Area Cougars basketball program for young kids.  Although at first their time seemed consumed by the project, I learned that it was such a great thing they did for all these kids.  My desire to help others is influenced by their love of doing so as well.  Answering questions like those will help you discover where your heart is and what you value in life.  Your heart will be where your treasure is.  Don’t treasure possessions or pleasures. Possessions rust, rot, or fall apart.  Pleasure passes. 

Remember, all of us have ideals…ideals that determine the way we live.  Ideals give life its meaning.  It’s up to you to live your ideals.  I can live my ideals if I want to just as you can live your ideals if you want to.  Like I said earlier, an ideal is something in the head; an ideal is in the heart.  Therefore, the best way to discover your ideals is through reflection and listening to your heart.  

Learning from sunsets

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Have you ever watched the sunset over a beach?  To me, there’s something very humbling about being near the ocean.  Then, add a breathtaking sunset and the world feels that much more amazing.

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Tonight I had the pleasure of watching the sunset on Pebble Beach in California.  Standing there looking over the water inspired a few personal lessons I’d like to share:

  • Observe.  It’s in observing the details of our surroundings that we learn great things.  We learn about others, the world, and ourselves.  Observing my surroundings during the sunset led me to discover a crab, a hermit crab, an anemone…sea creatures I wouldn’t have seen had I not been paying attention to the uniqueness of the environment around me.
Crab

Crab

Anemone

Anemone

  • Breathe.  We all know breath is vital to our life.  We need it.  But how often to we really breathe?  Deep, full bodied breath that trickles through our entire body?  It’d these deep breaths that relax us, energize us, and heal us.  Yoga has helped me discover my breath (so much that my doctor knew I did yoga by how I breathe).  Breathing in the ocean air in itself is a bit magic.  Tie that with a deep, full bodied breath and it’s even more impactful.
  • Cherish.  I was able to convince someone I love to take a break from work and join me to take in this breathtaking experience.  Fortunately, he likes sunsets and the ocean, so my job wasn’t too difficult.  Something about sharing the sunset together reminded me to cherish my time with those for whom I care deeply.  Our time on earth is limited and we don’t really know when the ones we love will leave our lives for one reason or another.  So why not act like every moment is a special sunset with the ones we love?!
  • Be.  Sunsets only last for a few moments and if we’re distracted by other things in our lives, what we did that day or what we’re doing later, we miss the sunset.  Have you ever heard that if you watch the sun just as it sets you’ll see a green light?  I haven’t actually seen a very bright green splash, though have seen green in the sky surrounding the sunset.  I wonder if that claim is simply meant for people to be focused on the sun as it sets.  Because if you aren’t, you’ll miss the green light!
  • Play.  Watching the sunset I took off my shoes, felt the (cold) water on my feet, sand in between my toes.  I had the urge to play, run, jump, do a cartwheel (which I am very poor at actually performing).  After the sunset I attempted a handstand (key word – attempted).  Something about the ocean, the waves, the beauty, the color, and the final sunset felt like a celebration to me.  And what better way to celebrate than an attempted handstand?!

Here’s to many more literal and figurative sunsets in our lives!

<3 mel

 

Personal Mission Statements

Recently I read the NY Times article, “Creating a New Mission Statement” about creating a personal mission statement.  The article recommends answering questions, like the following, to learn about what your mission statement looks like:

■ How do you want to be remembered?
■ How do you want people to describe you?
■ Who do you want to be?
■ Who or what matters most to you?
■ What are your deepest values?
■ How would you define success in your life?
■ What makes your life really worth living?

Going into the weekend is a great time to reflect on these questions.  Spend a moment asking yourself more, digging into your core mission and values that will guide your ongoing decisions throughout life.

<3 mel

 

Excuses

Despite my effort to participate in the YourTurnChallenge, a challenge to write and publish every day for seven consecutive days, I didn’t write and publish yesterday.  

I could list a dozen excuses as to why I didn’t write or publish yesterday – the 17 hours I was spending doing other things that seemed more important at the time.  And the fact that when I did have a few minutes I could have spent writing, I was tired or not in the writing mood.  It doesn’t matter though.  At the end of the day I didn’t write, I didn’t publish.  It doesn’t matter why not.  It didn’t happen and that’s the bottom line.

