Make America Debate Again

As early as 3rd grade, I had set my sights on a career in law. If you had straight-As before the dot-com boom, the binary career paths offered to you were doctor or lawyer and I didn’t like blood so I chose law. Throughout middle school and high school, I prepared for my future career as a prosecutor with our mock trial teams. This exposed me to hours of exercising critical thinking, writing, and debate skills on topics such as DNA-based discrimination and vehicular manslaughter. I barely remember most concepts from high school math, but I have a deep understanding of vector analysis because it was a critical (and dramatic) component of my cross-examination.

 

image2
St. Leo’s 8th-grade mock trial team at the NJ Law Center

 

Yesterday, I read this heartwrenching article from the Miami Herald detailing how the survivors of America’s latest school shooting have been relying on notes and research from last year’s class debate topic on gun control. I was gutted with emotion reading the teens’ accounts of debate class and competition, remembering the ferocity and fervor my friends and I brought to debate practice as teens. It was some of the most academically rigorous work of my life – we did exhaustive research on the topics and diligently poked holes in each other’s arguments over countless pizza dinners until they were airtight. With this context, I am not at all surprised how thorough, biting, and compelling the Florida teens’ case has been on the national stage. Their performance is the quintessential assessment of their preparation through the cruelest test.

Their articulation of the issues at hand is turning heads in part because they are, well… articulate. And rational. And supported by facts. And utterly devoid of the rampant logical fallacies and sensationalism that have dominated public debates, social media, town halls, and media coverage of politicians in recent years. They are driving a well-reasoned and level-headed debate about one of the country’s most emotional and divisive issues with charm, poise, and humor.

This is public education at its best. This is America at its best. This is the kind of heated yet rigorous debate on which this country was founded. They are young, scrappy, and hungry and they are not throwing away their shot (I was also a theatre kid).

 

image3
Red Bank Catholic High School mock trial team

 

The teens’ exemplary display of rhetoric skills is a sharp juxtaposition to the fanaticism around STEM in public education, often at the expense of humanities courses and programs. After my first year of teaching as a middle school social studies teacher, the school cut the social studies program in order to extend English language arts classes and I had to find a new school. Social studies is not a state-tested subject, so it often falls by the wayside of education programming, although history, public policy, and economics are some of the most relevant and requisite topics for active citizenship and preservation of our democratic ideals. They are also some of the most fun, memorable, and defining experiences of schooling for many kids.

After watching a night of mock trial rehearsal, the teacher who coached our school’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter recruited me for the public speaking category. I initially rebuffed the idea, wholeheartedly and exclusively committed to the legal profession at the ripe age of 15, but she talked me into it (probably because of the free overnight trip with my friends, to be honest). It was 2001 and I crafted and delivered a speech about corporate responsibility in the wake of the Enron scandal, which won 1st place in the state and 10th place nationally. I remember scoffing that the experience was wasted on this future lawyer. Indeed, one can never predict when an opportunity will meet preparation.

Fashion trends I want to burn with fire

A few weeks ago I tweeted about the tribulations of shopping for a professional wardrobe and it really struck a chord in my little Twitterverse.

I don’t know about you all, but I think women’s fashion is having some sort of collective crisis right now. I am actually having a hard time spending money on clothes and shoes and that is not a typical affliction for me. These are a few fads that need to swiftly die:

bell sleeve

Bell sleeves: These silhouettes are cool… in a tableau. The prospect of wearing bell sleeves when I need to, um, do anything or go anywhere or say anything is terrifying and, frankly, hazardous. When I look at a bell sleeve, all I see are many spilled drinks and my untimely death when I inevitably snag one in a subway door. Someone in my wingspan radius is going to lose an eye the minute I start gesticulating, which is every time I open my mouth. Are these designers just sitting there like, “How can we make women’s lives more fraught? Ooh… let’s cloak their arms in huge cones of fabric!” I can barely tolerate normal sleeves. My wrists and forearms need air and space for angry typing and wild hand gestures.

Cutouts: Is there a textile shortage or something? Why does every women’s garment look like a paper-snowflake activity gone wrong?

Screenshot 2018-02-03 07.40.47.png

Don’t get me wrong, those cold-shoulder shirts are cute… but, like, one of them. I don’t want random swatches of fabric cut out of every item in my closet. The cutout contagion has spread from shoulders to stomachs, sides, chests, pants, shoes, and bags. Did everyone just get over-excited about their new laser-cut manufacturing equipment? This fad was irritating but tolerable in July. It is now February and you are still trying to die-cut all my clothes. Staaahp it.

V603913_CROP1Bralettes: Just what you want with your support garment: a diminutive suffix. This is some infantalizing nonsense. Bralettes win the form over function award on this list. They are pretty, though… pretty useless. Basically, these are training bras with more lace and less utility. I find it kind of creepy that we’re sexifying a garment that is designed for pre-pubescent girls. The entire sexy-baby fetish can go. I am so ready for the bralette burning party.

Mules: I repeat: do we have a textile shortage? Why can I only buy half of a shoe these days? Why do they still cost as much as a whole shoe? Look, I love a good slip on… in the spring and summer months. Mules are having a moment in the dead of winter for why? Apparently, the footwear options this winter are over-the-knee boots or mules. You can have 710% of a shoe or 40% of a shoe. As a point of practicality, mules are not the best running-for-trains-and-planes shoes. I also have elfin feet, so my shoes fall off if they’re not literally strapped around my ankle.

Screenshot 2018-02-03 07.35.10

Upon further reflection… perhaps I should wear more mules and see if I can contrive some sort of millennial Cinderella story and then write a screenplay called Lost Soles.

dresses-charcoal-soul-with-ruffles-dress-1_1024x1024

Ruffles: I don’t really have a pragmatic argument for this one, I just hate ruffles on my clothes. I find it very hard to take myself seriously if I’m covered in ruffles. They always seem to be draped over parts of my body that I would rather be as svelte as possible. They never lay right. If they get wrinkled, they’re impossible to iron. They add bulk.Ruffles are my personal nightmare.

Is it too much to ask for unadorned garments in fabrics that travel well and give me free range of motion? Is it??

 

What are the latest fads you want to throw on the fashion pyre?

 

5 years ago was my last day of “work”

5 years ago today I did a crazy thing.

I walked away from a great job to pursue an inkling of an idea. This was a clean (psychotic) break from the first 25 years of my life, during which I played by all the rules, colored inside the lines, and took well-trodden paths. Goodbye to all that.

I didn’t feel compelled to recapitulate the details of what’s transpired since then. Instead, I was going to reflect and summarize what I’ve learned over the past 5 years, but I found myself at a loss for words. What could I possibly say to capture the love and fury and joy and indignation and on-the-brinkness and sheer thrill and terror and sense of purpose I have felt (sometimes all at once) during these years?

Everything boils down to platitudes: be yourself; trust your gut; never give up; get some sleep; hustle; surround yourself with the right people; blah.

The platitudes are true but utterly devoid of meaning until they’re colored by personal experiences (usually mistakes) that you just can’t cheat. Entrepreneurship has a way of making you learn things the hard way and kicking you when you’re down. And then there are these barely perceptible yet completely addictive glimmers of progress that make you feel on top of the world. It’s either sadness or euphoria.

In an acute moment of doubt, a great advisor, and, later, an investor once said to me:  “Well, I like an entrepreneur who burns her ships on the shore. Just keep going.”

Onward.

Phrases in dating app profiles that make me swipe left

Over the years, I have suffered through a lot of dating apps and I have gone on more boring/horrifying dates than I care to tally. Here are some words and phrases that trigger a quick swipe left for me:

“Partner in crime” – What’s the most rebellious thing you’ve done lately – drive very fast through a yellow light? Borrow your brother’s HBOgo password? These are the most milquetoast people on the planet. LEFT.

“Laid-back”, “easy-going”, “care-free”, or “chill” – These are all code words for boring. People who are actually chill in a real way do not feel the need to announce it. LEFT.

“Someday…” – C’est la vie, man. What are you waiting for? This guy will irritate the crap out of me talking about big dreams for things he could absolutely do today. LEFT.

“Settle down” – This phrase makes my skin crawl. This is code for “I’m ready to give up on my dreams and move to the suburbs.” LEFT.

“Nice guy” – This guy is almost certainly going to call you a bitch or worse the first time you take more than 3 minutes to respond. Weird martyr complexes abound. LEFT.

Quotes from Anchorman or Wedding Crashers – Dude, I am the worst at movies but it’s been over 10 years! Find some new pop-culture references. LEFT.

“I’ll make you laugh” – Definitely not funny. And you’ll have to fake more than laughter. LEFT.

“[Industry] Expert” – He’s whatever the bottom rung of this profession is. LEFT.

“Someone to spoil” – This is going to get weird fast. Whatever is the opposite of Daddy issues, he has them. LEFT.

“Fluent in sarcasm” – About as creative and interesting as our partner-in-crime seekers. LEFT.

No profile – You could put in the bare minimum of effort here. You are not that good looking. LEFT.

“I have a car, a job, and don’t live with my Mother.” – Fine, I take back what I said about bare minimums. LEFT.

“Love to cuddle” – Maybe it’s just me, but it creeps me out to list this as a hobby. I already need some space from you. LEFT.

“Hate cats” – Darwin doesn’t care for you either. LEFT.

“Are you the one?” – Lower your expectations. LEFT.

“420 friendly” – Are you really over 18? LEFT.

“I’m not good at writing these things.” – Results matter. Maybe ask a friend? LEFT.

I hope all of these men find the Live.Laugh.Love women of their dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Life Olympics: We lived to tell about it

Another year of the Life Olympics in the books. A few solid milestones of progress. A few respectable efforts. And a few “How are we here again?” disappointments. The mile-markers are fun, but the disappointments are more to the point; the Life Olympics is asymptotic. I’m resisting the urge to put a value judgment on 2017. In turns, I felt depleted and rejuvenated.

asymptote.png

My main takeaway for the year is that I have decidedly outgrown some personal narratives and it’s time to rewrite them. How would you describe yourself in 140 characters? What is your personal elevator pitch? These “I’m a [_______] person” stories that we tell ourselves (and others) shape our sense of identity, our behavior, our ambitions – even our fashion choices. Ultimately, these narratives shape our lives, so what stories are you telling yourself? Are they serving you well?

What do your narratives say about your body? About your capacity to love and be loved? About your ability to do your job well? About your style? About your values? About your worth? Which ones are holding you back?

Some of my narratives, I’ve simply outgrown; what was true five years ago is no longer totally accurate or relevant today. Some of my narratives are just toxic vestiges of adolescence that have never served me well but are deeply ingrained in my sense of self and hard to slough off.

My plan for 2018 is to surround myself with people, ideas, and experiences that will help me construct positive and accurate new narratives.

I still have a few hours to marinate in the triumphs and failures of 2017, so here we go:

Career – Silver

This was a big year for Allovue. We placed a big bet on a new product, reworked our internal processes, and made some big transitions on the team. As we approach the five-year mark of our existence, I’ve been reflecting on how this journey started and where we are today. Last week, I flipped through my 2013-Q1 journal, where I found sketches for what became the product roadmap for the next five years. Every component of our product today is in there (cementing my deep belief in writing things down). As I reflect on Allovue’s narratives, I have perhaps allowed people to focus too much on the improbability of Allovue’s founding. In 2018, Allovue is going to shed its adolescent insecurities, too.

Health Bronze

This damn category. Constant travel continues to destroy my physical health efforts. My sense of well-being is inversely proportional to conference season. Gretchen Rubin’s writing on habits and goals made me rethink my approach to health goals. “Lose 10 pounds” shows up in nearly every quarterly goals page forever. I realized that this goal is kind of meaningless to me because I’m more motivated by action plans than end-states. Sure, it would be nice to lose 10 pounds, but that goal has nothing to do with what I actually care about: feeling healthy and looking fit. The most rational part of my brain knows that losing 10 pounds doesn’t actually have much to do with feeling or looking healthy – I could lose 10 pounds if I were to get a parasite (note: has happened; do not recommend), but that wouldn’t actually mean that I’ve accomplished the spirit of that goal. I started rewriting these goals to be specifically oriented around why I care about this and what I need to do to make it happen. Next, I need to do a better job planning around the constraints in my life, like building workout habits around mobile routines that I can do anywhere.

Home – Gold

I am supremely pleased with this category this year. I bought a new house just a block and a half from our office and I will be turning in my leased car in a couple of weeks. (This should probably also go into Health because it will do wonders for my safety to stop driving.) There are so many mental health consequences to this area of my life, too. While I enjoyed an amazing run with AirBNB for five years, it has been nice to enjoy some privacy at home. I’ve been cooking (mostly in the Instant Pot) and entertaining more, which has made the house feel like home quickly.

Moving inspired a big purge of stuff. Most notably, I decided to give away most of the books I had been hoarding and moving around since college. I had accumulated over 600 books at my previous house and I was determined to part with most of them (I probably didn’t need to hold onto those AP study guides). I used the Kon-Mari method, flipped through each one and whittled down my collection to about 50 books that held a certain joy for me, as well as about 25 that I hadn’t read yet but promised to do so within a year. Marie Kondo is a little wacky, but that method works. I now have my very own real-life Ideal Bookshelf that does, in fact, bring me great joy.

Soul – Bronze

This is borderline Did Not Place. My poor soul. My annual Goodreads Challenge performance was an embarrassment that ruined a six-year streak of reading growth. Woe! The only saving grace is that I did make good on my intention to read books from more diverse authors. This year, 40 percent of authors I read were people of color (compared to 15 percent last year) and 55 percent were women (compared to 48 percent last year). It wasn’t difficult to be mindful of author diversity, but it was necessary.

It was a fun year of (leisure) travel. My friend Ali and I spent a week adventuring in Croatia and Montenegro where we jumped off cliffs into the Adriatic Sea and drove up and down narrow mountain switch-backs at “bee speed,” as we named the speed at which a buzzing bee passes you on the road. Hey, we lived to tell about it. I’m currently sitting on the balcony of a house in beautiful Negril, Jamaica, which isn’t a bad place to ring in the new year. I had great travel experiences with friends this year, but for the first time in a while, I didn’t take any solo sojourns. If you haven’t traveled alone, it may seem lonely, but it’s actually incredibly rejuvenating. I missed the experience this year and need to make time for an independent adventure next year.

Lastly, the state of country hurt my soul this year – daily. America needs to get its act together. On the subject of narratives, this country needs to reclaim its own this year.

Relationships Silver

I want to be able to celebrate the rich relationships I have in my life – with my parents, friends, colleagues – but there’s a preoccupation with my romantic life that seems to overshadow this category of my life. On that, all I will say is this: I refuse to settle until I find what I’m looking for and I’ll let you know when I find it because I’ll know it when I see it.

All in all, a good year of growth and plenty of room for improvement.

Adios 2017!

Bienvenue 2018!

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