General troublemaking

Inspiring Troublemakers: Ariel and Andrea

Troublemakers: It’s been awhile, but I haven’t forgotten you! Here’s to getting back on track…

As you know, I am fortunate enough to work with individuals driven by their innate desire to make the world a better, more sustainable place. As a change agent myself, it’s constant inspiration for me to be surrounded by those who are taking action about issues they care so deeply about.

One of these individuals is Ariel Beery, who co-founded PresenTense. While not only indebted to him for allowing me to have a job that I find great meaning in (and keeps a small roof over my head), I look at Ariel, and co-founder Aharon, and realize the impact two individuals can make on the world. With an idea they were able to build out an organization that has directly improved and saved lives as well as fosters Jewish community in an age where that is not always easy. While just two examples of the (fortunately!) many individuals working on solving the world’s most pressing needs, Ariel and Aharon are individuals that I can relate to and have worked with the most, and have moved on after PresenTense to continue to do inspiring things.

Ariel, after moving on in a professional capacity from PresenTense, has co-founded a new company called MobileOCT, which allows for affordable mobile screening of cervical cancer in the developing world. This invention can save literally millions of lives. The technology is simple yet the implications are enormous. Shameless plug: help support MobileOCT’s work through their Indiegogo campaign.

My mother, Andrea, is a survivor of cervical cancer. She was fortunate that they found it when she was pregnant with my younger sister, and was able to treat it, but not without long term repercussions. 15 years after her diagnosis and treatment, my mother was diagnosed with Lymphedema, a chronic condition that prevents the lymph system from working, as a result of them removing lymph nodes during her surgery. While fortunate that her condition is somewhat under control, my mom has to live (potentially) the rest of her life with one leg that’s swollen to be about double (or more) the size of the other. It’s a dangerous condition because one bug bite or cut can lead to massive infection, which has happened to her twice.

Every year my mom walks in the Lymphatic Research Foundation’s walk against Lymphatic diseases, and is an advocate for the cause of research and awareness for the condition, which many doctor’s are not aware of. (Another shameless plug, support my mom’s walk! I swear this isn’t supposed to be a fundraising post)

I am humbled and inspired to have worked alongside Ariel, and to consider him a friend and mentor. The work he is doing is not only important for the world, but plays a very special place in my heart. And I am so fortunate to be the daughter of an incredibly strong and inspiring woman who, despite the crap the universe has dealt her, remains positive and aims to make a difference in the lives of others through raising awareness and funds for Lymphedema.

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General troublemaking, Social Innovation

How Starting a Startup is Like Starting A New Relationship

I like to be in control of things. I am the type of person who pursues what she wants and am reluctant to let other’s thoughts or expectations stop me. Oh yeah, did I mention that I am a trouble maker? I believe that if an employer or potential relationship does not appreciate that, then it probably isn’t the best fit for me. This attitude has enabled me to accomplish a lot in my life such as landing two of my dream jobs, a handful of meaningful relationships, and some life-changing trips across the glove. But sometimes it’s important to realize that not everything can be controlled not all dreams can be pursued and accomplished as easily, or with as much certainty, as others.

The lack of control is particularly true about entrepreneurial ventures and romantic relationships. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between starting a startup and starting a romantic relationship. Let’s examine.

