Have Regrets? Get Over It.

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Ten years ago I moved to San Francisco with everything I owned packed up in a Honda Civic. The value of my student loan debt far outweighed the value of my material possessions and if I didn’t find a job quickly, I’d have to pawn my shoe collection.

I liked my shoes, so I hustled.

A month later I had two VERY different job offers, each offering a unique life: high tech and fashion retail. Which to choose?! Choosing fashion was the first of 200 other forks in the road where I blindly picked one direction and sprinted ahead. I wish I could say I never looked back. But I’ve looked back regretfully many times, wistfully thinking what my life could have been had I chosen differently. Richer? Better? Happier?

But what if it never would have been at all?

Regretfully second guessing is a dangerous game, speculative at best. It isn’t accurate and it paralyzes us from moving forward. So how do we stop regrets from overtaking us?  How can we become happy with the choices we’ve made?

The Job that Wasn’t

In San Francisco, many of us dwell on that one startup offer we didn’t take.  We wistfully think of that pregnant chunk of equity that would give birth to trillions of dollars. With its success, we would have instant credibility to write thought provoking articles on cat memes that everyone would pay attention to and tweet across the interwebs.  We’d go on to write books and speak and conferences with Bono. Why, oh why, did we turn it down? Were we dubious of the value proposition? Or did we fear the grueling hours wouldn’t allow us to be creative?  And I sigh, thinking how creative I could have been decorating my bedroom with million dollar bills.

Money, fancy title, or other opportunity aside, we don’t really know what would have happened had we taken a different job offer. Maybe we would have had a terrible boss and had our self esteem taken away until we quit. Or worse, been a spreadsheet slave, and missed out on major life moments. If I had a “normal” job in 2010 I never would have taken a road trip across country to document stories. This included writing down my Granny’s story before she passed away. Family equity > tech equity.

It’s not about a job or salary or title but rather, what we contribute to life. The right “job” should give you the right “life”. After all, I finally landed at IDEO (aka “the Job That Was”) not because of my work resume, but because they liked I took time to write about people. They still encourage me to do this.

 The One That Got Away

A good friend of mine went to high school with the co-founder of WhatsApp.  He asked her to Prom, and she turned him down.  After they sold the company for $19 billion dollars, she told all her girlfriends—“Let that be a cautionary tale to all of you.  Never let the quiet geek get away.”

She meant this as a joke, of course, but we all have one we think ‘got away.’  You know, that one young passionate love that devastatingly ended? We forget why it ended and romanticize the memories; they are much funnier, cuter, and smarter than they actually were. We think, What if THEY were indeed our soul mate?! Then on a lonely Friday night, fueled with Downtown Abby reruns, we start stalking them on Facebook and think reconnecting is a really good idea.


It’s kind of like taking the remnants of your amazing French Laundry dinner, putting it in a tupperware container, and then trying to eat it ten years later (with freezer burn) in your tiny apartment and hope it’s the same experience.

Keep the great memories –seal them in a jar and never open it again. Our romanticized recollections are 50% better than our real past together and 100% better than it would be in the future. I know there’s all those one-off Readers Digest type reconnection stories, but generally when something breaks, there is a reason why. Why salvage something broken when you can start fresh and build something new? (i.e. Go Tinder!)

To Travel or Not to Travel?

Most people think they didn’t travel enough. I, on the other hand, worry I traveled TOO MUCH.  When I sit at tables with San Francisco overachievers, I feel judged, as if I had spent the last 10 years running through fields of international flowers like a bad Tampax Commercial while everyone else was slaving away building companies and getting married. Not me.

Six years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend because I needed to travel the world for 6 months and he didn’t want to come with me.  “I can’t just do that,” he said. “I have a real job.”  I took this as a personal insult to my life and decided that this, in addition to his inability to ski, doomed us. He’s now responsibly married with a career, house and child and I’m still living like a character in a subtitled film. However, my travel did teach me some great insults in Swahili like “Kuma Kubwa chupi ndogo”  (Your vagina is so big your underwear doesn’t fit you).  Ha-how many responsible people can say that?!

As I returned from my 6 month world trip I regrouped my questionable career. Not long afterward, I decided to go with my friends to Brazil during an important client meeting.  I really meant to get on the conference call and chime in remotely, but I messed up the time zones and was surfing as the executive sat on an empty phone line. That relationship went about as far as my romantic one. (I am much better at calculating time zones now).

Three years later, questionable career intact, I met a prospective client at Fashion Week in NYC. The CEO asked me if I could help reposition one of their brands. I asked if he could wait for 3 months because I had to finish my road trip across the United States and further my blog with 38 followers.

So yes, I have spent time regretting irresponsible travel decisions. However, when regret gets the better of me, I play the  “If I die tomorrow” game.  If I die tomorrow and have 20 minutes to reflect on my life, I am grateful that it’s not filled with memories of meeting rooms and power points and boring boyfriends with their picket fence houses that keep me inside. It is filled with oceans and mountains, and people laughing in different languages. Some of these experiences gave me lifelong friends.  Some posts on my blog are now read by thousands of people. This means much more to me than a fashion gig.

Are the Wrong Choices the RIGHT Choices?

Someone once told me, “We will never know if we made the right choice.  But if we are happy, at least we didn’t make the wrong one.”

However, I think there is more to this. I think that if we make decisions that fuel who we are and what we believe in, it will be hard to ever have regret.

A great article by Elle Luna (an ex IDEOer) writes about the crossroads of shoulds and musts and the need to accept who we are. It’s hard to have regrets if we keep true to ourselves.

She writes,

“Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self……Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.”

Elle goes on to lists many examples of people like the Airbnb Founders, Van Gough, and John Grisham, that at one point seemed like failures (making the wrong choices) but ultimately achieved enormous success.

I’m far too free spirited for a normal linear career (sorry Lean In advocates–you know I have issues with you) and a normal linear relationship. After years of second guessing and woefully comparing myself to my smug executive married friends, I’ve FINALLY accepted that in myself and am happy.

If you can accept yourself, then regrets dissipates. We become more confident in the path we choose and more optimistic about how our past decisions (right or wrong) are a crucial part of our fabric that will take us forward in life.


When I wasn’t on the teleconference line…..

“I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end.” -Drew Barrymore

New York vs. San Francisco: In Quotes

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My two favorite cities.  One I reside in, the other I play in. The Bold Italic recently posted a few articles with the catch phrase, “The Manhattanization of San Francisco lamenting the two cities’ similarities. However, crazy salaries and ridiculous rents aside, San Francisco and New York are, in my mind, totally different places.

For the sake of research, I spent countless hours in bars across the two towns, collecting quotes that signify the chief difference in multiple domains. You’ll find it isn’t really an apples to apples comparison.  It’s more like….apple to avocados.


“You’re going to step out in last season’s Versace?  Why don’t you just write a big ‘discount sale’ tag on your forehead?” -advice on my dating wardrobe in NYC


“Oh it’s not just any hoodie—it’s a James Perse hoodie….”  -what my date wears in SF


“The hamburger is from grass fed cows, right?”  -my dining companion in SF


This comes with fries, right?” -my dining companion in NYC

Happy Hour

“I’d love a drink but I’m detoxifying myself on a week long wheatgrass cleanse. I’ll just sip water and watch you.” -my ‘drinking buddy’ in SF


“I don’t remember the last time I was sober past 6pm….ah well, why start now? Another Manhattan for me!” -a random acquaintance in NYC

Ordering a coffee  

“Almond milk delicately foamed to 180 degrees? You got it!” -my barista in Pacific Heights

“You want what?  Almond milk?  They actually make that shit?” -a barista in the Upper West Side


“We have a ninja vs. pirate party tonight—you can pick which one you dress up as and then we’ll play beer pong in costume!  Oh, sometimes we have a ref–and he’s usually naked…” -a friend in SF

“I’ll see if I can get us on the list for the gallery opening. A lot of A players there so wear couture okay? This isn’t SF burning man party stuff.” -a friend in NYC

The scene at 2 am  

“Let go to the Sullivan room—people are just starting to get there.” -bar conversation on where to go next in the village


** Crickets chirping **    -everyone is in bed preparing for their triathlon


“You think I should get out of banking? And get a job that ends at 6pm?! I’d feel like a failure-one of those lame guys that has things called ‘hobbies.’ ”  -my ex NYC


“Once we exit, I’m thinking about taking a year off to surf…” -my ex in SF

Work Colleague Communication

“I think we should get a mediator to help us resolve our communication style differences.”-a colleague in SF


“I don’t like you.  So what? Move on.”  -a colleague in NYC


“We don’t really have relationships here….you just kinda morph in and out of people’s bedrooms.” -singleton, NYC


“I’ve heard this myth of people that have relationships…..and then I realized it was the polyamourous crew.” -singleton, SF


SF has priced me out. I’m thinking of buying a place in Oakland.  Plus there aren’t any tech douchebags there.” -frustrated SF homebuyer


Manhattan has priced me out. I’m thinking of buying a place in Brooklyn. Plus there aren’t any finance douchebags there.”-frustrated NYC homebuyer

Okay, okay maybe there ARE some similarities…….but forget those and celebrate the differences, the frustrations, and the weirdness that make both places spectacular.

San Francisco has always been a haven for misfits and weirdos. I’m both of those, which is why I came here. - Michael Franti

“I can’t with any conscience argue for New York with anyone. It’s like Calcutta. But I love the city in an emotional, irrational way, like loving your mother or your father even though they’re a drunk or a thief. I’ve loved the city my whole life — to me, it’s like a great woman.” –  Woody Allen  

My Secret Addiction

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 12.18.30 PMFacebook has ended authenticity. The social media network links our posts to our REAL names and we, being the braggarts we are, can’t help but give a roaring fictional stage performance. eg. “I ran 8 miles” alongside an instagrammed skinny photo of us in scanty spandex on a beach.  We are too fearful of judgment to post what we really think e.g “I keep thinking of butter” along side a real NON INSTAGRAMMED photo (oh the horror of bad lighting) of split spandex at the butt seam.  All of our time on Facebook is in effort to keep our high standing among our 900+ “friends”. We craft clever updates and take multiple shots from our phones to find THAT ONE that demonstrates to the world that yes, our life is really THAT good.


Facebook bores me. As an authenticity addict, I am in honesty withdrawal. I relish the hardships, the emotions, and the mundane moments that make up our daily existence. This, not humble-bragging, is what connects us.  This is what gets us high.

My addiction started while living in Tokyo, Japan. The Japanese usually keep all signs of emotion undercover, their faces unmoving slates of porcelain. I was living in an expressive’s hell.  Until one evening when I stepped outside my balcony and took a different look at urbanity…

The buildings in my neighborhood were so close together that they kissed. Tiny windows crawled up the gray concrete slabs like ants, allowing tiny peeks into the inside.  If one wasn’t careful and left the windows open, inhabitant’s real lives would spill out across the metropolis. Luckily for me, there were a lot of open windows.

By stepping outside I was instantly immersed in 2” by 2” snapshots of a hundred people’s lives in every direction. A woman slowly setting the dinner table with white china, taking a moment to polish each dish (what was she remembering?).  A man pacing rapidly while talking on the phone and throwing up his hands (how much money had he lost?).  A young couple arguing and then embracing-their passion pulsating out of their open window (would their love last?).

I was high on these intimate moments. Witnessing them was like reading a padlocked journal.  I felt finally connected to the world that was so hard (at least in Japan) to understand.  I was mesmerized by how human and beautifully imperfect we all were.  Facebook had nothing on windows in Tokyo.

When I returned to San Francisco I kept up my voyeur-ing, longing to feel more connected to my own city. I wanted to see people’s secrets that they didn’t bring outdoors.  I’d go for long walks along the tree lined streets of Pacific Heights at dusk and eagerly look into people’s windows where soft lighting revealed tiny moments of their evening.  Making dinner, burping babies, smoking secret cigarettes.

