We Make It Real

We Make It Real

In the rise,
in the fall,
in the day by day,
in the walking, and running,
and in the act of believing
it is possible.

Without out belief
there would be no journey.
No triumph,
no pain,
no pursuit,
no glory.

Without you,
your dream is only a phantom.

Onward, Dreamer.

— —

We Make It Real

Dreamers are always being told they can’t. And for some of us, that fuels us even more. It fuels the journey, to create something meaningful, the struggle to combat the daily doubts, from within and without.

I’ve learned many things in the last 2 years of building The Un.Inc. Perhaps one of the most powerful, is that we make it real. By this, I mean that Ben and I have made the Un.Inc real, through our dedication, through continuing to show up even when we’re failing. Through leaky roofs, homelessness, pain, debt, and fear. Through dirty worn out shoes, even.

I want to take a moment to remind you this morning. You make it real. Each of you has a unique gift and vision, which can only come to life when you own it, pursue it, speak it. Without your belief and pursuit, it dies, or shrinks back into the shadows.

To each of you on this journey — we believe you have what it takes. We know you do.

Make it real, Dreamer.

Sit. Soften

I set an intention at the beginning of this year, to soften. And I started envisioning that softening could be powerful. I set the intent to fill up the spaces I inhabit with that softness. For myself, for my daughter, for my friends and loved ones, for the amazing creators around us, and even for strangers.

And guess what? It’s changing me. We have been through some incredibly dark and stressful times this year, especially this summer. Many times I have wanted to harden, to protect myself or to avoid pain. But instead of hardening, I keep catching myself and just whispering — soften.

Last week Ben and I got the first ever shipping container delivered to our land. It is a moment in time that I will always remember. He and I have held many spaces. Some of you might remember the YV Filmmaker Space on Riverside, Ben’s first space. Or 35th Street, our bungalow in Hyde Park. Now, we are setting out to hold space on our 9 acres. What I’m learning in this experience is that it’s not about the space. It’s about the souls who hold it. Here’s to another new beginning, the first studio shipping container space of many we’ll build.

I just discovered this line from the end of a Derek Walcott poem. It feels very appropriate in this season. No matter how scary things get, you can always soak in the moment.

Sit. Feast on your life. — Derek Walcott
LizBen_Container.jpg

 

If you’d like to follow Ben and I in our next season and be on the inside track as we build our 9 acres of dreams please consider supporting us monthly. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride :) https://www.patreon.com/theuninc

The Cliff, And The Fall From Normal

Nothing in life plays out as you may anticipate, or plan. And especially for those of us who choose to draw our own path. This month our theme at Un.Inc is Stepping In. Stepping into your path, your voice. Listening to that nudge, or loud prompt in your gut that says “this way!”

I’ve been listening to that nudge since I was 21, and moved to Belfast on a gut feeling to work with teen girls. It was the first time I chose what felt aligned, purely. I was passionate about working with youth, I was given the opportunity to go for a year — there was no pay, but there was free housing. So I took it.

Of course, when I returned to the States more than a year later, the distance between me and my family and friends seemed vast. I had gone on a grand adventure, and they had stayed in what had been my normal life. It was no longer normal for me.

I began to belong nowhere. As Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness,

“True belonging doesn’t require that we change who we are; it requires that we be who we are.” — Brené Brown

Soon after I returned I found myself applying to design schools on the east coast, the city was calling me. I left 6 months later and moved to Boston. Everything I owned fit in my little black Saturn.

It may be easy to read this and say to yourself, “that’s nice, your twenties are for exploration.” And that would be true. Also… I don’t think we are ever too old to answer the next call to go deeper into alignment with who we are meant to be. In fact, I think we get better and better at embracing it. Even when it feels more like falling, than walking.

In a few weeks I’ll turn 40. As I write this I’m sitting in a makeshift tiny house on a plastic chair, looking out on our land. The rains last night brought huge leaks in the ceiling and walls. My bed is wet. The floor is wet.

I moved out to our 9 acres two weeks ago with my 10 year old daughter. I planned to purchase this tiny home shell from the owner and make it my home. But that is not where this story leads. It would seem that I am not meant to pour my energy into making this home. I’m not sure what’s next, logistically. All I know is that groundlessness is no longer a reason for me to leave the path I’m meant to be on.

We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid. — Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You

There’s something magical about sitting here, knowing that nothing will move me from my belonging to myself and my own mission. Anything is possible. And I believe that even as I wonder aloud how to resolve this situation, unseen forces are coming to my aid.

This is who I am. And living this intent to create safe spaces for other change makers like myself is the most fulfilling thing I can imagine. As you step into your own next adventure, I’d encourage you to enjoy it a little. Let a smirk form on your face, after all — nobody else can live this life — only you.

Permission to Pursue it All (#MeToo)

As I’ve looked at my facebook feed this last week I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness, watching so many women I know share the abuse they’ve endured in the workplace or their personal life. They are brave, and they are resilient. It strikes me that there is an incredibly deeply entrenched illnesses in our culture, and I want a cultural shift to happen faster than it has — for myself and the hundreds of women entrepreneurs I know, and especially for my 9 year old daughter.

