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Got Confidence

Reflections from Dreamforce: I’ve Got Confidence in Me!

It’s the last day of DreamForce and as I wander around Moscone with husband and daughter in tow, I reflected on the week that came before. My mind travels back to a specific incident that occurred while at DreamForce that really brought home the difference between women and men. And that difference is confidence.

I had decided to take the Salesforce.com Developer Certification (I’ve already been certified as a System Administrator).

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Hiatus

Taking a short hiatus, but we hope you enjoy the video

On May 7th, my dear friend Karen left this earth. While I was able to say my good-byes to her, it is still no easier and the grief can be quite consuming. Her obituary shows what an amazing force she was in this community and around the world. I’ve been having a hard time with my emotions and feelings about the loss, thus, I am taking a hiatus for the month of June. That’s not to say we’re not busy in Sherpa-land. Clients suggested we apply for a couple entrepreneur challenges: one with the  Great Lakes Entrepreneur Quest and the other the Social Entrepreneur challenge.  These are both in Michigan. We were also compelled to apply for a national award through Wisdom 2.0 and that’s where the video comes in. We needed to develop a 60 second video that explains the business. 1 minute?! Wow, we did it with help from +Teresa Thome and Steve from Shutterwerks Media. Two amazing and powerful individuals who made time to make this happen. So grateful!

VIEW VIDEO HERE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8VCsRHJsls

In the meantime, keep this in mind, life is short and in the blink of an eye, everything can change. Embrace those around you closely and hold them in your heart every day. Don’t take a single moment for granted.

 

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet Again…

Postponing an adventure while in the midst of the journey can be a decision fraught with uncertainty. Recently, a client and I arrived at the mutual conclusion that it wasn’t the right time for their organization to continue their journey. It was a difficult decision to make, but the organization is going through a major transition and the team members are struggling with the changes.

As a Sherpa, I sensed something was going on, but couldn’t put my finger on it. The “somethings” included:

  • Removing individuals from the journey
  • Lack of response via email and phone
  • Lack of knowledge within the organization regarding the activities of each other
  • Failure to complete practice to be done between treks
  • Cancelling scheduled meetings
Back in my controlling days, I would have been quite upset at this disruption of my life. And to be frank, I got a little angry when I didn’t receive a call or email cancelling a meeting.

But very soon I realized that that everyone in the organization was undergoing something very challenging and tough – the dreaded “R” word: Reorganization. My Sherpa-sense was tingling as I intuited that things might get challenging. So, I began to prepare myself mentally for the unknown that lay ahead.

As a Sherpa, my job is to help the journey continue, even when it is stalled. I reminded them to contact me to reschedule meetings when needed. I encouraged them to work on their internal issues before seeing me, so that they could better communicate with each other as well as with me. And above all, I tried to help them deal with the changes they were experiencing as we continued to build the database.

Yet with all my encouragement, accommodation and support, an overwhelming sense of dread permeated every conversation. So at the start of our last trek, I let them talk about their progress – and everyone reported that they were behind. Very, very behind. I even heard, “I’m so behind that I don’t even want to think about it. I haven’t done anything with this project.” That was my cue to gently guide them away from this journey for the time being and let them work out their internal changes.

So, while each expressed that they felt torn, and their collective belief that the database they were creating would relieve the pressure they were feeling, they also realized that they didn’t have the time or energy to devote to the journey. As we talked, we came to a collective understanding that although they are eager to learn and grow, it would be best to put the journey on hold for a few months.

At the end of our conversation, I sensed a collective sign of relief, like an out breath after you’ve been holding your breath for a while. It made my heart lighter. The journey hasn’t been cancelled, merely rescheduled.
Compassion not Control

Compassion, Not Control

Any one who knows me (or reads this blog) knows my first business was called Hopper Business Solutions. Although Hopper was much more controlled, it had less focus. My journey with Database Sherpa has been a little different from Hopper. But, I wouldn’t be where I am with Database Sherpa if it had not been for Hopper, so I am grateful for past experiences.