Now I don’t have to peek into people’s windows.  There are all these anonymous social networking apps like Secret and Whisper where people willingly post their anonymous thoughts for the world to see.  People unite over rants and dreams-their happiness, sadness, and fears available for all to view, comment, and connect on on.

Unlike my window obsession, these apps are better.  For one, I won’t be arrested as a peeping tom. People voluntarily give up their intimate thoughts as anonymous secret donors. I am no longer stealing moments but rather graciously accepting them.  Second -I feel PART of something. I am willingly invited inside their intimacy, commenting on secrets, commenting on comments, creating a temporary community with strangers.  What I love about this new world is that people don’t take time to be perfect, no one risks judgment, and everyone writes what they really think in that exact moment.  The utter rawness is intoxicating.

I am back in my junkie state, lured in by the truths that anonymity allows.

“I think I’m gay. No one else knows yet.”

“I hate my job.  But I need the money. I wish everyone knew how hard it is.”

“I am going to propose tomorrow”

“My dad is at the hospital.  I want to pray. But I’m agnostic.”

“I love the taste of straight butter” (Yes! You too?)

A picture of a golden retriever puppies and a Suburu “I wish this was my family”

These snapshots of everyone’s lives we would never otherwise know.

I ride the cal train every day to work and it’s like Tokyo.  Everyone is expressionless, eyes glazed over, hands working their phones.  But then I wonder if they are on the Secret app? Perhaps the kid with the un-ironed plaid shirt was the guy that posted the proposal secret? Maybe the stoic, tall briefcase-carrying woman is the one with a dad in the hospital.

I smile at them.  We are connected.

Anonymity isn’t just an addiction, but also a freeing agent.  We can say what is on our minds without judgment and have our thinking sprawled out across our city unedited. We are connected to the world as they applaud and embrace us for our innermost thoughts.  Someday I just hope we can connect our thoughts to our real names….and go into the worlds as our unapologetic true selves.

Will humanity allow it?  Can we ever feel comfortable to cast aside our own ego. Will we free others of judgement? Until I know when we can ‘speak freely’ outside, I’ll keep (legally) voyeur-ing.



A Love Letter to my Liver

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February 14, 2014

Dear Liver,

It was always you. Other lovers, organs and parts have come and gone (oh, poor tonsils) but it is only you that have remained stoically in love and support of me throughout my trying life. Our journey together has been magical and this year, my dear liver, with a hearty glass of Cabernet, I’d like to toast us, our past, and our future. 

Oh Liver, do you remember our first date?  My parent’s liquor cabinet stood in front of us, a Pandora’s box of extravagant delights and tall bottles that beckoned us like Sirens.  You invited me inside the dark oak door and so chivalrously offered me the first sip of whatever I wanted. I choose Crème de Menthe, recalling how my mother used it in brownies. I wanted to be equally sweet for you.  I was shy to take a sip, but you whispered that you loved the spark of a minty lip and were eager to process the moment through your virgin muscle and take the night by liquored storm.

Our first peppermint kiss sealed our romance. We were a unit, you and I. We couldn’t leave each other’s side (especially as you were attached to the right side of my stomach). At school parties we became adventurous together, bohemian spirits in the night. As free love filled the air, we experimented with exotics, creating scandalous threesomes with eclectic beauties. First there was you and me and Bailey’s. Afterward we flirted with Malibu. Then Zima entered our romance, enticing us with her whimsical name and light color.  I miss Zima…. she sadly disappeared in the 90′s. And we can never forget the first time we met Jäger.  I blush to think about what happened after Jäger…

We were young and brave and intoxicated on adventure. I wanted to go everywhere with you. You invited me to Vegas…oh that trip to Vegas! I could never do Vegas without you Liver, it just wouldn’t be the same. 4 am vodka over blackjack, starlight clubs with chandeliers and eight balls hanging from the ceiling. You told me we could go on forever…..

But we couldn’t. Our young passion was so intensely fiery and doomed to self exhaust. Because we loved each other so dearly we knew we needed to pace if we were going to live long together. We took off to slow detox retreats in Palm Desert and lay down in fields of wheatgrass and acai berries. I’d stroke your back with green smoothie delight and you’d smile and thank me for my delicate care taking.

We emerged cleansed and strong and powerful. We grew up. We embraced pedigreed titles, urban cities dwellings, and adult consumption pacing. We buried Malibu to the backs of our mind (never to admit, ever!) and with impeccable dress and fancy transportwe traversed vineyards across Burgundy and Napa.  We sipped and spat (no overindulgence here!) and deliciously took our time.

Other couples looked at us in awe—we were so good together!

And we are. Even though we are sophisticated wine tasters now, we can still hold our own when the need requires. At the company holiday party when I’m asked to shoot whiskey with the guys, you don’t get jealous but rather back me up. “Together we can do this,” you say.  And I’m confident we can.  Together, we can do anything.

Our journey has been amazing and I cannot wait for our future.  You will grow old and I’ll bring you scotch by the fireplaces. We’ll curl up together for long nights under the covers with merlot and take our time to digest the evening. We’ll raise our children with spiked punch and teach them the important of a strong internal organ.  We’ll call our daughter Zima in tribute to our youth.

Liver, I love you.  For all you have allowed me to do.  For our future forward together.

Happy Valentines Day.

Superbowl Reflections: What I learned from a Cheerleader

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.04.10 PMSuperbowl Sunday.The day of florescent cheese dips and smoky pigs parts. The day of cursing at irregularly shaped men sprinting in taut clothing. The day of “where have they been?” stars reappearing on expensive commercials, vying for our share of mind. They day of jersey camaraderie, hive fives, and booty dances.

For me it was a different day. For me, it was ‘the day after’ a heartfelt goodbye. It was the day of dueling feelings, fencing to the death. It was the day of overripe rain bursting on the gray pavement. It was the day I longed to dodge pigskin parties and swim in puddles down the sidewalk gutter. It was the day I had no idea what I was doing with my life. It was the day of self-indulgent melancholia.

I left the super bowl party right as the shiny coats appeared on stage to sing their half time melodies. Seattle was winning but I felt defeated. My mind, infused with regrets, concocted time altering, clock undoing, fantasies…including reversing my multiple bites of 7 layer dip. After an aimless walk, I went into a no name bar in the outer mission.

Split oak, a set of antlers, and five wobbly stools made up the interior. Behind the bar was a woman with breasts so ample I wanted to lay my head on them and sleep. Her face was leathery as if she had once won multiple bets on the “who can stay in the tanning bed the longest” game.

“Makers,” I ordered. ”Neat.”

Her garnet ringed hand poured me a generous helping. Five coats of mascara blinked through bleached blond bangs.

“Why aren’t you superbowlin’ ?“ she asked. Her blue eyes sparked and I wondered if she had been beautiful before UVB rays got the better of her.

“Lost interest after an hour. Contemplating my life decisions. Found the game trite.” My own importance swelled.

“Guess I can understand,” she said. “I used to be real into the NFL. Even cheerleaded in Chicago. But now that scene gives me the chills. Left that path a long time ago.”

“You were a cheerleader? A real one?” My own importance shrank like deflated rubber.

“NFL real, sweetheart. Well, real except for the boobs. The 80’s were an interesting time for cheerleadin’. Silicon breasts and gymnastics entered the game ’round the same time. Jumping sky high with stationary boobs was quite a revolutionary concept.  I was an early adopter.”

“How does a past NFL cheerleader end up serving whiskey?”

“How much time you got?”

“How much whiskey you got?”

She smiled.

“I was only in it for a season. Life happened fast. Everything you set out to do in your 20s changes shape and sprints away so quickly you can’t catch up. I thought I’d start as a pom pom girl, get famous, marry a player, get discovered by Hollywood, and win an academy award while having five children with my football husband.”

“Did you marry a football player?”

“Nope.  Just had a few flings, which ended up costing me my job. Not that it was much of a job. Back then I was paid about 20 bucks a game. Had to stay in tip-top shape to earn a poverty line salary. But for me, a girl from white trash Detroit, cheerin’ was a fast path to glamour.”

“Were you in love with the football players?”

“Love? In hindsight I’d say lust. Starlust. Even though they were kinda full of themselves it was sure a high to be with ‘em. Inter-dating between the players and cheerleaders was heavily discouraged though. ‘Look don’t touch’ was the policy. The poorly followed policy. I fell for one, a linebacker, and had my heart crumpled.

Best men I ever met in the game were the water boys. They were so kind and eager and had this hungry puppy look in their eyes. One, a boy named Charles, was super sweet to me. I was going through my sad breakup and he offered a shoulder to cry on.  Of course, the shoulder ended up getting me naked.“

“Of course…..”

The bartender laughed. “I was a looker back then you know.  Remember my ‘early adopter’ breasts? Can’t blame the boy.  But later I found out I was pregnant.  What a crisis. I was 22 and lost. What to do? Fork in my road. First of many forks.”

“What did you do?”

“Well somehow someone found out, gossip spread and I was let go from the team. I had to find a new job and a new life and I had to decide if a baby from a waterboy was going to be part of it. I’ll never know if I made the right choice.  But I did the best I could at the time which was to find the cleanest abortion clinic and a one way ticket to New York. One thought carried me through—at each fork in the road you do the best you can.”

My regrets stopped swimming in my own brain. Had I done the best I could? I leaned in to listen.

“Why New York?”

“All my cheerleadin’ traveling earned me friends everywhere. One had a bar that needed busty girls in Brooklyn. Thought I could leave all my dead baby thoughts after I left the midwest…but, of course they followed, haunting me. I changed jobs 18 times in four places—Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, and then here to San Fran. Probably did about everything one could do. Speakeasies, hotdog stands, sex store cash registers, dice inspecting, bourbon pouring, two failed marriages. Every job, every man, every city, a new fork in the road. And after a long jerky path, here I am. 51 years old, two ex-husbands, no kids, and a sorry lookin’ dachshund named Charlie. But I can still do the splits and got a great rack to boot. No point in feelin’ sorry for myself, right?”

“What about all those forks in your life?” I asked.

“Well, a fork in the road is hard, but it sure as hell is better than a knife.  At least every decision was mine.”

“What if you think you picked the wrong fork?”

“Trust me-both my husbands were the wrong fork….but once you make a decision, you can’t look back. You gotta just keep walkin’ for a bit and see what happens. Another fork will appear. Maybe it’s the same fork, maybe it’s a different fork, but it will appear. You’ll have more clarity that time around.”

I sipped my whiskey in thought, my melancholia affliction gone.

Superbowl Sunday. The day of human connection. The day wisdom scored more touchdowns than sadness. They day I learned to appreciate forks. The day I grew respect for the voice of cheerleaders.

Apologies are pointless, regrets come too late. What matters is you can move and you can grow.
–Kelsey Grammer

What is a Designer? My IDEO quest…

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.22.34 PM What is a designer?

Last year, I asked this question to a designer I was working with.  I had just joined IDEO, a place that believes everyone can be a designer. Everyone. Even moi- a business lead. However, I had a complex.  As a ‘type A’ MBA swimming in a sea of Design School pedigrees, I couldn’t shake a “them versus us” (or rather a “them versus me”) feeling. “Them” with their fancy European spectacles. “Them” with their provocative tattoos. “Them” with their ability to replicate MC Escher on a post-it note in 23 seconds flat.

And me. Me with my chain store glasses. Me with my unmarked body. Me with post-it panics when asked to draw a mere stick figure. I was, let’s face it, design uncool. I lacked confidence, especially creative confidence.

The designer answered me.

“A Designer has the ability to build something beautiful using intuition.”

I desperately wanted to be that definition.  An envy tantrum was building inside of me and words gushed out my mouth at warp speed.

“Can I be a designer?” I asked. “I think. I write. I would like to be a Designer!”

Seeking credibility, I cited resume tidbits hoping I could prove myself ‘designer worthy.’  A writing award here, an article published there, my undying hunger to document crazy experiences including a stint with other (naked) souls in the Esalen baths. (Surely that’s what Designers did?)

