laPhoto Credits: National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Don’t Climb Up Ladders for Anybody but Yourself

Screw “achievement”. Screw ticking off every box in the must-do list of setting a shining positive example of what a strong, intelligent woman looks like to the future generation. Screw breaking the corporate/ athletic/ professional/ artistic glass ceiling. Screw becoming the first female in your white shoe law firm invited for cigar nights during executive weekend retreats at the golf club. Screw becoming the first female mayor of your town, or the first female president of your country who’s not a wife, second wife, or daughter of a former male mayor/ president. Screw showing up all the fuckers who doubted you by putting up your own on-demand-economy mobile app dropping tampons and napkins anywhere in the city within 45 minutes to your sistas in distress.

If you’re reading this, you’re lucky. You are one of the fortunate few in the world who have access to the Internet. You’re fortunate to be literate in English. You’re fortunate to be English-literate AND have the spare time to be browsing social media AND access the Internet for leisure, instead of getting carpal tunnel clicking away on some brain dead outsourced task repetitively on some freelancer-for-the-lowest-bidder website for pennies on the dollar so first worlders can live the four-hour work week lifestyle.

If you’re female, you’re even luckier. Because out of the aforementioned fortunate few people able to read this, only a small fraction are female. And since you’re such a lucky modern tech-savvy woman you’re expected to be… this superwoman achiever.

Maybe you dropped out of high school or college because you were driven and smart and left it to mind your Etsy store full time. Don’t you feel you owe it to all your downtrodden sisters who couldn’t finish high school because they had to fend off terrorists who shoot up girls who have the temerity to defy their orders to ditch high school to expand the hell out of Etsy and be an inspirational business success story?

Likewise, you may be happily married, and able to juggle being a manager at your office with your growing podcast about rock climbing. Don’t you feel you owe it all your downtrodden sisters who were married off to alleviate the burden on their families to be the youngest female CEO of that company and simultaneously be the top Sports podcast on iTunes for 10 weeks running and at the same time break the 2015 speed climbing record?

Perhaps you’re raising a kid or two, possibly even raising them alone, all the while running a dental practice or consulting, or being a med rep. Think of your downtrodden 21 year old fellow woman with three kids in some poor rural town whose boyfriend abandoned her and worrying where to get money for next week’s groceries. Don’t you owe it to her to be a beacon of inspiration to be a multimillionaire dentist by age 40, with a string of 100 cosmetic dentistry franchises from Tokyo to Dubai and dozens of celebrity clients, at the same time being the top dental philanthropist fixing the teeth of every Burmese/ Syrian/ Eritrean/ British/ Appalachian/ Native American political or economic refugee?

And now maybe you’re the burnt out 23 year old prodigy, who’s chased after and gotten every gold star and award and Latin honor because that’s what’s expected of her because she’s so fortunate to have had all these wonderful opportunities.

Or the panicking 33 year old who’s told now is not time to be having doubts about her current life path, because her possible paths are narrowing as she ages, so she should be satisfied building her little professional victories, and oh, don’t forget to snag a husband along the way.

Maybe you’re the pensive 43 year old who’s relatively content where she is now, but is still endlessly curious and wants to see what new technologies the wunderkinds are cooking up nowadays, but is told it’s too late for her- she has kids, she is already well established, why change now?

Well screw everybody’s projections of what you SHOULD be and tell them to stick their sunk cost fallacies where the sun don’t shine.

Whether 23, 33, 43, 53, 63, 73, 83, 93, 103, if you’re female, and feel lost because there are so many expectations for you to “succeed” that you don’t know which is the right one to choose, OR feel lost because there are so many expectations of what a woman’s path should be by your society or family or friends, and none of those expectations are what you see yourself doing, OR simply feel lost because there’s so many new exciting futuristic things you read about and want to learn and are dizzy because you simply don’t know what you want, Exosphere welcomes you.

Many females still face a lot of barriers in what life paths are considered “acceptable” — become a wife, a mother, the usual. If that’s what you want in life, that’s great! But remember, it doesn’t stop there. It’s 2015, so you can’t just be any ordinary wife or mother or homemaker. If you are a homemaker, you’d also better be feeding your children organic milk from grass fed cows and posting Instagram-worthy bento box lunches. Wait a minute. You’re a homemaker. You should be home schooling them. Not to mention simultaneously creating your own highly viewed Khan Academy course. If you’re a wife or mother who works, you’d better also be able to give your kids enough attention while being on your A-game every day breaking this record, shattering that glass ceiling, smashing that wall and so on.

And if you choose to be single or not have kids, you’d better have a damn good reason like being the top Wall Street earner or being on tour every month breaking Tiger Woods’s records or something because if you’re not “successful”, then how could it be worth it to spend all those years pursuing what you truly want instead of what women are meant to be? AKA, a nurturing wife and mom (who only feeds her kids home cooked gluten free organic goodies).

