Journal Excerpt: The Fall of C.E.O. Women, The Start of brown girl surf
December 18, 2011
I’m alive and I have all my limbs so I’m trying to put the closing into perspective. A lot has been done to dismantle the (C.E.O. Women) office. We’ve sold most of our assets last week and this week is the final push. The only thing is that we have no staff left – I’m the only one and so I have to manage all of the following:
I sent this list to my board chair and treasurer to let them know … But as it is, I’m left as the only one trying to manage the final three days of closing of the office. People expect way too much when you are a Founder. The good news is that I raised an extra $15,000 from foundations and donors and that the government approved our $20,000 reimbursement request so we will have enough for payroll, which will limit the board’s liability. They were going to float a loan for payroll as well which I was happy about but now they don’t need to. My friend and board member gave me a $1,750 (personal) loan to tide me over until we can collect on all the grants.
… I have been actively trying to find a home for Grand Café in it all … because we owe the bank for our line of credit … It is a hard decision because that is nine years of work/research that went into building that asset (and $500,000) and I’m not sure what the bank will do with it at this point but I want it to land somewhere good, but I also want this to be done, so I’m torn …
I have been surfing which I’m glad about but skipped my Friday session down in Santa Cruz as I normally do. I just felt like last week was intense and I couldn’t focus so much on my surfing, but I did get out on Friday and Saturday to Ocean Beach which I was really glad about. I also started to get a lot of momentum on brown girl surf …
I am so proud of the (web) site and honestly it has been like therapy. After coming home dismantling an 11 year old non-profit I built on my back, I can work on creating something new which gives me a lot of energy. I’m excited that I am so excited about this …
… If it weren’t for surfing and brown girl surf, I’d be in bad shape I think. But I feel calm and collected … but I just want this saga to be over with …
I have such a wide range of emotions regarding the board that it’s hard to make sense of them. On the one hand, I have felt left in a lurch by them all year – only half of them fundraised and did what they could … On the other, they are my personal contacts and networks, and amazingly, not one member resigned since the crises … most of them have given or raised significant donations (totaling over $96,000) …
So it’s not bad for a small board … I’m glad that brown girl surf will not have one going forward. I just want to be free from this all - free from the blame, free from the stress, free from this identity that I have held for what seems way too long. I am Farhana and I am the Founder of C.E.O. Women, but it is not my baby and I don’t feel that way about it …
… It sucks being a Founder. Your DNA is imprinted into the organization and work until the day you leave/ relinquish it but I feel trapped and not in a position to relinquish at this point. I can’t wait until it’s all over. I can’t wait to run with brown girl surf and it’s exciting to see it come alive …
I founded and ran a non-profit organization for 11 years with an amazing mission – helping low-income immigrant and refugee women to become entrepreneurs and learn English. After 10 years of running it, I took a needed sabbatical to reflect and rejuvenate. An interim leader led the organization in my absence. When I returned a few months later, it was operating a $50,000 deficit, the first ever deficit in the history of the organization.
As a Founder, this was devastating. It was like coming back at halftime to a 0-4 World Cup game and you’re on the losing team. It’s not impossible to bounce back, but it would take a level of effort I did not have in me after an already exhausting 10 years. The organization eventually closed. My last official day was the 21st of December eleven years ago.
While I made peace with the closure, I never quite got over the loss of its most innovative program - a soap opera series designed to teach English and entrepreneurship skills to immigrant women. I worked on this idea for 9 years, raising about half a million dollars to develop 6 of 18 episodes. Upon closing, the series was given to the bank as collateral for a line of credit that leadership took out in my absence in order to finance the deficit.
Giving over the program felt like a miscarriage, like it never got its fair chance to run. And truth be told, perhaps it was a little too early of an innovation for its time. Many funders resisted the idea of a remote, media-based learning program, now an ironic sentiment in these Covid times. This summer, on a long shot, I decided to reach out to the bank. I asked them to release the program series for me to resurrect. They agreed with full support. It was one of the best pieces of news of my career and life.
If I learned anything through this experience, it’s to not lose faith in your ideas. Ideas take courage. Creativity takes courage. Speaking up takes courage. Honoring and holding worthy your ideas takes courage. And perhaps most of all, I’ve learned that there’s no timeline for courage. You are ready when you are ready.
While I worked on this idea for 9 years it was the amazing team around me that brought it to life. Angelica Matsuno was the ah-mazing Co-Producer and Co-Writer who has been helping me to resurrect it. We were probably the most attached emotionally to this project. Nina Serrano was the incredible writer of the series and Marissa Aroy was the talented Director along with the ever capable Producer Niall McKay who all used their artistic skills, creativity, time and talent to give this idea life. There was also the programs team that worked on distribution, countless advisors, board members, clients and volunteers who helped take the idea to where it was. I’m forever proud of the work our organization did. And I am proud to return to this creative idea, with new eyes and wisdom, in service to all the people it was meant to impact.
Watch program trailer below:
(Re-post from my 6/9/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog.)
My answer to whether the risk is worth taking is, it depends. Here are four recommendations I’d make to anyone who is contemplating making a really radical life or business change, yet is seemingly paralyzed by the fear of losing job security, balancing family, or other practical, modern-day considerations.
1. Make sure you are “on purpose”.
Before you can answer whether the risk is worth taking, ask yourself this: Is this my purpose? Is this truly what I’m about and the reason I was put on this earth? If you come up with a resounding yes, then the risk may very well be worth taking. Consider for a moment you found your purpose which, for many people, often takes half a lifetime. Now that you know your purpose, why would you want to waste your time on anything else? Your life will go by quickly. You don’t want to be on your deathbed wishing you had done things differently, do you? When we are on purpose, we resonate more, we feel excited and invigorated, and we attract the resources and people around us that we need to achieve our vision. That resonance will have more impact on us being successful than if we were just given a big pot of money and told to create something we weren’t that into.