“You are missing the point,” he said. “Being a designer isn’t just your creative ability (that’s expression) but how you tune in to your intuition to create something wonderful for the human condition.”

“Is a writer a designer?” I asked.

“No,” he said. (Not necessarily, he meant)

“Is a painter a designer?” I asked.

“No,” he said. (Not that alone, he meant)

“Is a lawyer a designer?” I asked.

He raised an eyebrow.

“Heidi, what do YOU think it means to be a designer?”

The turned around question made my head hurt. My eyeballs darted furiously in their sockets, hoping to find a champion metaphor in the foggy air. I feared I’d be judged with a half finished thought dangling out of my mouth like a bird with an indigestible worm. I also worried I’d spout out a cliché. Designers hate clichés. I wanted to show my intuition. However, for this conversation my intuition said that I didn’t have time to find my intuition.

I answered quickly, “A Designer. Well it’s, well..it’s kinda like …er…fostering life…like how scientists create things in a petri dish…”

Petri dish? As soon as the words left my mouth I wished I could retract the sentence and burn it.

The Designer then cited the Kelley Brother’s new book, using words that were circling the halls of our studio, softly conveying the way that we worked.

“(To be a Designer) you need Creative Confidence. Creative Confidence is a way of experiencing the world that generates new solutions. And that experience should be centered in deep empathy by watching others. Let others be your inspiration!”

Hm. My version of ‘experiencing the world’ had mostly led to solutions for hangovers.  Maybe ‘experiencing’ didn’t need to be diving into one hedonist adventure after another, but perhaps just quietly watching others. I was inspired.

“Could I become a designer?” I asked.

“Yes,” he responded.


The designer stood up and looked me in the eye.

“Shut up, observe others, listen to your gut, believe in yourself, and build. Try it for a few weeks. And Heidi…” he paused. “Be patient.”

I decided to extend Patience, once my enemy, an olive branch and give it a whirl.

Many Weeks later…..

Being. Observing. Thinking. Believing. Building. Repeat.

I did this. Kindof. Some days my my mind was still a frenzied spiderweb of insecurity. Other days my lips hurt from talking too much. But on patient days, it worked.

On those days, I waited before talking. I watched others. I wrote down notes in my margins. I meditated. By (mostly) embracing quiet, I became highly sensitized. I shed my top epidermal layer like a snakeskin and ran around the city raw, acutely aware of everything around me. I was sensitized to light, smell, words, and actions. Even bad fonts made me uncomfortable.

In my sensitized state, I felt closely attuned to others.  It was through feeling their needs, that I started to see opportunities. The barista that spilled milk on her hand from the foaming pitcher needed a hand guard. The engineer in our office needed a nap room.  Our clients needed…..<enter highly confidential, saving the world metaphor here>

Ideas turned into words and words grew butterfly wings, swirling around my head.  Which ones would I capture? How could I communicate the vision?  Where was my post-it?

Recruiting the help of other Designers, I experimented with ‘idea belief’, confident that in all the post-its, we’d capture a nugget of possibility for a better, more beautiful world.  My ego retired and along with it went my complex. It was no longer my world, it was our world.

I ran into our Creative Officer.  I told him about the post I was writing about my desire to be a designer.  He interrupted me.

“Will you stop it with that? Nonsense. You ARE a designer.  I don’t want to hear anything else. You are a designer so believe it.”

I felt a surge of creative confidence.  I was a designer. With my intuition intact, I rejoined my team to build.

Don’t divide the world into “creative” and “non-creative.” Let people realize they are naturally creative. Let their ideas fly; let them achieve what Bandura calls self-efficacy. When people regain that confidence, magic happens.  - David Kelley

So You Wanna Be a Model? A Few Tricks of the Trade…..

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 9.35.43 AMMy fascination with models started at 14. My hair had just outgrown its tightly wound perm and my mother finally allowed me to get contact lenses to replace the hot pink coke bottle glasses that earned me the name ‘four eyed poodle’ in junior high.

“Mom if I cannot get contacts I am going to DIE,” I had stated.

And then-through Acuvue tinted lenses, my world changed.

“I think you are pretty,” said Brian Engels* at a school dance.

At first, I didn’t believe him, sure this was part of another prank where I was the punch line.

But Brian was serious. My destiny, once assumed to end up in a celibate nunnery, transformed. Not only did I believe him, but I embellished his sentence to epic proportions. Now I could become a Bond girl and save the world from sinister nuclear plots. IF I wasn’t first swooped up by high fashion to strut the catwalk in Dior. Yes, with Brian’s one sentence, I was convinced I was going to be a model.

I hastily read up on models; Niki Taylor, Claudia Schiffer, even Twiggy, determined to know everything about their path to fame. I refused to pierce my ears (I heard a rumor that it made earlobes sag) and took acting classes. After all, most models were really aspiring actresses.

Then my family moved to Washington and I was told that ‘pretty’ and ‘model pretty’ were two different things and who was I kidding…Brian Engels played Dungeons and Dragons and had weird taste.

I didn’t think about models again until 2010 when I embarked cross-country to interview different sorts of women. One was a model.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late.

Vicki* was a 38 year old Ford Model with vermillion eyes and sparkling white teeth. Before I met her, I assumed top models were sent to dog food factories after they turned 25. I was wrong. There was a whole 30 plus model business out there.

Vicki had posed as a career woman and as a (hot) mom in big brand advertising.

“Maybe you could be one too,” she told me when I admitted that I was in the dog food age grouping.

“Really?” I asked. My inner ‘poodle four eyes’ panted.

“How tall are you?” she asked.

“5’7,” I said, rounding up half an inch.

“Hm. You have to be at least 5’8” for Ford. Remember Kate Moss?  She barely squeezed by at 5’8” and starved herself to look proportionally taller.”

“Oh.” I said.

“But maybe there is a lesser agency in San Francisco.  You know-one that needs more ‘real people’ looks.  Lesser agencies aren’t as picky on height.”

A lesser agency?

Real people? (Short people?)

I was hooked. As those Dove commercials proved, a ‘real person’ model was still a model. I would soon be on my way to an international life of glamour and serve as an inspiration to all the other ‘real people.’

2. Like dating, it’s really a numbers game.  Someone is bound to find you attractive.

I hunted down the second tier agencies on the west coast, sent in my photos (only slightly enhanced), and glowing essays on my model ability including a new look I perfected called “Green Steel”.

I got a call from one of the second tiers and went in for an interview with a skinny, bronzed man named Slick.

“You have the look we need,” he said.

I didn’t bother to ask what ‘look’ that was, and signed the contract.

3.    Models should come with cash, free time, and patient friends

‘Second tier’ agencies sign contracts with LOTS of people; they never know what ‘look’ their clients may need—tall, short, pretty, not pretty, dwarfs. They also make YOU pay for your first photo shoot as well as upkeep of your digital assets.  From these ‘assets’ a client chooses 8-10 ‘models’ to come in for a (mute) casting call. These calls never happen with advance notice and usually are at a really inconvenient time like 11am on Tuesday. However I wasn’t daunted.  I knew this was a small price to pay for fame.

I was so excited with my new life that I worked the word “model” into every sentence I could.  “Oh you know, I shouldn’t eat that now that I’m modeling….”   “Oh yes, I WAS a strategist, but now, you know, I found another path as a MODEL” My friends rolled their eyes and stopped inviting me out to places where I would have to interact with people.

4.    Sometimes it matters what you look like

My first call was for a ‘mom’ representing a new cleaning supply.

“But I’m too young to be a mom,” I protested.

“Think of it as a young hot mom, you know, a MILF,” said Slick.

I entered the studio dressed in classic mom attire-a mid calf dress and easy makeup. There were eight other women in the room waiting. Eight women dressed in skin-tight leopard prints, stripper heels, and necklines designed to showcase silicon. Mascara was so thick it took them a full minute to blink, their eyelids struggling with the weight of Maybelline’s Great Lash.

Was I in the wrong room?  Had I accidentally been called for a shoot with aging prostitutes (maybe Slick was doing a documentary?). If these were real moms I should probably call CPS.

I called Slick first.

“No you are in the right place,” he said.  ”I said MILF.  That doesn’t mean “Mother I’d Like to Forget…”

I sighed and left the room, happily forgettable.

5. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you look like

My second call was for a Harley rider.  This was IT. My father had a Harley. This was going to be my big break of adrenaline and adventure. I spent hours putting on my edgiest makeup—I would look fierce and beautiful.

As soon as I came in they asked me to put on a jacket and helmet and turn around.

“Helmet? You don’t want to see my face?” I asked.

“No,” they said.

“Not even my eyes?  I have on edgy eyeliner.”

“Just put on the helmet.”

I spun around for critique in a stuffed jacket and helmet large enough for a 300 pound man. For their purposes I could have been a 300 pound man….

“Can you ride a motorcycle?” they asked. “This needs to look real”


I stalled the engine, fell, and got my helmet stuck.

I didn’t get called back.

6. Remember: All models are aspiring actresses!

The third call was for a commercial

“Do you have acting experience?” they asked.

Acting? THIS was going to be it. I wasn’t going to be some two bit mute model but rather an actress that SPOKE WORDS. It would start with a commercial, then a few indie films. In less than four years I’d be nominated for an Academy Award.

“I really want to thank Slick for giving me a start…”

“Excuse me, Ma’m-I asked if you had acting experience.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry.  I was a lead in High School-Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, oh and in Hamlet.  You know—Shakespeare “To be or not to be….”

“I know who Shakespeare is. Anything outside of High School?”

“Um.” My mind spun.

“I was recorded dancing the Lambada at a wedding in Brazil…it’s on Youtube.”

“Okay-uh, that’s fine.  Just read the script.”

I looked over the piece of paper the assistant passed me. The lines were words of appreciation for a chicken tender.  I was going to be a chicken tender actress?

After a terrible attempt feigning interest for processed poultry innards, I gave up and told Slick I should quit. ‘Green Steel’ was being underutilized.

7. Scars are fine as long as the bones are good

Slick said he had a new avenue for me.

“You have really nice hands—great bone structure.  Maybe you are better suited to be a hand model.”

“Hand model?” George Constanza on Seinfeld was a hand model.

I looked at my hands. There were both freckled (or were those AGE SPOTS?) and my left hand sported a jagged knife scar from a cooking accident.

What about these marks?” I asked

“Oh that doesn’t matter.  We can photoshop those out.”

“So it doesn’t really matter what hands look like to be a hand model?”

“Nope. As long as you have long fingers.”

I felt disillusioned. And ugly. I decided to formally resign from the world of second tier modeling and go back to strategy. Soon, my friends started calling me again. And that in itself made me feel beautiful. I celebrated by buying a new pair of glasses.

However, don’t let that daunt you. As you can see, modeling can really be for anyone.


ugly heidi

*names are changed to protect the range of innocent people that never wanted to appear on my blog, even if someday it makes them famous.

NonResolutions: NonImprovement Plans for 2014


When the calendar reset button approaches, our mind madly scurries to find ways to quiet our deep longing for vice. “We will be better next year!” we exclaim and hastily create New Year’s resolutions to transform ourselves into a better, slimmer, calmer, happier, richer and more sober replica of ourselves.

Many past New Year’s resolutions went something like this:

  • “I will never drink again. Correction-I will never drink more than 1 drink in one sitting* ever again. That drink will be limited to red wine because red wine has anti-oxidants and is good for us.”

*Clarification:1 sitting = 1 locale in a 60 minute time frame.

