On Women, Startups and (possibly) CLT

There’s something missing in the Charlotte Startup culture. If you listen to the guys talk, they’re happy give you a list of what’s missing: lack of openness, no center, lack of communication, and any number of other issues. I’d like to suggest their missing something specific, or more precisely, someone specific.

I’ve been actively on the side-lines of startups, and their (limited) culture, here in Charlotte for a while. I attended co-working sessions with CLTJelly, visited locations and have helped counsel any number of people who are starting or running businesses for over two years now.

Currently I am actively involved in Start Charlotte, what the organizers hope will turn into a space and community for startup incubation. While I may not have the technical skills of a developer, or the business set of a venture capitalist, I think I have a fairly decent view of what’s happening here.

Do you know what I see at meetings, podcasts, coworking meetings and startup events?

Men. Lots of men. Mostly white.

At Startup Weekend here in Charlotte this past May, I walked into the main room Friday night after wrapping up with my last client of the day. There was one other woman there. ONE.

I then tweeted, “Ladies, where are you? I know you have brilliant ideas. Why are you not here?”

Now, I proceeded to pitch my project, after MUCH prodding, so much prodding that someone else, in fact, offered to pitch for me. I didn’t want to pitch for any number of reasons… I wasn’t sure my idea was “good enough”, I was nervous as hell, and to be honest, there is something terrifying standing in front of a room of mostly technically skilled men and saying, “hey, I’m a massage therapist and I have this idea” because inside I was reliving every time I’ve spoke up and got mocked by others for being a smarty-pants or talking outside my -assumed- knowledge base.

And, in my head, I was telling myself, “but you’re the only girl.”

And after listening to a few dudes with a couple beers in them pitch, I sucked it up and reminded my inner voice that I was a woman, not a “girl” and the only way I’m going to get what I want is to speak up, goddammit, so I better do so.

I’m glad I did too. I not only got the most votes on Friday, but our team won on Sunday night for the project.

Now, I don’t suspect for a moment that the reason I was because I was a woman. It wasn’t. It was a good idea, one we’ll move to market on in the near-ish future. I’m currently working with the team I worked with at Startup Weekend, as time allows from our paying jobs.

What I do suspect is that many women are staying in traditional roles and not chasing down their dreams.

Why? We’re afraid, we’re the only female in the room, the boys will laugh at us, and our idea is probably no good. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. I know, it’s what I told myself for months before I had the nerve to talk to friends about it, and I practically had to be shoved into pitching the idea to a room full of people, despite solid research into the market and knowledge of the project I wanted accomplished.

Maybe that’s not it. Maybe we’re happy in our jobs, or are too busy with the kids or have a million other excuses… Can’t leave the kids with your husband for a few hours while you work out your business plan?

Or is it something else? Are women in general not interested in startups? Is it because it’s so risky? I know woman who take risks for work all the time… Is there something else going on that we don’t know about?

OR are there lots of women who are in startups or want to be and just aren’t being seen because they’re tucked away with all the other women, letting the men go on about their business (as women are wont to do) while we just do our thing over here and don’t bother them… cause we’d hate to show them up, get in their way or (heaven forbid) have them get in our way?

Is it a failure of understanding of what a startup is? Women start businesses all the time…

Is this some sort of Charlotte specific deficit? Is it because this is a very small, burgeoning startup culture in this city that we just haven’t seen the women turn out yet? Or is it because women are more likely to start businesses based on care taking rather than code making? Do this issues show up in other areas?

I’m not entirely sure what the answers to these questions are, and I’m going to keep thinking about this… and keeping an eye out for the ladies to show up to more events and see who’s participating.

What do you think?

Gratitude

The key to happiness is gratitude.

That shouldn’t be a secret to anyone, but I understand that it can be tricky to hold on to gratitude, to let it sink in deep and keep you happy.

I haven’t always been the most grateful or happy person. I used to be angry, frustrated and sarcastic. I’d drink a little more then I needed, and whine a lot more then I needed. I was most certainly not the sparkling ray of sunshine many of you know now.

A practice of gratitude is what changed that for me, and I believe, has changed it for those around me as well.

There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.

~Robert Braul

I started with listing what I was grateful for at the end of the day. At the time I was very ill and I had to find something to be happy about. My list went something like this:

  1. I am alive.
  2. I can breathe.
  3. The sun is shining.

Sometimes that’s about as far as I got. But the thing about gratitude is that if you look around, there’s plenty to be grateful for, especially if you’re determined to find it.

Even on my worst days I am grateful to be alive, to be healthy, to be able to walk, talk and work, surrounded by amazing friends and family.