Purpose is the platform to our vision, which in turn drives our everyday actions and choices.
You can’t ever succeed if you don’t risk it. But risk it with purpose. You will often read in popular entrepreneurial writings that entrepreneurs hardly ever do something because they are driven to make a lot of money. Many of the ones who became successful did it because they believed in their idea so much and were driven by the value it could bring to the world. If you believe in something that much, then the risk is worth it, because with that drive and passion, you are that much more motivated to find the right path forward.
2. Minimize the risk.
Leaps don’t just happen over night. I think it’s time to insert a surf life metaphor for you. A big wave surfer doesn’t just drop down Mavericks (a big wave in Northern California) one day without first having started in baby waves. She practices for years and years and keeps pushing her limits. She trains. She visualizes. She gets her mind as well as her body prepared. She grows her competency. In other words, she does things to minimize the risk.
The concept is similar when thinking about risks on land, in life and in business. When I started my first social impact organization, I had contract jobs on the side and worked on my idea with the other part of my time. I didn’t start by renting office space and carrying monthly payments, making a website and then looking for clients. That would have opened me up to too much risk. I thought about minimizing the risk through partnerships, and through making baby steps by collaborating with other programs and institutions to serve their clients first. Then I spun off. Whether it’s considering leaving a career and going after the idea of your dreams, or taking a leap of faith with a courageous conversation, think about how you can start to do a pilot run of it.
Test the idea. Take baby steps. Shrink your idea into parts.
Be sure you can answer these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What do I want to get out of it?
How will I do it?
3. It’s more about persistence and less about failure.
In my work as a social entrepreneur, I actually had to deal with the difficult decision of winding down an organization. It had succeeded in meeting its mission for women for 11 years. On the outside that seems like 11 successful years! But the truth of the matter is, there were many failures over that 11 years, too. Looking back, if I stopped everytime I failed, there would not have been an organization. But I chose to be persistent, and that is the reason the organization kept going. So, you will fail. It’s actually inevitable in many courageous and creative pursuits. But it’s not the failure that matters; at the end of the day, persistence is most important.
How many waves does a surfer wipe out on before they can pop up on just one? (Yes, here I go with the surf metaphors - they're just so good!) Many. And it’s not failure - it’s learning. We need to have a growth mindset when thinking about courageous transitions. Instead of seeing failure as failure, see failure as learning and move on.
4. Forget about what others will say.
This is perhaps the #1 biggest fear I see in people – fear of how you will appear to others and the shame you might feel if you fail.
Take it from me, if you live your life fearing what others think of you, you WILL be held back from your potential.
When you are worried about what others say, you are relying on others to define your potential and (worst of all) to give you permission. I learned this the hard way in my leadership. As a young leader with some amount of organizational power, there were some times I uncomfortable with the power, and would rely on seeking permission from others – from my board, from my colleagues, from advisors, from my team. At the end of the day, I wasn't listening to what my voice inside me said. It is very common in organizations for many people to work through the leader and it is important for the leader to hold multiple stakeholder’s agendas. At some point, however, you might find yourself needing to make a decision for yourself, and only YOU know you best.
Now, when I am in a highly creative state of change or new creation, I purposely distance myself from certain critics and people or just don’t offer too much information on what I’m doing. If they aren’t resonating at the same frequency that I am and are doubtful of my plans or ideas, they often become critical and quick to judge. This makes it harder for me to be successful, as I then find myself in a spiral of doubt, and well, doubt doesn’t help anyone. Surround yourself with the people who aren’t going to judge you for the moment, and keep yourself at a distance from those who are. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to avoid people who can give you honest and critical advice, but at the end of the day make sure they are in support of YOU and not just projecting their own fears of risk onto you. It can make all the difference.
Have you found yourself in a position where you feel stuck and are afraid of venturing down a new path for fear of failure? What did you do to decide whether the risk was worth taking? Inquiring minds want to know!
(Re-post from my 5/6/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog)
The other night I was hanging out at my surf buddy Alex’s home. Alex is a mathematician who teaches computer science and researcher at U.C. Berkeley (she’s also a total ripper). I noticed a cartoon-like cut-out of her face placed on a shower background with a conference logo on it. When I asked what it meant, she explained that the running joke amongst mathematicians is that all the insight and best ideas come to them in the shower. It got me thinking for a second. So mathematicians generally get their “ah-has” in the shower. Where have I gotten mine all these years? It got me thinking a little more about innovation and insights and inspired me to share a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Talk to unlikely partners
One of the innovations I worked on in my career (among a few) was an entrepreneurship education program for immigrant women. I was trying to figure out how to use technology and creative media to create greater access of the program to more women. I started the project in 2001, developed the non-tech prototype over a period of years, got pilot funding in 2007 to develop the media, and then a second round of funding in 2009. It was a LONG, creative process. At one point, we even won the innovation award from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the national governing body for our industry.
Hands down, talking with people that had absolutely NOTHING to do with immigrant women, entrepreneurship and non-profits often challenged and stretched my perspective throughout the innovative process and helped us look at problems differently.
We are often so deep in our own innovation and building it, that it is easy to get lost in that perspective and easy for that perspective to narrow. When you talk with people who have absolutely none of the normal assumptions you would have while developing your innovation, product or idea, out-of-the box ideas start to generate. You also open up your idea to people who think and solve problems differently.
I remember in one week talking with a marketing professional for Chiquita bananas and then a juice entrepreneur, a community college professor and two veteran engineers of HP. All had such interesting and different insights to share on our work and thought about how to approach or solve for things in different ways. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about the process - bringing together a hybrid of perspectives and coming to a new idea or insight based on these conversations.
Others see what you sometimes can’t. The richest ideas always came from this type of cross-pollination of perspectives.