  1. You’re never really initially sure if he’s into you. Your first few dates inevitably lead to questions: does he like me? Are our values aligned? Is he thinking about me like I am thinking about him? Similarly, it’s hard to feel confident about your progress in the early stages of a startup. For every win, there are often three or four setbacks. Things move more slowly than you want them to. It requires steady effort to build confidence.
  2. You want to dive in full force, but sometimes it’s important to use restraint. When starting a relationship, no one wants to be the overly eager party. You “play it cool” and wait a few hours between texts, and don’t invest all your energy at once. You don’t want to be too vulnerable too early on. In the startup world, it’s easy to want to dive in head first into your idea. But it’s important to evaluate the market, do your research and homework, and tread carefully before you receive market validation and pour your heart, soul, and wallet into this new idea.
  3. It is what you put into it. Both relationships and startups thrive the more you invest your time and energy into them. People generally approach both with a hearty dose of uncertainty, but the more you are scared to give it your everything, the less likely it is to survive and thrive.
  4. Fitting something else into your busy schedule. Especially as New Yorkers, we are always overbooked with work, networking, friends. Starting a new business, or relationship, means figuring out how to adjust your day-to-day to allow for the other in your life. If you are trying to do both at once (like me!), scheduling is even more fun! It’s important to try to find some time for you, whether that’s a ten minute walk during the day or one night off per week. Or else there’s the reality of burnout.
  5. It could be meant to be, but the timing may be off. Sometimes you hit it off with a guy/gal, but extenuating circumstances prevent you from making it work (work schedule, getting out of a relationship too recently, etc.). Same thing with startups. You could have the perfect idea at a not-so-perfect time which may cause it to fail. Recognizing that, and not letting it discourage you, is highly important in moving on.
  6. When it’s good, it’s really good. A majority of first dates and first startups don’t work out, but keeping your eye on the prize is paramount. Because when they do, it’s worth the roller coaster of emotions, the sleepless nights, the fights and the uncertainty are all worth it. You end up with something that you are proud of, that you can’t wait to tell your friends about and post about on Facebook.

But to be honest, if all this was guaranteed, what fun would that be? The tumultuous journey is half of the adventure.

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Healthy Living, Professional Growth, Social Innovation

More Than Just the View

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I recently returned from a ten-day trip to Peru. It was an amazing experience, one that challenged me in new ways and exposed me to a new part of the world I had yet to explore, South America, with two close friends.

As you can probably imagine, one of the highlights of our trip was the hiking. Pressed for time (we are all working gals with limited vacation days!) we hiked the one-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (8 miles) and the following day hiked Wanyapicchu, a steep mountain right next to Machu Picchu. While I do enjoy hiking, I certainly cannot call myself a pro, and didn’t quite know what to expect from these two hikes. I was nervous and unsure, but excited to see where the trails would take us.

Despite the hikes being difficult in some sections, I was told, they were:

Totally worth the view.

It’s easy to think that the summit of a hike, or a mountain, is the moment that makes it all worth it. As you stand triumphantly over the ground you have just conquered, taking in an exceptional view of the world below, there is an incredible rush of satisfaction and accomplishment. I certainly felt that at the top. But in Peru, I realized that the journey up the mountain was more transformative than simply being at the top. It’s navigating the unsteady rocks, pushing through mental and physical exhaustion, and encouraging your comrades during the hike that define you and push you past your limits. It’s about the shaky feeling in your legs you get as you descend and the people you meet along the way who you exchange stories with. Those are the moments that define you, that guide you moving forward.

There are many things that may stop you along your way. For us, the altitude made it hard for us to breathe, it was raining and the rocks were slippery. There is often a fear of getting hurt, or a fear of failure. I realized that appreciating the challenges made the successes even more rewarding. The easy way is never quite as fun.

Hiking the Inca Trail and Wanyapicchu gave me perspective on my work both as an entrepreneur and with entrepreneurs. Individuals (myself included at points!) may see the rocky, slippery, and sometimes flat out dangerous path up as simply obstacles to overcome in order to accomplish their goal of seeing the view. But aren’t the challenges the fun part? Entrepreneurship not just about building a product or service that allows you to sit back , drink a pisco sour, and enjoy the view, it’s about the climb. It’s about the times when you feel like you just can’t continue, you need to stop and catch your breath, or when you feel stronger than ever and are able to encourage your team members to power through. It’s about the moments when your legs are shaky and you aren’t sure that your next step will be a successful one. And of course it’s about those moments when you ultimately summit, when you get to look down below at the world beneath you and see all that you have accomplished. It’s the culmination of the hike and the summit that make life interesting, and work as an entrepreneur exciting. If you aren’t interested in the climb as an entrepreneur, you’re in the wrong field.

I don’t want to live in a world where I am always on top of the mountains. I want to push myself to be constantly climbing, catching my breath, and figuring out which rock to step on next. As I settle back into my NYC life, I strive to keep these lessons learned in mind, reminding myself that the challenges are often the most rewarding part of an endeavor.

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General troublemaking, My favorite things

Feeling Whole

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that’s where you left your heart?

Is there a place in the world that makes you feel whole? A place that when you are there things just feel right, you smile, and you just know that on some level that’s where you are meant to be?