We create excuses for a lot of things in life.  Excuses as to why we didn’t do something we wanted to or for making “mistakes”, for missing appointments or canceling appointments.  

Why do we make excuses?  Is it out of laziness?  Failure to prioritize?  or misunderstanding of what’s important?  Or is our subconscious telling us that we really don’t want to spend time doing whatever we are making an excuse about.  Maybe if we were more thoughtful about our commitments and other decisions we wouldn’t need to make excuses.

Maybe it’s time we take a hard look at the excuses we make and why we make them.  And carefully consider the commitments we make to others and ourselves, so that we don’t put ourselves in positions where excuses feel necessary.

<3 mel

“What do you do?”

When we meet someone new usually one of the first questions we are asked is “what do you do?”  It’s such an odd question because it’s asking something so broad, typically expecting a narrowly defined answer, detailing our profession.

Whenever I am asked that question I carefully think about how I want to respond or I just say whatever is on my mind.  Because I do a lot of things.  We all do.  And more of what we do is outside of our professional lives (for some of us who don’t make their work their lives).  For me, my work and life interlace, so the distinction isn’t as clear.  Here are some of the ways I like to answer that question:

  • “I make gelato”
  • “I practice yoga”
  • “I write comedy”
  • “I sleep”
  • “I cook”
  • “I run”

If someone is really pressing for a more professional answer, usually I say something like “I create solutions to solve problems (or I’m an entrepreneur)”

Recently someone asked me to describe what I do for work and I used the above description.  She continued to dig deeper into my work, asking:

  • What about it is really satisfying? Making an impact in peoples’ lives (whether an employee, customer, partner, etc)
  • What about it drives you crazy?  It can be a very lonely road & there are lots of ups & downs, highs & lows. And the lows can be very low. 
  • What are your goals?  To leave the world a little bit better place
  • What is driving you?  Honestly, probably achieving. I’m highly competitive.  And making an impact. Doing something that positive impacts people.
  • What is holding you back?  Myself. I’m my own biggest hurdle. Self-doubt. 
  • Do you regret any significant decisions you’ve made about your career? If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently?  No regrets. Lots of lessons though. I live by the philosophy “no mistakes, only gifts & opportunities” 

There you have it. That’s what I do and how I feel about it.

Venture on,

<3 mel

What were your favorite toys as a child?

Someone I love recently subscribed me to StoryWorth, which prompts a weekly question for me to answer. The first question was “What were your favorite toys as a child?” To which I responded:

To help you understand my favorite toys as a child I’ll first say that I loved animals! As soon as I could talk I asked my mom to horseback ride & my family always had dogs. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the fake animals just as much as the real ones:

Puppy in my pocket. If you ever wonder why I can name almost any dog breed from just seeing a dog on the street it’s because of these small plastic dogs. Each dog came with a card, sharing the breed and the dog’s name. I’m pretty sure they are still in a shoe box (a Hush Puppies brand shoe box of course) in my parents’ basement. Check out the attached photo for a glimpse of what these puppies looked like.

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Breyer horses. These model horses were a higher priced toy item and it was always a special treat to get a new one. I had Black Beauty, Man of War, Secretariat, Ruffian (photo attached), all the “famous” horses, and then others that were just as special. I gave them all names and played with them with my friend Lauren. We’d create our own equine sitcoms (or often times soap operas) with the characters we created and plots we developed. Horses had stallionfriend drama, friend fights, gossip, successes and failures, just as we experience. I also had smaller plastic horses, more similar in form to the puppy in my pockets. However, they did not intermingle with the Breyers.

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Stuffed animals. Let’s just say I could fill a bedroom with just stuffed animals. I collected them over the years because family knew me to love animals and gifting a fake plush one was a suitable substitute (and more favorable from my parents who were not excited when I brought home a live gerbil from a friend at school in the third grade). These plush friends brought much of the characteristics as a real friend…comfort, hugs, a shoulder to cry on, and a great listener (they never talked back and always agreed with me!)