  • “I will no longer eat fried things. When the waitress asks which side I want with my organic veggie burger, I’ll pretend fries no longer exist (perhaps they died in the ’08 financial crisis) and eagerly ask for leafy greens with a slimming sounding dressing like ‘Green Goddess.’”
  • “I will exercise daily. I will join the Marina girls in their bright yellow leggings and perfectly formed buttocks at Soul Cycle class where I’ll spin away any evidence of past fried food to overplayed radio pop.”
  • “I will save money. In order to afford the $30/class that promises buttocks you can bounce a quarter off of (a small price indeed), I will put myself on a strict budget and buy less….shoes.  I’ll resist their pleas as they call out to me like Sirens from the storefront window (“Am I not beautiful?” “Come in and feel me on your foot!”) and walk by quickly in workout sneakers.  Walking saves cab money too.”
  • “I will become spiritual. I will go on a meditation retreat in Esalen where they have those naked hot springs and everyone pretends to have no body issues because they are so beyond such trains of physical thought. After its completion I will quietly sit on a hilltop once a week, freed from neuroses and perform meditation chants.  I will imagine each intruding thought a fluffy cloud like those in a Bob Ross painting and dismiss them, leaving my mind pure and my face unwrinkled.”
  • “I will talk less. With my new clear mind, I won’t repeat the same story at each dinner party and will simply smile and listen to others. People will assume I am a serene introvert and think the girl that once cut lines in Argentine clubs and slammed down her whiskey with a loud drunken laugh was someone different.  Someone who didn’t make New Year’s Self Improvement Resolutions.”

These wishes are on repeat every year, embarked upon in great earnest once January 1st emerges like a phoenix out of ashes. As days go by, and life happens, we falter.  Sometime during March when the weather is particularly gloomy, our old selves reappear right when we are embarking upon a detoxifying juice cleanse.

“Ha!” our old self shouts,“You thought you could lose me, didn’t you?  But I’ve caught up…Now drop that glass of pureed kale!”

In order to avoid this annual failure of ourselves perhaps we should make claims we can stick to.  Perhaps we make claims for NONIMPROVEMENT and cherish the results that may happen.

NONResolutions for NONImprovement:

  • “I will improve my alcohol tolerance. I will ensure I can drink MORE than a glass per sitting so that I can be the gracious host of whiskey nights and wine tastings and allow alcohol, the social lubricant, to unite us. Generosity will be demonstrated through pours and after the 5th swallow we will all become more honest and vulnerable and admit that we are not so perfect and do stupid things, like NYE ’09 when someone lost their pants in a Colorado snowstorm (aka The night of the fallen snow angel).”
  • “I will exercise LESS. I won’t join any cult workout that makes me feel worse about my lessening coordination (is it aging or the whiskey that makes me fall off of my bike?). I’ll stop my mad fanaticism to have a perfect body and relax and slow down and enjoy reading a book (and no, not while I am on the treadmill).”
  • “I will eat MORE fat. Odd you may think, but since I’ve been counting calories in everything from a club sandwich (630) to a stalk of celery (negative 2 if you chew it for long enough) since I was 14, I decided that it would be better to enjoy food instead of viewing it as an adversary, each bite decision a calculated algorithm comprised of savory taste and caloric mass. Positives of fat: 1. More fat on the face reduces the appearance of wrinkles. 2. Not obsessing about fat provides more brainpower for spiritual enlightenment.”
  • “I WILL meditate but I WON’T pretend it will have magical powers to transform my personality.  Perhaps instead of despising aspects of myself (like repeating stories) I’ll learn to LIKE myself (at least in moderation) and stop trying to pretend to be someone with perfect posture and silent wisdom and instead let my loud laugh fill the room, a room filled with people that are as flawed* as I am. And happy.


*Note: The insertion of the picture above does not mean the people in it are ‘flawed’. Many probably made good self improvement plans for 2014. But they are all happy in their vice. Some ate pulled pork and biscuits for breakfast with me on New Year’s Day.

Unconventional Gratitude…from Razor Blades to Wrinkles

photo (5)Every Thanksgiving we Americans pause, go around the table laden with caloric tradition, and say what we are grateful for.  Usually this includes something like “My adoring friends and family”, “My wonderful career”, and of course some embarrassed admission that we can afford much more food than we can possibly consume.

Instead of creating an ode to mashed potatoes, what if we gave gratitude to things that profoundly challenged or changed us?  Below are a few starters…


1. The Homeless

Every holiday thousands of people volunteer to help out at soup kitchens, confident that the homeless are grateful for our work. But how many times have we thanked them for what they have given us in return? I recently met a young man who moved here from Italy. He told me that if it were not for the homeless he wouldn’t have learned English.  “When I arrived I didn’t really speak and no one was patient with me. My accent was too strong and my salary was too low to afford proper English classes.” One night after buying a few pizza slices, he gave them out to homeless men on the street and started talking. “They laughed and then helped me, teaching me words. They kept repeating things until I got them.” He went back every night to share pizza, talk and learn. ” I remember when I went into the office and greeted my boss with “Hey buddy how’s it hanging?” The Italian finally felt integrated in the American community.

 2. Razor Blades

Self mutilation is hardly the stuff of Thanksgiving day blogs, even if it is metaphorical in reference. But I admit it–I regularly cut myself with self doubt.  Before you reprimand me for a dirty habit, think again. I’m grateful for painful self awareness because it is how I regenerate to become better. In politically correct California we are intoxicated on positive thinking and rarely say (or think) the negative. Thankfully, my design firm upholds both high standards and constant (critical) feedback. My writing group echoes the same practice and rips apart everything I write, my bad metaphors left to die under red corrective ink.  After my ego has been properly hacked away at, I then take over, finishing the work with razor like precision, cutting away the bad parts so that the light can shine through. After a day of destruction, both and I my writing emerge anew, ready to reconstruct a more beautiful picture. If we didn’t allow the pain of sharp critique, I worry we’d never become any better.  I’m grateful for it.

 3. My Grandfather’s Last Words

I grew up traversing the globe like a pirate as my family moved from place to place. I spent just as much time making friends as I did leaving them. However, my mother made sure we went back to our homeland every year. “At least you will know your grandparents,” she said. My Montanan grandparents became close to me and lovingly watched me stumble through life. When cancer ate away at my Grandfather, he choose his last words to me carefully.  He didn’t say “It will all be okay, you’ll do well.” What he said was, “Heidi, you’re made of steel. Know that.”

Damnit, I’m so grateful for these words, permanently etched in my mind. Sometime things are NOT okay. But if he thinks I’m made of steel, I’ll prove him right.

 4. Aging

Just a year ago I was plagued with age neuroses.  I was so afraid of the changes time had on my body that I wanted leap up to the master clock, impale myself on the hour hand and force it back to remove the years. Youth is beauty and beauty seemed crucial to my Raison d’être.  However, a young, beautiful body is also a vehicle of tragedy (more on that later) and often limits our true potential.  We get both judged and side tracked by the external – all forgetting that our true essence is in our minds. As I get older, I get less cat calls, but I also have more in depth conversations. I look fondly at the crow’s feet starting to grace my eyes, grateful for their existence.  In many ways, they have freed me. I can focus on my insides now.

5. Insignificance 

The ocean makes me feel insignificant. Its depth and might can erase my life in one crashing wave. In the past six years of surfing, I’ve had my fair share of near death wipeouts and once even had my head cut open by a wayward fin.  Why do I go back?  It teaches me patience. It humbles me. It encourages me to embrace the unpredictable.  Plus I am reminded that life is fleeting and we are one small speck in its continuum. This feeling of insignificance erases any entitlement and makes me appreciate everything that is given to me-especially a glassy, rolling 5 footer.

As I head off to the ocean today, I’ll bow to the sea and thank it for allowing me the honor to ride it once again.

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” 
― W.T. Purkiser

Marry A Man Who Doesn’t Read

In the spirit of Date an Illiterate girl and to show two sides of a Sliding Doors moment, I’ve painted a picture of a few possible outcomes for the choices we make in love.

Marry a Man Who Doesn’t Read (and Has a Nice Watch)

Marry a man who doesn’t read literature. Or paint works of art or make music. Marry this man for he is as safe as his spoon fed television with predicable plots, canned laughter and happy endings.

Meet the man who doesn’t read literature at a trendy happy hour where you toss your hair like you’re flirting and he buys you a “Sauv Blanc.”  Size up his income by the watch on his left hand and decide he’s the one.

Go home with this man to his place but ignore the scantily clad bookshelf that contains titles about successful habits and good to greatness and how to use chopsticks for these, not a haiku collection, mark success. Have sex on his black leather sofa and claim you are girl that never does these things and he must be special.

Let him take you to dinners at fashionable places where you order the salad with pine nuts for protein and fat free dressing on the side. Listen to his dream plan of corporate ladders, season tickets to the niners, and how he hopes to settle down and buy a place in the suburbs and take care of you while you pop out children with his DNA.

When you tastily lick your cabernet glass clean, suppress the urge to deplete the bottle, coat your throat with meaty red and dive into artistic drunkenness. Stop. Let him pour you water. With him, you’ll stay proudly sober and never spill wine and spew run on sentences with emotional frenzy. Learn to put your fork down after your salad and not beg for dessert so he knows you’re restrained and will stay slim forever.

Stop using overcomplicated words, Sartre quotes and hedonistic references to “The Playa”. Get you teeth professionally whitened to hide signs of midnight cigarettes and afterhours espresso and take up grown up things like Pilates and lunching.

Let him propose with a perfectly formulated solitaire that weighs down your left hand with a permanent ache. On cue he says “it’s not a blood diamond” from a African country you’ll never visit and you smile and cry as if this were your biggest life aspiration.

Get married in a church with bridesmaids in dresses that match your flower arrangements and walk down the aisle in perfect beat to Here Comes the Bride and suppress all desires to jump on the back of someone’s motorcycle and escape to Mexico to let your hair stream wild in the wind.

Buy a house together that has bedrooms for your future children and is near a specialty grocery store with organic deli meats. Let moderation beget moderation and settle into a predicable pattern than makes your parents finally stop worrying. Rent out your one bedroom condo where you thought you’d once die alone with  twelve cats and three hundred books. He has saved you.

And days turn into months and months turn into years and eventually he’ll get sick with a preventable disease and you’ll wheel him in his chair and feed him mush and wonder what would have happened if you choose the man with the cheap watch and velcro wallet.

Don’t Fall in Love with a Creative.  

Don’t even give him a second glance. For if you succumb, you’ll never be safe.

Instead you will ride the waves of passion and despair, never knowing when each will end. You’ll become an addict to drama and a skeptic of the conventional, unclear how your chaotic patterns could ever formulate a linear life progression known as the American Dream…even though sometimes you secretly covet it if only for a chance to breathe normally.

Don’t fall in love with a writer.  He’ll haunt you from the first day you meet with brooding eyes and dark hair and a T.S. Eliot paperback neatly packed under his left arm.

You’ll meet him at the one remaining wifi-less coffee shop and he’ll quote existentialist writers to describe the moment until you leap over your foamy cappuccino to kiss him violently because nothing is more seductive than a man who appreciates syntax.

Don’t fall in love with a writer because he knows great love stories have tragedy and the best are killed off or at the least cast aside and and he says goodbye to his favorites as easily as he sips his black coffee.

He’ll teach you that monogamy is a word for young adult novels and life is so much more complicated filled with chance happenings and twisted plots and unwanted surprises…some named Jolie, his assistant. You’ll have heartbreak so great you’ll cower on your floor for three days. “It just makes a better story,” he says.

Ignore the irony of a writer giving you a cliché.

Don’t fall in love with a painter. He’ll lure you with temporary adoration when you meet at a two bit gallery opening and he’ll woo you by asking to paint you nude. You nervously agree (how conventionally unconventional, you think) and enter his easel of a house and fall into soft vulnerability as you stand near the sun soaked windows allowing your stomach pouch from too many chocolates to be beautiful.  He commits your body to memory as his brush traces the outline of your curves in perfect silence. For an instant you are his muse.

He’ll teach you how to see things differently like how moths wings shimmer at dusk. When drowsiness tickles your forehead he’ll say “Sleep is for the dead,” and you’ll traverse the streets making up your own constellations.  3am will become a delicate strand of a spiderweb, glistening in the moonlight with its fragility. You want to gulp down the moment in a frenzy as because nothing was this good ever and you fear its impermanence so might as well get crazy high on each second…

And then the moment is gone, the blue phase over and another has begun.