With all of this running through my mind, I headed off to Vegas for the ABCKidsShow on Monday, with Debra Kallinikos, Un.Alum and all around badass woman founder. It’s been my honor to be alongside her this week as she launches her new backpack line, Animal Packers. This is one of the best parts of my role at The Un.Incubator, being part of a founder’s launch. As I’ve worked with her I’ve heard her stories of tenacity, and I’ve become more and more inspired by her compassion and grit.

What I assumed might be an exhausting experience, 3 days selling at a tradeshow, has turned out to be a week where I’ve regained hope. In the booth next to us we met Martin, Co-Founder of Katie Clemons, a wonderful children’s journal company. All week he has stood at his booth, sharing his wife’s story and selling her product. On the other side of us, a family-run business called Potty Boss that was started by their late mother and continues as her legacy. Over the last few days we’ve talked to dozens and dozens of buyers with stores around the country. I’ve never met so many working moms in one place before. I’ve also never seen so many couples who are business partners. This is a kids product show, and lots of theses moms have little ones. Their passion is their kids, and their stores or product lines are a reflection of that. It feels seamless. Their husbands are their business partners and life partners.

I guess as a mom and an entrepreneur I am always looking for examples of this fully integrated life. And I’m always looking for examples of men who truly partner with their wives. So often in the startup scene I see the opposite. I meet women that have kids but don’t feel comfortable bringing that up in a business setting. We talk about it, but they often hide it from colleagues or investors, because it would make them seem less qualified or be taken less seriously. This is the cultural light in which so many women are seen — we don’t talk about it but it’s always there. The unspoken pressure to keep your “family stuff” to yourself. Stay in your lane. Perform. It lacks all the integration of female thinking, and it sets the stage for discrimination to be a norm.

Since we started The Un.Incubator I’ve always had my daughter in and around our office and coworking space. At first I did it, out of a desire to have an integrated life. Then I started realizing that it truly matters to the other women in our space. Here they can share stories about their kids and the balancing act of it all. It is acceptable, because I hold the space for it to be. This is a kind of power I take to heart, it matters.

All week I’ve watched as Debra meets and chats with other women founders. They share their passion for their kids, and their work, it’s all connected. Nothing is off the table. It is a reminder to me, that as women, we can have it all. We can choose to run a business where we get to express ourselves as parents, business owners and partners. We can set the tone. I envision a future were this is no longer rare, but instead it’s common. It takes grit, and it takes the clarity to choose to work with men who are truly awake to the challenges and invested in co-creating that change.

So to each of you who may be feeling as I do, saddened by the overwhelming signs of abuse in our culture, here’s my reminder to you — and to myself. You have permission, to be super picky about who you work with. Permission to exit, from a partnership or relationship that doesn’t match your values, or at worst takes advantage of you. You have permission to say no to investors who might offer money but also perpetuate the bullying abusive culture. You have permission to set the tone, and not put up with anything less than your vision for your life and the lives of your kiddos.

What's Your Type?

I cannot count how many times I've been asked that question, especially in the years since my daughter was born. As if there's only one kind I'd be attracted to. It never made sense to me, because even as a kid when I left the house each day I went to school in a mixed elementary school where I was a minority. I learned to make friends with people from all types of backgrounds and ethnicities. I was bullied. I was excluded for being different. And I'm grateful for this, because as I grew up I learned how to spot my people - not by race but by their kindness, their openness and their authenticity. 

So when people ask me what my type is, this is what I tell them: 

My type isn't black, or white or brown

He isn't straight, or gay

He doesn't fit in a box

My type is a man who is gentle, and strong

Who loves people

Who gets inspired

Who lives his passion 

Who leads by example

Who shows the fuck up

Who commits and means it

Who loves all of me

And most of all

Who holds space for others

to find themselves

and to live without seeing types.

Fuck Yes

One year ago today was my last day as COO of 121Giving. At the time, I remember feeling like I was jumping off a cliff with no parachute. I just knew it was what I needed to do.

I had spent 5 years building 121Giving, from scratch, with my then co-founder. I helped take it from a logo and a powerpoint diagram, to $1M in funding and a fully sustaining business. Through lots and lots of hurdles, including incubators, pitching, fundraising, launching, acquiring customers, and most complex of all, navigating team and relationships. 

In that 5 years I went from thinking of myself as a designer and marketer who was helping build the brand for a startup, to an entrepreneur who really had what it took to weather the storms. I found a way to embrace the power I have always had, resilience and consistency. And I started to own it. I mean, really own it. 

I could give you a sob story about how hard it was to do all this work, and endless nights and weekends, the sacrifices and all that. And they would all be true. But what hits me today as I think back to where I was a year ago, is that I'm really fucking proud of myself for realizing that chapter was done and moving the fuck on. I learned what I was meant to learn, and the challenges had become unhealthy. Toxic really. 

As the near year turned in 2016 I found myself asking this question - is this leading to where I want to go in my future? Can my partner support me in reaching my full potential? And the answer, sadly, was no. It was a very hard decision to step down as COO. I had built the business from scratch, and invested personally and professionally. I felt accountable to everyone; my co-founder, my team, and most of all our nonprofit customers. I had no idea what the future held without that work. But ultimately, I realized after lots of soul searching that I was very done.

One of my favorite authors, Mark Manson, wrote a wonderfully honest blog post a while back called Fuck Yes or No and in it he described how you should not be in any relationship, business or professional, unless it's a "fuck yes" for you. That hit me hard because it rang so true. When I made the choice to leave, my co-founder was very upset and angry. Frankly have never felt more alone. I went through months of deep sadness about the end of our professional relationship and friendship. But ultimately, I still felt clear that this was the right choice for me. 