Beanie babies. I struggle to include these small bean filled animals as toys, as they were more of an investment. They were supposed to pay for my college education when their $5 cost became $5,000 in value. Heck, that could’ve also paid for retirement considering all the Beanie Babies I owned. Even if they did appreciate in value ours probably would have still been worthless, since they made great amo for my siblings and my “beanie baby wars” during which we’d throw them at each other from across the basement floor. Once the tag was removed, the value was stripped.

With my imagination, all of these toy creatures had names, lives, personalities. They were my storyboard for creation in addition to childhood toys and entertainment. They were friendly compliments to the sports’ toys – basketballs, soccers, skates, or other recreational games. A basketball wasn’t something to cry on or talk to about my day at school. My husky stuffed animal was always there with a warm hug and listening ears, even if they weren’t real.

Am I missing anything, mom?

<3 mel

Happy 2014! A 2013 Recap & Reflection

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Last year at this time I was ringing in the new calendar year with some friends in Santa Rosa, California.  Though I wasn’t yet living in the Bay Area, it already felt like home.  The start to 2013 blossomed change, as I was exploring what next in my life.  Looking at a new venture, a new geographical home.  Flash forward one year later and I have been living in San Francisco since May (officially), enjoying a new venture, and have made many new friends and memories in this chapter of my life.  Looking back over the year, here are some of the things I’ve done:

At the beginning of the year I was finishing up my job at RPM Ventures, involved in the Recycle Ann Arbor board, working with the best gelateria, challenging my fitness goals, and going to every farmers market I could get my hands on.  The year evolved into an exciting and memorable adventure – from moving to a new city, taking on a new venture, and building relationships with amazing people – I truly feel blessed as I reflect on my 2013.

The lengthy nature of this post is meant to encapsulate my 2013 year in review, with just a few of the highlights throughout the year, as well as reflect on my personal growth throughout the year.  If you recall, I don’t make traditional New Year’s Resolutions, and rather set goals and resolutions throughout the calendar year.   Though at the start to 2013 I spent an ample amount of time getting to know myself better and now is a great time to revisit what I set out to be and accomplish over the past 12 months.

To start, here are some of my happenings in 2013.

January:

  • Rang in 2013 with a small group of friends in Santa Rosa, California
  • Exploring opportunities for my next venture
Ringing in 2013 in Santa Rosa, California with friends

Ringing in 2013 in Santa Rosa, California with friends

February:

  • Watched the SuperBowl with friends in San Francisco (ironically just a block or so away from my current apartment)
  • Went to San Diego with my parents and saw my dad receive the Phelps-Martin Award for Community Service
  • Started working at SoFi

March:

April:

  • Watched the University of Michigan men’s basketball team play in the NCAA Final Four at the Palace
  • Led an Improv4 Entrepreneurs workshop in Detroit
  • Celebrated my mom’s birthday at a B&B with horseback riding
  • Received first press from my olive tree in Italy

May:

  • Saw The Colbert Report live in NYC with my brother
  • Led an Improv4 Entrepreneurs workshop in Portland for the TechStars Nike+ Accelerator
  • Explored Traverse City and other parts of the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan with my dad
  • Moved to San Francisco! And immediately the day after experienced Bay to Breakers
  • Spent Memorial Day weekend camping in Big Sur with great friends
  • Some more highlights of my first couple weeks in SF
Pre- Colbert Report viewing

Pre- Colbert Report viewing. We’re excited!

Day I moved to San Francisco

With my parents in Michigan the Day I moved to San Francisco

June:

July:

  • My 25th birthday with 50 of my closest friends!
  • Continued taking improv classes at BATS Improv
  • Checked out the Treasure Island Flea Market with some friends
  • Some more highlights 
My birthday party!

My birthday party!