Don’t fall in love with a musician. You’ll be a groupie of his genius lyrics and soulful strums but you’ll always be second to his art and his public for his job is not a job but a passion that torments his soul like a cancer.  Which is why you love him.

He’ll play at odd times and introduce you to odd people and odd substances that keep your eyes wide and heart racing and in the morning you always wonder what the hell happened until you put your head in the nook of his shoulder and feel safe like a small leaf on an oak tree until the music starts and you once again become the second fiddle.

Ah yes, don’t fall in love with a creative. He’ll desperately need you then not need you at all and the pain from this very matter of fact statement torments like the beat of the rain on your single paned window.

And you may never marry because that’s too traditional and you may still die alone under your books with cats eating away your eyeballs. You ride the waves unknowing how this passion endures or your life unfolds. And you wonder if it had been better to date an illiterate man with a nice watch instead.

Building Relationships in Urban Anonymity: A Tale of Two Peruvians

photo (2)Us urbanites live in a world of intimate anonymity. We routinely interact with people for years yet rarely discover more than one fact about them. For example, I knew my barista had a fetish for orange nail polish, she knew I was particular about my milk temperature (185 degrees).  I knew my corner grocer took secret smoke breaks during downtime, he knew I bought Nutella at midnight.

This was all we knew about one another. In my lightening fast life, I never quite found the time to fully flesh out the characters that surrounded me. What if I slowed down to ask questions and build them out? I decided to start with two women I saw each day at work.

Monica and Roberta were Peruvian sisters with wise faces and busy hands. They took care of the IDEO café and as a result, us. They ensured we had homemade soup, fresh baked cookies, and clean dishes every week. They politely looked the other way when I gobbled 3 cookies in a row and complimented my Spanish even after I mutilated a verb conjugation. Outside of their kindness, I knew very little about them.  In my best Spanglish, I asked if I could interview them over lunch. They smiled and agreed.

Monica, the youngest, was plump and jovial, talking excitedly with shiny adjectives. Roberta, four years older, was petite and demure, choosing her words as carefully as IDEOers choose their fonts.  We only talked for an hour but Monica and Roberta morphed from one-dimensional sketches to real people with beautiful stories.

Start With a Name

The first thing I learned was Monica’s real name. “It’s Emperatriz,” she said.  “But no one can say that.   So I use my middle name, Monica.“

The second thing I learned was their first language-it was Quechua, the ancient tongue of the Incas.  Spanish was second, and English third, learned as soon as they moved to the US in their 20s.

Few American expats take the time to learn the language of the country they occupy. Even fewer change their name to ease the local’s pronunciation bias. As English speakers we are either lucky or lazy.

Peru-Simple Pleasures

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 3.52.58 PM

Empatatriz – Monica and Roberta were two out of 12 children born in a Peruvian mountain valley in the early 1950’s.

“Such a happy childhood,” said Roberta.

“Oh yes, said Monica. “We’d swim in the lagoons when they were full from the rain, we’d run in the fields, and we’d play with the calves…they were so loveable.”

Their parents were farmers and spent long days working the land to feed the family. There was one harvest a year so they had to preserve food for the remaining 11 months.

“We made dried jerky, cheeses, quinoa, and beer,” said Roberta.

Monica added, “Our mother made it all happen-she was the head of the house. She told our father every night what he had to do with the food, livestock and children.  She was a smart woman! Smart even though she never went to (high) school.”

“Women in that day didn’t go to school. They were only to be housewives,” said Roberta.

Roberta and Monica were allowed to study, although Roberta left before graduation when an older sister sent her a plane ticket to come to San Francisco.

Coming to America

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 3.52.04 PM“My sister had always invited me,”said Roberta. “Probably because I wasn’t married and could leave. I was scared and always said no. Then she sent an affidavit and a plane ticket.  With that, I had to go.  The flight to the US was my first time on a plane in my life.  I’ll never forget—November 1978. I was 26.”

She promptly went to school to learn English and took a job as a janitor.  Two years later Monica came with her husband in tow.

“The first year was hard.  I was suffering.  It was so different, the food, the language, the air.  We cried all the time,” said Monica.

“But, in the US you can live so much better if you push on and work hard,” said Roberta.

“Yes, that’s all you need, hard work,” Monica said.  “In Peru you must have four year college degree from good university and money to do anything, even go to a restaurant. People look at how you dress.” Monica explained that strict dress codes automatically prohibited the common Peruvian from entering finer establishments.

“If you don’t have money, don’t go in!”

Roberta said, “That’s different in the US. Everyone can go in! One day we went to fancy restaurant after we finished work. All day cleaning. We were tired and dirty and in jeans but we went in.”

“I’ll never forget the waitress!” Monica chimed in excited. “She came up with a towel over her arm, very proper, and instead of kicking us out, asked us what we wanted to order. She didn’t care about our dirty jeans! That’s America!”

Born Entrepreneurs

r+m“You can do anything here.” Monica said. “So we started a business.” After janitorial and clerical odd jobs, Monica and Roberta started a business together in the 80’s making silk screen ‘tourist sweatshirts’ adorned with cable cars and bridge silhouettes. They sold them at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey.

“It was a very good business,” said Monica.  One night we piled up the stacks of dollars and counted.  It was $10,000!”

“No, $12,000….it was $12,000!” corrected Roberta.

They saved enough money to buy a house where they all lived together.

After the 1989 earthquake, business plummeted but the sisters adapted. Roberta used her seamstress skills to make drapes and Monica drove a bus.  However, the entrepreneur urge stirred again and they soon started a janitorial business with IDEO as a client. They clean and thankfully for us, also cook up amazing dishes.

“In Peru we couldn’t work at our age!” said Monica.  “We wouldn’t be able to get work past age 30 unless we had a degree from a four year college.

“Here we work and we have money and we travel!”

A Woman’s Heart

Monica and her husband are still together and have two children. “It’s not like Peru where children stay close,” she said. “In the US they grow up and fly away. My daughter said to me ‘I have my wings so I can leave now.’ ”

I asked if Roberta was married.

“I am single,” she said.

I looked at the 62 year old women in the eye, hoping to lure out a secret.

“Was there ever a man….” I asked. “Un gran amor?”

Monica answered for her. “Yes, an Austrian!”

Roberta shook her head. “No no, not him. No.”

“They say a woman’s heart is like a treasure chest, with many gems inside….” I said, hoping to uncover a secret flame.

She smiled, “We say that we have ‘dos cofres’, two chests. One is for the mind and the other is for the heart.”

We looked at each other and an understanding passed between the deep parts of our eyes.

She sighed, “There is someone.”

Monica interrupted, “What? I didn’t know this!”

Roberta waved her hand. “Oh, no secret. I’ve known him for 19 years. We are amigos. Only friends.  But he is in my treasure chest.”

The Importance of a ‘Young’ Family

When I asked if Roberta ever wanted children Monica answered, “But she has them!  To my children she is “second mom.”

Roberta laughed, “Yes, I get a second mom card every mother’s day! I love them.”

Roberta mentioned a trip she took with Monica’s daughter in 2008 to Italy.

Monica laughed, “My daughter put her in a backpack!  Roberta was a backpacker!”

“Yes, said Roberta, “I stayed in hostels and took trains.  I couldn’t be slow. If I didn’t go fast I would get yelled at. ‘Run Auntie Run!’ my niece would say.”  She laughs. “I felt really young with her until I looked at myself in the mirror. Then I was reminded of my age.”

“But we ARE young,” said Monica.  We hike and walk.  Some people act like old people at 22. Not us. We will always be young. Our mother is 103 years old.  She is still a girl!”

Roberta and Monica showed me photos from their albums, filled with ethnic dance shots, family portraits, and many smiles.

Sharing lunch and life tales didn’t make us best friends, but it did move us away from being strangers.  My IDEO world, once vast, started to get a little smaller and warmer. And now I have another reason to visit Peru.

On this shrunken globe, men can no longer live as strangers.- Adlai E. Stevenson 


The entire family in Peru from the 70s to the 2000′s….

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How to Mess Up Your Online Identity (#FAIL)

“The Web can and will influence how others perceive you, both personally and professionally”

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.27.56 PMSigh. In the past month I’ve sent people to porn, tweeted out my neuroses, participated in humblebragging, and enabled my burning man photos to go viral.

When it came to protecting my online identity I was embracing the “Fail Fast, Fail Often” methodology.  Below are top fails, what I learned, and what I’m (not) going to change.


Top Ways to Have a Flawed Online Persona

#1. Get your website hacked

“Have you gone into the porn industry?” asked I men I recently went out with.

“Um, no.  Why?” I asked.   This wasn’t my typical conversation with a date.

“When I tried to show your website to a friend, claiming you were a great girl, it took him to gratuitous pictures of buttocks. Naturally he wondered how we met.”

My site hack was redirecting readers to a $2.99 porn application depicting women reaching orgasm in 2 minutes in very uncomfortable looking positions. I was losing creditability fast.

Desperate to correct, I went through 3 programmers, a few hundred dollars, and countless backdoor script scrubs to get clean.  Lesson learned-always monitor your presence and keep your site updated to ensure it’s representing YOU. The other lesson—hacks will happen to all of us at some point.  Correct quickly. Ask for forgiveness. Then move on. We’re all fallible.

# 2 Post about Dior, not The Economist

After I posted a quote claiming shoes were a crucial measure of a woman’s elegance on Facebook, I received another concerned phone call.

“Shoes? Don’t you worry that people will think you are trite?” asked a friend. “You should be crusading for the female spirit, not the female foot!”

“But I like shoes…” I protested.

“Heidi, no matter.  Your public doesn’t need to know about your material obsessions. If you ever want to be published in the New Yorker you must come across as intellectual.  You read The Economist—quote that.”

If I were to be honest with ‘my public’ I’d admit that the last three issues of The Economist were unopened whereas every page of the last Vogue received a delicious rubdown.

At IDEO we pride ourselves on bringing ‘our whole self to work’. Couldn’t I also bring my ‘whole self’ online?

I had a choice-I could edit my posts and present a pristine academic Heidi picture to the world (wearing sensible shoes, quoting Angela Merkel), or I could just keep barreling down life like a bull in a china shop (or a Manolo Blahnik store), and post my stream of conscious reflections.

Is this self-sabotage? Perhaps. But it’s also real.

#3 Pose in costume as much as possible

In San Francisco, we love costumed occasions, from SantaCon to the Superhereo Street Fair to just deciding to dress up as a pirate on Tuesday. Every costume is captured online. After all, if you didn’t ‘instagram it’, it didn’t really happen.  However, it can be a bit awkward when photos suddenly surface in a business setting.

“Isn’t this you, here?” asked a prospective client, showing a photo where I was grinning in a white tutu, boa, and glitter.  “Apparently you were at the same party as my team.”

There was nothing I could say to alter the evidence. A photograph is worth a thousand words and there I was clad in feathers with the client’s underlings.

“Maybe it’s my cousin…she resembles me in glitter… Now about that deliverable…” I stammered, trying to regain composure and show that I was still a power-suited force to be reckoned with.

“Yeah, we can talk about the deliverable…but I want to know more about the party. I wish I could let down my hair like you guys do at a design firm.”

I was shocked.  Were we getting personal in business?  Did I have permission to have a costumed ‘outside life?’  If they knew I was more than corporate, could they still trust me with their money?

By revealing more of ourselves (er, literally more) we enable those around us to see our unsuited human side. Maybe business doesn’t have to be ‘business’ all the time and we could carve out time for play.  By showcasing our silliness, we help others break out of their shell, empower them to be creative, and forge deeper bonds.  I’m sure there are boundaries but I have no idea where they are right now.

Identity Fail Conclusion

All in all I decided to ensure my online persona represented ME.  Not the hacked me, not the edited me, but the real me. If I dance like no one is watching, I’ll post like no one is judging.  Is this better for business?  I honestly don’t know yet.  But it’s an experiment worth trying.

