The story of women advancing around the globe is starting to become a norm. In the long line of women within my family, I am the first to graduate from college (choosing alternative studies in archaeology and curation). I put myself through higher education by not only working, but also living in a walk-in closet. Like many women of the time, getting an education was empowering and led to opportunity, while breaking the cycle of poverty in my family.
Whether in Istanbul, Ghana, New York, or Mexico City, as I travel the world for work, I meet many women who share similar stories. After a long career working and touching upon archaeology, curation, and art, but working primarily as a designer, trend futurist, and innovation facilitator, I can sincerely say, each experience along the way has led me to what I do today. I utilize every bit, I see how it forged me, and informed me, even though at the time I had no idea how important each experience was to my future.
Feel free to live life out of order, or preferably in your own order
When you are in the middle of your story, you wonder why you are doing this now and in this way. When you have the opportunity to look back you have the grace to see the wisdom of your choices. You learn to trust those choices and the path they create. Because we are living in an evolving landscape in which everything is speeding up, it may not take you as long as it took me to get to a place of integration, understanding, perspective and personal traction.
That is not to say you won’t experience side steps or eddies, or that you might feel you have already bloomed or may never bloom. There is permission to do things out of order today, particularly within the flexible protocol of entrepreneurship. Together we are making the rules as we evolve, and it is freeing us up to define value and work anew. The question then becomes, what are you willing to sacrifice for a purpose, for a focused goal? Hopefully it’s something that is meaningful to you.
While working at Starbucks in retail design on contract, I transitioned from day to day designer to trend/innovation entrepreneur by working evenings on projects for brilliant friends at IDEO. While I seemed to work around the clock, it was this ongoing commitment that helped me transition into the creative career I have today. Through the work with IDEO and via other important mentors who led me forward, I began to reach a larger audience and drive forward perspectives in which I believed. As I gained ground, connections, and influence, I began reaching out to those around me that I wanted to support and grow.
Since prior precedence is still evolving, mentor and co-mentor as you go
One of my favorite personal and professional mentor relationships is with Veronika Scott and her future-based company, Empowerment Plan of Detroit. Veronika focuses on putting her innovative sleeping bag coat in the hands of the freezing homeless with the unique aspect of educating and housing homeless mothers as they make the coats. At the beginning of our relationship I helped by recognizing her idea, supporting her focus and introducing her to influencers who could help her with funding. Now that she is strong and on the ground running, she in turn invited me to join her Board of Directors. Last year Caroline Kennedy gave Veronika the JFK New Frontiers Award, the youngest to receive this recognition.
It is through this relationship I learned that change happens in a chain, and that innovation is strongest through conscious co-mentorship relationships.
Several wonderful women have given me my break and continue to do so. I have, in turn, mentored to the best of my ability those who have come my way. It was the invitation to speak at a grass roots gathering for young women entrepreneurs in Ghana that shifted my point of view as an entrepreneur. It is in Ghana that I understood the power of the personal connection, the unique commonality between Ghanaian women at the event, other speakers, and myself. I understood that while you may not think you have commonality, when you focus on examples of challenge and breakthrough, it helps people see the possibilities for everyone across different businesses, men to women, culture to culture.
Sit together, share together, and do together. Such engagement teaches you how to value interconnectedness and how to value yourself in the mix.
Find your unique empathy for the human condition and you will find your drive to innovation
I cannot have innovation for innovation’s sake without connecting through to the field of emotional empathy and relevance. Understanding the needs, wants and challenges of people we serve, in combination with the truth of the world today, helps us build a different type of road to success in business and provides opportunity spaces previously unseen.
See and be seen for your ongoing ideas of contribution
The new social media mindset is really the iterative mindset – it asks us not to set and forget, but to continue to evolve our focus, conversation, action and engagement with a natural back and forth build. Be seen and be heard. Give your ongoing best so that your ideas are found through Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Bing or your social network of choice.
I call it ‘search engine fame’ or awareness. I have been hired to speak, do research, build reports and have been paid without ever meeting the client live… all from my search profile alone. I have crafted points of view I believe important and have shared freely with journalists around the world as well as with blogs like Fast Company, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Shareable.net or GOOD. Getting ideas out there is important.
It is now a personal goal of mine to encourage female changemakers and contributors to be seen more online, specifically Wikipedia. A friend doing work with Wikipedia had a goal of upping the number of vital women contributors featured who were of historical and/or modern value. Having a presence online challenges you to be honest about your thinking and your contribution in the world.
Don’t be afraid to move toward people who intimidate you in your profession, or in your life
Lastly, this seems simple, but I go toward people I feel intimidated by, challenged by, or sometimes feel jealous of. I assume there is something I am not giving myself permission to do, and I want to know what that is. I have trusted the signals and it has worked well for me.
I gravitate toward those that will grow me as much as I grow them. I love working with smart people because I feel smarter, and I feel challenged. I become a better version of myself because they expect it of me. I grow to fulfill it, and in turn expect it of them.
About nine years ago at a round table in France, I met the founder of trendwatching.com, the Dutch man Reinier Evers, a visionary who understood and supported my value. This has been the most inspirational and positive collaboration of my career. Reinier and his team supported my point of view as a woman with a unique take on the trend industry toward changemaking and they amplified me across the globe. I can only thank them for their trend patronage; it grew me exponentially.
I understand that showing up in places I feel a pull to is important. If I grow, the people I serve will grow.
I highly recommend being open to fresh and new collaborators from time to time. It can be scary, so utilize and trust your discernment, learn from your mistakes, but it is truly the right way to build out to something unexpected. With this I equally recommend being willing to move on when the time is right. As much as I get attached to the brilliant folk I come across, there will be a time when there is more for both of us to learn and contribute elsewhere. This is the role of the evolving consultant and entrepreneur – be willing to show up, contribute fully and move on, as the work requires it of you.
Ultimately, do well for yourself and others, and most importantly make sure you have a good time.
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