Be Unhappy.

Each day, I skim through the headlines of the Aspen Institute’s Five Best Ideas of the Day newsletter. One caught my eye this morning:

The secret to office happiness isn’t working less—it’s caring less

The premise is unnervingly true. Caring less is the cultural aspiration du jour in a time when many of us are suffering from outrage fatigue. The “zero fucks given” meme entered internet vernacular in late 2010 and surged during the last election season:

Screenshot 2017-12-02 15.08.59

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck has sold over a million copies, is a New York Times #1 Bestseller, and has spent 29 weeks on Amazon’s Most Read Nonfiction Chart, where it currently occupies the #1 spot.

I lead a startup focused on education resource equity where there is no shortage of outrage about the status quo. We care deeply about the injustices, inefficiencies, and inequities we witness every day – in the education system and as a woman-led startup. We would love to care less. If I cared less, maybe I could lay off the antacid, sleep well, lose 10 pounds, and have some emotional capacity left over for personal relationships.

We fantasize about this so often that my business partner and I have even dreamed up a fictional business that we could run without caring at all: a personalized nail-polish business called Nailed.it. Oh, to run a business with products of zero consequence.

Here’s the ugly truth about progress: if those driving it cared less, we wouldn’t make any. Social impact work is difficult, enraging, slow, and often thankless. As Dr. Seuss tells us, one has to care a whole awful lot to make change in this world.

lorax

While we make jokes and wish for occasional relief from the crushing anxiety of caring so much, I don’t want to live in a world where people doing important social work care less. I do not want to live in a world where people doing the grueling unhappy work to cure disease or educate children or develop clean energy solutions or alleviate poverty or advocate for civil rights wake up in the morning and ponder, “Maybe a nice forest-bath today.” I want to live in a world where people wake up angry and go to work.

When I feel depleted and daunted and start daydreaming about a happy, care-free life, I remind myself of this passage from Brave New World:

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” the Savage said defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

My Grandfather the Feminist

My grandfather was an aerospace engineer and a lover of innovative technology. As far back as I can remember, he could be found tinkering with a new gadget (purchased after hours spent pouring over consumer reports, of course) or building something on his own if he couldn’t find a product that suited his needs. He once built a ramp for getting his boat in the water with some plywood and cutting boards. He was an early adopter. He had the first computers, the first internet connections, the first digital-everything.

We called him Pop and he entertained his grandchildren’s innocent curiosities with great delight. Grandma and Pop had a water barometer in their kitchen. One day, my cousins and I inquired what would happen if you blew into it.

With a grin, he suggested we try it and find out:

waterglass.jpeg

If you’re familiar with how barometric pressure works, you know this didn’t end well for us, but it’s remained a favorite tale among cousins for nearly 20 years.

Pop took me to science museums and aircraft carrier tours and taught me to sail and tie knots. He gave me math problems and riddles. He asked me hard questions. He let me navigate, even when I took him an hour out of the way (really, who trusts a 4-year-old with directions to the bagel shop?)

Pop died nearly 10 years ago, but my grandmother recently relayed a story to me that I had never heard before, and quickly came to cherish:

(To no one’s surprise), I was a bossy child and I was a ham. I liked to command a room’s attention with stories and jokes from a young age. During one such spectacle, when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, a number of adults in the room commented amongst themselves that I was destined for a career in theater: maybe an actress, maybe a director.

Pop turned to my grandmother and whispered, “No. She’ll be a CEO.”

My grandfather was born in the 1930s and had a prominent career in engineering. It’s safe to say that there were few, if any, female CEOs in his ecosystem. Somehow, this didn’t stop him from imagining that future for his granddaughter. I wish he were here to see it become a reality. Pop’s Galileo thermometer sits on my bedroom shelf, a visual reminder to seek knowledge and pursue curiosity; try, and find out.

galileo.jpeg

Who are you reading?

I love books – words in general, really. I come from a family of readers. Every summer – in the days before Kindles – my aunts and uncles and grandparents hauled big bags of books to trade at family gatherings. “What are you reading these days?” is a common topic of conversation.

