Julie Thorne Engels
There is nothing like staring failure dead in the face and discovering that it’s merely a boogie man in the closet. In the lingering darkness, we do have to deal with fear, insecurity, and doubt as a necessary part of the vision process.
When I was fifteen, my world shattered. Everything I thought I knew about life was suddenly…questionable. My “perfect” stay at home mom got caught having an affair with our church minister, moved to downtown Chicago to pursue a graduate degree in theology and left my older brother and I to fend for ourselves in a suddenly profoundly lonely existence.
Born a creative spirit, I’d always danced safely on the thin edge between fantasy and reality; but my parent’s divorce tripped my familial genetic wire.
I began a fast descent into full-blown alcoholism.
The disease of addiction robbed me from the power of choice, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Control over one’s faculties is largely taken for granted until it’s lost alongside dignity, integrity, and humanity.
I dropped out of college, slung pies at a pizza joint, chain-smoked despite chronic asthma, lost my virginity in the barrio to another adrift soul, and generally eschewed anyone and everything conventional and wholesome (i.e. my hometown).
There came a day when no amount of alcohol could eviscerate the shame of my existence: believe me, I gave it my all.
At the ripe age of 20, I sobered up, leaned in to the pursuit of realism and began my life long journey of finding strength in vulnerability. Invited to participate in my 30-day treatment, my dad read copious notes to my therapy group from his yellow legal pad recalling tales from the frontline of my alcoholism. Not allowed to speak since this was about breaking through my denial, I remember thinking that this “s#*t isn’t for the faint of heart.” Truer words have never been said.
When there’s no liquid courage to drink, no magic pill to pop, no grass to smoke, the list goes on…it narrows the path considerably. I’m left to deal frankly with my feelings and the facts as I perceive them. When the cobwebs cleared and I’d started making amends for my past behavior, I stumbled upon a harsh truth—I had no dreams.
Intellectually curious, I was back in college earning A’s, had re-ignited Columbia College’s Women’s Coalition giving voice to all my gender’s injustices, and was on my way to begin earning my seat again at the family table with my new accomplishments. But the one key ingredient missing from the equation was my heart. Those million shattered pieces had to be reclaimed, dealt with and put together anew in order for me to feel truly alive.
By divine grace, I wound up in a “Dare to Dream” workshop hosted by Nancy Hill. She introduced me to the process of creating vision boards, a collection of images and words glued onto poster board to define one’s hopes and dreams for the future. I don’t have a clue what I put on my own board that day; however, it gave me a lifelong medium to start gluing myself back together. The freedom of choice was suddenly mine to own again.
At the cornerstone of our country lies the American Dream and every citizen’s right to the pursuit of happiness. Oprah’s empire is built on the promise of living your best life. Meritocracy dominates our culture, encouraging us to take total personal responsibility for our successes and subsequent failures. These ideologies are elixirs for dreamers, visionaries, entrepreneurs, people of color and diversity, the impoverished, societal underdogs and women. Over this past century, California has particularly come to symbolize the land of opportunity from the Gold Rush to Hollywood’s box office to Silicon Valley’s production of millionaires. It’s no wonder I headed west to Los Angeles at 28 with a heart full of wild aspirations and great expectations.
What I’ve come to realize since I rolled into the land of perpetual “sunshine” nearly two decades ago is that I value personal growth and its certain companion, discomfort, over most other objectives. Possessing the ever-present safety net of an upper-middle class family’s wealth, I’ve been afforded the chance to be bold, take risks, and explore passions without the real threat of financial ruin dogging my every step. I’ve proudly pursued vision board dreams to include the following: comedic improviser, TV and film production, writer, artist, massage therapist, marketing executive, wife, mother, and finally tech entrepreneur.
“Leaning In” to my growth edge has been my currency and the dues paid have been strictly emotional in nature. Marketplace validation and its coffers have not previously been a part of my life scorecard.
Launching my tech company, Bettyvision, has been the single most disruptive “lean in” experience since sobering up.
Anointing myself the CEO, raising a seed round of capital, wooing talent to leave security behind and join my team, building and launching our empowerment platform inviting women to Dream Big…it’s all been so very public. Bettyvision is my uber vision board dream for everyone in the world to see. There’s not one inch of my body, mind and spirit left unexposed. EVERYONE knows what I want and that is to succeed. Ah, therein lies the dilemma – my definition of success.
A year ago, we projected hockey-stick growth. OMG…there are 150 million women on this planet and at least a couple million of them must have dreams to share, right!? LOL. Needless to say, by the measuring stick of venture capitalists, Bettyvision is not presently investment-worthy. We share the same challenges as the majority of start-ups—lack of widespread user adoption and the ability to monetize our value proposition. I could digress here into analyzing, justifying, and defending the reasons for our lack of traction, which frankly my ego would like me to do.
Instead, I’ll encourage every woman to step up to the plate of her most exhilarating, audacious dream, take a deep breath, lean in and take the leap of faith. There is nothing like staring failure dead in the face and discovering that it’s merely a boogie man in the closet. In the lingering darkness, we do have to deal with fear, insecurity, and doubt as a necessary part of the vision process.
As it turns out, failing often and fast is the gateway to entrepreneurial success. From our Bettyvision learnings, we’re launching a new company with products that enable companies to better onboard and engage their employees. With this, I’m open to further exploring the glass ceiling boundaries and the notion of meritocracy. Is the playing field level? Am I similar to Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg? I do not know, but I will never find out unless I keep trying.
I will not lie to you, I’m still reeling from my #LeanInGate2013. Within the first month of getting sober this guy Bob advised me, “Live forward, understand backward.” Like my parents divorce, getting sober, and migrating to LA, my Bettyvision dream’s fallout is forcing a much-needed paradigm shift in my soul. Once again, I find myself thinking this “s#*t isn’t for the faint of heart.”