As I left and began Haven last spring, dozens of mentors and supporters came to my aid. I found a space to host our early workshops, and I took the leap to move into a tiny home in Hyde Park with my daughter. Then, I discovered a shared passion for this safe space and incubator concept in my dear friend Ben Gibson, the Founder of Youvolution. We had met a year before, on the street at SXSW. He filmed the first video for my last business and had become a trusted collaborator over that year.2

This photo was taken at NewCo 2015, a few months after we met. Here I am, standing between my co-founder at the time (right) and my future co-founder (left). Little did I know!  

Fast forward to spring 2016 - Ben and I began searching for a space to open together, and we became increasingly discouraged as we found place after place that didn't match our budget or our vision for the right tone. We wanted a homey, authentic place that we could welcome people into. Then, magically it seemed, the house in front of my tiny home became available. We leapt and took it, merging our business operations and routines.

Now, 9 months later, I have the integrated life I've always dreamed of. My 9-year-old daughter gets to be there as I run Haven and The Un.Incubator, and I no longer spend my life driving from place to place feeling guilty about either shirking my parenting or business duties. None of this would have been possible if I had not made these two momentous and risky choices; to leave my previous startup role, and face the negative responses all around me, and to start Haven, sharing my needs and asking for help from everyone in my network.

Late last year Ben and I began collaborating on his vision for Novo, a 9-acre plot of land we intend to develop as an intentional tiny-home community for social entrepreneurs. (below)

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We spent this weekend out on Novo preparing for our June 1 opening - we showed our first residents the land and shared our dreams. It was an incredible feeling to realize all that has transpired in just one year. We have an urban space on 35th Street full of 20 social entrepreneurs and the beginnings of our future vision out on the land. And, on a personal level, in one year I have gone from incredibly isolated as a single mom and entrepreneur, to the fullest life I have ever experienced. 

Things have not been easy, financially or emotionally. And if you ask me about it, I promise I'll tell you the real deal. But, if you are feeling stuck or unsatisfied I would challenge you to think about this - what do you crave? What would bring you joy? As one of our mentors, Ann Fry, likes to say. What would you do, if you knew you would not fail?

If you are in a relationship, whether it's personal or work-related, that's keeping you from being the original soulful beautiful human you were born to be, if it's not a fuck yes - you might need to consider a change. Trust me, it'll be worth it. You're bolder than you think. 

 

Risk Being Fully Yourself

This week we've been hosting dinners each night to kick off our new cohorts at the Un.Incubator. The food is simple and the premise is too - let's connect and let's get to know one another. Let's be present. Let's listen. Let's see what evolves, if we bring dreamers around a table and hold the space for them to share, risk and create.

This is our 3rd quarter of the Un.Incubator and the first time that I have been filled with such creative excitement. Because building this business is teaching me to trust more, risk more, love more, and most of all to be present more. With each new dreamer I meet, I become more and more courageous. To each of you, thank you for bringing your heart and soul with you. For being willing to re-invent over and over, in pursuit. For teaching me each day. It is lonely and often deeply mortifying to risk financially, professionally, and personally to live into your dreams and bring them to life. To create what you have never seen. But there is nothing else I can imagine doing with my life.

I opened one of my favorite books this morning for a visit to several dog-eared pages. This quote jumped out at me, stronger now than ever in my life:

"The gifts you have been given in this life do not belong to you alone. They belong to everyone. Do not be selfish and withhold them. Don't imprison yourself in a lifestyle that holds your spirit hostage and provides no spontaneity or grace in your life. Risk being yourself fully. Let go of the expectations others have for you and get in touch with what brings you the greatest joy and fulfillment. Live from the inside out, not from the outside in." - Paul Ferrini

 

 

Because We're Stronger Together

Last week I marched in the Women's March on Austin, alongside an estimated 50K other people. And most importantly, alongside my partner in impact, Ben. There he was, with a pink Dreamer t-shirt on, camera in hand, chanting and supporting all the women who came out. I kept looking around me, at the men in the crowd. And it felt so empowering. To have their support. To know that so many men were there, despite perhaps a sense of awkwardness, to support the women in their lives.

This, is what matters. Strong women, dreamers, those pursuing activism or art or any form of impact - they deserve to be uplifted, to be championed. And although I value the beautiful sweetness that comes from women supporting women, I want to make a point with my work at Impact Haven, to show men how important their role is too. There is nothing like the feeling of living to your fullest possible potential in the moment, expressing your voice and your talent and your fire. And there is nothing that compares to feeling supported by a man while doing that.

All around me at the march I saw this happening. Women chanting for their rights and equality, and men chanting with them. Men starting chants, in support of women. It was electric, the atmosphere at the capitol. I saw the look on the men's faces, looks of pride and honor.

So this is what I want to say about Impact Haven and the future of this brand. We are not just a space for women. We never have been. We are a space for dreamers, change makers and misfits. Because let's be honest, those usually go together :) We welcome anyone who resonates with our intent to empower change and impact, in Austin. 

Impact Haven and the Un.Incubator would not have gone from an idea to a building full of energy with the momentum and strength we already have as a community, if it were not for the men who have shown up to nurture and strengthen us. Men play a huge role in impact, both as leaders and as champions. To the men who mentor, teach, and support this program, I cannot thank you enough.