August:

  • Performed in an improv show at BATS Improv
  • A blur of professional and personal challenges, including the loss of three people

September:

October:

  • Quick trip to Michigan
  • My parents and grandmother visited the Bay Area.  My mom and I ran the Healdsburg Half Marathon together, both getting our PR.
  • Judged the San Francisco Crossfit in-house competition, Virtuosity
  • Attended the Net Impact Conference in San Jose, representing SoFi
  • Dressed as a farmer for Halloween
Family in Napa together

Family in Napa together

November:

  • Spoke at the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum, on behalf of SoFi
  • Got my first case of walking pneumonia after traveling on 7 flights in 5 days for SoFi
  • Participated in a pre-Thanksgiving progressive dinner
  • Thanksgiving at the Fallone’s
  • Kayaked to Angel Island and did a little hiking around there, with picnicking, once we got there
Made it to Angel Island!

Made it to Angel Island!

December:

  • Joined Brian Rumao at the LinkedIn Holiday Party
  • Saw Book of Mormon!
  • Got my first concussion from a SoFi injury further demonstrating that student loans are dangerous
  • My brother, Nick, visited me in San Francisco
  • More holiday parties and cheer!
  • Hiked Gerbode Valley Trail
  • First Christmas away from my parents.  Spent it with wonderful family in Lafayette.
Hanging out at the LinkedIn holiday party

Hanging out at the LinkedIn holiday party

At the start of last year I wrote about what’s important to me and listed many words that I wanted to be descriptive of my 2013.  Here are some thoughts and/or examples highlighting those words in my life over the year:

Love – to quote a movie I like, “love actually is all around”.  There is so much love in my life and throughout 2013 I was continuously reminded of this.  Love from my family who flew out from Michigan to visit me in my new home.  Love from my friends who called me and asked to help when they heard I had a concussion and pneumonia.  Love from complete strangers who smile as we cross paths.

Risks – moving to San Francisco, taking on a new life venture, leaving familiarity behind

Passion – I’ve seen my passion for cooking really flourish in 2013.  I have spent a lot of time creating new recipes, trying new foods, and learning more about culinary knowledge…and enjoying every minute of it!

Challenges – My biggest challenge of 2013 was probably moving to a very new place.  It wasn’t the move itself that was challenging.  It was the adjusting, a bunch of little challenges in the process that added up to make it a larger challenge…more than I thought. For instance, things like figuring out how to get places, navigating new social circles, taking on a new work venture, AND taking time for/discovering myself in the process.

Improvement – just the other day I got a PR on a lift in crossfit – clean and jerk – by 5 pounds.  It’s a little improvement, but an improvement nonetheless, and it feels great to progress on something I work hard to achieve

Discovery – With a new city, new friends, new ventures abound, which means tons of discovering new restaurants, people, places, activities to try, and more!  I even wrote about some of the new places I explored.  Never a dull moment!

Health – my health has been great!  Other than the walking pneumonia dip in November I have felt great and been strong and energetic out here.  It certainly helps that the sun shines so much!  I have stayed active with running, crossfit, yoga, hiking, and other adventures.  I am eating well – California’s farmers markets are spoiling me (but not my wallet!)  Sleep needs improvement in 2014!

Creativity –  Improv was my primary creative outlet this year.  I led several workshops with Improv4 and hosted more informal improv jams with friends and improve classmates.  I took a couple of improv classes at BATS Improv, an acting class, and had my first improv performance in San Francisco!

Smiling – I love smiling and I’ve embraced smiling at strangers more in the past year than I had previously.  Lots of improv in 2013 also kept me flashing those pearly whites!

Independence – For the first time in my life I truly feel independent.  I live on the other side of the country as my immediate family.  When I moved out here I didn’t have much.  I sent one box and brought a couple of suitcases.  I was responsible for getting my act together – buying a bed, dresser (still working on that), furniture, taking care of my health and finances, and more.  Not that I wasn’t doing those things before, but help was always an easy call away.  Fortunately, I have amazing friends and family in the area and they always have my back.

Commitment – May of this year marked my 1 year anniversary with crossfit, something I have been dedicated to since my intro sessions at Hyperfit in Ann Arbor.  I love everything I am learning at crossfit and the amazing friendships I have built through my involvement in the community.  I remember last year setting a goal to go to crossfit 2-3 times per week and now I go 5-6 times per week (if not more – my record is 7…that was a tough week!)