But, I’m not going to write about the past. Instead, I want to talk about something that’s different this time around; both in the way I operate the business and how I function as a business owner. It’s this: it takes a family to grow and build a business.

Although the initial idea was born in my head, it was not without a lot of input from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck. And while neither of us can exactly remember what she said or did, it made a huge impression – enough of an impression to drive me to create a mission, a vision and values that are quite different from most businesses. And the difference is this: instead of putting compassion off to the side, we’ve made it the heart of Database Sherpa. It is one of our core values!

Veronica created this beautiful diagram to show the importance of compassion to our business:

Sherpa Precepts and Values

Equally important are clients. They give me an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and methods. They give feedback freely and encourage this work. For example, while learning about a new product for importing data called Apsona. I suggested to the client that we try it out during our importing trek. The client was amendable so, we learned Apsona together. Consequently, my other clients will benefit from my co-learning experience. Clients who are willing to experiment and learn with me are the main reason Database Sherpa continues and thrives. They allow us to keep moving forward.

Now others are embracing our “compassion-centric” model. Freya Bradford, the newest Database Sherpa team member is a client-turned-Sherpa who is helping define the business logic model and outcomes to measure (yes, we want to measure our work), as well as encouraging the work to go farther and broader. She would love to see this model and process scale broadly because her vision is big and so is her heart.

And another addition, Mary Davis, is also encouraged by this work and has gotten herself involved. Mary is tightening up our documentation and organizing it to make it accessible to other consulting companies wishing to transform their business into a more Sherpa-like practice.

In comparison, during my Hopper years I was a total control freak. I didn’t trust others to do the work. Now, I honor the gifts, time and love that each person brings. Instead of dictating rank and position, I let each of them define their role and allow the definition to be written by them. I love it! It’s so free form and wonderful. It’s like a true family.

I know that part of this transformation is because of my age, but it’s also because of the teachings of Hopper. I learned how tiring being controlling could be. I learned that it’s much better and wiser to let things be and to let go of the feeling of having to “own it all”. That each of us owns a piece of this wonderful model and process. That through this hard work together, we create a family and community of like minded individuals who desire to see things done in a new and different way.

I am so grateful to everyone who continues to support, nurture and love Database Sherpa. I know that without all the support, things would still move forward, but I must say, it would not be nearly as fun!

Karen Henry & Zola

Friend and Mentor: Karen Henry

I wanted to share an important person in my life with you, one who has shaped me profoundly in many ways: Karen Henry. She’s been a good friend for longer than I can remember (you know those people who come into your life and you cannot remember a time without them, that’s Karen). She has mentored and loved me in so many special and amazing ways.

Karen is an activist, a humanitarian and all around amazing woman. She has won awards. Given many speeches. Been honored by many. And I find her to be the most down to earth and real person. I’m still amazed that she is my friend … I feel so very lucky to have her in my corner.

I can only visit her for a short time these days, as she is very sick and gets tired very quickly. But, when I see her, we laugh and share stories. It’s a wonderful time together!

Karen has always been so encouraging and supportive of whatever I am doing, whether it be applying for a new position, or taking on the challenge of a master’s degree, or starting my own business, or having a child—actually, that’s a funny story.

I was talking to Karen on the phone and decided to tell her that I was pregnant, as I knew it would be some time before I would see her in person, but somehow I never got around to it. A few days had passed, and we were on the phone again, when she said, “I had the strangest dream that you said you were pregnant!” Then I laughed and said, “That wasn’t a dream, I am pregnant!” We both busted a gut laughing so hard, and when we had settled down, she told me, “You’ll be a great mom.” Since then, every time I see her, she keeps telling me that and giving me specific examples of why

Karen has a gift to see clarity in every situation. Here’s an example: She was interviewing for a position, and during the interview, she realized that a friend was better suited for the position. She stopped the interview, handed the person her friend’s contact information and said, “She would be a better candidate,” and then left. Her friend got the job. Karen was thrilled. She didn’t grasp for the job for the sake of having the job. She saw it for what it was: better for someone else. She then turned it to someone else. Her friend has had the job for 10 years, and loves it.