2017 is going to be a huge year for us, full of growth and pursuit and probably plenty of fear too.

I hope you'll join us, because we are stronger together.


Interested in joining our next cohort and building your impact idea into a business?  Applications are open until February 15th, and we'd love to meet you! Apply here.

Looking for a space to meet or cowork? We have openings, and it's super affordable at $75/month. Sign up to cowork or just drop by for the day for $5.

 

Talking Circles: Different Paths to a Shared Place

Guest Post by Meghan Williams

For four nights a week, Impact Haven is filled with groups of entrepreneurs ready to roll up their sleeves and make 2017 their year, the year they take ideas for social change and bring them to life. Sitting in a tight circle with our notebooks out we start each night off by catching up with everyone while secretly wondering what assignment we are going to get that day. Is it going to be a challenging night? How vulnerable will I have to be? Will I have my “aha!” moment?

But that’s why we are all here, taking on the challenges the Un.Incubator brings to us each week. We’re here to be vulnerable and to dig deep. Some of us are at different stages: too many passions, but no cohesive concept or an innovative business idea that lacks structure. And every single one of us has a different passion with a different outcome in mind. So, how will this work for me as an individual with my own plan? It’s easy. Surround yourself with motivated people, and you will be motivated. Surround yourself with creative people who want to make a difference, and you will be inspired. Surround yourself with entrepreneurs in similar phases, and you will find empathy and support.

Recently, I read Gloria Steinem’s book On the Road and was inspired by her stories about talking circles. As she discussed the impact that witnessing and participating in these circles around the world has had on her life and her community organizing, I kept thinking about all of the sharing and supporting that occurs during Un.Incubator sessions. These sessions are just that, fire-side-like chats full of expressing ourselves freely, guiding each other through solutions, and formulating smart and effective actions.

“some deep part of me was being nourished and transformed right along with the villagers”

I have experienced that same feeling Steinem had when she discovered the significance and necessity of talking circles in moving change forward. If it weren’t for the conversations within the supportive circles the Un.Incubator offers, I would not have developed my idea into realistic action nor would I have had the courage to pursue it like I am doing this year. I started with the Un.Incubator in the fall with no clue which of my passions I wanted to follow. Through the deep self-reflection activities I was able to narrow down my passions to a main idea and the fire started building inside me. It was then through the sharing and discussion of this idea with my peers that I began to visualize a business concept and the fire grew. Now, as I work through the second phase of the Un.Incubator with a new cohort I can begin to believe in this idea and that it will make a difference in the community.

“…nothing can replace being in the same space. […] we discover we’re not alone, we learn from one another, and so we keep going toward shared goals.”

It will be exciting to see where each of my fellow Un.Incubator members will be at the end of the year as well. I can see the fire in every single one of them. And I also see the struggle. But that’s why we form a circle each week and roll up our sleeves. Our ideas couldn’t be more different: from filmmaking, art curating, fair trade, alternate currency, ending human trafficking, to eco traveling. Yet our end result is the same: social change. So, watch out 2017, we’re changing things up a bit. We are motivated. We are inspired. And we have found community.

The Time Is Always Right

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- MLK Jr.

As we kicked off our 4 cohorts last week, I found myself full of a mixture of fear and anticipation. Launching Haven early in 2016, and then the Un.Incubator program in the fall, all of it is heartfelt. The recurring thought that runs in my mind is, what if I'm not enough? What if this fails? As my dear partner Ben likes to say, "this venture is our bloody hearts on a platter." And it is. We're pouring into this program everything we wish we had, when we started out as entrepreneurs. And we're committed to walking alongside each person who comes through our doors ready to make change, ready to work. To see it come to life, to see such a overwhelming response, is proof that this community and program need to exist. Especially now. Oh, especially now.

Later this week, we all know, is the inauguration. I've never been less ready for a change in power. But I also feel momentum brewing, and I see it and hear it in these 4 walls at Haven. I see so many women stepping up to the plate, ready to use their voices and creative talents to make an impact. To create a platform for those who don't have to voice. To create opportunities for others to claim their own value. To fight for the defenseless.

 Lauren Bruno, Leti Bueno, Yviee Quintanilla, Tyeschea West, Liz Deering

Lauren Bruno, Leti Bueno, Yviee Quintanilla, Tyeschea West, Liz Deering

Ladies, my message to you is this - you are powerful beyond your imagination. Your willingness to step up, is the most important thing. Please remain willing. Tenaciously willing. To put yourself in the epicenter of heartfelt, hard, change-making work. To fiercely apply your craft, skill and power to your mission. After all, as MLK Jr. said, the time is always right to do what is right.

Take Your Broken Heart...

Meryl Streep gave a moving speech Sunday as she accepted the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Many things were wonderful about her speech. Including her focus on diversity and her stern reprimand of Trump's bullying behavior. But my favorite bit was at the very end. She recognized her fellow actors for modeling empathy in their work. Then she said,

"As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art." - Meryl Streep

Tonight we're kicking off our next chapter of the Un.Incubator with 4 cohorts made up of 21 inspirational entrepreneurs. To us, social impact is not just traditional nonprofit work or even just giving to those in need. It is those things. It is also inspirational work, work that moves and motivates people, and who better to do that work than artists of all kinds? We have creative impact entrepreneurs of all sorts in our cohorts this winter: filmmakers, designers, photographers, musicians, art curators, performance artists and more.