Courage – on so many levels I have needed to exercise courage in my life.  Courage to stand up for myself professionally.  Courage to speak my mind at work or with friends.  Courage to try new things and put myself out there in a new city.

Fun – definitely had more fun in 2013.  Probably my most social year yet.

Strength – I am the strongest I have ever been, physically and mentally.  Habits help.

Endurance – I’d say running 2 half marathons in 2013 has to do quite a bit with my endurance =)  Not just the race itself, but the training and the perseverance to get it done!

Ventures – life is a venture and 2013 sure had its fill!  Hiking ventures.  Food ventures.  Improv ventures.  New ventures.  San Francisco ventures.  Writing and more.  I’ve really had a full 2013 with lots of changes and exploration.

Here’s to a happy and equally venturing 2014!

mel, the Venture Gal

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How to Learn

I started an online course on writing.  My mom shared it with me and she is taking it as well.  I am mostly doing it for the writing prompts and to practice writing more, and to have something to talk to my mom about and do together (in addition to both training for the Healdsburg half marathon in October).  The course just started and the first question asked is “how have you learned what you are good at?”  Basically, it’s a reflection piece thinking about learning styles and how I learn.

When charged with the question how have I learned what I am good at I first asked myself, what am I good at?  What do I know?  Then I considered how I learned about that.  The things I think I am good at (or have been good at) are: cooking, improvising, writing, yoga, horse riding, running.

Take a look at how my learning for those activities breaks down:

Cooking:

  • Practice / doing
  • Experimenting
  • Receiving feedback
  • Reading relevant material

Improvising:

  • Classes
  • Practice / doing
  • Reading relevant material
  • Teaching
  • Receiving feedback

Writing:

  • Classes
  • Practice / doing
  • Reading relevant material
  • Teaching
  • Receiving feedback

Yoga:

  • Classes
  • Practice / doing
  • Receiving feedback

Horseback riding:

  • Classes
  • Practice / doing
  • Reading relevant material
  • Receiving feedback

Clearly there is a pattern here.  I learn by doing.  I learn by practicing.  I learn by teaching others and by receiving feedback about my work.  Reading relevant information is useful, but is just a piece of the puzzle.  I strongly believe that learning by doing is vital to mastering something.  However, learning something from taking classes or reading is a great predecessor for practicing and then teaching.  Teaching a skill is a great way to master it because it forces knowing.  When teaching you are expected to answer questions, so must know enough to answer those questions.  Asking questions is an important part of the learning process – when taking classes or practicing with people more experienced, it is good to ask questions to develop more knowledge about the particular subject.

Considering learning involves a process of absorbing (reading, taking classes, asking questions), doing (practicing), and sharing (receiving feedback, teaching).  And it’s never done.  It’s a cycle of absorbing, doing, and sharing, and doing more of all three.  This learning model I can apply to other activities I’d like to master or activities I’d like to get better at, like writing, improvising, cooking, crossfit-ing, leading, etc.  Absorbing, doing, and sharing in those activities will continue to get me to a level of skill worth noting!

Venture on,

MEL, the Venture Gal

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Growing Companies – Culture & Leadership Featuring Serial Entrepreneur Jennifer Baird

This week our class hosted our first guest speaker for the semester.  Jen Baird, serial entrepreneur, currently CEO of Accio Energy & former founder & CEO of Accuri Cytometers.

Jen got her interest in being an entrepreneur when interning for a VC firm.  After graduating from the University of Michigan with a psychology degree & from Kellogg School of Management with her MBA, she worked in consulting for over half a dozen years.  After consulting she took the leap into carving her own path, a route that was quite challenging for her.  When she co-founded Accuri Cytometers she was at the start of a 5 year journey creating, launching & scaling a product & team.  She grew the company from 2 to 80 employees, raised close to $30M in capital, launched a European subsidiary, & approached profitability.  Jen claims to really excel at is the people part of the organization (which I would argue is the most important part!).  She claims “companies are built of people.  They are the building blocks”.  This makes sense given her psychology degree & operational experience building & leading teams.  She clearly has learned a lot from her experiences.