Exosphere is not holding a special boot camp for women to cloister them from outside society like a convent school. We are conducting Athena because most of the participants in our previous boot camps were male. It may be because of where we chose to advertise our boot camp- in tech oriented blogs and libertarian forums, which happen to be mostly read by males for reasons not in our control. And when we post our writings on Medium, perhaps the words “bootcamp” “technology” “entrepreneurship” lead women to think, “oh, this is not for me, it’s probably gonna be full of beer guzzling startup bros.”

Because of this, we have decided to create a special edition just for women to make sure… we aren’t locking out 50% of the world’s population. We want more women to be a part of our community, and this way, for sure, will attract more women. And if you’re a guy, pass this on to your daughter, friend, wife, girlfriend.

The things we mentioned above seem to be very specific to women, like we’re trying to rile you up to feel angry at guys, at society, at the single ladies patrol, at the organic food police, but we’re not.

We are trying to show you you don’t owe anybody anything (or “don’t owe nobody nothing” as the adorable group of South Americans you’ll meet here will say) in the way of setting a good example or being an inspiration. You are an individual, who just so happens to contain the genetic markers for being female, but you don’t owe historical figures, your hometown, or the half the world’s 7 billion humans who you share similar sex chromosomes with a debt to represent, to be cautious and timid and stay on the safe path to “success” that can be held up as a shining example of what “females can achieve”.

A lot of women now set themselves up for disappointment, burnout, and choice paralysis because they were told that they are so much luckier than women of the past who were not given that many opportunities to succeed. So they’d better “succeed”. They become the quiet girls in elementary school judiciously taking down notes and acing every exam. They got every gold star and award in high school, racking up extracurriculars too. They are achievers. They made it! But… did they? For whom were they chasing this or that achievement? To set a record? An example? To prove that all the investment government ministries made in focusing on women’s education is not wasted? Whose definition of success were they aiming for?

This kind of narrow focus on the “right kind” of achievement hurts everybody- men and women alike. Girls may not be more innately “disciplined” in the classroom, but social conditioning made them so. So they get high grades. And the teachers, tired adults they are juggling multiple kids, prefer to focus on the seemingly more “obedient” girls because they’re just simpler to handle. Many boys just fall by the wayside, ignored.

Two possible things happen next. If you’re a boy from a higher socioeconomic class, you may or may not drop out, but you have more options and a supportive safety net of family and a little income to tide you over while you try other things. If you’re a low income male, you’ll end up being disheartened with schooling after flunking so often and being ignored and drop out (starving or jailed in a prison or job you are afraid to leave with dead eyes in less than a decade). And you will NOT have the opportunity to dabble in the failure porn popularized by blogs and social media nowadays.

Oh you know what I’m talking about, everybody, from 7 figure gazillionaires to the tattooed fusion burrito food truck entrepreneur has a story about how they failed so hard and had to survive on their wits alone and tried a zillion different stupid things before one stupid thing led to another stupid thing, and slowly, out of that stupidity, learned so many valuable life lessons which led them to their success today.

I am not discounting or belittling their struggles and stories. I’m using this as an illustration to show that NOT everybody is encouraged to or can even afford to try 101 things and fail at 99 and succeed in the final two and live happily ever after. And pointless gender-based behavior conditioning since childhood hurts boys and girls alike.

The trap of being the perpetual achieving golden child leads many girls to grow up to be risk averse women who choose the safe path to so-called success. And even those with high risk appetites who go into business are often constrained into making choices that seemingly have a higher chance of success. But the world does not work that way. The most surefire way to NOT be a unicorn is to set your goal to be “the” unicorn, which many women are demanding of themselves, whether through internalized or societal pressure.

Well after we gather all ye questioning and questing women around to our bootcamp, you’ll see that we use the same guidelines and frameworks as our regular bootcamps too. One of our core texts is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Self Reliance.

Behold this passage: “If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.”

Today, many young men have already taken this to heart. We would like for more women to join them. To ignore those voices who tell them to take the straight and narrow and make the “successful” choice, the “right” choice, to live their lives as the “correct” example.

We want more women to be free to be curious and silly and make their own mistakes and try again and fuck up and try again.

In Athena, we will start you on your path of discerning who you are as an individual. And then we take a break from looking inwards and we learn to build things together (with sand, with your hands, with your words, with lines of code). And we start you on your path to exploring what real community is. A deeper sense of belonging than just arbitrary membership to a group by way of genetic lottery. And when you leave, you will seek out this kind of community, and perhaps build one of your own in the future. One that gradually expands to include all women, men, and boys and girls, where you can be who you are, free to follow your own path without artificially imposed gender barriers. But it all starts from you, as an individual, standing and representing yourself, and no one else.

We would like to be with you on your first step.

Apply to ATHENA Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Women
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Gem was a participant in Exosphere’s boot camps and is now part of the Athena team.