 

If you haven't watched Meryl's speech, take a minute and do it. Just another example of how powerful artists can be to move people and change the world.

I'll leave you with a quote from Mary Oliver which I discovered recently in a book given to me by a new friend, Blessed Are the Wierd.

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all. But fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
- Mary Oliver

Here's to 2017, to all the misfits, rebels and lonely dreamers. May you take your brokenness, your indignation, your pain - and may you create that which heals, inspires, moves, and changes our world!

 

 

 

 

Finding – and Following – My “Why”

Guest Post by Andrea Caldwell

As soon as children are old enough to talk, many adults begin to ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up little girl (or boy)?” An innocent and well-intentioned question, surely. Yet I’ve come to believe that this question sets us up for spending the next ten, twenty, thirty years (or maybe a lifetime) focused on WHAT we do with our lives, rather than WHY we do it. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, in my opinion it’s a damn shame.

It took me until I was about 30 years old to figure out my “why” – and once I did, I realized that it had been my “why” that led me from a job at Deloitte, to business school at Notre Dame, to a leadership development program at DuPont. But it was also my “why” that left me feeling terribly unfulfilled by my career up to that point.

I’ll tell you what my “why” is momentarily – but to create a little realism (and perhaps let the suspense build), I’ll share the journey by which I came to figure it out myself. Also, before I continue, I want to clarify that I do not regret (and in fact, I am incredibly grateful for) the first part of my career. I learned a ton about business, I met amazing people each step of the way who are still dear friends and mentors, and I had formative experiences that led me to where I am today. It seems easy in retrospect to connect the dots between all the stages of my journey thus far – but I’ll be honest, it was much less obvious as it was unfolding!

During my time at Deloitte, I had gotten very involved in the firm’s community service efforts. I served as a mentor for low-income high school students, led projects for the firm’s annual day of service, and co-led fundraising for my office’s JDRF team. I saw how impactful these efforts could be and wanted to learn more about business so I could one day lead a company’s efforts to “do well and do good”. So I decided to get my MBA, and while investigating schools, I came across the tagline for Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business: “Ask more of business. Ask more of yourself.” I thought, “Yes! Let’s do that!”

So I spent the next two years at Notre Dame taking classes such as Corporate Citizenship, Sustainability Accounting, and the Business of Corporate Social Responsibility (I also made myself take a few Finance classes as well). During the course of my first year, I came across a job posting at DuPont, a company headquartered not too far from my hometown. Despite my initial skepticism (i.e., “There’s no way I’m going to work for a chemical company”), I found myself somewhat drawn to the company’s strong core values and its plans to use its knowledge as a science company to solve some of the world’s biggest issues (e.g., energy, food security, protection). So I completed an internship with DuPont and then (despite a nagging voice in my head that said “Why am I not more excited?”)  I joined the company’s leadership development program full-time after graduation.

But my “honeymoon” period at DuPont was relatively short-lived. In addition to general fit (or rather misfit) issues, that nagging voice had come back – and it was a bit more articulate this time around. Now, it said “Is this the impact that you want to have with your life? Is this sustainable? Is it scalable?” And my clear answer to all three questions was a resounding “No.”

So with this realization in mind, I took a deep breath and wrote the first line of my personal statement for a PhD in Management: “I believe in the power of business.” Why? Because I want to use my career to help as many people as possible to use the power of business for good. Because I want to understand what makes businesses do well and do good– as well as what prevents them from pursuing (and sustaining) a triple bottom line. And finally, because I want to inspire future business people to question prevailing assumptions about the purpose of business in our society, in order to make it better. This is my “why”.

Don’t get me wrong – pursuing a PhD in Management certainly wasn’t the only path that I could have chosen to serve this particular “why”. I meet social entrepreneurs and other “conscious capitalists” all the time and realize how many things we have in common – a passion for change, hopeful idealism, a fighting spirit… And on the not-so-positive side, we also seem to share some of the self-doubt, impatience, exhaustion, loneliness… But every time I think about giving up, my “why” is there to keep me in check. Trust me, there have been countless times in the first half of my PhD program that I wanted to quit – but each time, my “why” has succeeded in pulling me back from the ledge and sending me in for another round of the good fight.

I’m clearly not the only person who has spent time thinking about the importance of “why”. In fact, you may be familiar with a book titled Start With Why by Simon Sinek (or seen his popular TED Talk on the topic). I wish I had come across his work years ago, but it was still validating to learn of someone else’s discovery of the power of “why” – and how finding your “why” applies to not only individuals, but entire organizations. It’s an inquiry that I frequently encourage people to make – it’s not an easy one, but I’d argue that it’s well worth the effort. Because your “why” not only keeps you motivated through challenges on your present path – it can also be the yardstick by which you can assess future opportunities. No matter how attractive it seems, if it isn’t going to serve your “why” any better than what you are currently doing, then maybe it’s not the right opportunity.

So don’t get stuck on “what” you want to be when you grow up – or for aspiring entrepreneurs, what you want your organization to be when it grows up. Ask “why”.


Guest Author: Andrea Caldwell

Andrea is pursuing her PhD in Management at the University of Texas at Austin. She is passionate about using the power of business as a force for good in the world, and her research focuses primarily on social ventures. Before joining the PhD program, she spent several years in marketing and strategy roles, primarily with Deloitte and DuPont. She has bachelor’s degrees in Marketing, Spanish, and International Studies from Penn State University and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. In her free time, she enjoys being outside with her yellow lab, spending time with family and friends, and traveling.