I stopped reading for pleasure at some point in college – it wasn’t exactly a leisurely respite from the thousands of pages of required reading each semester. But after I finished grad school and settled into something like a rhythm of adult life, I found that I missed reading and rededicated myself to it. (Around this time, I also discovered Goodreads and was roundly horrified to see that I had read all of 2 books in 2011.)

I started setting annual reading goals and have been able to increase my reading time steadily each year for the past five years:

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Yesterday, I was catching up with my friend Andrew who recently started a new personal reading challenge. We started chatting about what we’ve been reading, how we source recommendations, how we balance fiction and nonfiction texts. Then, Andrew pondered aloud something that I have often wondered myself: whose words am I reading? What’s the breakdown of male and female authors? Am I reading books by mostly White people, or also by Black, Hispanic, and Asian authors? We both suspected there were a lot of white male authors in the mix – particularly because we both read a lot of business books, which are overwhelmingly written by white men.

While I hope that Goodreads will someday allow me to analyze the authorship of my books as easily as the stats on page count or genre (stats from 2015 and 2016 above), I decided to run this analysis myself. Woof.

2014-2016 Analysis of Authors by Gender and Ethnicity

Between 2014 and 2016 I read 92 books. Here’s how those authors (or, in the case of essay anthologies, editors) broke down by gender:

2014-author2015-author-gender2016-author-gender

As you can see, I’m pretty consistently achieving gender parity across authors. I suspect that if I broke this down further, the majority of my nonfiction/business books would be authored by men, so I think that’s the area for improvement here. I would love to find more business books written by women. Right now, I think that list is limited to Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.

And here’s the not-so-surprising yet majorly disconcerting breakdown of authors by ethnicity:

2014-author-ethn2015-author-ethn2016-author-ethn

I expected that the majority of these authors would be white, but this was jarring to see. Across 93 authors and editors of books that I’ve read in the past three years, 79 of them were white – nearly 85%. Only five books had Black or Hispanic authors: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2 books), Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

This is startling to me because I have long held the assumption that I have been reading broadly, from a wide range of authors, genres, and perspectives. In reality, I’ve just been reading 50 shades of white.

Why does this matter? I love books and words because I believe they have power. I believe books have the power to challenge and shape our worldview, mold opinions, inspire ideas, and change perspectives. If my worldview, opinions, ideas, and perspectives are being narrated by white authors 85% of the time, they won’t be an accurate reflection of the country or the world. One of the joys and aims of reading for me is to change my thinking or learn something new; reading primarily white authors is more likely to validate my existing worldview and perspective than to challenge me to consider new ones.

This has been an eye-opening exercise for me and something I’ll be paying much closer attention to as I select books from now on. If you have recommendations of favorite books by Black or Hispanic authors, please share in the comments!

Life Olympics 2016

I love a good reset. Birthdays. School years. Fiscal years. Calendar years. New quarters, months, weeks, days. We get a lot of opportunities to pause, reflect, and press the reset button. For all of my post-college adult life, the Life Olympics has helped me take full advantage of these temporal markers, but the annual round-up is still my favorite.

2016 Awards Ceremony:

Career – Bronze

What a weird year for Allovue. We started 2016 fresh off of a Series A raise with big plans and big expectations for the year ahead. 2016 would mark the first full year that our product was in the market. Our team grew from 8 people in November 2015 to 24 by the end of 2016. We moved into a beautiful new office. We expanded to new states, with districts large and small, urban and rural. We hosted our first Future of Education Finance Summit. We launched our blog. We redesigned our product and built a new budget module.

Why the bronze, then? I wish I could tell you I was fully prepared for the nuanced challenges that come with 300% growth in a year, but there’s just no preparing for that. At several points throughout the year, I thought to myself, “So this is why investors don’t like first-time founders, huh?” I reflected a lot on the difference between bad decisions and wrong decisions: with bad decisions, you choose an option that flies in the face of data, advice, and general signs of trouble; with wrong decisions, you choose an option that made a lot of sense at the time, with the information at hand, and it later turned out to be wrong. Wrong decisions tend to be clear in hindsight, and I made a few of those this year. I’m ending the year a little more sobered on the myriad challenges of building something big and transformative, yet just as steadfast on mission and vision. My plan for 2017 is much more concrete and specific. In nearly 4 years of this work, 2016 may have led me up the steepest learning curve yet. In 2017, I’ll need to put those those lessons to good use.

Health – Silver

You know what? Not horrible. This was probably my most consistently healthy year, despite being on the road at least half the year and traveling about 150K miles. I even finally conquered the Whole 30 Challenge and got back down to my college weight before my 30th birthday. Silver because I still get into ruts with exercise and eating well (do you KNOW how hard it is to eat healthy in an airport?), and still prioritize work over health when push comes to shove. I aspire to be the kind person who maintains their diet and exercise regimen no matter what, but I’m not there yet. I’ve done a better job this year of saying, “Hey girl, you can take a 2 hour break for yoga. The spreadsheets will be here when you get back I PROMISE,” but I’m still not very good at keeping health practices sacred. Customer wants me somewhere? Investor calls? Employee has an issue? All those things take precedence. I’m not at all convinced that they shouldn’t. Maybe someday I’ll have a normal job and feel like work can wait, but right now I still prioritize all things Allovue over my personal needs, and I’m kind of ok with that.

Home – Gold

My little house is looking good. I finally fixed a leak that has been plaguing me for years, refinanced my mortgage, installed window treatments throughout the house, and got rid of some nasty overgrown tree branches. I finished redecorating a few rooms, and had a gangbusters year with AirBNB. This year, my AirBNB earnings fully covered the costs of my mortgage, taxes, and internet service. This has afforded me the financial freedom to save, invest, and travel. And ya’ll thought this was a terrible idea. I also hit all my personal finance goals this year by getting myself fully out of “I-floated-the-company-and-my-non-salaried-life-on-my-credit-card-for-a-little-while-debt” and finally prioritized savings.

In college, I made a deal with myself: I could make risk-it-all/you-only-live-once financial choices until I turned 30, and then I had to get serious about saving because I had officially made it out of my twenties alive. I took advantage of this by traveling all over the world with every spare cent, buying a house I couldn’t really afford, and quitting my job and cashing out my pension to chase a dream/vision. I have no regrets about any of this, but I turned 30 in November, so it’s time to hold up my other end of the bargain.

Spirit – Silver

A pretty good year for this old soul. I took trips to Paris, Cancun, Vegas, and back to the Dominican Republic for some good old-fashioned unplugging. I kept up with my singing. I hit my Goodreads goal of 35 books. I went to the symphony a lot. I saw Mike Birbiglia’s live stand-up. I’ve also just started calling bullshit more candidly when I see it, and that’s gotta be good for my soul.

I didn’t write as much as I would have liked to, so that’s a goal for 2017. I also didn’t see as much theatre as I would have liked to. And at this point, I’m really rusty on performing. I miss it, and need to find a way to incorporate it into my life that doesn’t involve 4 hours of rehearsal every night for 3 months.

Relationships – Gold fucking star 

The best thing I did this year on the relationships front was to reconnect with Ali, my best friend from college. She lives in California and we’d mostly fallen out of touch during the past few years. I learned from the Book of Face that she had landed the lead role in a Neil Labute play in Long Beach. I secretly booked a ticket and a flight and surprised her at the stage door. The look on her face (and subsequent mauling) when she realized it was me, is probably one of my top 5 memories. This was in July, and we’ve rendezvoused to Las Vegas, dined in LA, and spent my birthday weekend in Baltimore (her surprise to me) since then.

While I’ll probably never forgive the writers of How I Met Your Mother for their dream-crushing series finale, this Ted Mosby quote sticks with me:

“That’s how it goes kids. The friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, and partners in crime you love so much when you’re young, as the years go by, you just lose touch. You will be shocked, kids, when you discover how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why, when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.”

Truth be told, it hasn’t been that hard to meet up with her semi-regularly – it just requires some effort and planning. So, find the people in your life worth the effort, and just make the effort. It’s so worth it.

And my love life? My grandmother is banned from asking about it, and so are you.

In conclusion

So this is interesting: the categories in which I usually suck – not so bad this year! I think I’m doing a better job at being a whole person. I’d still rather be working than doing almost anything else all the time, but so what? My work gives my life meaning and purpose, so it makes sense that I would want to spend as much time as possible on it. I’ve come to accept this, rather than feel bad about it.

I often find myself driving alone across a stretch of America very late at night, on my way to some Residence Inn where I can heat up a frozen Amy’s lasagna from the lobby market before collapsing in a room that looks uncannily similar in every city in the country. I hum a little Taylor Swift, “Midniiiiight, long driiiiives,” headlights piercing the black night.

“There are students in those hills,” I think to myself; and this is my manifest destiny.

 

When you’re 30.

I was a terrible child. I don’t mean I behaved badly – I mean I was terrible at being a child. According to nearly everyone that had a hand in raising me, I have been X going on 30 since I could speak. I’ve got about 48 hours to go, so let’s recap the promises that were made and the glory that is about to rain down on my life on November 6, 2016.

yay30

30 has been a sort of magical age for me for as long as I can remember. Somehow, every adult in my life mutually agreed that this was the age when all my dreams would come true. “When you’re 30” everything you want to happen starts happening; everything you resent will go away. 30 was my happily-ever-after.

“When you’re 30, you can wear that.” This was a frequent promise that my mother made in fitting rooms at the Monmouth Mall. Halter tops, mini-skirts, anything with sequins or rhinestones, and definitely anything with cleavage: strictly off-limits. But man, was I going to be one hot 30-year-old in my mini-skirt and rhinestone halter top. (A brilliant strategy on her part, as my mother can now tell me I am too old for these garments.)

“When you’re 30, boys will like you.” As you can imagine, my restrictions on skin-bearing clothing and my old-soul mentality made me a really hot item in middle school. And high school. And college. And my 20s. But according to everyone I have ever complained to about my loveless life for the past 18 years, when I turn 30, some magic gates will open and hordes of handsome sophisticated men who love a sassy woman will be waiting for me.

“When you’re 30, you can date.” This former promise is so convenient, because just as men get hip to me being a total catch, I will officially be allowed to date! (Sorry Dad, I may have cheated on this one a little bit. But basically, fine, you told me so and I should have just listened and could have saved a lot of heartbreak and disappointment. Goddamn, my parents are prophetic.)

“When you’re 30, you’ll change your mind about not wanting kids.” Aw man, so sad to retire this one. I’m really going to miss the condescending tone of those who think they know my wants and needs and body better than I do.

“When you’re 30, it won’t matter.” Insert daily drama of middle/high school. It doesn’t.

“When you’re 30, you can tell me if you still think it’s cool to go to a concert with your Dad.” My father and I may have gone to see Celine Dion in concert at least 4 times. What? It was the 90s, and she was all the rage. I was about 9, so I my sarcasm-detection was not as finely honed as it is today, but I think my father may have been suggesting that by age 30 I would not think it was cool to hang out with him at a concert. And this may mark the only time in 30 years that my father has ever been so wrong, because to this day, there’s nothing I love better than listening to live music or catching a show with my Dad.

I wanted a lot from life at an early age. I wanted freedom (could I live in an apartment in the backyard?) and wild adventures and epic love (like Buffy and Angel). I wanted city life. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to swallow up every book I could get my hands on. I wanted good food – gourmet food. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted and wanted and wanted.

And now I’m 30. And I now have it: the life I always wanted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Firstthirtyjobs

I have always been obsessed with working. My very first job was “Mother’s Helper” for my neighbor at age 9 and I just started collecting hustles from there. Unlike most young entrepreneurs, I wasn’t really in it for the money. I liked making money, but I viewed it as buying my independence to shop and travel where I pleased. I mostly liked collecting experiences, though, and I racked up quite a few:

  1. Mother’s helper/Babysitter (through most of middle school and high school)
  2. Face-painting/Nail painting at children’s birthday parties
  3. Cat-sitter
  4. Referee for Lincroft Soccer
  5. Umpire for Lincroft Little League
  6. Closet cleaner (for a hoarder – my job was literally never done)
  7. Secretary at a law office
  8. Marketing & box office sales for a local theatre
  9. Hype girl for a DJ – basically, got paid to do the electric slide at Bar Mitzvahs
  10. Salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret
  11. Bank Teller
  12. English teacher in Thailand
  13. Caterer (roommate and I catered campus events from our dorm room kitchen)
  14. Admin/coffee maker at Penn English Language Center
  15. Research assistant in South Africa
  16. Research subject in South Africa
  17. Kaplan SAT-prep teacher
  18. House cleaner/cook for a Penn professor
  19. Freedom School kindergarten teacher
  20. Netter Center assistant for Academically Based Community Service program
  21. Baltimore City middle school teacher
  22. Ann Taylor Loft salesgirl
  23. Adjunct professor at Towson
  24. ABS Capital Marketing coordinator
  25. Photographer
  26. AirBNB host
  27. Grant writer
  28. Director of education at Betamore
  29. Entrepreneurship bootcamp teacher at Towson
  30. CEO of Allovue

In support of the Maryland Angel Investor Tax Credit Program

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Last year, the Greater Baltimore Committee worked with Delegate Brooke Lierman and Senator Catherine Pugh on a bill that would have created an Angel Investor Tax Credit. The credit would function similarly to the very popular Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit but would be available to a much wider range of industries and companies. Despite two very good hearings, they did not get a vote on the bill last year.

Delegate Lierman has reintroduced the bill this year (Senator Pugh will be reintroducing, as well). Although I was unable to attend the hearing in person, I sent a written testimony in support of the bill, which is reproduced below.

TESTIMONY PRESENTED TO THE
HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE
HOUSE BILL 471 –
Angel Investor Tax Credit Program
FEBRUARY 16, 2016

My name is Jessica Gartner and I am the CEO and Founder of Allovue, an education finance technology startup based in Baltimore City. I moved to Baltimore in the summer of 2009 as a Teach for America Corps Member. I taught middle school humanities in Baltimore City and completed my Master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. In 2011, inspired by the energy and potential of Baltimore, I bought a house in the Hollins Market neighborhood, thanks to homebuyer grants from the Live Baltimore program.

In February of 2013, I quit my job to start Allovue. I was haunted by the inefficiencies of school financial management, as I had observed first-hand the direct impact that resource allocation has on teaching and learning. I believed that innovation in education finance technology could drastically improve access to timely financial data and help education leaders make better resource allocation decisions by connecting spending to student achievement data.

By all accounts, this was a completely insane idea. I had no previous experience in business, technology, or finance, but I was intensely driven by a vision for an education system that allocated dollars effectively to meet the needs of our students. I believed that I could rally a team of brilliant software engineers, data scientists, education finance experts, and designers to build a product that met the uniquely complex needs of education leaders everywhere.

Three years ago, I was a 26-year-old girl with a bold idea, a few PowerPoint slides, and an incredible passion for improving educational outcomes. The Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore took a big bet on me. I was accepted to the Accelerate Baltimore cohort in 2013, which provided our first investment of $25,000 from the Abell Foundation.

During the next two years, I raised two rounds of seed capital for a total of $1.8 million. 42 percent of that seed capital came from Baltimore angel investors. I used this capital to hire our founding team and build a product that was ready to go to market in school districts across the country. In December [2015], we raised an additional $5.1 million in Series A funding, led by Rethink Education, which will catapult our growth to a new level in 2016.

Today, I hired our 22nd employee, representing nearly 300% team growth over the past 90 days. Of those 22 people, we are in the process of relocating 7 of them to new homes in Baltimore City. We have just begun offering Live Baltimore matching grants up to $5000 to all employees who choose to buy homes in Baltimore. I sincerely hope they all take advantage of this.

Our sales are up 1000% since this time last year. In 2016, we are projecting 4000% growth over 2015 revenues. We are now working with school districts and state departments in 10 states across the country, helping education leaders manage and analyze over $3 billion in funding. And we’re just getting started.

None of this would have been possible without the early capital from angel investors. Angels make the riskiest investments in innovation – they bet on crazy, unproven ideas from inexperienced and unlikely founders, yet this is origin story of nearly every major technological breakthrough in America. Let’s make sure that more of them come from Maryland.

We should offer every incentive for betting on innovation and economic growth that starts and stays in Maryland. I hope you will vote to support the Angel Tax Credit, ensuring that all Maryland entrepreneurs with crazy ideas will have the best opportunities to access the capital necessary to build the next big thing.

For these reasons, I urge you to support House Bill 471.