Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

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How Tough Love Toughens Entrepreneurs and Makes Them Better

I felt inspired to write this blog after reading Aubrey’s “Conquering the Fear of Failure” post on her blog, The Taming of the Muse. She talks about how one must fail in order to grow. Meaning, it is through the feedback we receive through failure that we gain the knowledge that sticks with us (fortunately, this isn’t the only way we gain it, but it is, by far, one of the more impactful ways). Building upon this, when I was at MiSK Global Forum, I learned a quote that I, and many entrepreneurs, live by:

If you’re not making mistakes, you aren’t going fast enough.

So, suck it up, butter cup! This is the entrepreneur’s creed. You see, there is a LOT of competition to be the first on the market so that we can dominate the market. Because our vision is entirely unique, I know that if I don’t get to market with it first, I’ll lose to someone else who will deliver mediocre quality that never quite fits the needs of my customers — and I’m really tired of mayonnaise one-size-fits-all education — aren’t you?

The only way we really know what the customer’s needs are, and the only way we can design a solution that helps them entirely is that we must involve them in every step of the developmental process. But, we aren’t mind readers. So, we build and develop through iterations. I call it the “cardboard and duct tape” prototypes before we actually pour our soul into constructing the real thing. These prototypes are important, because we must learn quickly so that we can move fast.

This brings us the long way to the subject of my blog: tough self-love. My biggest enemy is the one that sits in my head. Entrepreneurs are cursed to be on this roller coaster ride of, “WEEEE! I’m on top of the world!” and, “OMG, WE ARE GONNA DIE!” In either state, there’s a part of us that wants to stay on the ground and stay put. Steven Pressfield talks about this a lot in his book, “Turning Pro.” He refers to this need to be safe and to resist change as the “Resistance.” I like to think of my resistance as the broken-down, gas guzzling, smoke-spewing eyesore of an old rusted pickup truck with a rusty motor that’s going down the highway at 30 miles an hour, and I’m behind it.

There’s a comfort behind this exceedingly slow car. It could be raining, the roads could be slick with ice, the terrain is incredibly rough with ups and downs, sharp turns and oh…did I mention? To the right is a 1000 foot sheer cliff drop down. Way down. So…maybe going 30 on the highway isn’t so bad, right? Except the smog from the truck will kill you, and if you stay this way, someone’s going to pass you and win. This resistance greets me every morning. So does the cliff. …and every day I fight it.

One of these days, I’m going to write the exact transcript of the self-talk that goes on in my head when I’m facing my resistance. It shows up when I face obstacles like finishing that grant, balancing my budget sheet, or something as simple as resisting the urge to get up from my computer to check out what’s in the refrigerator to munch on. Unfortunately, I may not get to share that transcript here, because my mother reads this blog, and I can only imagine the yelling I’d get from the not-so-ladylike language that I use on myself; the four-letter-expletives fly, and there’s enough creative name-calling in the dialogue that Trump would be inspired.

That’s my fight. I give myself tough love, and I don’t give in. You can’t build an empire on excuses, and so I curse my way up that damned highway so that I can get to a point where I’ve passed that resistance and can finally make progress. No lying, though. I fight this battle every day, and it doesn’t get easier. However, it does help when you can talk and curse about it in your head. ^.^


Finding a common link

Two weeks ago, I attended the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During that conference, I met my fellow Misk Grand Challenge awardees in person. Out of 3000 applicants, only 15 were chosen for this grant. As I stood in the same room with my cohort of Grand Challenge winners, I felt like I had been elected to an elite group of people from all over the world. I admit it, I felt like an Avenger! Over the two days of the forum, I learned a lot from my cohort and realized that we, as entrepreneurs, had several things in common. I share here three of those characteristics and how they reflected in my life, although I am eager to hear over these next few months the stories from my cohort.