Karen’s love is what can often sustain others. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, but Karen’s love is amazing. There was a time when things were very low. But, Karen was there for me. Supporting me. Loving me. Once, when things were particularly bad during this crisis time, she decided a trip to Saugatuck was in order. We loaded into the car and drove there. (About a 45-minute drive from Grand Rapids.) We shopped, ate, laughed and talked. And I will never forget one particular moment. I was trying on some jackets. Karen looked at the jacket I was wearing, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are so beautiful, Ashima. You radiate beauty.” It made me feel so very loved. And it also helped to soften my hardened heart and move past my crisis.

Karen always takes the time to see the greatness that is inside of everyone. I love that she looks me in the eye to tell me what she thinks of me or how much she loves me. It makes the connection all the more strong and real.

I’m grateful that my little girl has been able to spend time with her “Mimi.” She has been able to be in her company and learn from this truly amazing woman. Mostly, I’m grateful that the universe brought this jewel to my life. It is hard to imagine my life without her in it, but as actress Valerie Harper, who is battling terminal brain cancer recently said, “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral.” So today I will not do that, and instead look forward to spending many more precious days laughing with my dear friend and mentor.Karen has taught me so much, but first and foremost, she has shown me what it means to be a good friend and mentor. She has shown me the importance of being the voice for those with no voice. She has given me more than I can even begin to thank her for.

What Doesn't Kill Us

What doesn’t kill us…

After writing the last post about my mentor Geri Larkin and watching the PBS documentary “Makers: Women Who Make America,” I started to think about my own past and how my journey led me to this place with this business.

I won’t go all the way back to childhood, just back to college and my decision to pursue a degree in Computer Science. One friend, Pat Draper, was instrumental in that decision. He had Sherpa’ed me through challenging terrain and was often my confidante regarding my frustration. Pat introduced me to my initial role model, Grace Hopper, and then many other female programmers. I think he realized the terrain would be rough, but he was always there for me.

Once I began taking programming classes outside of Lyman Briggs (a college within the college at Michigan State University), I hit my first bump in the road in the computer lab. Time spent using the computer terminals was limited, and the mother of all rules was this: “No saving a terminal for yourself or someone else with coats and backpacks.”

One day, I was working late in the lab and had to leave to go to the bathroom. The lab was EMPTY save myself. I left and came back to find a professor sitting at my computer. My backpack and jacket were thrown on the floor.

Needless to say, it took me a few moments to take in the situation and then ask him, “What happened? Why is all my stuff on the floor and why are you using my computer?” He just pointed at the sign and said, “You can’t save a computer.” I replied, “But there are all these computers available, I just had to go the bathroom, why would you do that?” His exact words to me were this, “I can’t help if you women take so long in the bathroom!” He never turned to look at me. He never apologized. I left the computer lab crying. Welcome to computer science.

I wish I could tell you that this was my only experience of sexism I faced at MSU. But I would be lying. Although many of my peers were supportive, many faculty were not. Without going into all the details, I will tell you this: I was specifically told that computer science was not a field for women, and I didn’t belong. Needless to say, I was thrilled when MSU finally hired a female faculty member, Dr. Betty Cheng! Between Dr. Cheng and my friend, Yolanda who was working on her Master’s in Computer Science, I was able to voice my concerns and keep my spirits up in the face of constant belittling.

Unfortunately, sexism followed me into the working world. Here is one of my ‘favorite’ stories. One employer had a dress code: Women must wear suits with skirts and nylons. Heels were acceptable, but not too high. Here’s the problem: There were times I had to crawl underneath desks to configure wiring, network desktops, connect printers, etc. Very hard to do in heels and a skirt and maintain your dignity. So I wore pants. Guess what happened? I was reprimanded and told to wear a skirt. When I explained why I needed to wear pants, a meeting was called to discuss the dress code. The solution? If a woman needed to wear pants, she had to change into a matching skirt before coming into the office. As long as I purchased a three-piece (jacket, pants and skirt) ensemble, I was following the code.

