Everyone in the boat braced for impact. The rapid was small but mighty. The water splashed up over the sides and knocked the wind out of everyone at once, chilling us to the bone. The summer in Montana was warm so at a quiet part of the river we all jumped in and swam around, shivering amidst the glacial runoff of the Yellowstone River. Teeth chattering, we smiled at each other. Rafting quickly became one of my favorite activities.
As you may know, I recently decided to start a business with my best friends. It was half on a whim and half the culmination of a great deal of strategic thought and rumination. Starting a business is a little bit like agreeing to go white water rafting. You imagine it to be nothing but exhilaration and excitement. But as you suit up, grab your paddle (that feels way too small for the task at hand), and meet your first rapid, the real risks begin to crystalize.
I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t do anything that’s too extreme in the pursuit of fun. In fact, most of my entertainment occurs within the walls of my apartment. But I LOVE river rafting. I get so excited in the moments leading up to a new challenging rapid. Paddling as fast as we can as a team to get in the exact right position to tackle the next obstacle. I’m sure you can see the metaphor here.
The paddle is our toolkit to approach each new challenge and position ourselves to be successful. The raft is our baby of a company and everyone in the boat is our immediate team, board of directors, advisors, mentors, and broader community. The river is the unpredictable world of Business.
Last November when we formally met as a team for the first time, we felt the power of our idea. We knew we needed to make it happen. That raft was hitting the water. I remember feeling the electric buzz in my brain at all the amazing potential upon which we were perched.
Then came the rapids. So many rapids. This was a river none of us had ever forged before. So we met with more experienced people, had endless meetings, and read everything we could get our hands on. In early December, it was clear we needed a much bigger and better paddle. Our instincts were good but we needed specific knowledge and skills to get our positioning right. As the member of the team who compulsively goes back to school (already have a Masters in Education), I applied to Business School.
Again, it was on a whim but also exactly what I needed to do. I got into the only school I applied to (thankfully, with a hefty scholarship offer) and we were off to the races!
One of the scholarships I received for my MBA is from The Forte Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women in business. This past weekend was the 2017 Forté Foundation Conference in Seattle, Washington. If you ever can attend this conference, do it. Do not hesitate. It was amazing. Yes, I met countless amazing women and learned so much about the experience of women in Fortune 500, investment banking, operations, supply chain management, marketing, and startups; but it also fundamentally changed my entire outlook on who I am.
I’ve always identified as an introvert. It was almost a badge of honor. I’M AN INTROVERT. I would announce it in social settings to somehow absolve me of any responsibility to fully engage in conversation. I didn’t have to bring my whole self to the room because I was an Introvert™. Then I read The End of Average by Todd Rose (read it, it’s amazing). It convinced me that Myers-Briggs was a load of crap and we’re all situational in our reactions to life. I’m closed off in some situations and gregarious in others. Just like...everyone. For the past year or so, this realization just floated in my mind without any real purpose until this week.
I was convinced I was terrified of networking events, crippled by the idea of meeting a lot of people at once, pained to my very core. All because I tell myself that I’m shy: “I was born an introvert and my brain isn’t wired to like people.” What? That’s Crazy Town. If you ask my friends, I’m a confident, driven, smart person who partakes in passionate discourse. But I never saw that until now. What’s stopping me from being that person with everyone? Nothing! I must get out of my own way.
So many experiences at this conference showed me exactly that. From meeting my future classmates and having genuine, productive conversations that are foundations for incredible collaborative relationships to pitching myself and this start up to recruiters and potential funders from companies like Amazon, Whirlpool, Accenture, and Deloitte. People’s faces lit up as I spoke. And more than their receptivity to it, I enjoyed myself. I liked it. By the end the leader of my program said, “You’re so comfortable doing this.” Who? Me? What? No… but yeah, it didn’t feel difficult anymore.
For the past eight months of working formally with Sassy Pants CEO Nancy, I’ve admired her ability to just walk up to someone and start a conversation. She’s best friends with the whole room in a matter of minutes. I’ve even been envious of it.
At the 2017 Forté conference, Susan Erchler gave a keynote presentation. She’s amazing. She was a sales executive in corporate America who also climbed the tallest mountain on every continent. Yeah.
She told a story about her second attempt to summit Mount Everest. She met the only other American woman to do it that year at basecamp. That woman was conveniently named Nancy. As Susan got to the last resting point before ascending the last 1400 feet to the top of Mount Everest, she was so bone tired and she wanted to quit. So she told herself after each step, “If Nancy can do it, I can do it.”
So, if Nancy can do it, I can do it. I’ve got my paddle, my raft, and my team. Let’s go.