2. Shift perspectives
In addition to getting outside perspectives, it is equally important to be shifting YOUR perspective and your team’s perspective all the time.
This is an exercise that is done a lot in coaching. You can be sitting and twiddling your thumbs over something, but if you move to a different part of the room, and look out the window, you will see it differently.
Back to Alex – my mathematician friend. That same night, her boyfriend hands me a piece of art that he had scribbled on a napkin. My first instinct was to twirl it around in different directions. Each angle I shifted it to, I saw something completely different on the napkin. At one angle I saw a rooster. At another angle, a face … and at another, a metropolis. But it was all the same piece of art. The same concept applies to innovation. Shifting yourself around in relation to the issue you are trying to innovate on can lead to new thinking. When you look and shift perspectives, the questions to contemplate are:
How do I add value from here?
How can I make it better?
How can I solve the problem?
Does it match what the end user is requesting?
Looking back, this is one of the biggest lessons I have learned about facilitating innovation. If you try to solve too many problems in one go, you may end up being a jack of all trades and master of none and not solve any problem well. By having a laser focus on the problem you want to solve, you are more efficient in solving the problem at hand. Focus on what’s most important first and then add the bells and whistles as you go. My intention is not to spew the same ole same ole. But from experience, all I want to say is when at all possible, simplicity is golden.
4. Trust your instincts
In my experience, instinct plays a key role in knowing which way to take your innovation. Very often, big picture thinkers have the ability to hold a lot of diverse perspectives in their heads, which allows them to see a path or trend forward, sometimes at a subconscious level. This becomes challenging for the leader, because they may be taking leaps of logic in their head, and will need help deconstructing their logic model in order to bring people along into what they see. Sometimes, there is so much advice and input that it’s hard for the leaders to access this intuition.
You take in information and then you need to trust yourself and take responsibility for directing it in a specific way. It’s almost like finding your wise, centered voice on the innovation. Many will want to give you all sorts of advice. Take some with a grain of salt. Ultimately, trust your instincts.
5. Understand that innovation is a function of time
I remember discussing this point back in college with an über smart philosophy masters student in my metaphysics class. He said to me as we were conversing on some philosophical concept: “innovation is just a function of time.” In other words, someone is bound to eventually come up with the idea you have. And very often, innovation is happening simultaneously; just because you’re thinking of an idea and it is original doesn’t mean someone else isn’t thinking of it too.
Case in point, I launched Surf Life only to realize a few months down the road that a fellow surf instructor, whom I met in Costa Rica years ago and who now resides in the Netherlands, was in the early stage of launching Beach Life Coaching, another coaching and surfing combination model for women. And she was working on a retreat to Costa Rica, too! We had no idea we were each working on such similar concepts. It didn’t surprise me that someone in a parallel universe was putting together a very similar set of things.
You have some choices here. Either accept innovation is a function of time, see what you can share and learn from the other person, believing there is enough of a need in the world for you both to serve, or you can whine like a baby and feel sorry that someone is "taking your idea" when in reality they probably just came to it on their own. (I highly recommend the former, especially if you are in the business of solving problems and making the world a better place.) Understanding innovation is just a function of time, frees your ego of the “I came up with this first” mentality and propels you to collaborate or even rethink what you are doing. The realization that me and my friend were working on similar things prompted us to connect and share our experiences and ideas, and to even think about collaborating on a future surf and coaching retreat for women.
Hope these tips have been helpful to think about. It’s important to note that this is just my perspective; I know there are other innovators out there, and let this be a post that invites other perspectives into the mix. Have you spent years innovating on a concept or idea? What did you learn? When did you come to your “ah-hah” moments? In the shower? On the loo? We’d love to hear from you! (Hey, that rhymed!)
Have you ever had the experience of wondering how is it that someone else is able to bring an idea to life so quickly, while you are left feeling stuck in the routine of your life?
Do you ever start talking about your “closet dreams” – the big, bold ideas and dreams you were too shy to share with others, but that make you feel complete, happy and fulfilled? Do you notice that after talking about them, you quickly reality check yourself because you have a family, a mortgage or because you convince yourself you aren’t a risk taker?
I have news for you. 9 times out of 10, it’s not that it’s not possible. Rather, it is because of two things:
1. Our brains are wired to accept a certain status quo of a life and circumstance that has been patterned into us. The thought of changing or disrupting that status quo is thwarted by very strong neural networks. That’s the neuroscience of it, in a nutshell.
2. And secondly, everything seems too big and impossible if you think of just the big picture. You need a step-by-step plan of how to get where you want to go.
But how can you start getting around your brain’s tendency to default to its regular patterns? How can you start building new patterns to get yourself to not only see, but to believe and more importantly to FEEL what is possible with a transition or new idea? What if you stayed in the resonance of possibility, and never flipped back to the dialogue of why things are not possible?
Here are exercises in perspectives that will help you explore where you might be with a current transition or new idea, and ways to exercise your neural pathways on what’s possible.
1. Get in Touch with Your Current Perspective:
Think of where you want to transition to, or what your new idea is. How do you feel about it? Scared, frustrated, tired, like you have no way out? Give this perspective a name. If you feel scared, call it the Dracula perspective, or maybe Horror Movie perspective. Make up your own. Once you have identified that perspective, really embody it. If it’s frustration, what does it look like in your body to feel frustrated? Does your posture shift? Do you have a certain expression on your face? Do you feel it in a certain place? What does the terrain look like? Is it rainy, gloomy. dark or cloudy? Now ask yourself what is possible for you to do with respect to your problem from this perspective. What comes to you? You may or may not be surprised to see that you either generate ideas or you don’t. The point is to get in touch with how your current perspective or mind state is serving you now.