  1. We all have a commitment to change the world. I’m not talking about changing the world by doing little things like recycling or giving my old clothes to Goodwill. What I mean is that all of us have dedicated our lives toward bringing positive change in a global way by empowering our youth. For many of my colleagues, they work directly with youth in their countries. For others, like myself, we work at supporting our teachers and changing the system of education.
  2. We use fear as our compass toward success. From graduate school, I learned to recognize that the goals that scared me the most were the ones I had to face, overcome, and accomplish. We recognize and acknowledge that paralyzing fear that keeps most people from accomplishing anything — the fear of failure, humiliation, and/or stepping on social toes. That fear never goes away. Yet, we do it anyways. I think many of us in our cohort can agree that entrepreneurship is downright terrifying — yet, we would never ask for anything less. We learn to embrace and love the fear, because it tells us we’re on the right track.
  3. We are highly functional, passionate introverts. I remember sitting next to one of my cohort members at dinner, and sharing how there are times when we feel so alone. Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely place when there are no other entrepreneurs to connect with. Most people don’t understand that our mindsets are different — we jump into rabbit holes and break things. Our work is motivated by the passion and fire in our hearts. We work alone first to hone our vision before we seek others for help and support in making our vision even better. During the Forum, I talked about how I wanted to be alone in my hotel room for the evening, until another cohort member mentioned how this was a once in a lifetime chance to network and meet others. I think all of us have learned that being social and collaborative is necessary for our projects to succeed, although our ideas and our work is first done quietly, in the spaces of our heads.

I’m still processing that amazing experience of meeting others who have the shared vision of changing our world. They are all over the globe, and yet Misk found them and put them together. I also remember another entrepreneur who attended the forum but was not a part of our cohort. When he told me about his project, I asked him if he had applied for the Grand Challenge. He said something to the effect that he felt his work was insignificant compared to the work from members of our cohort. Yet, to me, he was also a visionary. I asked him, “Why not you?”

Living the Dream

It’s been a few months since I successfully defended my thesis and received my Ph.D. I convinced my dear classmate, Marcy Berger, to walk on the stage with me as we received our degrees and hoods on May 19th from the University of Rochester.


On graduation day, doctoral candidates are “hooded” by our advisors. Here, my advisor, Professor Jayne Lammers places the hood over my head and on my shoulders, which signifies indoctrination into the academic community.

However, I did not wait until graduation day to pursue my ultimate dream, which is to change the world through education. On April 5th, I started my company, Paragon Learning Research Group. Although the company is new, it represents the culmination of my lifetime of work in biology, education, business, learning theory, and program evaluation. In a nutshell, I built this company to bring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to elementary school teachers through a digital community platform. What I’ve learned through my research at the Builder’s Brewery, I am using its best practices to design a new interactive space to help support elementary school teachers with STEM. I will save the long story of this development for another post, because it took me many months (and it is a continually evolving project) to figure out my new identity as an entrepreneur and as a company.

To bring everyone up to speed on my work since April, I am now learning business entrepreneurship at an accelerator program through the ISU Startup Factory. This one year program is designed to help new business owners develop and grow through a network of mentors, events, and classes. Every six weeks, a new cohort begins at the factory. I am in Cohort V. Each week, we present on the work and progress we’ve made to our businesses while receiving a host of mentoring advice on moving ahead.

Thanks to my mentors at the Startup Factory, I was able to have a very successful presentation about my business at One Million Cups in Des Moines. You can see the presentation below, which gives you a good idea of what I’m doing now, and why I’m doing it:

This month represents the sixth month that Paragon has been in existence! Upon reflection, I’ve already made some pretty significant milestones in the company. The large milestone that we’ve accomplished is that last week, Paragon was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation- MiSK Foundation Grand Challenges Grant, which helps to kickstart our work moving forward! This has been such an exciting journey, and next month, the MiSK Foundation will sponsor my travel to the MiSK Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

I hope to be able to free up more time to keep this blog updated on my new adventures, and to share lessons learned on this journey into entrepreneurship! Until next time, live your dreams, and speak your truth. You’ll people there to support you!

Moving Forward

I took a long break from blogging and my online community to concentrate on the final steps of dissertation defense. This weekend, I graduated with my Ph.D. I could not have accomplished this without all the help from the Builder’s Brewery, my advisors, my family, and my friends. People have asked me about what I will do next! There really is so much to do, and now, I’m in a very good position to do it all. I’ve listed bullet points here of my five-year plan, but this is in no particular order…