Be Willing

As I flew into DC this week to speak at the Independent Sector NGEN Conference I was full of emotions. Still processing the election results. Grieving. Anxious. I've been to DC before but this was different. Everyone, from cab drivers to colleagues at the conference wanted to talk about it. The city felt somber, the way Boston felt the week after 911 - how did we let this happen? What does it mean? 

In the days since the election I've had so many meaningful conversations with friends as well as coaches and mentors at Haven. What's next? We have work to do, that much is clear. Complacency, it seems, is what got us into this season in our story as a country.

After my talk at NGEN, I sat in a session called America the Diverse. The session was full of tension as we sat in a circle discussing diversity in the wake of the election. Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Director of Building Momentum Project talked about the research they have done around minorities advancing in their careers. He said 2/3rds of minorities they surveyed wanted to advance to executive positions. 1/3 of the whites they surveyed did not feel that minorities wanted to advance. There is a divide in understanding. "We need to make the opportunities match the aspirations of up and coming leaders. People of color say they are experiencing barriers, we need to believe them!" he said. 

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone to use your unique voice and skills. Whether that is filmmaking, design, community organizing, or something else. Whatever you have in your toolset. Be willing to have hard conversations with your network. And not just in your echo-chamber, but with a diverse set of people. Diverse might mean folks who voted the opposite to you, and whose perspectives might make you unsettled. 

For me, I feel an increased sens of purpose and timing for the work I'm doing at Haven. A renewed sense of commitment to empowering women and creatives who don't fit, especially finding ways to support those who are boldly stepping up to advocate in this season. I want Haven to be their cover.  

This quote has been resonating with me more each day since the election, if it fits for you too, let it sink in: 

It’s time. You are ready. Be willing.
Be willing to become the person you need to know is in the world. Be willing to become the person that you needed when you were little. Be willing to become the person you didn’t know you could allow yourself to grow into.
- Chani Nicholas

 

We Are: Meant To Come Together

Last night we had a full house at our election party. As election numbers rolled in I looked around and saw fear and anger on the faces of so many. Some on the verge of tears. We are a diverse group, Haven and Youvolution. We are young and old, men and women, gay and bi and straight, immigrants and children of immigrants, white, brown and black. We shared the space and our fears.

To me last night marked a very low point in our country in my lifetime. It also lit a fire in me. To push even harder towards the vision I have to empower changemakers from minority backgrounds, those who don't feel they fit. Women, and all minorities. These are my people, they have always been.

I woke up heavy hearted this morning knowing I had to tell my 8 year old daughter that Trump won the election. This beautiful soul, born the year Obama was elected. When I told her, she cried. And then so did I. I sat there with my coffee, holding her, not sure what to say. Her father is an immigrant from Haiti who got his citizenship the year before we elected Obama. He is living the American dream. My beautiful mixed race family represents my perspective and my intent. To be open and welcoming and to embrace our diversity, it is our strength. 

As I look around our space today, our Haven, I'm feeling somber and sad, and prayerful. 

May this election pull some incredible dreamers and changemakers to their feet, may we see their fire and passion, and may I get to play a part in supporting them. 

We are meant to come together. To all of you, who show up here in this space pursuing your dreams and passions, who share your struggles and your victories, thank you. You give me courage for the road ahead. 

We Are: Dreamcatchers

The Un.Incubator is in full swing this fall. Night after night I see our space full of energy - with this growing community of idealists. Women who intend to change the world, change their communities, bring new perspective or new solutions to life. And the mentors who have come alongside them to collaborate and champion them. Helping bring this creative, flexible, co-creating, nourishing space to life is already a dream come true for me.

I have been blessed to be joined in this effort since the early summer by my co-conspirator, Kim Tidwell. She has brought her extensive background in marketing and branding as well as her big heart and even larger network to the table. Although she won't tell you this when you meet her, she's a pretty big damn deal :)  It was her collaboration that has made it possible to launch the founding cohort of the Un.Incubator this fall. To you Kim, an endless thank you, for who you are and how you've continued to show up in this endeavor!

To my great surprise, and delight this fall, I have discovered another co-conspirator in the Un.Incubator, Ben Gibson. Ben is the founder of Youvolution, and my partner in the coworking space we run in Hyde Park. He is also an idealist, like myself, who believes that when given the right resources and community, creators will thrive. He has built a membership of more than 20 independent filmmakers since he launched over 2 years ago, and has seen firsthand how the resources he provides them have helped propel their solo careers.

Recently he and I sat down to brainstorm together and landed on this - we want to expand the Un.Incubator together, to serve both women in impact and creatives of all types. In January we will launch 2 new cohorts; another cohort of women in impact and also a cohort of creatives: filmmakers, designers, maybe illustrators or artisans or others who want to turn their creative skill into a business. They all share a common theme, and perhaps you resonate with this too, or know someone who does.

You have a dream, an idea that is bigger than you, it's personal, and you want to venture out on your own. You want a sustaining career following this passion. You want to know where to start, or you have already started and you need resources along the way. You need a place where the self-sabotaging negativity and doubt is filtered out, and you can see your dream clearly ahead.