2. Try a New Perspective:
Now, try stepping into a new perspective. For example, imagine your favorite color. How does it make you feel? Calm, excited, energized, safe? If you had to embody it, what would it look like? Get in touch with how you FEEL about it. What does the terrain look like in this land of color? If your color is yellow, is it warm, sunny and hopeful? If it’s blue, is it calm, expansive and soothing? Really stand in the land of your color. Once you get to the state of truly embodying this feeling, look over at your idea or transition. Then ask yourself, “What’s possible from this perspective?” What comes out? Is it different than what came to you in your scared, frustrated or tired perspective? What do you notice? Are the ideas you are generating different?
3. Ask Yourself What You Can Do:
Explore a few more perspectives. When you get to one you really like, ask yourself this:
What is the one big step I can make from this perspective towards moving forward with my idea or transition?
See what comes to mind. You might even want to do this with a friend, spouse or family member. Have them ask you the question.
As we shift perspectives in our mind, we actually have the power to shift what is possible for us in our lives. When you shift your thinking, YOU change. And at each thought and exploration, you are patterning new neural pathways. Believe it or not, this is not wavey gravy stuff! This is actually built on science. Psychadelic, I know!
The best thing about this is you can both physically and mentally step into whatever perspective you like. If you don’t have a blue room at home, imagine one. But if you want to explore walking as a perspective, and what it feels like when you are moving and out in nature, go do that and think about your idea. See what happens.
The thing is this – you can choose the perspective you want to be in. Your actions change, and how people relate to you begins to change. Perspectives are very valuable things, and your ability to go from idea to launch of whatever it is you want to do will be directly affected by whatever perspective you CHOOSE to take. If your perspective is scared and hopeless, you’ll generate just those ideas. If it’s a cautious calm, you will generate different insights. If it’s excited, warm and happy, you may get to other insights.
So the next time you’re dreaming big, instead of defaulting to the I-could-never-do-that perspective, challenge the can’t and instead, shift the perspective.
Have you ever struggled to shift a perspective and found that when you did, you were able to see something differently? What did you learn? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Farhana Huq is a trained, Co-Active® coach from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). The perspectives methodology described in this article is derived from CTI's core coach training. For more information on CTI, visit: www.thecoaches.com.
It’s one thing to hold an intention for something that you really want in your life that seems unattainable; it’s another thing to actively figure out how to get it. You may not know exactly what the right path is, but each step you take, holding the intention you set for yourself, will bring you closer to where it is you want to go. Here’s how I manifested a far-off dream that I didn’t think would be possible.
Talk About Your Dream or Goal to Others
My dream was to have dual residency in San Francisco and Polynesia. I had no idea how I would do it, but I put the intention out into the world. I told my parents, my friends, the random friends I’d make on Facebook, too. Eventually, most people around me knew this is what I wanted to do.
Put It Down on Paper with Images
If you’ve read some of my brown girl surf posts, you’ll know what a big fan I am of art and of collaging. And I take my collaging pretty seriously. I only get the best quality paper and images for my collages. I really put time and thought into them.
I made a collage last year that included, among other things, pictures of Polynesia set next to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. I found a sign that read “Surfer Crossing” and carefully placed that in between the two locations, representing my dream for dual residency. Now, I was not in a very good financial position at all when I drafted this collage.; the thought of even being able to afford my very modest San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle was enough to make me stressed out, let alone even entertain the possibility of living in a place like Polynesia. But the thought now lived on my hallway wall, and I looked at it every day as I walked between my bedroom and bathroom. Think of a collage as a physical imprint of what you want to do. First, you vocalize your goal by telling people, and then you put it down on paper.
Experience an Aspect of it by Taking a Small Step to Live it
I decided that a good first step would be to take a trip to the islands and camp out in back of my friends’ home just to see what life was like on Maui. (I was broke after paying for the plane ticket, what can I say.) I wasn’t a big fan of the development in Maui, so I ended up hopping from their residence to another island where I met the wonderful parents of a friend of mine who happened to be part of the couch surfing network. So they had a lovely guest room in the back for all their visitors. Yes! And the husband happened to be a surfer, so he ended up taking me out most mornings to surf. Not only did I get to see what life was like on the island, I also got a personal orientation to all the island’s surf breaks!
While I was staying with this awesome couple, I also realized how important it would be to have a transferable skill if I ever wanted to have dual residency in Polynesia and San Francisco. It’s not like there was a big city with a ton of companies or non-profits to work for on the island. Secondly, I got introduced to some awesome places to surf, so I could experience whether I liked the vibe and the lineup, and understand how difficult the breaks were. Lastly, I met awesome people who I stay connected to up to this day. This experience served as a preview of what my realized dream of dual residency might look like, and it was a great way for me to affirm my goal.
Pay Attention to the Opportunity
When I got back to California, I decided launching my own business was the way for me to honor this lifestyle, and to honor my values of freedom, connection and independence. Eight months prior, I had closed a non-profit I founded and ran for 11 years, so I was also in a process of getting back on my feet financially. There were so many unknowns. Launching a business was scary. I wanted to be 100% ready.
I remember my good friend, Robert Chatwani, an entrepreneur and now executive at eBay, listened to my concerns. He urged me not to wait for the perfect time, or until I had the perfect website, but to create the opportunity. I did not feel 100% ready. But he made the point that we never are. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and do it, and figure some things out as you go. I had figured out a way to get the training I needed, built my own website, crafted some packages, and sent out a simple e-mail announcement to all my friends and family. And before I knew it, I had my first client. Did I have everything figured out? Nope. Were there bumps in the road? Yep. Did I learn from them? Absolutely.
Then, the awesome couple I stayed with back in Hawaii contacted me and asked me if I’d consider house-sitting for them for a month. I finally started to see how everything was falling into place. I’d have a free place to live, a car AND a transferable skill (coaching and consulting) that I could do remotely from Hawaii.