You’ve heard the statistic: For every dollar a man makes, a woman is paid 78-cents to do the same job. I experienced this first-hand in another job when I discovered a newly hired male colleague was being paid about $10K more. Of course I confronted the higher-ups. Their response? “You shouldn’t know these things. The person who told you could be fired. But we won’t, as long as you keep your mouth shut.”  So, I did.

Then I thought I had landed my dream job. Touted as an extremely progressive company, this organization had even won an award for having a female-friendly workplace. And for a while, it was a great place to work — until I got married. At team meetings, the department leader would ask me when I was getting pregnant, or if I were performing my “wifely duties.” Of course I was shocked and embarrassed, but laughed it off, until a co-worker told me his behavior wasn’t acceptable. So, in private, I asked him to please stop the comments. His response: “Oh, you’re one of those girls, you can’t take it!” and the teasing and inappropriate questions only increased. As a last resort, I made an appointment with the new head of HR, who just happened to be a woman.

I scheduled the meeting and made my mental list of what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk with her, woman-to-woman, and share my experiences in the workplace. I wanted some guidance as to what I should do. And I was positive she would reprimand the department leader and make him stop his offensive behavior. I was nearly at my wit’s end. I was excited. I was nervous. But I was certain she could set things right. And I’ll never forget what she said: “Ashima, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, but you’re in a man’s world and you have to get used to little comments like this from time to time.”

I was speechless and stunned. I left her office with little breath and a heavy heart. I cried. Had dinner with a friend. We held hands and cried. We cried for all the women in the workplace past, current and future who had — or will — experience such blatant sexism.

There’s a saying: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And after watching “Makers” and recalling these past experiences, I realized that collectively, they made me who I am today. My determination to prove the naysayers wrong has made me a strong person and better programmer and a stellar business owner. But I couldn’t have done it without Pat, (along with Rich, Mike, Donna, Paula and more people than I can name in one blog post.) I cannot thank them enough for their unwavering support.

I am doubtful that sexism will end but I am hopeful that the “makers” of tomorrow will continue to fight for equality for everyone, man or woman. And if ever I encounter the unacceptable behaviors I recounted in this blog, I will do everything in my power to make it right.

Getting It

Getting It

Years ago, I owned a business called Hopper Business Solutions. I named it in honor of a spitfire math wiz, Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. (Thanks to Admiral Hopper, we have the phrase “buggy software” and the COBAL programming language.)

Hopper was my inspiration while a Computer Science major at Michigan State University. I was one of only a handful of women in the program, and I found it helpful to have a model to look up to. I wish she could have been more than inspiration. I wish she could have been my mentor. Fortunately, I found Geri Larkin.

I met Geri in my early years as a business owner. We met when she taught a business marketing class. I don’t recall the title of the class, but I do remember Geri was dressed in a sharp suit, had great credentials, and made a profound impression on me. We took an immediate liking to each other – she taught me the ins and outs of running my own business, and I extolled the future of this wacky thing called the Internet. I still have the book she wrote back then: “Woman to Woman: Street Smarts for Women Entrepreneurs,” it was very helpful then and still is today.

Over the years, Geri and I kept in touch. I would visit her in Ann Arbor, and she and I would have coffee or lunch when she came to Grand Rapids. She sent me copies of her latest books, and tried to help me get published, (which failed, but hey, we tried). I was so impressed with Geri, that I was blogging about her and one of her books, “Bad Hair Days” before blogs were fashionable.

Geri never set out to mentor me; it just came about. Through her actions, delivery and thoughts she touched me in very profound ways. Through her activities and connection with me throughout those years, she modeled and showed me what living an authentic life is all about. She has taught me about mindfulness and compassion without asking me to attend a single class.

Then, as often happens, we lost touch, until I discovered that Geri had given up her business as a high-powered management consultant to enter a Buddhist seminary where she was ordained, and then had started a temple in Detroit, Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. Talk about a career change! Needless to say, I decided to attend a retreat at the temple. We greeted each other with a wordless hug, and the years fell away as the feeling of connection immediately resumed. It was amazing to see this once larger than life management consultant silently leading us through meditation. It was poignant and lovely.

