New York Ain’t No Silicon Valley

A story from the trenches of social entrepreneurship

When the nurse asked me if I had been admitted to a hospital more than three times in the past month, I was shocked to find out my answer was yes. I had been to the ER, had to have an emergency back surgery, and two weeks later was back for another back surgery, this time putting me in bed for three months.

A good friend of mine — now pregnant and about to give birth — phoned me shortly after her recent trip to the ER, and called me her “Slowing Down Guru”. Me? Seriously? If you know me, you know that I am a hyper-active powerpuff girl. What my friend and I have in common? We are both CEO of social enterprises that are both successful and innovative in their own rights. As we talked about the challenges of managing our businesses (hers: Manufacture New York, and mine: Slow Factory), our health and our families, I channelled my inner Oprah and decided to write a piece about it because in New York City, women run their businesses, raise their kids and manage to have their friends over for dinner without having to be rushed to ER all the time. It’s possible!

When I read Shivani Siroya’s article about changing what it means to lead, I felt compelled to write the NYC version since I believe we are a community of innovative boss ladies who have redefined the notion of success and self-worth. While Siroya takes a pass at redefining leadership in silicon valley, I want to reflect on redefining success in New York City, and explore what it means to succeed in our day and age.

So how can we define success?

I asked some successful women founders and CEOs around me, and I got very similar answers. Miki Agrawal of Thinx, Bob Bland of Manufacture NY, Irys Kornbluth of Made by Voz, all responded with some version of: “The methods of defining success are tied to the patriarchy: money, fame, and power.” They are concerned with quantifying success. When I try to evaluate my success using this method I find myself drift off in an endless self-hating spiral that often leads me to anxiety attacks and sleepless nights. There is always someone getting richer, more famous or powerful than me.

When I was pregnant with my second child particularly, I struggled with the feeling of self-worth because I wasn’t able to raise a successful round of investment. Advisors told me to hide my baby-bump. I felt ashamed, and despite wanting to change perception around pregnant women and treating us as if we were weak or ill, it affected me deeply. After a lot of stress and anxiety, I realized I wasn’t evaluating my success properly, the metrics won’t match a matriarchal society. In fact, these metrics of success are the ones that often lead women to either “lean out” completely from the workforce, or to “lean in” to such an unreasonable, unhealthy level. I mean my business is called Slow Factory for crying out loud, and here I was in the ER room trying to get this baby out as efficiently as possible to the detriment of my own health and the health of my baby, all because I had more hustling to do for my business.

So I decided to redefine success for me. Success to me has to become synonymous with purpose. All of my efforts are to inspire empathy. That’s my purpose.

Empathy comes with self love, which is what I want to inspire. So our galaxy collection was to connect people with themselves, our earth collection is to remind them of our planet and where our home is, our women who inspire collection is to open their eyes to the amazing females who are making history.

So what does a qualitative success look like?

Women around me answered this question with a strong notion of self, success is feeling good about yourself. Success is being healthy and happy with how you, are as you are. So is success synonymous with self-acceptance? Self-acceptance is something we naturally begin with as children, but are forced to rediscover later in life after having been through a harsh judgemental and merciless society. What if other generations would never have to lose their self-acceptance and self-love? Can you imagine how far we could go?

Success is having integrity to yourself, not judging yourself, listening to yourself. Success is building a world you want to live in. Success is respecting the world we live in. Success is finding your purpose. Success is a journey.

What does success mean to you?

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