When I got that e-mail asking me to house-sit, I smiled to myself. Whereas before I couldn’t imagine how I was going to make this dream work, it was as if it suddenly started to become attainable. It would have never happened had I not taken the steps described above.
I accepted the house-sitting request. I had an incredible time. I know this is a viable way for me to realize my dream of dual residency without buying property I can’t afford. And it’s a way to experience what life might be like in another place without spending tons of money on a place to stay.
Here are some questions for you:
1. What’s the leap you want to take?
2. What is one thing you can do to set the intention for it?
3. To whom will you tell your intention?
4. What is one thing you will do each week or each month in service to your dream?
You may not be able to do exactly what you intend to do at the onset, but every little step you take towards your intention will indeed help you get closer to it. Even if you don’t know what the strategy is to get there, by setting a firm intention and DOING, the path will unveil itself.
In short, YOU are essential to crafting your path to what may seem unattainable. It’s not enough to just think and dream and be in your values; you have to start voicing, writing, moving, behaving and living them, no matter how small the steps you take. You have to just do it.
When have you been able to create something in your life? What key things did you learn on your journey to make it happen? Share your comments below! We’d love to know!
Human Resources. Yuck. Blehck. Blah! OMG! Who likes it? It’s wrought with conflict and legal issues. There’s no science to it. It’s hard. And for many of you solopreneurs and non-profit leaders, you don’t have staff or a department to help you navigate through human resources issues.
I really wanted to address HR in this post for a number of reasons. For one, I’ve made more than my fair share of blunders in the HR realm, including the age-old error of hiring someone I swore would work out and didn’t. Hiring and managing people was the most challenging part of my career. It was also the most rewarding and interesting to me.
As a result of my blunders, I quickly learned to read the signs that things just might not be working with particular employees. I also learned to identify that if tears were shed by staff, to discern which tears were the the result of something that wasn’t ‘fitting’ at the office, versus tears that were the result of emotions brought on by a natural growing pain, a hard lesson learned, or feelings of overwork or joy. For those of you in the position of managing or hiring people, I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson # 1: Test Applicants During the Interview Process.
This may seem like a no-brainer to most, but I suppose this piece of advice is aimed at the new managers, non-profit or small business owners who are inexperienced in their hiring processes.
I remember doing interviews and checking references of the people I hired. I only sometimes gave them assignments to do as part of the interview process. When I hired them, I quickly found an issue with their competency in their said area of expertise.
In one case, someone had very poor writing skills, which were essential to her success in her position. There was no way her writing skills were going to improve significantly in the next 6 months. Had I just spent a wee bit more time giving her an impromptu assignment during the interview, perhaps her real skill and weakness would have been revealed.
This hire was a fantastic fit for the organization, but her weak writing skills came as a surprise, as she obviously had people read over her résumé and cover letters and anything she had to submit before we hired her. So when in doubt, throw in an extra assignment. See what your applicant comes up with and assess for yourself.
Lesson #2: Get a Reference from the Applicant’s Reference.
This way, the reference isn’t coming just from the person applying, who is obviously only going to share the references of people who will say the most positive things.
I remember back in 2005 when I was being vetted for a social entrepreneurship award called Ashoka. It was a 3-year process consisting of 7 interviews and multiple phone calls. I gave the organization 3 references and they would call one, and then ask that reference for another reference, and they would then call that other reference. It was pretty thorough, and I remember thinking “Wow, they really have all their i’s dotted and t’s crossed!” So, they ended up talking with people who were not on my reference form.
In my experience, some of the best hires I ever made had the best references. How I thought they would perform as an employee was often consistent with the types of references I got for each employee. Going the extra mile to get a reference from a reference can result in a more thorough assessment of the employee.
A little extra advice for dealing with recruiting firms:
I paid thousands of dollars one year to a recruiting firm and hired a person only to find out, in practice, she could not perform ANY of her duties with success. I had relied on the firm to vet her references for me, and trusted they would all pan out well. It’s always a good idea to check references yourself and to use the firm mainly to help vet and interview the candidate. Believe it or not, firms, since they are getting paid on commission for successful job placements, may sometimes skirt around issues to present their candidate in the best light just to get the person hired. So be careful, and work with a firm you can trust.
Lesson #3: Give Feedback in Real Time
I had to learn this lesson the hard way. As an inexperienced manager, I remember sometimes feeling really irked by something an employee did or said in a meeting. I would then bring it up at a check-in a few days later. Many times, the person never even remembered the incident or the remark, and I was left feeling like I was trying to rack their brains to re-live something in the past.
I learned quickly that when you notice a behavior or want to address performance or an issue with an employee, it is best to give the feedback right away. HOW you approach the conversation is equally important. Bringing your curious perspective into the conversation is always helpful, so you can state what you observed, and then ask into it by saying “I am curious about why you said this,” or “I am curious about what was behind the decision to …..” Oftentimes, you will get to the heart of the matter, and you will be able to help resolve the issue or clarify anything YOU were feeling with respect to the incident, without making your employee feel defensive. Curiosity killed the cat, but it really, really helped the manager.
A Really Cool Company Institutes Real Time Feedback Discussions:
I recently had a meeting with a fellow coaching pal, Liz Quinn, Adobe’s internal coach and principal talent management consultant at Adobe’s Learning and Development arm. I learned that the software magnate is eliminating its annual performance review process and is shifting to ongoing feedback discussions throughout the year instead. Employees and managers will now have performance check-ins where they’ll set expectations annually, give ongoing feedback throughout the year relative to those expectations, and may also have growth or development discussions. It becomes about an ongoing conversation versus a one-time “event”. This gives employees the chance to evolve with the business as needs and priorities change. Chew on that! Likey! Likey!