I spent last week in New Orleans, a city that will always have a piece of my heart. After living there for my college years, including living through Hurricane Katrina (though quite fortunately in a very safe way), I can say with confidence that is truly one of the few places in the world I feel at home. Jazz permeates society, the food is superb, the people are friendly, and every day life is appreciated, which is quite different from New York City living. I feel light when I am in New Orleans. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in NOLA knows there’s a lagniappe (Louisiana French creole for “something special”) that exists in there, a lagniappe which lives in you long past the time you spend in the city.
For me, it’s important to incorporate the lagniappe of New Orleans, the feeling of lightness and friendliness, and the overall jazz into my every day life, even back in bustling New York. That’s the way I’d love to live.  So I am working on channeling New Orleans into my New York life (which, for now, includes a lot of NOLA artwork in my apartment!).
 What places, activities, jobs, or projects make you feel whole? How can we focus on things that fill us up versus things that wear us down? That’s where the magic happens. Those are the spaces in which we can start taking on the world.
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General troublemaking

Walking on the Other Side of the Street

Recently while walking home, I ended up walking on the other side of the street (like, the west side of Bleecker versus the east side) from where I normally walk because of traffic lights. I find there are certain habits I form when walking that I end up avoiding certain blocks.

Well, let me tell you, there were all these stores on the other side of the street I had literally never noticed. I was shocked that around the corner from my apartment (literally, two blocks away), we’re a strip of stores I didn’t even know existed. It hit me even harder when I found out one of the shops was closing because it couldn’t compete with the larger, fancier stores down the street (which, by the way, I have noticed). Maybe I wasn’t the only person that focused on the things I was familiar with.

I realized in that moment that it is important, both literally and figuratively, to walk on the other side of the street. We get so caught up in the grind of our every day lives– the route we take to work, where we get lunch, how we approach the work we take on, the brunch places we go with friends, where we shop, etc.– that we are unable to gain a larger perspective, or view things in a different way.

Have I mentioned I work with a (truly amazing) life coach? Last summer he encouraged me to try something new every day for two weeks. I did that, and it really reinvigorated me to take an alternative commute or try a different drink at Starbucks. Innovative, creative ideas do not come out of repetition or monotony. Neither does troublemaking. It’s imperative to walk on the other side of the street, to view things from a different angle, to start to challenge yourself and the status quo.

What will you do this week to change things up?

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General troublemaking, Healthy Living, Social Innovation

Sorry I’m Not Sorry

Lately I feel that I’m often on the defensive about my lifestyle choices. I am seen as extreme for making a conscious choice to eat real, clean foods that have no preservatives/additives, choosing to consume socially responsible goods, and being conscious about how I treat myself and the world.

My friends, family, colleagues think I am judging them for eating oreos (yum) and shopping at Forever 21. Well, friends, I am not judging you. I am not a judge-y person. Rather, I am judging the world we live in. I don’t blame people for eating foods packed with chemicals or buying clothes that are in no way a benefit to the world because that’s the norm, the status quo. It is really, really hard to avoid those things (and I spend a lot of time figuring out how to do that– more coming soon!). But it shouldn’t be that way. I will not accept that the world and the country I live in is flawed and nearly forcing us to consume products that aren’t acceptable, I will make trouble until I feel I am living in a world that I want to leave for my kids and grandkids and grand-grand-grand(x10) kids.

So I wanted to say:

Sorry I’m not sorry.

I am not going to apologize for being my “extreme” self. I’m not apologizing for thinking that consuming junk and things that are bad for my body and bad for the world is ridiculous or extreme. And I’m not sorry for pointing it out to you so you can make conscious decisions; not to make you feel bad, but to point out that we DON’T have to stand for the crap that is in the supermarket or the department store. And we won’t make change until enough people aren’t sorry either.

Even writing this, I sound extreme. I see it, I am reading it. But I don’t understand why it has to be that way. Why are we considered extreme if we just want basic, normal, sustainable things that won’t destroy our bodies or the planet? What a radical idea!