What really stood out to me about Jen is that she knows herself well, exudes passion, is very personable, & is quite confident.  In particular, this is what I learned from listening to Jen & reflecting on her discussion:

“Power of focus is what you choose NOT to do”

On any given day my to do list could be pages long, but really do I need to be doing all those things?  Where is my time best spent?  I have been attuned to this lately & the way Jen described “choosing NOT to do something” caught my attention as a different way of thinking about prioritization.  Another piece of advice she had was to check in every 6 months to see what else can be delegated or eliminated.  Otherwise I become a restraint (similar to how I felt at Iorio’s – stifling our growth).

There are aspects of us that are similar.

Jen’s open style of management mirrors my open book philosophy & values based management style.  A few things we both advocate: all hands meetings, open door policy, building trust & communication.  She also mentioned that she likes to share details & has learned that sometimes it’s better to not share too much.  Something I’m working on also.

I still have questions I’d like to ask Jen, & I will ask her:

  • How do you decide which business opportunities to pursue?  Why Accuri?
  • Challenges you faced as female? How did you overcome them?
  • Where do you learn? (books, people, etc)

Following Jen’s talk Tom discussed management styles.  The key thing I took away after this lecture is that knowing who you are you are is a continual process/discovery that never ends.  In particular he asked: Who are you?  What is your impact on people?  What are your values?  What does success look like for you?  We need to figure out who we are.  It is hard enough to be ourselves, let alone someone else.  If we don’t know who we are it’s difficult to hire people around us to make us better.  Tom recommended developing a vision for yourself.  Know what you’re good at & what you’re not good at.  How best to do this?  I’m still figuring that out.  I do know that spending time with myself, in silence, thinking & reflecting has helped me.

He also emphasized the importance of trust.  To earn the trust of others (e.g. board of directors, customers, employees) you must first trust yourself.  If you don’t trust yourself, it will show, & others won’t trust you.  A great book I read that goes into detail about trust is “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey.

We also questioned “what is the role of the CEO?”  50-75% of the time she/he is working with people. From time to time GreatLakesVC shares his Weisdom with me & he once told me that the job of a CEO is to make everyone else better at what they do.  To achieve the most in a resource constrained organization, the CEO should be controlling about the company vision & values because every employee should know the story of the company & exactly what the company is trying to accomplish.  The danger of being controlling is slowing down progress & not empowering people to the fullest.  The more someone wants control, the more things need to go through that person, & it slows things down (exhibit ME/Iorio’s).  It is really important to get the message right for the first people you hire & make the culture & values clear.  This way, when you stop hiring people, the people who are hiring people get the message right & hire based on the culture & values of the company.  Recently at Iorio’s we saw a great example of congruency without our organization.  One of our team members created a series of “Iorio’s Ten Commandments” to be a way to share the ground rules & operations of the business.  The result – a set of guidelines that scream Iorio’s culture as we created it.  The fact that we didn’t write them…& that they are so spot on to our culture & values is a huge testament to our ability to create congruency in our business.

Eccellente!

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

Has your company outgrown you? Or have you outgrown your company?

It’s that time of year when I run errands in the morning, eat dinner in my car, & spend more time at the University than I do at my house…that’s right…it’s the second half of Winter Semester at the University of Michigan (UofM).  During this time, both partners at RPM Ventures teach classes at the UofM.  Marc’s class, “Venture Business Development”, is taught through the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering.  It’s a two week intensive course where students work on teams to evaluate a real business idea – everything from developing an elevator pitch, to rapid prototyping, & talking with customers.

Tony’s class “Managing the Growth of New Ventures” is taught through the Ross School of Business to second year MBA students.  This course takes place once per week for half a semester and is co-taught by Tom Porter.  This year is my second year involved with this course & my role is basically the person who does whatever needs to get done to be helpful.  I found articles for course readings, grade homework, track participation, take attendance, & brainstorm ways to improve the course for future sessions.

This week’s class included introductions and a roadmap for the course, as well as a discussion about the five stages of business growth.

