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 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!)
(Re-post from my 2/3/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog.)
A lot of people come to Surf Life Coaching to get help making a bold transition, or to figure out how to get to the next level in their careers or personal lives. Most of the time, they come stuck in their safe zone. They are afraid, and by staying in the “safe zone”, they do not grow and challenge themselves to get to where it is they really want to go.
When people start to step out of their comfort zones, a number of things happen. For entrepreneurs, it can mean the difference between really starting to differentiate themselves in their industry vs. being just another plain business. For individuals, it can mean paving an opening for going after what they really want vs. feeling stuck in their status quo lives.
To take a leap and get past the fear can take a lot of work. Sometimes, people are afraid they will fail, or are afraid of what others might think of them. But what they don’t realize is that some amount of risk is what will also make them grow. Any failure they might experience will be in service to a much greater personal self-growth and discovery.
I know it’s one thing to list the logical reasons for stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and it’s another thing to FEEL the need to do so. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to logic:
1. Grow your leadership: Stepping out of your comfort zone can aid in developing your leadership and self-growth. As an example, a few years into running the nonprofit organization I founded, I was struggling in a relationship with one of my most important employees and fellow leaders. Most of the time, we found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and were very overworked and tired. We were stressed, and tempers were often short. I knew we needed to have a critical conversation about what was going on, but I remember neither of us really wanted to have it. We didn’t know HOW to have it, AND it was uncomfortable.
As I was the so-called ‘boss’, I’m sure it was hard for her to bring up our discordant dynamic. And truth be told, I was equally afraid because back then, I wasn’t very versed with head-on, to-the-point conflict. I was afraid of being blamed or worse yet, that she might leave. (Yes, bosses have fears, too.) We danced around this dynamic for a bit until it finally came to a head and we both had to have the conversation. It was uncomfortable and I felt vulnerable, but it was so good to get things on the table. Truth be told, tears were shed and thoughts and feelings were expressed. And afterwards, it was as if we were in a whole new space. I really understood her perspective and what she needed, and she understood my perspective, too. Stepping into this zone of discomfort took me to a whole other level in my leadership.
Conversations on difficult subjects after that with other employees, family and friends never seemed hard at all. I had forced myself to be out of my comfort zone with this, and looking back, what I realized was that it was one of the best skills I developed in my leadership arsenal for the years ahead. No conversation after that ever seemed quite as scary.
2. Stand out from the crowd: Being uncomfortable is often the path to differentiation. For example, I coach a number of entrepreneurs, and sometimes they end up sitting in their comfort zones in their business or lives, and nothing seems to be moving. When they realize and come to terms with that big, scary idea or passion they have been stuffing away all these years, and start to move towards it, it feels uncomfortable. They get scared, and often the voices of “can’t” and “sabotage” get in the way and give them every logical argument as to why they shouldn’t step towards it. But, stepping towards this is when they start to grow. If you are not in a place of feeling slightly uncomfortable, not stepping into new territory, how are you to find what makes you different?
As an example, before I started Surf Life Coaching, I was just a coach – a “vanilla” brand coach for leaders and entrepreneurs (though some would say I’m too brown to be vanilla, but you know what I mean!). Many friends and coaching colleagues would suggest that I somehow integrate surfing into my approach, since I loved it so much. Well, I stuffed that idea so far down that I didn’t want to consider it – I was afraid. But it was an idea that kept popping up again and again that I couldn’t seem to bury. After much introspection, months of coaching and a day-long seminar on finding my true calling, I realized I could stay on land and do traditional coaching and trudge along in my business, or I could create something unique with little road map or knowledge of how to do it, and try to deliver my coaching service in a new and better way.
I remember when I saw the path of where I needed to go. I knew I needed to go all out with this surfing and coaching concept. It had me terrified. In the end, I got over the fears and developed my own methodology for Surf Life Coaching. What this did was allow me to differentiate my services, and stand out. It was not the comfortable path by any means, but it helped set my approach apart, allowing me to deliver my unique skills and talents to those most in need.
3. Gain new insights: Getting out of your comfort zone can often bring you to new ideas and insights. When we surround ourselves with the same people, images, thoughts and media all the time, we are just reinforcing and trying to build on what we know. When we can get out and see the world, connect with someone other than who is in our normal circle, we not only gain new perspectives, we also gain critical new insights for ourselves.