  • Present my work to the Builder’s Brewery community – once my thesis is released publically, I will present a lecture to the communities in Second Life to share the foundation for my learning theory, which I call Interactive Spatial Learning, or ISL.
  • Attend the Connected Learning conference in Boston in August, and the Association of Internet Researcher’s conference in October. I present parts of my thesis to these conferences.
  • Publish ISL in at least two journals.
  • Begin my work at Paragon Learning Research Group as both the CEO and the STEM Education Director. This work is a culmination of all that I’ve learned from the Builders Brewery in combination to attending to the needs of teachers here in my local district. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, many students no longer have solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because the focus was on literacy and mathematics. Unfortunately, STEM cannot be taught without context and “doing” of things. My goal is to create a digital support system to help with this work, and to help spread STEM education everywhere and to everyone.
  • Continue the direction of Virtuosity, but perhaps thinking of ways where I can make this blog useful. I’ve learned so much from listening to peoples’ stories. My goal now is to continue sharing those stories, with the hope that they are useful.
  • Continue my mission to change the world in positive ways by pushing the different ways we think about learning and education.

Thank you for those of you who have supported me. I would not be where I am, accomplishing this very large life goal, without your help. This was one of many large mountains that I need to cross. Hopefully, I hope you will join me on this journey!

Also, if I can be of any help to you, please contact me. I’ve learned by helping others, we also help ourselves, and the world shines just a little brighter through these partnerships.

Off to Committee!

I’ve been working on various edits of my thesis, and tomorrow, I get to finally send this thing off to the committee! What happens after that is while the committee reads over and reviews my thesis, I finish writing the “front matter” on the thesis, which includes dedications, acknowledgments, notes, etc. I also prepare the dissertation defense, which is a 45 minute presentation about my study, followed by grilling by my committee.

That is, if my committee thinks my dissertation is ready! In the meantime, I’ve released it to my key informants to review.

Wish me luck!

Week 0 – Wrapping it up!

Today’s post is brief because I’m literally counting away the hours before must have everything written by this Friday, January 19th. After that, I work on the little details — table of contents, formatting, cross-checking consistencies, and small revisions from people who have been kind enough to review parts of my chapters for me. I finish all the writing this week, then will release these chapters for further comment, since I want to ensure the integrity of my work.

I have my very last chapter to write this week. Once that is finished, I know that graduation will finally be on the horizon!

Adopting a saying from my dear friend Marcy, “It takes forever, then you’re done.”

My One New Year’s Resolution

While 2018 brings new promise, and a rebirth of old meshed with new, I continue to chip away at this thesis until it is finished.

At this point, it feels as if I’m lost in the deep woods, and I will emerge when the work is done. I’ve grown quiet, which is not an unusual practice for me in the winter, but unlike my normal pattern where my work blooms in the spring, I only have one month left to complete this monstrous task ahead.

In the past week, I have continued to type sections of my thesis. It is perhaps, a more arduous task for me because I am very particular about detail and clarity. Also, the Builder’s Brewery community holds me to a higher standard — my work must be rigorous and accurately reflect the views of my participants.

I learned something very valuable this week, though, in that I am blessed with the ability to go back to the Builder’s Brewery community when I need help! Two nights ago, I was stuck on trying to explain the common phenomena known as lag in my thesis. It bothered me that I did not know enough of the technical terminology to write about it. So, I hopped into Second Life, and asked the folks at the Builder’s Brewery. By the time I left, I knew so much more and felt far more confident about writing that section, because of everyone’s help that evening.

This week, I continue to write, knowing that each day and each hour is even more precious as that timeline nears. My dissertation has moved from the (expected) 150 pages to being over 230 and growing. In part, this is because of my attention to detail and rigor.

What’s funny is that for the first time in many years, I approach 2018 without a list of resolutions. Instead, I have focused intently on just one: Finish writing the thesis in January 2018.

Do what scares you

As I write my thesis, I have these self-doubts. Questions in my head of,

“Who is going to read this?”

“How do I build on the work of so many amazing people who have done this for years?”

“Have I honored and respected all those mentors and peers who have helped me?

“What if my work is insignificant? What if no one cares? What if I’m wrong?

“How do I fit this in what we know, and how do I communicate to people how this matters, and why it’s important?

Then, I came across this quote, today:

You know what breaks me, when someone is visibly excited about a feeling or an idea or a hope or a risk taken, and they tell you about it but preface it with: “Sorry, this is dumb but-.” Don’t do that. I don’t know who came here before me, or who conditioned you to think you had to apologize or feel obtuse. But not here. Dream so big it’s silly. Laugh so hard it’s obnoxious. Love so much it’s impossible. And don’t you ever feel unintelligent. And don’t you ever apologize. And don’t you ever shrink so you can squeeze yourself into small places and small minds. Grow. It’s a big world. You fit. I promise. ~Owen Lindley

Here’s to taking big risks, being true to ourselves, and daring to “dream so big it’s silly.”

