Two years ago, I was working on on my new startup, WildeGuide. As it happened at that time, all of my mentors were male. Though these gentlemen offered years of experience and a willingness to help, once in a while it would occur to me that I didn’t have a single woman I could turn to for professional support and guidance.
Among my mentors was Don Hazell. Former EVP of Sales at Rally, who happened to be a big supporter of women in entrepreneurship. I met Don by attending a talk he gave on startup sales. At the end of the talk my then business partner and boyfriend (now just boyfriend) and I approached him. We thanked him for the talk and told him we were just launching our startup. He asked us what our startup did and then as he handed us a business card he said, “I would love to hear your pitch sometime.” We eagerly said okay, and as soon as we left, we Googled: How to put together a pitch. We were total newbies.
A few weeks later we were sitting at the back of Laughing Goat coffee shop on Pearl Street with Don and an extremely ammature pitch on my laptop. At the end of the meeting Don said, “I mentor a portfolio of 18 companies and I’m wondering if you’d like to be one of them.” And just like that we had our first official mentor. Now we felt like a real startup.
Don did what most good mentors do. He made an unbelievable number of introductions for us. I met people from all corners of the startup scene in Boulder. Developers, failed founders, successful CEOs, accelerators. I told Don I was interested in finding female mentors, and he gladly offered to introduce me to Sue Heilbronner.
I had identified Sue as someone I wanted to know after learning she had founded Mergelane – a venture fund focused on companies with at least one female in leadership. I then read some articles she had written, checked out her website, and watched a clip from a TEDxBoulder talk she gave. She was badass, and I wanted to talk to her.
When I received the intro email, I felt giddy. THE Sue Heilbronner was going to be my mentor!
As soon I got her response, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself.. Sue asked me to come to a MergeLane event instead of setting up a one-on-one meeting with me. That felt like a total rejection. But, as the savvy entrepreneur I was learning to be, I persisted. Here is our email exchange from September, 2016:
So, as you can see: I GOT A MEETING!
Now, let me pause and say if it sounds like I was a total fan-girl with a celebrity crush, that’s because I was. I had several local mini-celebrity crushes. I idolized the Boulder-famous personalities I had become acquainted with, and that included Sue.
After waiting a month, I finally talked to Sue for the first time at the end of October. The call lasted 30 minutes, and without looking back on my notes from the call, I still remember two things:
1) She told me she notices that people who experience success can often attribute their lucky coincidences to consistently doing this: “Say yes, show up, and be present.”
2) She left me with the perception of her as being incredibly direct, real, insightful, and slightly terrifying.
From the moment I hung up, I knew I wanted to be closer to Sue. I admired her in a way that surpassed my prior fascination. She was candid and authentic. Sue was the real deal.
I continued to stay connected to Sue after our call. I’d send her updates of my progress and first met her in person when I pitched at a competition she was judging.
For the past year I had been volunteering at TEDxBoulder, but wanted to get more involved, I reached out to Sue, knowing she was on the organizing team, and she connected me. On the day of the event, we found ourselves without a makeup artist, so I offered to fill in. A few YouTube videos later, and I was applying makeup for all fourteen speakers. When Sue saw me in action, she burst out laughing and asked me to write a blog post about the experience, which she shared on her own blog.
I once again crossed paths with Sue at Boulder Startup Week this past May (2018) by attending a panel she was moderating At the end of the event, I saw the line to speak to her and figured I’d catch up with her another time. But she saw me walking away and shouted, “Danielle, can you wait a minute?” So I stuck around until she had greeted her fans. We grabbed two chairs and she asked me what’s been going on. I related that I had just graduated with my MBA the week prior and had made the decision to go full-time on WildeGuide but that I was feeling uncertain about it.
She looked at me and without hesitation said, “Come to Leadership Camp. You’re in a transition and it’s the perfect time. It’s this weekend.” It was a Wednesday. Camp started that Friday.
I remembered what Sue had told me a year and a half earlier: Say yes, show up, and be present. It was something I thought of often and even relay to the undergraduate students I work with. Nearly all of my professional achievements could be tied back to that phrase. They weren’t about being in the right place at the right time, they were about being prepared for opportunities, feeling open to seeing possibilities, having the guts to say yes and give life 100%. A few hours later I sent Sue an email titled “I’m in.”
Although being open has had a direct relationship with the number of opportunities that has come my way, saying yes to everything can spread us out in so many directions it can be hard to gain traction in a direction we really care about. In the case of Camp, I said "yes" and meant "yes." But saying “yes” when I actually mean “no” comes with a cost.
What helps with this is getting clearer about what we most want. To do this, it is so helpful to begin recognizing the "shoulds" and judgements we have around a decision. Shoulds and judgments can sometimes lead us away from what we most want, and toward what we think others expect of us. Once we identify the shoulds and expectations, we can start to let them go and instead ask ourselves honest questions about what we really want.
Knowing what we really want, as opposed to what we should really want, we are more likely to have clean(er) agreements, less likely to back out on commitments, and are able to show up more authentically to what we choose to do.
When an opportunity comes our way, we can practice looking for what we call a “Full-Body Yes.” This is the yes that comes from our whole body, rather than from the reactions, fears, and FOMO that can often drive our decisions.
So while saying “Yes” is important to discovering new opportunities, looking for a Full-Body Yes, especially in the face of an abundance of options, can be a helpful part of the equation.
Knowing your Full-Body Yes to specific commitments can lead you in the direction of a Full-Body Yes to your life. Here’s an exercise that can help illuminate where you’re living in your Yes and where you may be living in "shoulds" and "have-tos".
Find out what happened at Camp in in Part 2: Does Life Really Have to Be So Hard?
"This is REAL leadership exploration; none of that fluff that is typical of other leadership sessions.”
“Vulnerable, challenging, and transformative.”
“Your process --and your loving way of helping people see what is obvious but not seen-- have enabled us to transform long-standing differences, to see them as differences and also as possibilities.”
"Before Camp, I thought I was going to leave my job. Now I'm more engaged than ever."