  1. Existence
  2. Survival
  3. Success
  4. Take Off
  5. Maturity

The class focuses mostly on the first four stages, building a company from absolutely nothing to a company and navigating the stages of growth along the way.  There is so much more than building product when building a company.  Building team is equally if not more important.  Team, culture, strategy, are the less glamorized aspects of starting a business, but so important.  In this first class I pulled away a couple reflections:

Know Thyself & Discover Wealth

As a leader of a company, being able to be reflective & introspective about your role with the company is very important.  In light of my recent unplugging & reflecting on so many things in my life, this is especially relevant.  During quiet time to thing about life, interests, passions, I learned a lot.  In an organization, for a CEO or leader, it’s important to take that time to pause & reflect on what you’re doing from a high level & ask yourself “am I the right person to be doing this or could someone else do it better?”, “would I be better suited somewhere else in the organization?” “would I add more value somewhere else in the organization?” because someone who may be great at creating and figuring out if something works may not be the same person who takes it from 10 employees to 50 or 50 to 100 and scale the business into the next stages of growth.  Think of companies where the CEO/Founder has been the same throughout all stages…it’s very few…Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell.  Being abel to figure that out as a leader is very important.

When thinking about a leadership role in a growing company, I think there are two aspects to consider:

  1. Role, in terms of what functions you are  best at doing.  Where do you add the most value?  Where do you thrive?  Is it the operational details, making sure money is the bank, paychecks are sent out, wheels are turning day to day. Or are you more strategic, thinking about where the company is, where it’s going.  Are you great at graphic design? etc.
  2. Stage.  What stage of growth is your paradise?  What time during the company do you want to be there?  When the company is 3 people with an idea & lots of ambiguity?  or when the company has 100 people with more developed systems & lots of names & faces to remember?  Holding your role constant, if you’re doing the same role in a 10 person company, it’s going to be different (even in that same role) than in a 100 person company.

I don’t think you need to figure out one before the other.  For me, I’m still trying to figure out what the function is optimal for me & even more broadly, what industry, general space interests me most.  What’s the space? What makes me tick?  Now I have several interests in broad areas & am exploring them further to discover what really could be right for me.

In terms of stage, I like the early stuff…the ambiguity, figuring things out, the creation, having a blank canvas.  I’m energized by a small team, setting the culture, & taking on the start of something with big plans. in a small team.

Transitioning Leadership

Another thing that came up when discussing the 5 stages of growth was this idea of transitioning from each stage, when you need to transition leadership.  Let’s say a leader isn’t a right fit in a company that is going from Survival to Success & that leader could better be replaced by someone else to lead the company, & the original leader could be better off somewhere else in the company (with a different role perhaps).  For the original leader it’s tough to make this transition…this is his/her baby, his/her creation. It’s very difficult.  I’ve experienced this personally with Iorio’s.  Just two weeks ago was the first time handing the reins over to someone else to run Iorio’s Gelateria in Ann Arbor.  I think our delay in transitioning leadership has limited our growth because things are funneled to go through few people & there’s not breakup of decision making at a higher level.  My biggest challenge & opportunity is preparing transitions so the company can successfully operate without the presence of the founders & early leaders.  The first experiment for this went well. Transitioning leadership also illustrates the importance of hiring people & building a team of people you trust.  It makes it a smoother transition if you trust the person you’re transitioning to.

I have also seen this play out in RPM Ventures‘ portfolio.  In particular, there is a company where the CEO is doing a lot of operational/day to day things that maybe he doesn’t have to bother himself with. If he brings in someone else, he can step into a more strategic role, which is what he loves & is really good at.  For instance, he could spend more time on things like product, vision, & leading the team in that direction.

Transitioning leadership is a common thing for companies.  Though not just high tech, as Iorio’s is a great low tech example, it is prevalent in high tech as well.

What does this all mean?

When starting a company, think about how you are going to work yourself out of a job.  How do you develop a company, build a culture, put systems in place, that will exist without you?

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pull yourself out of your company, or take yourself out of your current role, & do something else.

Have you ever transitioned leadership in your company?  What did you learn?  Do you think your company is ready for a transition?  Is your current leadership team holding your company back?  I’d really like to hear about your experiences!

Venture On,

MEL aka Venture Gal