The seating arrangement and company logo would change by the day. But, one thing never changed. The person to ask the notorious recurring question would always be the most mesmerized participant in the room. The one who didn’t flinch or blink for 50 minutes, other than to conceal a tear drop. “So, what’s your next big startup?” he would ask with glossy inquisitive eyes, after attending my lecture, Vision, meet Reality., chronicling my turbulent and unfathomable entrepreneurial journey with a life-saving, HIV preventing medical device in rural Africa.
The recurring and seemingly innocent question would trigger a murky feeling in my stomach and the appearance of an imaginary sign floating above the audience’s heads: “You are a disappointment. Speaking on stages instead of saving lives”. The routine was rehearsed so well that sometimes I’d get this reaction even before the question came up.
I finally succumbed to the pressure [invented in my mind] and created a new startup, just to stop disappointing [them?] and start doing something [!]. I decided to tackle the global pandemic of loneliness among the elderly. I partnered with a brilliant ageing expert and we developed an innovative solution after months of research. I was invited to be a TEDx speaker, waiving the audition process, because they wanted to raise awareness to this burning topic.
While working on the startup, my speaking career took off in massive ways. Fortune 100 companies were flying me to exotic locations to speak before their senior executives and multi-disciplinary teams. The feedback letters left me speechless; the impact enormous.
As the startup started to take shape and form, that murky feeling in my stomach grew to a stabbing pain. My mind repeatedly said, IGNORE. Your stomach doesn’t understand.
Then came the day that I could no longer ignore it. One of Israel’s leading seed investors, who was fond of my work with the HIV prevention device, invited my partner and I to present our new startup. I knew it was too early to share with investors, but it was so exciting to be courted so early on. My mind said, go go go!
Before I knew what hit me, I found myself in a conference room full of men, with the investor yelling at me at the top of his lungs about how disappointed he is in me, how I know better than to come to an investor meeting like this, and more. Of course I knew.
The imaginary sign became a reality. I was a disappointment.
A few days later, I gave the keys to the startup back to my partner. Deep down inside, I knew that my true calling, my passion and my profound and unwavering impact was in a parallel universe. My partner felt deserted. I felt horrible.
My speaking career was skyrocketing. Last year on International Women’s “Day” I had 21 lectures in 8 days (thanks COVID-19 for trumping the events this year). I was flooded with letters from people that had been impacted by the lecture years after experiencing it. People who shared with me that in times of extreme adversity, pulling my business card out of a drawer would give them strength to persevere[!]. While the motivational content is geared towards businesses, it got to a point where a 50+ woman was inspired to resume driving after a 24 year post-trauma hiatus.
I kept on going with murky stomach sensations and imaginary disappointment signs with every new lecture and innocent question that followed it.
OK, I said to myself. It’s been long enough. Maybe, NOW you’re ready to create a new life-saving startup!?
I partnered up with a razor sharp scientist who had developed a novel concept for early cancer detection (purposely vague here). Lesson learned, I communicated my reservations to my partner all along. That didn’t help much. It’s hard to stop the snowballing effect of expectations.
Reading this blog post, with the clues and hints I generously scattered throughout, it’s probably quite obvious what I should have done in the various phases. Hindsight is always 20/20. That’s the thing about personal blind spots. They are hidden in plain sight — right before your very eyes. That unidentifiable thing that’s holding you back.
My blind spot was the weight I gave to other people’s expectations of me. Maybe at times, my perceptions of other people’s expectations of me.
It would take many more lectures and one grand global pandemic for me to see that the next big startup, right here, right now, is me.