Afterwards, she showed me the temple, her simple room, her beautiful artwork, and the neighborhood that surrounds it all. We laughed, talked, and shared memories; then, all too soon, it was time for me to leave. As I got into my car, she said to me, “You know what to do, and will do the right things.” Her confidence in me (something I was sorely lacking at the time) revealed her – and myself – in a new light: We were simply women trying to make sense of our lives. And during all those years when I placed her on a pedestal, the truth was this: She and I were more alike than I ever realized, but by believing more in her than in myself, I had prevented me from seeing my full potential.

This got me reminiscing about the time when Geri hired me to help her understand the potential of the Internet that was bursting into business scene. I remember thinking, “Why is she working with me, she could hire the best? Why me? Why is she listening to my ideas and taking them to heart?” But now I get it. Geri saw something in me that I hadn’t yet seen in myself. And by placing her confidence in me, she allowed my confidence to grow.

Now that we have reconnected, I get cards and letters from her. Even though I don’t see her as often as I would like, I count her as once of my closest friends. When Zola was born, Geri sent her a book, “Drink Juice, Stay Loose,” an adorable book for kids. Another time she sent me her book, “Building a Business the Buddhist Way.” Inside the cover she wrote, “Dear Ashima, because you’ll get this! Love, Geri Larkin.”

Thank you Geri, for “getting me” long before I did. 
Relaxing your grasp

Relaxing Our Grasp

I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. This short little book has really opened my eyes to so much, and I am very grateful that someone decided to turn Pema’s lectures into this wonderful and amazing book.

It’s not an easy read, nor it is full of rainbows and happy clouds. Life isn’t always full of rainbows and happy clouds; sometimes it really sucks. But, how we handle that “sucky-ness” — how we react “when things fall apart” is what this book is all about.

So, how can one use pain and sadness to cultivate a better life? It’s something of a mystery, but Pema writes about ‘grasping for the ground beneath you’. I remember learning about ‘grasping’ at the Buddhist Geek conference and from my favorite speaker, Martine Batchelor, who spoke of grasping too, and while reading this book, that word appeared again and again. Grasping.

Sitting with grasping I often see the ego — the ego is what helps us to grasp. Whether we’re grasping at a material object, a vision of the future, our relationships, or whatever, we grasp because we want circumstances to be in our favor. We want our lives to be a perfect present with a bow on top. But, hello — reality! — life isn’t that easy.

I do want to share a story from it; a story about Pema’s teacher and a course he created. I am not going to get into all the details, but the story reminded me of the hardware and software “cloud” we’re now living in and the resulting world of impermanence. Things are changing so quickly we barely catch our breath before something new is on the horizon. (I think that grasping plays a huge role in our stress levels related to the impermanent world we live in today.)

But, back to the story. So, Pema’s teacher had students learn and memorize a chant. After the students had learned it, he’d change it. He’d do the same things with rituals, which were very specific. Some students would learn quickly and help those students who didn’t learn as fast. Then when all had it memorized, the teacher would change it once again. He did this for YEARS. Not a few weeks or a few months, but for YEARS. And, what Pema wrote struck me: “After years of this sort of training, one begins to relax one’s grip. The idea of one right way sort of dissolves into the mist.” Wow, that’s very profound and powerful. The ideas of one right way… goes away. As, there is no right way. There is just a way.

As a Sherpa, I try to instill in my clients this sense of change and impermanence. That while this database is what you need today, tomorrow it might need to change. Heck, even during our treks you might need to change. And, that’s okay… there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the way of the world and as a Sherpa, it’s my job and responsibility to take that journey with you. On a groundless road to an unknown place. One that will be defined and redefined over time. With a road that is constantly changing.

I’m not saying this impermanence is easy or always fun. We won’t be hugging each other every day, but we will greet each other with respect, compassion and kindness. We will work together on the path we lay out together. We may yell, get frustrated and throw things at the computer, but, in the end, we will be better for this journey we have taken.