This is why you might find business leaders choosing to hike up big mountains with Sherpas during their vacations, or activists bridging the worlds of technology and entrepreneurship to build hybrid models to get to something new. Getting out of their comfort zones forces them to experience things in a different way, and to gain valuable perspective that can often lead to new creation.
Great leaders may take risks and hire people for a position with little to no experience in their industry, but with know-how on the general concepts. It’s a risk for the company or organization to bring in somebody without the industry knowledge, but what they gain through this is an entirely different perspective and way of seeing things that often ends up becoming a competitive advantage more than anything else.
4. Build resilience: My second job out of college was as an Americorps/VISTA (sorta like the domestic Peace Corps) volunteer at a start-up social venture helping low-income women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. When I arrived on site to the job, I had no desk, no computer, no office and essentially, no physical place to work. I had to find it all. I worked out of my supervisor’s home office, borrowed a desk at central administration, and then worked out of a site for a homeless jobs program before landing in a commercial bank – all within the span of 12 months. I know – yikes! It was the most uncomfortable situation to go from a structured academic environment in college to having to fundraise to get your own computer and a chair to sit your butt down in!
But what this discomfort did was pattern in me a solutions-oriented and troubleshooting mind. I would come to use those skills to start the next two social ventures and my business. It gave me insights on how to attract and leverage resources, and how to stretch a dollar 5 times around the block, so to speak. It also got me comfortable with mobility, and being able to be productive no matter what the environment. These skills would come in handy for my entire future career in entrepreneurship.
And then there was the time I found myself in Western Samoa in a village with a shack for a bathroom, sleeping on a mat on a plank with no walls. Another seemingly uncomfortable situation, but I was not intimidated. ;)
Anyways, the discomfort seeded in me a resilience for change, and detachment to space. These have been critical lessons learned along the road that have helped tremendously in my life transitions, and in creating and building things. Resilience is invaluable currency.
5. Grow your capacity for respect and humility: When you step out of your comfort zone, you actually connect more with the world, and learn to have a healthy respect for others. For example, when I take people surfing for the first time - let’s face it - they usually have their asses handed to them. They fumble, wipe out, roll in the surf, and then pop their heads back up wondering why they weren’t able to get up on their board. Some of them are used to being in control of everything in their businesses, careers and lives, but why can’t they get a hold of this?
When they finish, they have such a different respect for the ocean, and a whole new respect for people who charge the ocean on bigger waves. It also is a process that flattens ego, and can be a very rich place for self-discovery and for learning humility.
I’m curious - where in your life or career have you felt stuck, but then ventured out of your comfort zone? How did you do it and what did you learn? I want to hear from you!
(Re-post from my 1/20/14 Surf Life Coaching blog).
Everybody has the tendency to sometimes complain about their circumstances or the people they are in relationship with. I once read somewhere that complaints are are just unspoken requests. But sometimes we cannot make the requests we want to make so find ourselves in the position of complaining. What we do have the power to shift is what is within us. Getting in touch with your ability to make these internal shifts will help the leaps you want to take in your wave of life to be all the more smoother.
For example, there is an important relationship in my life but I had a hard time with the way that particular person has related to me in the past. This person from time to time would start to accuse me of things and then would start to criticize me. I would feel defensive and hurt. I realized that it was holding me back in a lot of ways and making me feel bad about myself, and even eroding my self-confidence. I decided the next time she started to criticize me, that I would not react, but I would try to understand her perspective and see if I could find some value in her words and just listen. Rather than let her words land on my heart center and feel defensive, as she spoke I imagined them landing on the ground in the space in front of me. I also told myself to not take it personally.
I made the conscious decision about how I was going to react and to approach the conflict the way I would surf a wave – to just be curious, go with it and follow it. I listened and ask questions and tried to understand and clarify the source of what was making her criticize me. The process diffused the episode of this person and allowed me the space to speak my voice and share my perspective with them. In the end, I didn’t change her, but changed the WAY I chose to relate to her. It also became apparent that her episodes were more about HER feelings and the way she experienced the world vs. about me.
I learned that when you’re trying to move forward and you feel something or someone is holding you back, it’s easier to shift something within you, rather than change someone or try to change your circumstances. You have far more control over changing YOU first . This has been a critical lesson for me in leaping into the unknowns of life, not knowing what you might face. Having the muscle to flow in and out of conflict and shift your RESPONSE to what is happening will make you all the more prepared to take your leap in life, whatever it may be.
Executive & Leadership Coach | Global Explorer | Founder, Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf