Oh, the Place You'll go. Advice from Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg

It’s that time of the year. Every small town and large city celebrates their graduates who are embarking on their lives ahead. The proud students overflow through the streets in cap and gowns, filled with the promise of the future, eager to hear the wise words of the commencement speakers.

I’ve been very moved by the commencement speeches of Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg. Bezos’s speech was given to Princeton’s graduating class back in 2010, and Sandberg gave her speech last weekend at U.C. Berkeley. Both speakers are two of the most tech-savvy entrepreneurs in the world. But beyond their industry connection, their speeches are very relevant to one another.

They both encourage us to embrace our own mortality. Bezos projects forward to being 80 years old, and how to arrive at that moment minimizing regrets. Sandberg is in moment, the present, immersed in the emotions from the grief of losing her husband. For Sandberg, death isn’t some future moment from which to learn, it is in the here and now.

Jeff Bezos’ Commencement Speech Excerpt:

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.
How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.

Sheryl Sandberg in her speech at U.C.Berkeley offers us this path forward .

“It’s the hard days — the days that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are…The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.”


In a different way than Bezos, Sandberg too offers the idea that You are Your Choices. Yes, faced with the inevitable setbacks and loss, you can choose to live life filled with despair. Or you can choose joy.

“I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.”

Sandberg’s speech references one of the leading psychologists in the world, Martin Seligman. He has scientific evidence that the three P’s — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — are a path to bounce back from hardship.

Here is how I internalize the learnings from her speech.

  1. Personalization: when problems come up, we are wired to think in our heads that we are to blame. Most of us speak to ourselves with very self-critical inner voices. So, try to de-personalize the setback. What does it look like to think, I am not to blame, this is not my fault. As Sandberg notes, “Not taking failures personally allows us to recover — and even to thrive.”
  2. Pervasiveness: when setbacks occur, we are wired to think that the setback will cross over into all areas of our life. Think about how often your thinking goes like this, I had a bad meeting at work…so, I am having a bad day at work….and now my day sucks. What does it look like to create boundaries, draw a mental moat or a ring around the problem. Yes, it may be bad. It may even be terrible, but maybe just that part is dreadful. Find the other parts of your life that are going well. What do you have to grateful for? What are you thankful for?
  3. Permanence: when we feel that vortex or swirl engulfing us, we are wired to think it is permanent. We become stuck. We relish in our own stuck-ness. What does it look like to accept— to acknowledge the pain, the grief, the immense loss, and then to recognize that those feelings need not not last forever.

I mention the “wiring” of the 3 Ps, because our brains are wired to protect us. As Sandberg notes “Just as our bodies have a physiological immune system, our brains have a psychological immune system — and there are steps you can take to help kick it into gear.”

Sandberg shares two mindset shifts to jump-start our psychological immune system:

  1. Become a Gratitude Seeker: This is the most powerful way to start taking steps forward. Find the small moments of joy in each and every day. Declare yourself on a mission to discover your moments of spark. Seek it out, notice it, and then write it down. Create a wonderful habit of reflecting back on those gratitude moments, and journal about it. You will release an effusive inner power by actually writing it down each and every day.
“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude — gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude — not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

2. Embrace your resilience. Cultivate your resilience.

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

How do we develop Resilience?

This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Thank you to Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg for sharing so authentically and vulnerably your views on making the most out of precious life.

So, what to do with all their great advice? I’ve been trying to craft a personal mantra, a sort of life mission statement. This isn’t in a final form. I know I will edit it. After all… this is the version of my own life story. But this does help me be more intentional. I share this with you, as maybe you too will choose to create your own life mission statement.

Who am I?

I am a seeker. I thirst to learn from others, and let their wisdom be a guiding force. I embrace that my life is finite, time is my most precious resource. I have choices that I make each and every day. I choose to Dare Greatly. When I face the inevitable twists and turns, when I feel like I have been knocked down, I will look inside myself and get back up. I know that I have the strength within to rise again. When I slip into fault-finding and negativity, I will catch myself. I will try harder to live each day appreciating the small glorious and magical moments.

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Gritty & Getting Grittier: Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth’s debut book Grit, The Power of Passion & Perseverance was released last week. http://angeladuckworth.com/ Professor Duckworth has spent her academic career getting to the bottom of who becomes successful and why, by studying US Marines, rookie teachers whose students excel, and spelling bee winners.

Here is the powerful TedTalk that first created the Grit buzz:

What is Grit? Duckworth states that it is “Passion and Perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is about sticking with your future, for years, and working really really hard to make it a reality. To be Gritty, one must live your life like it is a marathon not a sprint.”

How do we get Grit? Duckworth doesn’t know how we get it. What she does know is that talented people don’t always measure up to their abilities. Duckworth has seen that the best way to get grittier is to adopt a Growth Mindset. You are more likely to persevere when you fail, if you don’t believe that failure is permanent. The pain from the moment of failing will pass. The mantra of “This too shall pass” works.

This week I came across another psychology Professor, this one from Princeton, who recently published his “Failure Resume.” We may all be proud of our perfect resume detailing, in 8 point Helvetica, the sum of all the parts of our achievements. This Professor sets a new achievement bar detailing “Degree programs I did not get into”, “Academic positions and fellowships I did not get”, “Research funding I did not get” among others. He gives us a front-row seat to see up close and personal all the failed attempts in his life. This invites us all to embrace our own failures. And his actions have inspired a following of others now willing to post their failure resumes to #cvoffailures.


I am a big proponent of Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn. In my own life, this has been a daily mantra that motivates me to stay on the edge of my own comfort zone. As an executive coach now working with individuals on how to maximize their potential, this topic is always front and center in my mind. How do we push ourselves to be on the edge, striving for more? How to we harness the learnings from the defeats, the adversity, we face along the way?

I want to share a personal Grit story. I spent 15 years working for Fidelity, as an equity analyst and then a venture capitalist. I often think back to my very first job interview applying to Fidelity, right out out of college, for one of the coveted investment research positions. I had made it through four rounds of competitive interviews into the final round. The odds were crazy, with 1000 applicants vying for 5 coveted positions. It was my dream job, and I was so close to landing it. When the phone call came from the Director of Research, I could tell from the tone in his voice that he was calling to turn me down. I thought…What?!! I felt my face go flush red, my heart literally started pounding in my chest, and the voice inside my head was screaming at me “You are a failure!” However, something else inside me, which I now understand as “my gritty voice,” spoke up with courage to ask for a second chance. I still don’t know how the words came out of my mouth, but I said “Let me come in again, Let me have a second chance to show you why I deserve this job.” I am forever thankful to Rick Spillane. He was the Director of Research at Fidelity, who called me to turn me down, then gave me that 2nd shot to prove myself, and ultimately hired me. So, yes I am gritty. I relish in grittiness.

Here are two lessons learned from my own experience.

  1. In Pursuit of your Grit, silence your own inner saboteur. I could have taken the rejection call as a final no. Instead, I silenced my own inner critique, the part of me telling me to accept the failure, and turned up the volume to Dare Greatly and ask for a second chance.
  2. Along your Grit path, look for the signs of those willing to support you in your quest. I don’t believe Grit is one-sided. I believe it is reciprocal. We can be gritty all we want, but part of what converts this effort into action is the others around us who harness our power. On the other side of the “gritty” person”…there is someone willing to extend that “olive branch” and provides some hope for a way forward.

I can’t wait to read Angela Duckworth’s new book. Yes, we can all strive to get grittier. But, we can also simultaneously look to extend the 5-minute favor, a second chance, or a “helping hand” to those around us in the gritty trenches of life.

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Buddha Meets the Matrix

What does Buddhism have in common with The Matrix?

I've just returned from a weekend retreat at Kripalu with Professor Robert Thurman, the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk.   This was a deep-dive immersion into Buddhist philosophy.  Thurman makes several connections between Buddhism and the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix.  

The Apparent Becomes Transparent:   One of the core practices of Buddhism is meditation, the practice of disconnecting the brain as you lose your sense of self. Thurman says, "You are like one of the characters in The Matrix, present and active as a real being, yet at the same time realizing that the apparent reality that surrounds you is only illusory."  The characters in the Matrix pass through different levels of being,  Which is their real world?  The one connected via the computer, or the one with which they see around them?  Who is the real enemy, which one of the thousands of Agent Smiths?  

There is no reality,  you create your own reality:    The mild-mannered soft-spoken Neo (aka Keanu Reeves) can not conceive that he could be the Matrix.  Note the pun in his name being Neo, which stands for "The One".  Neo thinks to himself, I am a nobody, I can not possibly be the hero of the world.     Thurman draws the connection back to Buddhism, "None of us knows who we really are.  Facing that and then becoming all that we can be- astonishing, surprising, amazing- always fresh and new, always free to be more, brave enough to become a work in progress."  Buddhism calls on each and every person to aspire to be their best self, to cultivate a life filled with Generosity, Justice, Patience, Creativity, Contemplation and Wisdom.  Can you be brave enough to see yourself as a work in progress and to strive for more?  Can you become all that you can be?

Control your mind, control your life.   Neo's triumph in the movie, is his ability to learn to control his mind thoughts.  He achieves mastery even going so far with sci-fi special effects to deflect flying bullets with his powerful mind thoughts.   Thurman notes " The mind is the most powerful controller in the whole universe. It determines not just what you do, but how you interpret what you do.  It determines how you make decisions, what you chose to remember, and how you plan for the future.  Your mind is responsible for all of your experiences, bad and good."  The Buddhist mindset calls on us, in each and every moment of our day, to choose how you see and experience the moment. 

As an executive coach immersed in coaching executives to achieve their best possible self, I strive to share these concepts with my clients while also applying these ideals to my daily life.   Thurman notes that you don't need to convert to Buddhism.  No matter what your religion, the Buddhist principles of compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline apply to you. 

I embrace seeing myself as a work-in progress, and the journey ahead....For more Robert Thurman's amazing lectures are podcasts available at https://bobthurman.com/   




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Taking the Plunge


As an executive coach, I am always practicing the latest coaching techniques on those willing in my inner circle of friends and family.   My 11 year old daughter has been an eager early adopter.  She recently tried using the technique called "The Power of Narrative" to literally re-write her fear of diving.   As a springboard diver, her sport requires her to climb up a steep ladder to heights of 1 M, 3 M and 10M and then hurdle herself off it into a somersault, or back flip, into the depths of the icy cold water below.   The mindset of a diver is each and every time you climb up the board, you need to overcome fear, fear of landing on the board, fear of smacking the water below.    

Our "fears" activate the amygdala (fright/flight part of our brain) and can emotionally paralyze us into inaction.    The little voice inside our head appears saying things like, "You don't need to take that on!" "Why do something so scary?"  We have a tendency to talk ourselves out of even trying for that something great.  

So, what is a proven scientific technique for taking on the big challenges (aka "fears") of your life?

Try using the "Power of Narrative." Dr. Pennebaker, PHD of Psychology at the University of Austin, has researched how, in writing about our fears and blocks, we can make lasting change.  How it works: writing our stories gives us space to look at our life objectively, literally as we take it out of our heads and transfer it onto paper.  This shifts the fear thing, trapped inside our mind and body, to something tangible and actionable. https://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2005/writing.html

Here is my daughter's story, in her words, of how she tackled her fear of a new dive.   She used Pennebaker's Principles, writing for 15 minutes in consecutive iterations over two weeks.  


                                                 My Diving Story: By L. Mitchell

            Life is like a doing a 2 1/2 off the diving board, when you fall, sometimes you just dont want to get back up again. The truth is, diving is part of my life. It always has been. Maybe there will be a day when I dont want to do diving anymore in the future, but it is the present, and the future is a long way away. 

            Sometimes, I feel like diving makes me scared, and I just want to curl up in a ball like a turtle who is hiding in its shell and never wants to come out. I am hiding my true feelings and my true personality.

            I want to do a 2 1/2. I want to show my diving coaches that I can do anything, but the devil voice tells me, You cant do this. Youll smack and hurt yourself. It'll be scary! 

            At practice, I climbed up the 3 Meter diving board to try my new dive but I came out too early and landed flat like a pancake. I was in so much pain that my coach had to help me out of the water.  I couldnt move. I was red, from forehead to knees, and I was sobbing. It was hard for me to breathe, and I was scared of going back up there. 

            Sometimes, my coach pushes me a little too hard and I hear that voice again.  The longer I keep listening to the devil voice, the more the devil voice" will take over the angel voice. The more I will live in fear of diving.  The devil voice is hard to control. It tells me that I am afraid of something. It wants me to be negative and have fears, and makes me think I will do bad at the thing that I am afraid of. 

            But I will try to keep a positive attitude. It is an obstacle in life. It is a stumble in a big running race, a D- in a big Math Test, a time when you flunk out in a big presentation in front of a big crowd. But we learn to let it go.  Later, we will look back on ourselves and laugh at ourselves and say, Remember that time when I was so scared of this thing? Why was I afraid of that? Because I have to let it go and move on.

            Even if I am afraid, life keeps on going.  When I stay at the bottom of the mountain and all my friends are at the top, I am missing out on what could be a great opportunity. If I went up there- to the top of the mountain, I might accomplish what I failed to do before.

            So, I listen to my other voice telling me "Go on, start the journey! Start walking up the mountain- to the peak, and start walking to your goal."  In life, we all have big dreams that we want to accomplish.   I can simmer those dreams down to goals, and work my way up to my dream.  Take it step by step, and day by day. Make a checklist of the steps I made to reach my goal, and check them off as I go.

                At this week's diving practice, my coach said, "Today's the day you're going to do a 2 1/2!" I was afraid of what might happen, but I climbed on the 3 meter diving board. I started the dive, doing a hurdle, then jumped as high as I could go, and I did a 2 1/2!  Landing it, I thought, WOW! "I actually did it! I did it! I accomplished my fear!" 

           Dr. Martin Luther King said, If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. To me, this means to keep reaching towards your goal. Eventually, you will overcome your fears and make your dream come true.

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Xoom's John Kunze: 'We, Not Me'

Today Xoom announced the closing of its merger with PayPal.  This also marks the closing of a personal chapter in my own life, as my role as a director of the company comes to an end.  

Xoom has been a great way to conclude the venture capitalist chapter of my life.  It has been an amazing journey. I first met the Xoom entrepreneurs 9 years ago and led a venture round in the company. Back then the company had 20 people and had just started generating revenue with on-line money remittances.

Then, Xoom's business started to take off.  There was a public offering in 2013 (see the Times Square billboard above), and a merger with PayPal announced this past summer (more here).  In the past 12 months, Xoom's 1.5 million active customers sent approximately $7.1 billion.  Yes...over $7 billion has flowed through Xoom's network to people in 40 countries, such as Mexico, India, Philippines, China and Brazil. 

This post is a shout-out to John Kunze, Xoom's CEO, with whom I've had the privilege to work for these past nine years. 

If you know John, you would immediately realize John is not the kind of guy who wants a post written about him.  If there is one word that best sums up John, it is this: humble.

John is a very effective leader, and so, I wanted to pass along four leadership nuggets observed from seeing him in action these years:

The "Why" in the Mission:  Xoom has a very personal mission of delivering global on-line money remittances.  John often introduces the company, as "We put chicken on the table for Mom back home."  Yes, that is "What" Xoom does.  But for John, he has made this into a bigger mission of "Why" Xoom does what it does.  Note that Simon Sinek has an amazing Ted Talk on the power of Why.  He asserts that the best leaders can explain why their companies exist. I think John is a great example of this. 

IMO, if you're an entrepreneur, ask yourself this: "Am I explaining why my company exists rather than just what we do?"

"We," Not "Me":   John is a "We" leader.  In group discussions, internal memos and board packages, the team talks about what they are doing as "We."  The concept of "I" has been purged from the collective culture.  There is no "I did this"," I deserve this," "I should get the credit."  There is a discernible difference on how much more powerfully a "We" culture gets everyone together.  You can feel the difference. 

Just Say "No":   It is easier to say "Yes" than to say "No".   A pivotal moment in the company occurred a few years back when John (with his team)  decided to say "No" and discontinue one of their product lines. The reclaimed energy was redirected back into the company, creating increased focus. 

Our human tendency is to spread ourselves too thin, to dabble, as we get excited about new initiatives.  We all yearn to be tinkerers.  Much has been written about the Google and Facebook product innovation experiments: just let ideas spark, put a few people on it, and see what happens.  Yes, that can work in some cultures.  But many, many more start-up cultures might benefit from the discipline of saying "No" more often.

Try this out in your next team meeting, what is one thing you could eliminate and just say "No"?

Time: Your Most Valuable Asset.   Of course, you know this one...we all know this one.  But what are you doing to manage your time better?  John runs Xoom to a clock.  Actually there are many clocks, one in each conference room, all displaying the time in BIG numbers visible to all.  When time becomes front and center, available as a metric, it becomes a tool in your leadership toolkit.  Let's agree upfront to run our meetings on time.  Guess what happens?  Meetings run on time.   Imagine what you could accomplish with the hours and weeks of productivity saved.

The weeks and months ahead for Xoom are exciting ones as the company's employees will be integrating with PayPal.  I wish John and everyone at Xoom the best of luck with this next phase.

And, a heart-felt thank you to John for all you have done for Xoom, and for all those customers whom you helped to put meals on their tables back home.  It truly has been a pleasure to work with you.

I miss you all already.

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What to Do on 'Dip Days'



I recently met up with an entrepreneur. She is doing everything she can for her company and its customers. Unfortunately, she feels as though all this giving is draining her.  Her personal gas tank is getting empty. She has embarked on a very noble and ambitious campaign to re-charge.  

My heart goes out to her.

All this made me think of "self care," and what we all need to do to re-energize. For this post, I won't cover those long stretches that can be depleting periods: those first months at home with a newborn child, the first months of incubating your start-up, or the stretches of caring for elderly parents.  Instead, I'd like to cover the episodic random days, those days during which we just feel off our A-game.

I call them "dip days."

Dip days can happen for many apparent reasons--or, none at all. Everyone has them. I've learned over time that the following can help:

Cover the basics. Sleep, Nutrition, Water, Oxygen.  Ask yourself: Are you sleeping enough, are you eating well, and are you hydrated?

It is amazing how "the basics" can often be overlooked. A business trip can throw us off schedule. Children are home and sick and kilter our schedules. We run, run, run. We forget to eat or chow down quick meals on the go. We (gasp) grab food without really replenishing.   Now, make it happen to eat the "good" calories, vegetables, fruits, and skip the empty carbs. 

Drink water, lots of water, more water than you can imagine ever drinking in a day. The Mayo Clinic has an easy to remember rule of thumb: "Drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day."

Now, did you know that every cup of coffee and every drink of alcohol actually dehydrates you? Try skipping the coffee or the alcohol for a week and see how your body naturally starts to regulate back to equilibrium.

Get eight hours sleep a night for a week.  Go crazy even, and dare yourself to make it 10 hours sleep and see what happens. Make that commitment in your iPhone calendar and block off the "meeting" with your bed.  Then, follow through with devices (all devices!) off and out of reach of buzzing, blinging and zapping you throughout the night.

You will feel much, much better.

Plan a work-out. A very long bike ride, run, or session at the gym is a great way to oxygenate the brain.  Give yourself permission to just get outside even and take a walk around the block for some fresh air and see the natural sun.   Often, when we get stressed these are the first things that get cut from our busy schedule.  Add it back in, and see how your spirits improve. 

Talk to an Advisor. I think everyone should have a personal Board of Advisors. Companies have Boards--why not people? 

It's important to have a trusted person with whom you feel aligned to help navigate a tricky situation. And, to do so real-time if you can. It's tempting to process everything in your head before you "check in." It's understandable to want to hide feelings of weaknesses and/or shame.

Having Advisors is particularly critical for entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurs are Jedis, and, for them, having a trusted Advisor is essential. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan and Yoda. Together, they did great things.

IMO, the light side of The Force is this: real and pure unconditional love. The most productive and sustainable companies, sports teams, and families have this vibe. Tough to define, but you know it when you see it.

My 2 cents? Don't just select Advisors for their rolodex, expecting networking introductions.   Find Advisors who inspire you, who create that feeling and a certain stir inside you. You can call it what it is, connection, emotion, or the "Light Side".  You will know in your heart that these are the people who have your best interests foremost in their minds.

Name it. Call that day you're having a "dip day." Don't be embarrassed about it,  you don't have to hide this.   You may be surprised by what happens.

During one long week, a friend noticed that I sounded tired. I just named it ,"Yes, I was having a dip day".  Lo and behold, that friend surprised me with some homemade brownies. On the aluminum foil was written this: "For dip days."  Even seeing the words written down helped.  I just accepted the situation vs. fighting it. And, those guilt-free brownies tasted great!

Sing, both in your head and out loud.  Studies show that positive music is uplifting and energizing. You can choose to listen to Nirvana, The Smiths, or another "dark" band, but give a go to something positive and peppy. Songs that are affirming will lift your mood. Pharrell William's "Happy" song is one of my go-to choices.  I watch the video, sing out loud, and, on occasion, even dance down the hallway.  It just might be the most uplifting five minutes of your day.  

Meditate/pray. I relish Thursday morning yoga class, my sacred time.  My phone is shut off, and I am untethered, alone with my thoughts for 80 minutes of bliss.  I honestly believe that this mindfulness dimension of our lives is usually overlooked. We often focus on what our bodies and minds need. But, what about our souls? 

You may or may not identify with any religion.  That is ok.  But, I do know that that there's a part of our inner self that needs nourishing. Expand your horizons and find activities that most certainly feel as though they feed your soul.

Self care is super-important. Just do it!

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Our Devices Are Choking Us


I've been helping out a dear friend, who just lost her mother. Long story, but, I was there when she had to write a critical email to someone.

As I watched her, I noticed something: she wasn't breathing as she typed. Over the next few days I started to watch other people, fingers and eyes glued to their smart phones. They weren't breathing either for five to 10 seconds--and, sometimes, longer.  

Then I noticed myself.  Wait...every time I composed a text or email, I literally held my breath the whole time I typed.  What?! How did I never notice this before?

The physiological effect of holding your breath, even for seconds, works like this. Holding your breath kicks in the amygdala brain's "flight/fright" sense that you are in danger, and that message is sent from the brain to body. Then, the body is pumped full of adrenalin.  

You may have just been replying to a quick text,  but your body is left stressed and anxious thanks to the adrenalin surge.  And this cycle repeats itself again and again.

Amazingly, I learned that Dr. Margaret Chesney at National Institute of Health (NIH) has researched this phenomenon. She says it exists and she calls it "email apnea".  She cites evidence of stress-related diseases in the body as oxygen and carbon monoxide levels are thrown off.  Over 80% of us seem to suffer from email apnea while working at our desks and managing the stress of our in-boxes.  

When will scientists extend their studies to mobile devices?  These palm-size devices now ask us to land our big fingers on our little keyboards at the average rate of 33 words per minute! (Yes, 33 words per minute is the average speed, according to IBM.) 

I have a theory: "smart" devices are making us more productive, but they are starving us from air, over and over again.  No wonder, they don't make us feel more fulfilled.  They are literally depriving us of our most essential lifeblood: oxygen. 

Smart devices are here to stay.  But, the next time you check your phone, or text a message, notice if you are breathing and then do yourself a favor: consciously, mindfully, and deeply breathe.

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Entrepreneurs Are Jedis

(Working on my light saber skills just before the talk....)

(Working on my light saber skills just before the talk....)

What an exhilarating and fun experience!

I recently spoke at unConference 2015, and I’m grateful to Sara Fraim, Danielle Duplin, Jay Batson, and so many others for hosting an incredible conference.

My talk was on “Jedi Mind Tricks.” I had a light saber, a Jedi cloak, and blared the Star Wars theme song as the audience entered the room.  Jo Tango also handed out Star Wars stickers and small light sabers to our Jedi knights. It was a fun hour!

I have long believed that entrepreneurship requires special traits. As a former VC, and now, executive coach, I’ve seen this: the best entrepreneurs have incredible mental fortitude and big hearts. They are, in fact, Jedis.

Here’s why:

When you start a company, you literally are the underdog. You are David going against Goliath. You are the challenger taking on an incumbent, who outnumbers you and has better weaponry. You are building new products in categories that have never before existed. You are challenging the status quo.   

The odds are against you.  It is a long journey. Many VCs will say no. Your family and friends may doubt your judgment, question your perseverance. The Empire is too strong. 

You need to adopt a warrior mindset. You need to get ready for battle.

The best companies create strong, committed, and Mission-driven teams. Many things have to fall into place to destroy the Death Star. One person alone simply cannot do it.

Your team members come in unusual shapes and forms. In Chewbacca, R2D2, and Han Solo, you have a Wookie, a robot, and a smuggler. Somehow, from this melange of personalities, you will inspire them to work together with an unwavering belief in fighting for the cause.  

Over time, you will learn to forget the “resume" and "packaging” of the people around you. You increasingly will only hire people who share your mission and core values.  And once you have on-boarded them, you will need to empower them wholeheartedly.  Luke puts 100% trust in R2D2 to watch his back while on the mission to bring down the Death Star.

I think all of us have two inner voices: the Inner Saboteur and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke Skywalker is tempted again and again to join The Dark Side. He struggles time and time again with self-confidence.  Luke's dark-side voice sounds something like: "I am not strong enough...I am an orphan from a tiny dirt-farm in the outskirts of the Empire...who am I to be a savior of the galaxy?" 

We all have this inner voice that foments doubt, uncertainty, and fear. I call it the “Inner Saboteur.” We often say horrible and nasty things to ourselves.  It is a voice that limits us and keeps us small.

We instead need to consciously work on The Light Side. We need to learn to listen to the Obi-Wan Kenobi voice saying “Use The Force.” And, when we push aside our targeting computers in our X-Wing fighter, when we turn up the volume on the Force, we will find that great things will happen.  

We can destroy the Death Star. We can do the impossible. I have a fear of public speaking, and so, my talk was a huge personal accomplishment for me.  I had to use the Jedi Mind Trick on myself, as I meditated just before the talk and silenced my own dark-side fears.  A thank you to all the brave entrepreneurs who joined the session. 

I'll be blogging more in the weeks to come about Jedi-Entrepreneurs. Stay tuned... and May the Force be with you.

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