The Ojibwe believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person's dreams. "Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through... Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day. Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper." - Konrad J. Kaweczynski

This is a central theme of the Un.Incubator. To be the space which empowers creators to dream big, and to provide the collaborators you need to filter out all the negativity. I think there's no better time than now to expand the Un.Incubator. Let's be un-apologetically idealistic. And let's imagine future generations of creators and dreamers among us, with the resources to sustain, changing and empowering the communities we live in.

If this resonates with you, I'd love to connect. Feel free to reach out to me at liz at impacthaven.com. You can also nominate someone for the Un.Incubator, apply yourself, or get involved as a mentor.

 

 

Preposterous and Passionate

For years I heard my gut, but didn't honor it. I mean, I listened. But I didn't make decisions based on that intuition. I could tell you that I was immature or inexperienced. And that I was raised midwestern and stoic. That would be part of it. But truly, I think I was always afraid to do it. I mean, what happens when you follow your gut ALL THE TIME? Do you make it in this world? Who is preposterous enough to do that?

Some will say that it's preposterous to pursue this gut of mine, as a woman. To march out on my own and create my vision. And that it's even more unrealistic to think that a woman of color, a gay man, or a transgender individual could make it. That as minorities the odds are stacked against us, and we should be "reasonable". Play the game, find a way to get a seat at the "man's table". I say, don't let those barriers sway you, let them motivate you. Through your experiences as an outsider or a misfit, through all those moments when you didn't feel accepted or understood, you have gained more empathy, more drive, more scrap and grit, than so many. That's yours to use, that's powerful.

For me, the inspiration that gets me up every day is the opportunity to support other dreamers in their pursuit of their passion. Being present means living this life fully. Fully engaged, fully passionate, leaving it all on the table each day and not holding back. Creating a safe space for others to do the same. Connecting people from different backgrounds, who share common passions and struggles and watching them come alive as they collaborate.

More often than not this year, as I pursue my vision with abandon (and sometime reckless abandon!) I find myself rejoicing.

Rejoice: The definition means to "show great joy". That means actively living it, not just feeling it on the inside and filtering or guarding your expression. For this midwestern girl, that capability has been 30+ years in the making. But I can feel it becoming my normal. And trust me, if I can experience life like this, so can you. Any of you. So go ahead, be preposterous in pursuit of your passion!

 

Permission to Succeed at your Art

As I've launched Haven this summer I've met so many incredible, talented women. Surprisingly, many of these women who don't see themselves a entrepreneurs. They are filmmakers, musicians, creatives, writers, nonprofit innovators, inventors. They identify with their art, and the community surrounding it. They want to take their experiences and make big change happen. 

They are the ones I started Haven for. The dreamers and creators, the ones who want to give back to their communities but feel that the current accelerators or incubators serve them. I share their story. I spent years feeling on the outside of the startup scene here in Austin. Yes, it's one of the friendliest places you'll ever live, and yes, people are very willing to support here. However, the systems that exist are built almost entirely by and for men. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. They are full of contests, pressure-cooker scenarios and high stakes moments. There is very little mentorship or co-creation. 

It's my belief that it's time for a new system to emerge. One that is built for women. For social innovators. One that nourishes the whole woman, personally and professionally. One that provides her with business tools as well as a network in which to grow her idea and succeed in her art. 

Many of us struggle with the notion of being successful at our art, or our passion. We wonder if we can ever, or perhaps we tell ourselves that it wouldn't be savory to make money doing our art.

I love this quote from Elissa Altman, it sums up what I hope to nourish inside the Un.Incubator here at Haven. 

Quiet the noise around you; soften its pitch. Our deepest stories are our best teachers. Let the weapons of the weak — the poison, the nagging, the gossip — burn themselves to ash. Cast them to the wind. Take back the permission to succeed. Make it yours.
— - Elissa Altman

 

If you're ready to embrace your passion as your business, please come check out Haven. We offer coworking for $75/month. And we're now accepting nominations and applications for the Un.Incubator, our new take on empowering women-led social impact startups.

 

 

 

 

 

Girl on Fire

Last fall I found myself sitting in a therapist's office, talking about my relationship struggles and my professional struggles, which seemed to be converging into one big theme. The men in my life were threatened by me. The men who I worked with wanted to tamper down my voice, as if it diminished their power. The environments I was in were male-dominated and it felt there was no space for me to be a strong, committed, powerful woman or for me to grow. The men I dated were interested, and then they shrunk away and disappeared once I shared with them my vision or ideas for change.

Woefully I described this to the therapist. She looked at me with a knowing look and said, "Maybe it's time for you to stop catering to the men in your life. Do what's in your heart! Men who resonate with your powerful presence and your passion will appear, if you chart your own path."

I wrote it down in my journal. And I went home, and thought to myself "nope...hell nope!" Then, I processed it a bit over the following weeks and realized, it was exactly what I needed to do. Shit. It set in.

I started choosing differently. At first it was really painful. Choosing to express my vision and passion, without reservations for the first time. I'll be honest, it created a shit storm in my personal and professional life. This is not a great pep talk yet, I realize :)

But slowly, surely, I started to notice new people appearing in my path. Men who not only resonated with my passion and powerful intent for Haven, but who wanted to help me bring it to life.