Lesson #4: Beware of “Growing” People into Positions When You First Hire Them.
When you need leadership, you need leadership. Trying to coach and grow someone into a leadership position is a very difficult process, especially when you have limited resources at your organization or small business to mentor, train and coach someone into leadership.
I have learned one too many times that trying to hire someone without already developed leadership skills and placing them into a leadership position, getting them a mentor, or having them work with a high-level consultant, doesn’t necessarily work. (If you have done this and it worked successfully, I really encourage you to share your experience in the comments section below! We want to learn from you, too!)
At the end of the day, our organization was trying to save money because we couldn’t afford a high salary, but hiring someone without the credentials and then paying for a high-level consultant ended up costing us more, because the employee did not perform to expectations. Moreover, it turned out that she ultimately couldn’t be coached into the leadership position by the consultant. SO, we were out thousands of dollars and out a leader.
Think carefully and weigh your options. What are the most important projects that need to get done? Who already has that leadership skill set on your team? If you can’t afford high-level salaries, can you outsource some of what needs to get done to an experienced consultant? These are all good questions to ask yourself.
Lesson #5: Bless and Release as Soon as Possible.
It’s never easy to fire an employee or a contractor. But I learned that sometimes you are not doing anyone a favor by trying to keep them on and trying to fix the problem. Oftentimes, the best thing to do is to get on a path of blessing and releasing as soon as possible. Not only do you free yourself from the burden of extra management issues, performance improvement plans and unnecessary coaching, you also do your employee or contractor a huge favor. Often, a frank conversation early on about things not working is helpful (remember Lesson #3 about giving feedback in real time?). The work may pile up while you are seeking to fill that employee’s position, but it’s worth the temporary inconvenience to find the right person for your organization.
If you are afraid of the leadership gap, you can always bring in mentors, or hire a coach for the manager left in charge, to help develop their leadership skills in the interim until a suitable replacement can be made. Oftentimes, these managers are left to pick up the work of the leader, and it can be stressful without direction or leadership. Getting your manager professional coaches or pairing him or her up with a mentor can turn the transition process into a growth opportunity instead of a crisis management situation.
Still in an HR Bind?
Create your own personal HR board of advisors. At any one time, I had about 2-3 HR professionals in my personal network whom I could call on to help me navigate through sticky situations. And, as my friend Liz from Adobe shared with me, when she worked at start-ups, having that kind of network and a personal sounding board really helped her become more confident with her ideas and actions, as she had people to bounce things off of.
Where have you fumbled in the HR realm? What have you learned along the way? Share your comments in the space below. I want to hear from you!
Secret Income Strategies When You're BROKE and BUILDING Your Business (I Mean Like Broke and Unemployed)
Losing a job or income can feel like you’re being cast into the middle of the ocean with nothing but a life preserver ring (unemployment) to keep you from completely drowning. It is unnerving and daunting for those of us used to the feeling of being rooted on land. I know all too well what this feels like.
In December of 2011, my board members and I voted to close the non-profit organization I had founded 11 years prior, due to financial difficulties and the terrible fundraising climate. We closed our doors with only 21 days notice.
Though we had a super successful 11-year run, it was incredibly sad and stressful to close. There I found myself, like so many of my fellow Americans, collecting unemployment, with only a few thousand dollars in my savings account. Not only did I feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, I had absolutely no clue as to how I was going to make money. I knew starting something and working for myself was the route I wanted to take, but I had zero money to invest in any kind of business; I would need whatever little savings I had to supplement my unemployment compensation and cover my monthly expenses.
If you find yourself wanting to start a business or non-profit with few resources, whether you just left a job, are collecting unemployment or disability or just barely making ends meet, here are some practical tips that can help you bring in a little extra income and help you gain financial momentum to move forward in your journey.
Sell the Jewelry You Don’t Wear or Need
I am NOT a jewelry wearer, but I have bought a few things here and there in my lifetime. On the rare occasion that I do wear jewelry, I usually lose part of it – an earring, a ring or a pendant. I remembered my mom saying something to me about how the price of gold had skyrocketed in the past couple of years. I had never sold anything, but was curious about whether I could get any money for the remaining pieces I had from jewelry sets - backs of earrings from my high school days, a broken gold chain, a black pearl necklace and earrings I had bought on a trip to Hawaii but never wore.
I ended up taking a little sack of miscellaneous pieces to two jewelry shops to see if they would buy them. The backs of the earrings (because they were gold) were worth money. The jeweler also bought the pearls. I walked away with over $1,000 just from getting rid of mismatched pieces of jewelry and jewelry I never wore.
The key strategy here was selling items with gold in them, as the current market value of gold has gone up so significantly. Don’t underestimate the little pieces of jewelry that are lying around your house. Take them to any gold buyer and expect to get 80% of the market price of gold.
Selling things of value can be applied to anything that is taking up unnecessary space in your home or drawers. Think about what you own that could be of value – do you REALLY need it? How is it serving you to keep it? Is it worth money? Is it something you could give up now and buy again later on in order to earn money to invest in your future today?
During my months on unemployment, I also ruptured my Achilles tendon. (It’s a long story.) So not only was I unemployed, I was unable to drive (I know - LOSING). My parents had to come from out of state to tend to me for a month because I couldn’t do much on my own. And so began my mom’s cleaning frenzy.
Not only did I get lectured on how much “stuff” I had in my closets; every day I woke up, I’d find my mom had tackled a new cabinet in the kitchen. She would pile things up and ask piercing questions like, “Do you NEED this?” I’d nod my head, and sometimes defend my favorite frying pan with all my zeal. Then she got my Dad in on it. He eventually gave me a lecture on how I needed to get rid of everything in my closet. I was annoyed, but I decided I needed to reframe quickly. So I looked at the experience as an opportunity to create space for the old to go out and the new to come in.