Write it down. Make it habit before bed. Or, even better, when you have that before bed chat with your love/child/pet talk about the things you’re grateful for today. (Repeats from the day before are okay!)

The real game changer, however, was when I ceased be silently grateful. Something happened in the last year of my life, something magical that has changed not only me, but the lives of the people around me: I started gossiping about my friends. Continue reading

Asking

So after a weekend of intense doing, I’ve followed up with some rather intense asking.

Sometimes it’s best just to ask. I know this, but it can be scary. What if they say no? Or I hear something I don’t want to hear? The more invested in getting the answer I desire, the scarier it is.

There’s all this stuff that goes on inside my head. I’m not the only one, but man, it can get rough in here. I’ll go so far as to practice what I’m gonna say in my head, and I’m rarely very good about actually saying it. But… it helps hush the part of my brain that’s quietly panicking.

Yesterday, I emailed a client and asked them to renew their massage package early, so I could pay rent on time, since I’m behind on from the accident. I was scared, because if they didn’t renew I was gonna have to get creative. It’s scary to have to sit, hope and wait for a “yes.” However, she replied quickly with a “Yes!”

All I had to do was ask. It was a good reminder that my work is valued, and that I have a commitment to my clients, and they too make a commitment to me by putting their trust in my skills. I am really proud of myself for asking.

Today I made myself have a conversation. You know the kind you can rehearse a million times in your head to convince yourself that you feel confidant and certain of what you want and want to say. I’ve recently started seeing someone and I’m at that point where I want to focus on this fledgling relationship and see where it goes.

I’m a huge fan of straightforward communication in any relationship, and after several failed relationships because of poor communication of expectations and desire, I know it’s absolutely crucial in primary relationships. I’ve passed on several guys in the past couple months purely because their inability to communicate clearly. (This is a MUST have for me.)

So in a clear effort to start early, I sucked it up, gave myself a solid pep talk and made myself go inside and ask for a minute of his time. I felt flustered, shaky and, honestly, scared. I, who can usually carry off confidence even under intense fear, stuttered and had difficulty getting to the point of what I wanted to talk about.

But I did. I had to force myself to look him in the eyes, to face my fear that he may not like me as much as I like him, that maybe he’s still seeing and/or wants to see other people, that maybe he doesn’t find me as utterly adorable and distracting as I find him. I made myself emotionally vulnerable and it was scary.

But rewarding!

I now know where I’m at, where he’s at, where we’re at and what’s going on. That makes me feel a million times better and my brain won’t sit and play replay on what’s might be happening. Plus, I’ve laid a clear precedent for open communication and I feel safe to say, “Can we talk?” without worrying he’ll think something is wrong.

I also feel very positive about the fact that I can ask for what I need and want, which is very scary and leaves me very vulnerable. That’s a great step, in and of itself, for me.

What questions do you need to ask?

On Health Care

Brought over from facebook. Everyone was posting this particular status… I needed to make more comment then just copy-pasting it into my status.

I absolutely agree no one should die because they don’t have health care or go broke because they get sick. I’ve got $35k in medical debt – AFTER medical insurance. And I might have died without it.

Now I can’t get insurance for less then $1400 a MONTH, if I can get approved for it at all.

40% of my income gets saved for taxes b/c I own a business. I pay another 7% + for nearly all I buy in NC. Almost HALF of my money goes to the gov’t already.

I have paid to build roads to nowhere, trolley tracks that will not run trains for 3 years, and to cover every single thing taxes pay for. I cover your children’s education, the gov’t’s payroll and to pave your streets.

I bust my ass seven days a week, I work hard, and I have a chronic illness that once upon a time cost nearly $1k in meds alone PER MONTH. That’s $12k a year in MEDS. I actually take home less then that now a days (oh the glamorous life of the self-employed.)

Because I can’t get insurance, when I had a flare up last year and couldn’t use my hands, I had to pay for doctor bills out of pocket. I still have to. In fact, I can’t afford important medical tests I need now to make sure I stay healthy.

WHY do I not deserve health care? I make the world a better place day-in and day-out and I pay a ton of money to make this country run, make your life easier and do it with a smile because I know it’s the right thing to do.

How can you possibly think, for one iota of a second, that *I* don’t deserve health care?

This is not about insuring some unknown persons, some mass of humanity that isn’t working hard enough to secure their own insurance. This isn’t about socialization of our nation.

It’s about ME. Here. Today. Tomorrow. Making sure I can work. That I can be healthy and alive and keep working hard.

It’s about me.

Do you see why it’s important now?