Following my passion and my desires, I left the startup I had helped bring to life 5 years before and launched Haven. I asked for help. All the time! I shared my vision, without reservations. And doors started opening, easily. I found a partner who supported me by offering me event space for the summer. I found other collaborators who helped me shape my approach. And magically, it seemed, another partner who wanted to open a co-creating coworking space with me.

Here we are, 3 months after I started practicing this new way of being, and I'm sitting at Haven watching this dream of mine come to life. It has happened so much faster and so much more effortlessly than I anticipated. I'm still waiting for the reality to sink in.

Ladies, if you're wishing that you didn't threaten the men in your life, all I can say is use your powerful heartfelt voice! Burn and blaze away! And the people who are meant to be there for your journey will appear.

To each of the men who has helped propel me, support me, and continue to rally with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have met so many women with big dreams and powerful unique voices, and they each deserve to be supported like I have been and am.

Men, if you have a badass powerful spirit in your life (or more than one!), get alongside her and help her bring her vision to life. It will be one of the best investments you will ever make.

 

Haven & Youvolution: Courageous Allies

Less than 6 months ago, I made the hard but exciting choice to resign from my role as COO at 121Giving, the startup I co-founded in 2011, and I launched Haven. If you've spoken with me in the last few months I'm sure you've heard me say that one day I intend to open a co-working space, because I always envisioned Haven as a physical space. A safe space where women who have chosen to focus their careers in impact come to collaborate, recharge, work through challenges and give one another courage. I wasn't sure when that part of my dream would be feasible, but it has been in my mind's eye since the beginning.

As I jumped into Haven this summer, I sent my 8-year-old daughter to Creative Action for summer camp. They started years ago as an anti-bullying organization, and they bring creative education to life for kids.  One of the tenants of their work is the intent to teach children to be "courageous allies" which for them means equipping youth to find their voice and also support others in finding theirs.

Sometimes we find courageous allies along the way, in the least expected ways. And sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we get to BE the courageous ally. I have found both this summer, in my dear friend and collaborator Ben Gibson, the owner of Youvolution.

We started co-hosting events together in the spring, and quickly realized that the members of both Haven and Youvolution shared the same creative energy and had the same need for a safe space to create.

I think every artist I know has a variation on this exact dream: the collaborative, nurturing space to get what you need in order to fearlessly make art. - Anne Woods

In fact, we are starting to see our members can become allies for one another. Youvolution filmmakers helping Haven entrepreneurs bring their businesses to life, and entrepreneurs helping filmmakers envision their self-sustaining futures. So we started talking about the possibility of opening a coworking space together. We looked at many many offices and became frustrated with the costs and what felt like an unattainable dream.

Then last week we discovered an office space, literally under our noses. The cost is attainable and the location is perfect. It's just north of UT in Central Austin. Accessible to our members, and to future members who live north, south, east or central.

I'm so excited to announce that on August 20th Haven and Youvolution will be opening our first coworking space together! We're going to host events for both Youvolution and Haven here and we'll also be opening it up for general co-working, at a really affordable price ($75/mo). Head over here to check out our membership options.

 

For Youvolution this is a big growth point, in the last 2 years they have gone from running their filmmaker space out of their livingroom, to a small office on E. Riverside, and now they are expanding gear and equipment as they open this larger space in with us. For Haven this space will be a huge catalyst, enabling us to host workshops, yoga, mentorship, coworking and to connect our communities in ways that empowers each individual to pursue their dream.

I am looking forward to many days and nights full of collaboration, ideas and visions being shared and brought to life. I'm honored to stand alongside Ben as we foster a community of courageous allies.

If you are interested in getting involved with us, please stop by and introduce yourself. Come to an event, or shoot me an email (liz at impacthaven dot come) and we'll schedule time to meet!

 

 

 

 

 

Unless It Comes Out of Your Soul Like a Rocket...

A girl friend of mine came over a few nights ago, we sat in my living room drinking wine and catching up. I told her about my last few years, and the giant leap I had just taken to start Haven. She listened, and openly admitted that she didn't think she had "it". The "it" that drives me to create, to pursue new ideas and build businesses, as if my life depended on it. Which I suppose in a way it does. At first, I wanted to deny her this division, and then I realized, she was right. Only she knows this in herself. Her honesty and her support of my many dreams are some of the qualities that make her so endearing to me over the years. So I got to thinking about my creative pursuits, and how I've gotten to where I am today.

The first time I really felt I had found my "people" was in freshman poetry class at University of Michigan, with Professor John Rubadeau, still one of the best teachers I've ever known. He introduced us to so many formats and structures, then encouraged us to break them, and to express ourselves. In his class I learned that I could be free, while writing poetry in a structured format, and I fell deeper in love with the written word. In his class I discovered authors that spoke my language; Kerouac. Bukowski, Dillard. I re-read authors that I had left in junior high, like L'Engle, and fell into the worlds they described, resonated with their emotion and depth.

Years later now, happily launched into the unknown with my 4th startup, I realize this passion for creation is the same in innovators as it is in designers, filmmakers and poets.

And so if you are considering a leap, if you want to create a new business or start something impactful and new from scratch - I'll leave you with this, from Bukowski. And I'll urge you to ask yourself the question - is it coming out of your soul like a rocket? If the answer is HELL YES, then embrace it and enjoy the crazy journey. If it's not, get behind your crazy girl friend who is on a rocket of a journey, she'll appreciate every minute of your support, trust me!

So You Want To Be A Writer
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
fame,
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
Charles Bukowski