Here’s to picking up oneself, even when we don’t want to, we’re tired, we’re exhausted, and we’re scared. Here’s to picking oneself up, despite the fact that it’s going to make people uncomfortable, and that your inner protective self tells you not to because it leaves you vulnerable and open to threat. We do it anyway because we must.

Staying Grounded

We connect the dots better in our brain with things that we might think are silly or insignificant at the time, but we really don’t realize it until we see what other people have created with the same techniques. Then it opens our minds to other possibilities.
~Sen Maximus

This week has been dedicated to being fully immersed in my data and building upon the credibility of my research. While my data collection nearing completion, I must be meticulous about the trustworthiness of my study. Unlike quantitative studies which rely on statistical analysis in order for data to be valid, qualitative studies ensure rigor, or what’s called trustworthiness, through ensuring credibility, dependability, and transferability (see Bloomberg & Volpe, 2008; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; and Marshall & Rossman, 2016). Credibility refers to how well a researcher’s interpretations match and parallel their participants’ reflections.

In order for my work to be credible, I member check my findings. This means that I go back to the people that I’ve directly quoted and/or interviewed to make sure what I’ve used is an accurate and complete account of their thoughts and experiences. I interviewed eleven key informants from the Builder’s Brewery community. In order to member check my work, I sent each person a copy of the transcripts from their interview, as well as the excerpt out of my thesis on what I had written about them. Each person will have an opportunity to read, comment, and add or correct my data to make sure that what I’ve studied is accurate and true to what they’ve shared. This process takes a bit of time, because every transcript must be numbered by blocks of quotes so my informants can easily comment on my work. However, it’s very important to my study that the information in my data is accurate and also that I have their permission to quote the things that they’ve shared with me.

Another thing I am doing this week is processing my survey data. I will be sharing some of the findings from my work to the BB community and again, open a line of communication for people to comment and respond. Although my data collection is nearly complete, I want to make sure that I haven’t overlooked something glaringly important. I could not do any of this research without the help and support of the Builder’s Brewery community, which is why I feel that they should be involved as much as possible in this process. Besides, I’m really excited to share and give back to the community!

In addition to sharing parts of my data this week, I’m also comparing and connecting the work from my theory building with other learning theories that have been used with past research. It’s important that I build off of the work that has already been done while I figure out just exactly where my intellectual contribution will be. So for this week, instead of focusing on the rewrite of one chapter, I’ve focused my efforts on working the completion of Chapters 5, 6, and 7!

Literature cited:
Bloomberg, L.D., & Volpe, M. (2015) Completing your qualitative dissertation: A roadmap from beginning to end. Los Angeles, NY: SAGE Publications.

Lincoln, Y.S., & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G.B. (2016). Designing qualitative research. (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Dissertation updates and other things

I’m sure there are people who have been following my work are wondering where I’m at now, with my dissertation writing. These past few weeks have been extremely busy for me as I focus on making the deadlines for graduation in May.

As of today, I’ve written Chapters 1-6 of the 7 chapters of my dissertation. I need to wait until I’ve completed the formation of my theory, which makes up Ch. 5-6 before I can finally write about Ch. 7. Every chapter undergoes several revisions before they are good enough to submit to my committee. Right now, I’ve finished the first draft versions of Ch. 1-3, 5, and 6. I’ve completed the second draft revision of Ch. 4.

So, what’s next on my docket right now is working on the second draft revisions for Ch.s 5-6. Both of these chapters summarize my findings and learning theory, and there are a lot of holes I have to account for in them. My theory constructs are still very tentative, so now, I must work on making them more concrete and grounded into the data. This week, I dive back into the data, with a focus on:

  • Developing themes from my interviews
  • Member-checking with members of the BB community by making sure that my observations and interpretations are accurate with my key informants
  • Polishing up my code book
  • Developing definitive constructs for my theory
  • Summarizing the findings from my survey

Right now, it feels like I’m on a treadmill, and I just have to keep running to make things in time. Apologies if I haven’t surfaced in a while, but rest assured, that I’ll be sharing bits of my data in the next few months!

Wishing everyone happy holiday productivity!


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