I keep thinking about this quote from Steve Jobs that we use in our visioning seminar at PresenTense. He says:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

This quote has, in fact, changed my viewpoint on the world. It’s so true. The things that frustrate me are completely man-made, and not any more real than anything else, than my opinions or the things I want to make or consume. Right? So if man had the right to add chemicals to my food, to employ kids in sweatshops to make my clothes, to damage the environment by the amount of pollution and waste we produce, and more, I have the right to disagree with that. So I am. Sue me.

Sorry I am not sorry for caring. And I am not sorry for causing trouble on issues I care about. And you shouldn’t be either.

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General troublemaking, Professional Growth, Social Innovation

How a $55 Job Changed My Life

Two years ago I was in a job I was really unsatisfied in– I felt like the passionate person I was was being underutilized. Looking for a little extra cash and the ability to be exposed to new things, I signed up to be a TaskRabbit, a service where people can request others to do jobs for them— everything from grocery shopping to data entry to installing light fixtures. I did a few research jobs, and then came across some postings from General Assembly, a hub for entrepreneurs in NY, looking for people to help with events. Interested in the work they did, I put a few offers on their events and eventually got one to help set up and ensure there was enough beer out at a “tech night” event. It paid $55 for the three hour event— and a lot more in the long run.

In a weird, unbeknownst to me, foreshadowing, the event was a workshop from IDEO for Columbia MBA students on design thinking for startups (design thinking is the backbone of PresenTense’s curriculum). I thought it was incredibly interesting, and started to do some research on GA’s website about classes they offered to the public. I came across a series on Building High Impact Nonprofits and Social Enterprises and signed up immediately, as someone who has always considered starting my own non-profit. I didn’t even know what a social enterprise was. This was April 2012.

I took the class and learned a lot (also was exposed to many things I never even heard of before that excited me). When the organizer of the class, Shana Dressler, invited students to help her on a project she was working on to write a book about how to start social impact business, I jumped on the chance. A few weeks after I started the class at GA, I saw the job posting for PresenTense and decided that this was a direction I was excited and passionate about. I applied and cited my newly-gained “experience” including the class at the GA and my work on Shana’s team.

I accepted my position at PresenTense, an accelerator for social impact businesses, in June 2012. I continued to work with Shana and an amazing group of ladies on what became the Social Good Guides for almost a year, gaining tons of exposure in the social enterprise field. Two years after taking the class at GA, I am now heavily engrained in the social entrepreneurship space, and am passionate about the field. I couldn’t imagine a better field to me, nor one I would relate to more. Heck, I even think one day (maybe not so far away) I will be a founder myself.

(cue infomercial voice) But wait, there’s more! Because of my job at PresenTense I have been exposed to many different people, organizations, and projects, and made some pretty great friends as well. One of them is my dear friend Meredith, who, upon our meeting under PT auspices we realized we were quite similar (and even were wearing the same outfit when we met!), graciously introduced me to many of her friends, and invited me to join her book club. My friendship with Meredith, and participation in the Book Club, have opened me to a ton of new people, experiences, and like-minded individuals who are eager to take the world (and cause trouble!) like I am. Thanks, Meredith!

If you are trying to keep track, my $55 TaskRabbit job led me to: take classes in a new field, work on a project to empower social entrepreneurs, my job at PresenTense, lots of new friends and business connections, my book club, and I am sure more to come. Oh and did I mention I am ridiculously happy in this field working with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever encountered? I think all that proves a pretty decent return on investment.

Okay cool, Sara, you are thinking. What’s your point? How do I strike gold with an odd job? Here’s what I want for you to take away, troublemakers:

  1. Everything in life is an opportunity, but only IF you choose to see it that way. My job from TaskRabbit was just to ensure a bar was stocked and to set up chairs, but I leveraged it beyond face value.
  2. You never know where opportunities will lead. Keep an open mind. Did I think signing up for TaskRabbit would lead me to a new career direction and a brand new awesome group of friends? No way!
  3. Take risks. I knew nothing about anyone in the Social Good Guides group, or much about the topic at hand, but it seemed like an opportunity to work with interesting people on an interesting subject.
  4. Put yourself in situations where you will be exposed to things that excite you, and where you will meet likeminded people. This is where the magic happens, even if you aren’t “qualified” in that field.
  5. Everything happens for a reason. I truly, deeply believe that. But sometimes you have to be a week, a year, or ten years removed to see what the reason was.
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