I got rid of all the clothes I hadn’t worn in the past 1-2 years. Luckily, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am surrounded by all sorts of cool consignment shops. I took my clothes to one shop and earned almost $90 just from that trip. That’s $90 more than I had before the cleaning frenzy!
I’m a firm believer in making physical space for new ideas and dreams to manifest. And have you ever heard the saying, “we are burdened by our possessions?” It couldn’t be more true. Cleaning up and consigning left me with the space I needed to create, craft and build from a clear space. Clothes are not the only things you can consign. Think about old furniture, household items, rugs, antiques, etc. What’s taking up space in your closet?
Sometimes, You Just Gotta Dip into Stocks or Mutual Funds
I know, I KNOW. This is like the anti-financial planner advice. But as an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to spend money to buy some time to make money. No risk, no reward. I remember listening to the founder of 3 Twins Ice Cream (my all-time favorite maker of chocolate ice cream in the Bay Area) tell his story about having no money when he wanted to start his ice cream company. He liquidated his retirement and took a loan from his family to start. He took a huge risk; everything was on the line for him. The ice cream is now in every major grocery store that I frequent.
During my time of transition, I also took a leap a lot of people told me not to take. I don’t have much of a retirement savings from having worked in non-profit for most of my career, but I do have some mutual funds. I made the decision to liquidate two funds to keep me afloat a little longer while I figured out what direction I wanted to take. I am so fortunate that I had some liquid investments, and while I still kept a few untouched, I felt I really needed to sell off the others for some extra money. I knew I could make the money back, and that taking the money out of my mutual funds and putting it into current investments would inevitably help me with my future more than having that money sit and grow interest. Money is energy, and sometimes having energy at your disposal NOW is way more valuable than keeping it for retirement.
Negotiate and Downsize ALL Your Bills on Fixed Expenses
Think you got a good deal on your fixed expenses like your cell phone plan, landline or car insurance? It is amazing how much you can negotiate with respect to your bills. This is how I downsized some of my expenses:
I put all of my fixed expenses into a grid and tackled them one at a time, figuring out any possibility of lowering my bills. This is an exercise I have most budding entrepreneurs do, so they can really get empowered to know what their monthly expenses are, and where they can cut, if necessary.
Ask yourself questions like:
Do I really need those extra cable channels?
Is it essential to have 1 GB of data on my cell phone vs. 2?
Also, consider these other cost-saving ideas:
Yes, this seems counterintuitive, but it’s not. One of the quickest ways to attract work and money your way is to give your services away. This builds relationships and trust and gives you an opportunity to help others. It also gives you an opportunity to really understand a business, a project or a challenge so you know better how you can be of service if you’re volunteering in an industry in which you want to work in the future.
In fact, when I started coaching, I would freely give of my time with absolutely no agenda in mind; I loved to practice my skills and witness transformative moments in the lives of the people I talked with. And slowly, the very friends I had coached for fun started recommending me to their friends, and there are always opportunities that come from these types of referrals. Putting yourself out there will lead to you being known, building relationships and perhaps taking on a project for money.
The key is to get out there and start doing work and helping. You manifest opportunity by acting as if you live in the opportunities you want to have, and at the very least, you are helping other people.
Budget, Budget, Budget!
Budgeting was something I really learned to do when I took a traveling sabbatical from my non-profit organization. My income was limited during this time, and I had to be really conscious about my spending. Toward the end of my travels, I defaulted to surviving on ramen noodles and eggs as my daily diet. I continued on the budgeting after I got home. I separated my fixed expenses from my variable expenses in an Excel grid. I kept track of every single cent that went out the door. It’s tedious at first, but it’s totally empowering. Then with my variable expenses, I had the opportunity to assign how much I WANTED to spend each month. My variable expense categories included groceries, eating out, wellness and any other categories that were meaningful to me. IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR ALL EMERGING ENTREPRENEURS TO GET A HOLD ON THEIR EXPENSES. Know where you want to go, but also know where you are. Looking after your money carefully will empower you in the long run.
Have you ever been in my shoes? Are you in my shoes right now? What are some of the secret strategies, tools and resources you used to stay afloat? I’d love to hear your practical advice from the trenches. How do you make ends meet?
Early-stage entrepreneurship can be one of the most exciting times in a business or non-profit - you get to dabble in your creativity, test, experiment and tweak. You get to build. However, it can also be a time of great frustration. You can feel like you have too many initiatives and too little time to execute them. Are you an early-stage entrepreneur who feels like she is juggling a multitude of ideas and service offerings? Does it sometimes feel like you are throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks?
Here are some tips to help you get through this time of frustration, overwhelm, and seeing things fall through the cracks.
1. Identify Your Passion
When you are juggling all of your ideas and daily tasks, are you able to tune in to what aspects, services and programs give YOU and your team energy and momentum? Is it talking on the phone with your clients? Blogging about your business? Being outside, selling your products at the farmer’s market? Are you in touch with what your unique gifts are to your business or organization?
Whatever your passion may be, one of the keys to successful entrepreneurship is finding the intersection of what makes your business run and what the market needs, with what you love to do. While it’s not totally true that you need to work 80-hour weeks to be successful in your business, what will carry it forward and challenge you to work out the kinks when things go wrong, or push forward when you don’t have all the pieces, is your PASSION.
One of the greatest lessons I learned along the path of entrepreneurship was to NOT be afraid to get rid of the services or products that sucked my and my team’s energy. Instead, I learned to focus on the one or two things that I or my team felt absolutely passionate about and that we knew we could execute. Once you figure out your passion, you will see that it is so much easier to own and live up to the values of your business or organization, and to promote your business far and wide.
In the early days of the non-profit I ran, called C.E.O. Women, we gave birth to a multitude of programs; from financial literacy for women, to a computer business training program, to a 3-month entrepreneurship training program, to a coach- matching program. Holy moly! I know. I KNOW.