All discomfort comes from suppressing your true identity.
-Bryant H. McGill

My Dirty Secret

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 8.05.16 PM It was one of those San Francisco drizzle dusks where you couldn’t tell where the fog ended and the rainclouds started.  Dressed in a black trench coat, I met an old colleague outside the warm glow of a Brasserie sign. It was time to confide a dark secret.

“You’ll never believe this, “I whispered. “I’m happy. Madly happy.”

“What!” she exclaimed and pulled me into the wet shadows, nervously looking around to ensure no one had heard me.

“That’s obscene!”

“I know.”

“You are still single, paying rent in the same apartment you’ve had since your 20s and among the few ’04 MBA women without an executive level title. How could you possibly be happy?”

“I have no idea. It’s such a conundrum. I don’t know what to do.”

“Heidi,” she said, her face pale, “How on earth will you be motivated to attain anything in life if you are already content?”

She had a point. I wasn’t motivated to do much outside of what I was already (happily) doing.

We all covet happiness. Yet society only seems to bestow it to those who had slaved away in Calvinist fervor, hoping their toils would be rewarded in a later life (aka retirement).  Is happiness meant to be earned?  “I’ve worked really hard to get here and enjoy myself” people like to boast at dinner parties.  No one wants to be thought of as lazy.  Or unmarried. Singledom is a sure sign that you must be unworthy. (God forbid you just want to be free).

When I told my parents about my new found happiness that didn’t center around a diamond ring or career promotion, they seem baffled.

“Well, we are happy you are happy but also confused,” Dad said.  “Why, when we were your age, we had two homes and two small children!  What do you have to say for yourself?  Too bad you’re not like your friend Mazz with regular quotes in the Wall Street Journal…”

“Well, I do have this blog that’s gaining attention…..”

“Where you tell the world you are frolicking nude in a desert festival…

“Um. Right.”

I was ashamed. Had I turned into a happiness thief?  Instead of earning my euphoria was I just stealing it from hedonistic moments at hippy festivals?

Despite a few past bouts with impulsiveness, I always tried to temper my bohemian tendencies with “THE PLAN” and dutifully try to meet society’s expectations. THE PLAN consisted of running my own company, organizing charity dinners, 2.5 children, and a venture capitalist husband who wrote me poetry at night while massaging my feet. But every time I tried to meet this ideal, I became cagey and agitated. From dinner party dishes to business case proposals, I obsessed on perfection and missed out on the joys of the present moment…and present person. If you recall from a previous blog post, my perfection neuroses became so bad, I hung an overcooked pork tenderloin from the ceiling with a suicide note.

THE PLAN was strangling me. I finally looked it squarely in the eye. “F – You PLAN. I’m moving on without you.” Unburdened by expectation or timing, I could now deliciously ride life’s waves, taking risks on crazy projects and people.  Insanity is, after all, the neighbor of genius.

heidi laughing

Did living impulsively mean I had failed? I had read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean in.  I knew women were supposed to carefully plot their career steps and husband choice starting at age 24.  I wondered if Sheryl would look at me with disapproving eyes, “Wipe that smile off your face, young lady,” she would say.

But I can’t. Plus, I’m not sure I want any of the things in THE PLAN anymore. What a relief. I’m too busy enjoying my undeserved happiness.

“Everyone praises the endurance of the ascetic, but no one appreciates the stamina of the hedonist. To laugh until the throat burns and smoke a cigar to soothe it, to black out but not pass out, to love without climax, to be immortal in the moment – what stoic has such fortitude?”
― BauvardOzark Nights

Burning Man Lessons from A Newbie

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“I’ll never go to Burning Man,” I always said.  “It’s full of hairy armpit hippies having orgies in the dust while hallucinating Jesus.”

“Well, yes, there IS that,” said a friend. “But there is a lot more too.  Music, community, gifts, art, painted naked people… trust me—you’ll transform.  It will be good for you.”

“Hmmpf,” I thought. “I’m a yuppie. I worked in fashion. I will never become one of those naked painted people…..even if it is Chanel Paint.”

Now back with glitter in my eyes, dust in my tutu, and a faint recollection of being a naked painted person, I realize my friend was right.  I let go. I transformed.

Here is how…..

Going Down the Rabbit’s Hole

Burning Man’s Black Rock City is an annual festival in the desert that has over 60,000 people in attendance.  It’s 110 degrees during the day and 40 degrees at night. There is no running water or electricity, just crazy theme camps with people in scantily clad costumes.  People come from all over the world to put up art installations, play music on large stages, create “art cars” (decorated vehicles in the shapes of fantastical animals and two level dance platforms), dance and make meals for those around them.  You must accept the extreme conditions, extreme people, and extreme experiences.  The only thing you really need to bring is water and an open mind.

Allowing Serendipity

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They say that anytime you make plans, God laughs.  In Burning Man’s Black Rock City, planning was a recipe for disappointment. There were no cell phones or email, just multiple camps begging you stop what you were doing and join their festivities. On my second night there I was at dinner scanning the crowd for my friends at our agreed upon hour.  I was so busy searching that I was missing my evening.  “Stop seeking, “ I told myself.  Just BE HERE NOW.  I took off my watch and finally let go of what was supposed to happen and open myself up to what COULD happen.  My cousin magically found me and escorted me to mystical performance. I randomly hopped aboard an art car departing for the outer desert where I made new friends.  I rode my bike aimlessly and met up with a French Canadian who brought me to an event in the Temple. None of these delights would have happened had I stuck to a plan.

Embracing The Impermanent

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A year ago at an Esalen meditation retreat I learned that the only thing permanent was impermanence. In Black Rock City, nothing lasts- not the music, nor your group of friends, nor your state of mind. You must seize the moment you are in, licking its insides and then gracefully let it go once the wind picks up and you are carried away to something new.

One night I fell in love with a man dressed in a wolf headdress (yes, you heard that correctly). We danced until the wee hours and made plans to find each other again.  But how? Could I place a “Missed Connection” in the Burning Man Daily?  My friends urged me, “Forget about the wolf man. Wrap the moment in a bow and move onto the next treasure the desert presents you with.“ If things on the playa were meant to last they wouldn’t be so special.  Not committing was foreign to me but I was in a foreign land. I had to let go of the American notion of “ever lasting” and instead embraced “ever changing.” Allowing change was the best way to avoid disappointment.

Every Gift is a Treasure

Black Rock City is built upon a premise of gifting. There is no money, no bartering, only gifts to be freely given without expecting anything in return.  As I pedaled my bike through the dusty roads I was offered jasmine scented mist showers, watermelon slices, champagne, and rides on an orgasm machine. All I had were some silly fortunes written inside plastic eggs, -a seemingly silly comparison to the alcohol and sex others offered. I was too embarrassed to pass them out until my new art car friends urged me to. In the remote playa we found a “Maze.” The maze was a 50 x 50 room filled with white shag carpet and white streamers hanging from the ceiling.  “Find people in the maze and pass them out there,” said my new friend.  I shyly walked through the streams, pulling them apart to make my offering to people. “Would you like a fortune egg?” I asked, feeling ridiculous. Each individual opened the egg and pulled out my piece of paper with semi legible writing. “This is exactly what I needed to hear,” said one and gave me a hug.   “Really, it wasn’t stupid?” I asked. “No. The fact that you even thought to do something meant the world.” Perhaps it is indeed, the thought that counts.

Self Acceptance

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I always write about ‘naked’ in terms of internal nakedness.  For me, this is easier than being externally naked. As a woman, I always carefully monitored my body, never satisfied with how it compared to magazine models or the other girls in the gym locker room.  Clothes were a necessity to mask imperfections. But then, one early morning I urgently needed to use the restroom. I was too tired and frantic to find my clothes in my emergency state and decided to trek out to the porta potty nude.  Surely no one would be out at 6am.

Everyone was out at 6am.

I breathed a sigh and scampered to the porta potta mecca down the road, attempting to suck in my stomach and stick out my chest at the same time.  I then tripped, lost all composure, and fell into a dusty version of ‘bad naked”.  Someone stopped me as I picked myself up. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked.  As I meekly nodded, she added. “Well, I just have to tell you that you are the most beautiful woman.”  I was convinced she had dust in her eyes but quickly realized that I was the one who couldn’t see straight.  Everyone here on The Playa was beautiful.  People were so confident with their bodies that they brazenly adorned and displayed them, fully appreciated in each size and shape.  There was no shame, only pride.  I thanked her and concluded that in the case of clothing and beauty, perhaps less means more.

Group Acceptance

At Burning Man there is every type of person and every type of experience.  There were yogi camps and music camps, kids camps and gay camps.  You could meditate or dance, drink or fast. Somehow it all worked beautifully together and all eccentricities were accepted. Not once did I even think to ask what anyone did for a living or how many stamps they had in their passport. I instead asked about dreams and ideas, especially interested if they were different from my own. When I finally walked by the hairy armpit hippy camp, I didn’t mock it but instead smiled.  They made up part of our universe. They also gifted really nice muffins.

All in all I had an amazing experience.  And I’ll be back. The only thing I’ll do differently is bring more fortune eggs.

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Stop Talking: Making Less More.

a woman's mouth sealed with a scotch tapeWe’ve all heard the phrase “Less is more” but how often to we really employ this?  We are always seeking “more.”  Say more, do more, be more.

As another birthday descends upon me, I feel a case of the ‘more neuroses’ coming on. Have I done enough? Or is my life one big chaotic ‘less’ compared to my peers? After all, they’ve managed to publish books, run companies, buy homes and adopt children from Uganda while my main accomplishment is outsmarting the parking ticket administration. Sigh.  My ‘less’ is as uncomfortable as wearing a big itchy wool sweater during San Francisco’s August when everyone else is frolicking in bikinis somewhere warm. I am desperately trying to figure out how I can squeeze in ‘more’ before I hit another age mile marker.  Can I get married, finish a book, and hike Mt Rainer by next week? Probably not. Thus, this birthday it’s time to embrace less….and be happy doing so. Perhaps ‘more’ will be my reward.

 Less Talking 

In efforts to take initiative and be seen as ‘smart’ I sometimes make directive comments at meetings. Okay, perhaps I do this more than sometimes. The problem with wanting to express (more) ideas is that they go into a large ‘idea pile’ where no one can distinguish the good from the bad. There is always the sage designer to my right who sits still, listens, and chimes in at the end of the meeting with one beautifully packaged nugget of brilliance. Everyone loves him. I want to *be* him. But unfortunately I have a rare condition known as “diarrhea mouth.” A friend offered a cure. “Take 3 poker chips to each meeting. Each chip represents your allowance to speak.  Use them wisely, because once they are gone, you cannot talk anymore.”

3 poker chips?!

“What if I build off of what someone else is saying,” I ask.  “Can I get a ‘free chip’.”

“No,” he said.

I grudgingly tried this at my last meeting. Instead of focusing on everything I was going to say, I listened to to the conversation and wrote down my thoughts.  When I felt no one had covered a point I had drawn up, I spoke up and cast in a chip. At the end of the meeting I had only spoken twice and the wise designer commented on how valid my points were.  Had I ‘outsaged’ the sage with my carefully placed bets?

 Less Love

Regardless if we are single, married or asexual, we all want more love in our lives.  From our friends,  families, and romantic partners. But trying to force more often results in less.

Last year, a male friend read over my letter to a romantic interest. “You are using all those flowery adjectives. I don’t think he’ll make it to the bottom. Which may be a good thing since you have a quote from Shakespeare down there.” Right.

The email letter incident was a significant improvement from my last love letter a few years ago where I constructed a handwritten note, sprayed it with perfume, and sealed it with hot wax before sending it ‘par avion”.

“You’re going to scare him.  Be more mysterious. Reveal less.”

“I have a blog,” I retorted, “I’ve revealed more than Madonna.”

“Well, maybe don’t send out the link quite yet.”

Holding back isn’t easy for me. If I like something or someone I typically need to express it right away.  Sometimes in rhyme. However, by refraining from detailing my feelings gives the other person a chance to reveal theirs over time…and *then* I can determine if they are worthy of the letter effort. Is my newfound silence working? I would tell you but I’m trying to be mysterious.

 Less Exercise

In the past five years I have had two torn ankles, three stress fractures, and one odd sea urchin spine removal surgery.  With the exception of the pesky sea urchin (never surf on the beaches of Sayulita, Mexico!), the others could have been prevented had I just not done a few double workouts.  Stress fractures are a overuse injury and I was definitely overusing my body in attempts to be “more” and fit into the same dress I had in college. Doing more actually resulted in less as I spent a good portion of the last five years on crutches.  You can’t really wear a dress on crutches.

My doctor told me “If you want to run at age 80 then you need to run less now.  Plus you can get a great workout in 45 minutes if you work hard and focused.”  Was the doctor channeling Tim Ferriss?  Could I too have a four hour body? Perhaps it doesn’t matter how perfect my body is is as long as it carries me through the next 50 years of my life.  And for that I’ll need to use it less now.

 Less Acceptance

As we get older, I think we need to be okay being less…or rather ‘as is’ without wanting more. Happiness is wanting that which you already have.  Or are. We are products of our choices and even though our choices may not have granted us ‘more money’ or ‘more skinny jeans’ they probably allowed us other amazing adventures.  After all, had I never made it to India, I never would have purchased my wax sealing letter kit.


As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to live it more and more. -Jules Renard, writer (1864-1910)

Dream Job Interview: From Hedge Funds to Mountain Peaks

emilie snow2I have often toyed with the idea of casting my career into the abyss and following some crazy passion. Maybe I’d run amok with a latin dancer and perfect the cha cha in Cuba. I would be known as “Pies del fuego” (feet of fire).  Or maybe I’d don board shorts and set up a girls’ surf camp in Indonesia. From my hut, I’d teach young women the beauty of watching the waves and catching them with perfect timing. I would be called “calm one.”  These are all fantasies, of course, including being calm.  After a two-week stint of any fantasy, I come roaring back to a life that involves slide decks and high heels with big personalities.

Whenever I meet someone who has successfully shed a ‘normal’ career with one grounded in passion, I pay attention.  Perhaps they are onto something. Perhaps we can find a way to create our own dream job too.

 “I will be out of the country on a scouting trip in Northern Norway.”

This was the email response I got from Emilie when I wrote to ask a clarifying question on an article I was writing on her women’s outdoor company, Call of the Wild.  Norway would be her fourth all women’s climbing expedition this year.

Emilie pre dream job

Emilie and I first met in 2004 in San Francisco during a Women MBA Association meeting.  Emilie was not only the Association’s President, but also had a lucrative career in finance selling to hedge funds.  In 2004, she was climbing spreadsheets and corporate ladders, but had never been to a mountain in her life.  When I recently heard she had left the land of greenbacks for the land of green pastures (mountainous green pastures, that is), I was surprised.

“You had a skyrocketing finance career in San Francisco and you left it to run a lifestyle mountain business in Bend, Oregon?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “I downsized my salary but upsized my life.  In Finance, I worked for assholes, and I worked all the time.  I’d be in the office at midnight and on a plane to a client meeting at 6am,” she said. “It was good money but I worried that I’d have a heart attack at age 35. It was time to leave the rat race.”

Some women leave corporate America to have babies, others to open bakeries, and some, like me, plan lifestyle businesses on exotic beaches. Emilie, however, left for the mountains.

An athlete is created, not born

Emilie describes herself as short, ‘soft around the edges‘ and non-sporty. However when a friend asked her to do Half Dome eight years ago, she took a risk and agreed. She recalls, “Compared to what I do now, it was an easy ‘vanilla’ hike but at the time I was terrified. I panicked and wanted to turn back.  However with friendly motivation I made it.  Wow-what a sense of accomplishment! Then, months later I found the courage to attempt another hike while in Bavaria. I’ll never forget when a man commented on how ‘athletic’ I was!  It was the first time anyone used that word!”

Feeling lean and strong, Emilie knew she had found her lifetime sport.

“No one should judge a book by its cover-including my view of myself!” she said.  Empowered, she spent the next few years trying to find every mountain peak she could.  Hiking turned into backpacking which turned into mountain climbing.  She went from wielding spreadsheets, to wielding an ice axe.

Yosemite backpacking group + Ebbett

The Dream Job

Before Emilie took over the all women’s outdoor company, Call of the Wild, she had been leading mixed groups up mountains with the Sierra Club.

“While guiding mixed groups, I always noticed that women were more anxious when men were around.  They didn’t want to be a burden.  In women’s groups it’s different because it’s not because you are ‘just a woman.”

Emile remarked that women also went through a huge transformation after an excursion-they felt more confident to take on many of life’s challenges when they got back home.

“I had been an advisor to Call of the Wild for a few years and when I heard it was up for sale, I saw it as a sign. My job was crazy, I loved the outdoors, and I wanted to encourage more women to get out there. Why not run an all women’s outdoor company?”

Of all the things to quit a job to do, Emilie didn’t certainly choose the road most traveled.  Not only can mountain treks be grueling (the snow camping variety) but outdoor adventure companies don’t always come with huge paychecks, and startups don’t come with staff. Emilie manages all trip logistics herself from permits with National parks to customer service to flight booking.

“I’ll be honest, it’s a lot to manage for one person which is why I’m currently hiring! I chuckle when people ask me “How does it feel to live the dream?” and I’m trying to remember the last time I worked out.”

However it is all worth it, even though Emilie makes a fraction of what she used to and is fighting for the company’s future.

“I believe in what I am doing,” she told me. “A lot of women are looking for inspiration to challenge themselves and they just need a trusted partner to help them take the first step. My mother died at age 12 and I never had a female role model to inspire me. I thought perhaps there are other women out there who crave inspiration too.  Perhaps I could create a place where they would have it.”

Emilie after first rock lead climb



Imperfectly Naked

photo-2Last month I received a postcard from Champasak,Vietnam. It was from my high school friend Tim. After getting his PhD from MIT, he decided to turn down lucrative offers and buy a boat to sail around the world for a few years.  “F*** what I’m supposed to do. This is what I WANT to do,” he told me. Some people thought Tim was a f***up by wasting his degree. He could care less.

I wish I could care less. Not only do I strive to be perceived as perfect but I’m also plagued with a mad need to apologize every time I’m perceived as anything less. Last time I had too much to drink at a family affair, I was so horrified at my (slurring) behavior that I intended to notify everyone I would promptly enroll in AA. When someone questioned the number of romantic flings in my life, I assured them that it was a rough phase (not just a “me” phase) and I was currently seeking spiritual guidance. Even when I do something that is bravely “F*** the world”, I secretly hope the world is not only watching, but heartily applauding my nonconformist attempts. When I took my road trip across the US to interview women, I fantasized that my trip would grow in fame, my blog would be read by millions, and I’d be featured on the today show as a crusader for the female spirt. This didn’t *quite* happen. But of course, I would never admit that I ever had such lofty ambitions and then failed.

I wondered where this need to prove myself started. Perhaps, like for many, it was grounded in childhood and a frenzied need to be liked.

At age 10 I wore dark Hanes-her-way pantyhose under my shorts so the other kids would think I got a tan on vacation in Florida (we actually went canoe camping in Montana).

At age 11, I practiced soccer every night so people would think I was athletic and pick me (please not last!) for PE kickball.

At age 13, I studied for exams to make honor roll, and then, realizing that honor roll was only for geeks, purposely messed up my exams to get off honor roll.

At age 14, I pleaded with my mom to get contact lenses so I could be pretty (not ‘frizzy hair four eyes’, as I was known).

All I wanted to do was fit in and be ‘perfect.’  I wanted to be perfect according to everyone else’s standards. I didn’t have my own standards.

This need for perfection gets augmented as we enter adulthood.  We are surrounded with phrases like “Dress for success” and “Be nimble and adapt.”

However, at work, I received feedback that perhaps I was too quick to try and adapt. I decided to talk to a career counselor on how to best present myself in the workplace

“I’m a chameleon,” I boasted.  “I can learn any language and fit in anywhere. In fact you can chop off my limbs, drop me Africa and I’d learn the clicking language of pygmies and set up a banana dessert shop.” I expected her to applaud me.

“If you are that adaptable than you aren’t really anyone are you?” she said. “Can’t you just be the same person regardless of where you are?”

Her words hit home. Did I not have an identity?

“Your identity, and what makes you uniquely you, is your imperfections.”

I didn’t want to be known for my imperfections.  I wanted to be known for my singsong voice, brilliant poetry, and impeccable dinner parties.

Of course at the last ‘impeccable’ dinner party I overcooked the pork.  I was so horrified that I intended to write a suicide note for the first tenderloin and hang it from the ceiling.  I asked my guests if they would mind waiting to eat while I whipped up another loin in, oh, 90 minutes.

“Are you crazy?,” they asked.  “We’re starving and can manage with a little overdone pig. It’s okay to have one un perfect dish.”  Was it?

I write about not humble bragging, bringing your whole self to work, and the need to be naked.  However I seem to be incapable of doing any of it, too fearful that I’ll choose the wrong ‘naked’.  What of instead of “good naked” I choose the “bad naked” in the Seinfeld episode where you are caught hunched over eating a pastrami sandwich?  No one needs to see that, do they?

“You seem too put together and buttoned up,” the counselor continued.  “We all know you have insecurities and are not perfect…so show it!”

What? People knew I wasn’t perfect?!  I was mortified almost as much as during the pork tenderloin incident.

“What should I do?” I asked

“Show people your crazier side.”

I, once again, made drastic plans to course correct and prove that I was cool. I imagined myself coming into work dressed as a clown making animal balloons for the other employees. That was definitely crazy.

This idea was met with looks of sheer terror.

“Please don’t do that! For everyone’s sake. Can’t you just be yourself?”

Myself? What was that?  An uncoordinated workaholic that falls in love with wild hair accented men named Don Pablo?  A cross between Bridget Jones and Samantha Jones with a dash of Amelia Bedelia? Or perhaps I’m just a regular 30 something woman trying to find work balance and femininity.  I cannot get rid of the Chameleon bit–I kind of like jumping into new lands and claiming them as my own.  I also cannot completely let go of my ‘perfection’ insecurities.  But perhaps instead of trying to mask them, I should acknowledge them and give them a seat at the table.  “Hello neurosis.  Are you joining us for pork tenderloin tonight?”

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali 


3 Ways To Indulge like a Parisian

From food to fashion to love….how to let seduction take over…gracefully.

I first thought it best to start my new job with restraint and productivity.  I went on a detox cleanse, wore sensible shoes, and went to bed early.  And then I was sent to Paris.

As I embarked for the ‘City of Light’ for week of client meetings, I was also asked to capture any moments of “indulgence” for another project our firm was working on.

Indulgence?  Moi? En Paris? Well….if I had to…..

From windows displays of red soled shoes to aromas of buttery croissants, Paris streets present the perfect canvas for seduction. And if you have ever had a love affair there <enter *wistful sigh*>, the city is painted with
However, French indulgence isn’t an overdone event that leads to belly aching regret.  French indulgence is simple, memorable and so tantalizing that you ache for it. an extra coating of “indulgent” significance.


 Food Indulgence

2013-06-07 14.51.23

Many a book has been written about the enigma of thin French women and the fattening food that they eat.  Eat fat.  Be happy. Stay thin.

I think many French women stay beautiful because they are happily enjoying decadent dishes. If stress causes weight gain, can’t happiness cause weight loss? Want to be happier?  Eat some unpasturized cheese!  In addition, French women stay thin on cheese and bits of bacon (called lardons…oh god, how can you NOT get fat on something called a ‘lard-on’?) because they only enjoy a small amount.  Lardons are cut into tiny pieces, not the long strips of bacon we have in the US. When you have strong dishes of fattening perfection, all you need is a couple of bites to feel satisfied.  Who every heard of supersized Fois Gras?

Lastly, food is a celebration.  You don’t snack to ruin it.  You ensure you are starving so you can decadently enjoy each bite of your long awaited meal.  Starving is not a problem since Parisians don’t eat dinner until 9pm when I’m ready to bite into my own arm due to hunger pains.  Fois gras tastes better than my arm, so I manage to wait.


Fashion Indulgence

2013-06-08 13.10.38Paris is known for haute couture. Although many go to the Champs-Élysées for Hermès and Chanel, I much prefer the independent boutiques that have received the “trickle down” effect of runway inspiration (they don’t, sadly, have ‘trickle down‘ prices).  Like food, fashion is best kept in small morsels.  Indulgence doesn’t mean buying ten things.  Indulgence means buying ONE well crafted highly expensive thing.  After you buy one of these beautiful expensive things you will be so poor you won’t be able to buy another item….not even a ‘lardon’…for months.  For the French, fashion is a crucial part of self expression.  Just like art collectors buy art to hang on their walls, the French buy fashion to hang on their bodies.  As Coco Chanel said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”


Love Indulgence

trent in paris

French are ‘all in’ when it comes to cheese, pig parts, of course, l’amour.  They don’t do the horrendous thing Americans call dating. Dating is a sport for love schizophrenics. Instead of indulging, one tries to ‘hedge their bets’ and half heartedly test out multiple people at the same time with set rules.  Example: “I never get naked until date three…but I’ll get naked with seven different people.”  How utterly confusing. American romance is like being at a bad buffet where you have 15 types of slop on your plate, feel sick, and want to purge in a bathroom with bad florescent lighting. Even worse YOU could be one of the 15 types of slop on someone else’s plate!  The French, however, treat romance (and you) like a fine meal. They pick one main plate (or person) and heartily dive in.  There’s no conversation, there’s no rules, and there’s no internal debate.  Two people fall for each other desperately and each other alone.  It may last, it may not last, but at least they enjoyed every inside of the moment they were in.  And with no distractions across the buffet spread, the couple may just fall in love.


As you can see, French indulgence is simple.  You don’t deny yourself anything.  You just restrain yourself to only indulge in that which you want the most.  How much better would life be if we were ONLY passionate about everything we did?  Would we laugh louder?  Would we love deeper?  Regardless of the answers, I am pretty sure we’d live more exciting lives.


“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”  -Elizabeth Taylor

Bringing Your ‘Whole Self’ To Work?!

Remember when we were encouraged to leave our personal lives at home and be ‘just business’ in the workplace?  That notion is dying…there is a new calling to be 100% OURSELVES 100% of the time. 

The Past

Once upon a time in a consulting world far far away, there was a poet who turned into workaholic witch.

I had once been a creative soul that wrote poetry in dark Parisian cafes, fueled by a dinner of melodrama and extra long cigarettes.  Back in the US, I wore an orange beret and furiously wrote mad metaphors, convinced that our emotional plight as humans was the only cord that connected us on earth.  This overly passionate attitude, however, didn’t seem to mix well with Corporate America.  I went through a nasty breakup and was told to pull myself together-no one needed to know my personal drizzle, which was being left in tissues across cubicles.  Thinking I could combat sadness with humor, I used a limerick in an executive email but was quickly reprimanded, “Heidi, really. First tears, now rhymes? Can you please be more professional?”

I shut up and conformed.

After a few years, a MBA, and a job as a management consultant, my metamorphosis was complete. The beret was replaced with black power suits and designer pumps, carefully disguising the desires and frustrations within me. I worked 80 hours a week and spent my nights in overpriced hotel rooms carefully placing MBA words like “synergy” and “leverage” into PowerPoints so that I could look smart and justify high MBA prices. The new ‘career me’ had no tolerance for people that displayed emotion and other unhealthy habits.  I needed to set a good example for my team.  We are paid to be doers not dreamers, I thought. And if you dare to have a personal life, it should be kept a secret.

A young girl on another team had been dumped by her boyfriend.  She cried during a client meeting and then took the next day off to recover.  I was mortified.  I took my team aside and had a serious conversation with them.

“I won’t tolerate such behavior.  We DO NOT show emotion at work and we especially DO NOT cry here.  If you are sad, go home, and cry in the shower.”

“Heidi,” one said, “aren’t you ever sad?”

“No,” I Iied.

“Then you don’t have a real life.”

The Reset

My own team couldn’t relate to me outside of my position in the company.

I didn’t know my clients outside of work deliverables.

And worst of all, I didn’t reveal, nor much like, myself.  The part of me that I once so cherished-the writer with crazy ideas-had gone mute.

In a rash attempt to bring back social connection in the workplace, I organized more wine outings to get to know the full personas of my peers and clients.

However this was too little, too late.  I was burnt out from work, and thirsty for more connection in my life.  I quit my job, traveled the world, and starting writing other people’s stories (from performance artists to preacher’s wives). I emerged reborn and started a new consulting career where I listened to people -their challenges, fears, and problems.  In addition to being a better person, I was also a better consultant as I was able to connect to my clients in every part of their life, not just what happened inside the board room.  I  deleted “synergy” from my vocabulary and instead replaced it with “empathy”.

The Future

As many people know, I recently joined a firm that shares my beliefs and stresses the notion of “bringing your whole self to work.” At first it felt weird, especially when my “whole self” came with failure.  From home to work life hurdles, it’s painfully uncomfortable to admit that we aren’t always rockin’ the universe. I certainly worry about how I’m perceived (“I messed up that meeting- Am I worthy of a paycheck today?”  “Does everyone really need to know my car is towed..um…again?”).   However, perhaps by admitting our innate “human-ness”  our business relationships will start to deepen.  I have discovered that asking for help is sometimes the best way to foster a relationship. People connect on fallibility (“I can relate…and I can help”) as opposed to ego competitions where everyone pretends to be perfect.

I had once been coached to be tough to get ahead…but in reality it is through softness that we push forward.

After all with the rise of social media, we are continually sharing more and more about ourselves, erasing the lines between work and personal.  We are moving toward a new authenticity.   It’s just a matter of time before I’ll be wearing a beret writing poetry again, and tweet about it to the corporate world.


In every office

you hear the threads

of love and joy and fear and guilt,

the cries for celebration and reassurance,

and somehow you know that connecting those threads

is what you are supposed to do

and business takes care of itself.


James A. AutryLove and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership


Stilettos, Sexism, and Sheryl Sandberg

I was invited to a book club to talk about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’. True to Heidi fashion I read the entire book in a cram session 24 hours prior, spilling coffee and makeup all over the cover. Sigh. Not very Sheryl Sandberg like.

Regardless of the stains on its cover, I thought her book was fabulous. It spoke to the struggles women face trying to balance careers and families as well as our hesitation to believe in our abilities and speak up in a male dominated workforce. We need to change our thinking. She writes, “women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers…..the good news is not only can women have both families and careers, they can thrive while doing so. ” Unfortunately most of the world hasn’t yet caught on.

According to her book, a lot of the problem starts with hard coded societal perceptions of what it means to be a woman and the roles we should play. If women are to be true equals, we need to hire an global ‘thought electrician’ and completely rewire our attitudes about how both men and women interact and pave a new path forward.

I Need a New Type of Love….

When I was 20, I fell in love with a German PhD student and hastily moved to Germany with him, temporarily dropping out of college to learn German, teach English, and make the man hearty pork dishes. While whipping up another batch of Sauerbraten, I would secretly pour over issues of the Economist, missing my academic world. One night I remarked that I’d like to go back to school and eventually get my MBA or PhD like he had. He laughed out loud.

“Doktor Heidi?!” he mocked. “That’s funny.”
“I’m serious. I want to DO something…” I retorted.
“Heidi, you’re pretty. Pretty girls don’t need to work. Plus you’re with me. I’ll ensure you never have to.”

I walked out. I didn’t want to be someone that didn’t need to use their brainpower. I returned to the states, got my degree in Business Economics, and landed a job in strategy. A few years later, around the time I was debating getting my MBA, I fell in love with another man. I was head over heels Bambi like twitterpated and probably would have sacrificed my entire life to be with him had he not dumped me first. The main reason? He thought I was too career focused.

“Hey, I’m the man. Why do you care what you do for a living? Don’t you want to have a garden and babies?” he asked.

Of course I did! I also wanted to cook lavish dinners, take exotic trips, AND make powerful decisions to impact the world. Why wasn’t that okay? Or more importantly why did it turn off my boyfriend?

The breakup devastated me. I felt like I had failed. I suddenly felt enormous pressure to choose between being married with a garden and having a career with an income. I panicked and (naturally) fled to South America to finish my Masters. I hoped latin metaphors, sultry dance, and copious amounts of Chilean wine would provide the answers to my life. My latin lifestyle mainly provided a hangover and I soon moved to the more sober, sophisticated, and career focused San Francisco to see if I could solve my conundrum. Wasn’t it the mecca of strong, successful women who also had a romantic life?

Being Successful Doesn’t Mean Buying a Strap On

In San Francisco there are indeed many accomplished women. Hurrah! Unlike the meek women Sheryl Sanberg refers to, almost all speak their mind and “sit at the table.” However, I don’t think they have won the equality battle. Many think they need to “plow ahead” by behaving like a man. They chide my affection for high heels and fashionable dress.

“If you look too much like a woman, you won’t be taken seriously,” they say. “Dress down to move up.” Argh.

It wasn’t just about outward appearance but also actions. A woman I once worked for told me that to get deals done I had to “pretend I had a dick and swing it just as big as the dudes in the room.”

I was not about to rush out and trade in my Jimmy Choos for a strap on. Couldn’t I stay feminine and still wield power? After all, men and women ARE different and have different approaches to life from creative insights to negotiation tactics. Aren’t the best board rooms balanced board rooms with a variety of vantage points? By acting like men we are saying that being a woman is less valuable. And by acting like men, it will be much harder to convince management that we need pump rooms, childcare, and other assistance to help make our balance easier AND encourage more senior level women stay in the workforce. We need to show that having a female perspective is an asset.

In “How American Women Lost Their Femininity” author Susan Walsh writes,

“Being feminine doesn’t mean being weak and dependent. It means embracing your identity as a woman.”

A good friend of mine that runs her own company refuses to give into masculine appearance and actions. Her best negotiations are done in a dress and heels with a soft, yet persistent voice. Who is going to argue with a woman that confidently knows who she is and what she wants? Own it, ladies.

Beyond the Book: “Lean In” To Crazy Experiences

Sandberg’s book is a great guidebook for planning career success. It is laid out in sections on choosing a job, a mentor, and a supportive life partner. However, I am not near as linear as that woman. Had I been more thoughtful and less bohemian throughout my life perhaps I’d have a C level title and an original Picasso decorating my living room. Instead I promote myself as a “runner, thinker, traveler” and have posters from college decorating my bedroom. My “lean in” path didn’t just focus on my career–it focused on, well, my life. I took many jumps into the unknown, and, much to the horror of my parents, turned down business opportunities to meditate in India and backpack in Tanzania.

It was through these experiences that I learned the most. I got a crash course in budget travel, developed empathy for other cultures, and met fantastic people that had uniquely different approaches to life, changing my viewpoints on what mattered. I learned to redefine success not as a monetary feat but as experiences and conversations. I truly feel this is just as important as rising up on a corporate ladder, if not more so.

After all, when we reach our deathbeds, we don’t want our fondest life moment to be a powerpoint presentation. Hopefully, it will be sailing across the Pacific with crazy travel mates, our supportive partner, and our children that we managed to nuture while balancing a career.

Going Forward….

At the book club, I met 10 other beautiful, well dressed, and successful women. However it was interesting that while many owned homes, only one owned a diamond ring. Was it because they had prioritized their career over love? No. In fact all had aspirations of finding the right life partner. And all valued femininity, sexuality, and romance. The problem was that the pool of men that valued strong, independent women was small. “They don’t know what to make of us yet” one laughed. Another chimed in, “Yes, but the good ones are worth waiting for. They don’t want a doll. They want a partner…..a sexy partner of course.”

“My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it’s very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.”
-Ani Difranco