It was a lot for our small team to administer; we were burning the candle at both ends, and it wasn’t pretty. Awkward silences at the office became the norm, as people did not know what to do about the sheer amount of work. One day, my co-leader burst into tears when I made what I thought was a constructive criticism of her work. I had not realized that she worked several nights and weekends in a row in order to get her work done.
2. Hit the “Reset” Button
With the help of an executive coach and facilitator, we decided we needed a reset. We had built so many programs and offerings in such a short time, that our human resources capabilities couldn’t keep up with us. (This was due in part to my creative energy and my love of starting new things!) We felt like we were the jack-of- all-trades and master of none, and it didn’t make for a very productive work environment.
In a facilitated session, we ended up doing a very scary thing – we cut some of our programs. We looked at factors such as the cost to run the program, how many people benefited and the success rate of each program in a very analytical way. We inevitably decided that our bread and butter was our entrepreneurship training program. It had the deepest impact, and was central to our mission.
It’s not easy to let go of a program or service you have built from the ground up, but when you have limited resources and you are trying to achieve your mission, you have to make smarter choices.
Sometimes, cutting something out is the best decision you can make. It frees up mental space and resources for you to really make an impact with a service or offering about which you feel passionate or, frankly, for which there’s a demand.
3. Get Niche-y With It!
Through my experience with my own organization, I learned that the more specific and niche-focused you can be, the easier it will be for you to communicate with your audience and empower people to refer your services. At C.E.O. Women, we knew who we were as an organization, and instead of being pulled in a thousand different directions, we reset our focus.
Cutting some of our programs allowed us to concentrate our attention on making fewer programs better, and allowed us to focus on pursuing foundations and grantors that really resonated with our mission. It left us the mental space and energy to improve our ability to think strategically and execute services tenfold.
If your business or non-profit is going to have multiple offerings, make sure you start with one or two, and do a really good job with them first to test your market. You can use this same principal for any startup, really. The best emerging fashion designers, for instance, do not go to market with 10 designs; they focus on creating three or four really kick-ass designs for their line and then go to market.
Don’t be afraid to “niche out” your services and products. Add on where it makes sense, and don’t be afraid to cut. Cutting or downsizing ideas and initiatives may be just the re-invigoration your business or organization needs to succeed.
Where are you struggling in your business or non-profit at the moment? What do you need to take away in order to be the best you can be at delivering your product or service? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section!
Our personal journey through life defines our values. We know what we like. We know what hurts us. We know what we are afraid of. We know what gives us inspiration. This knowledge of self begins to shape our life purpose. Our deep connection to our values is the most powerful motivator there is to propel us forward to take our leaps. Trying to take a leap without clearly knowing what our values are is akin to searching for buried treasure without the treasure map; we meander aimlessly in circles wondering where it is we are going.
Two of my values have always been freedom and independence. When I was a little girl, I’d never let my mom pick my clothes out for me. I insisted on making my own lunches and was doing my own laundry by the time I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I would ask my parents repeatedly if I could move into the shed in the back of our house so I could have my own home. It was as if I was born this way – always wanting to be free and independent. Weird, I know. These values drove me to devote my entire career to helping women take the leap to feel the freedom and independence of owning their own businesses.
When I was starting the non-profit I ran for 11 years, never did it feel like it was work in the beginning. I always thought I was so lucky. It was only when the organization started to get bigger, and I faced increasingly frustrating growing pains and HR issues that I started to feel dissonance. I’d finish a week that had been filled with sometimes 20-30 meetings with volunteer groups, organizational teams, donors, funders, vendors, and then retreat up to West Marin in Northern California not wanting to speak to anyone for the whole weekend. I was exhausted.
I missed the energy of early-stage projects that allowed me to work on many different things. I missed getting deep with the people I worked with, sharing that family-like camaraderie and building really solid one-on-one relationships with my colleagues. When I ran the non-profit (which helped immigrant and refugee women to start their own businesses), I once knew each client by her first name. Years later I just knew of maybe the star entrepreneur of the class.
I realized I needed to take my own leap and found myself contemplating a new career. I eventually figured out a model for myself where I could still exercise the values of freedom and independence and be true to my entrepreneurial nature, but do so in a way that allowed me the valuable one-on-one time with people, and the ability to go deep. These values are what drove me to coaching.
Since making the decision to work deeply with people, I’m back to feeling like my work isn’t work, but just a natural extension of what I love to do. I talk with social entrepreneurs, creative people, and people with real struggles trying to take their leap. I have the honor to help guide them to realize their values and craft a path for their life to align with those values. It makes me feel energized, purposeful and alive.
This process and experience makes me realize just how important it is for you to know what you really value, else you may be taking a leap on a path that sounds good in theory, but that may compromise your values or make you feel dissonant or exhausted.
Take a temperature reading of the dissonance in your life. Do you feel any – in your relationships, at work, with respect to your health? If so, I’d challenge you to make a list of your values – not material items, but attributes and ways of being in the world that are especially important to you. Then rate each one on a scale of 1 -10 and see how much you are honoring these values in your life. 10 means you fully honor it. 1 means you have some work to do. Where do you need to honor something more? Are you not honoring one particular value at all? What’s the one big thing you need to shift within YOU to change that?
Values are our spiritual launch pad; they are our internal treasure map. When the dream we want to bring to life is in clear alignment with our values, something magical happens and the treasures of life begin to unfold. You begin to feel a natural energy and momentum which propels you toward your leap. The universe just works that way. It may be scary at first, but at some point you’ll eventually find yourself feeling like what you are doing is not work, but a natural extension of you choosing to live and exercise your values in the world. Let your quest begin!
Executive & Leadership Coach | Global Explorer | Founder, Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf