In response to my post, Contemporary Mentors, a female reader of this blog who often sends me notes when I fall into a pattern of highlighting cis-het-white men, responded directly to the post with:
I hope that you add more women and more diversity to your contemporary mentors. Otherwise you are in the same fucking echo chamber.
I responded with:
I have many women mentors. Here’s some: Lucy Sanders, Heidi Roizen, Madeleine Albright, Amy Batchelor, Wendy Lea, Nicole Glaros, Arlan Hamilton, Freada Kapor Klein, Lesa Mitchell, Jean Case … And many women who I learn a ton from that I wish I had a mentee relationship (or contemporary mentor relationship with) – (e.g. Melinda Gates, Susan Cain, Brené Brown).
I forgot a few in my quick response, including Joanne Wilson, Robin Hauser, and my mom (Cecelia Feld.) And even as I write this, the list continues to unfold in my brain, which makes me smile. But I also realize that most of these women are white, so I have work to do to find some non-white female mentors.
The reader is not a fan of Tim’s and went after my affection for him with the following:
I can’t listen to Tim’s podcasts because it’s the white bro-show…the very thing that led me to start my podcast in 2017. After he released the episode a few years ago on bitcoin and blockchain (which was brilliant) I tried to listen to him but his world is truly a distorted echo chamber. I don’t understand people’s fascination with him. Then again I don’t understand folks’ fascination with Gary V or Jack Dorsey…the list goes on and on.
I struggled with her view on Tim, but I don’t want to try to convince her otherwise. Instead, I’m more interested in listening and learning, which led to this comment of her’s.
True allies / accomplices see these things and call them out. It’s exhausting when we have to call it out for you cis-het-white bros. And yes, I have this convo with my husband on a regular basis.
Embedded earlier was the comment:
If you really are into helping out with diversity, calling this stuff out would be really helpful. Otherwise you perpetuate it.
I’ve been learning about how to be an ally / accomplish since 2005 when I was first introduced to the concept by Lucy Sanders at NCWIT. I’ve learned a lot about this from Robin Hauser through her film Bias (Amy and I are executive directors of Bias, Code, and Robin’s upcoming film $avvy) and have been going even deeper with some of my work recently around racial inequity.
But there’s almost more to learn.
The phrase “contemporary mentors” popped into my head on loop number six of eight on my morning run. I’m training for a Covid marathon, which is 27 loops around my property.
My pace is tentative as I’m still gearing up after a long break due to a back injury, but I’m letting the miles and the time on my feet build on the weekends.
Running in circles for hours is different than running in the mountains in Aspen during the summer. But, I’m afraid of going to Aspen right now because of Covid, and I’m afraid of leaving my property and running on the roads or the trails near Boulder.
So, I’m embracing the circles. Amy likes it because she can keep an eye on me and let Cooper come out for the last couple of loops. While I think he could run with me forever, she worries about him when he goes for more than three loops, which is about six miles for him given all the back and forth he does.
I’ve decided that I’m going to approach the second half of 2020 differently than I approached the first half. This weekend, I turned off a bunch of inputs. I had several long conversations with Amy, right after I meditated, but before I did anything else, including one today where I acknowledged that the organizing principle I’ve been operating with for the last year isn’t working for me. I spent a lot of time outside, but without feeling tethered to anything. I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, instead of trying to catch up or get on top of the stuff. I laughed at the few absurd things that crossed my path, rather than letting them aggravate me. I thought some more about what I wanted to spend my time on and what I was going to delete.
None of this is new for me – it’s a regular repeating cycle. Sometimes it’s part of my burnout loop or a boom-bust work cycle. Other times it’s a function of not knowing my limits and getting depressed. Once it was a function of a self-induced depressive episode because I stupidly took Ambien for two weeks on an international trip. And sometimes it’s just random.
A little more than a year ago, I came up with a new organizing principle for how I was going to address my work. I thought it was clever, was proud of myself for coming up with it, and tried it for a while. About a month ago I realized that it was a failure and that I wasn’t happy with it. While several aspect were working, several weren’t, but most importantly I realized that my frustration with it and my determination to try to make it work, even when it wasn’t, was making me unhappy.
So, about a month ago, I threw it away. I didn’t stop any of the activities I was doing, but I threw away the organizing principle.
This morning, I told Amy that I had thrown it away. It was the first time I was able to articulate this clearly. I don’t have a new organizing principle yet, but I knew the one I was using wasn’t working.
When my running loops increased, I realized I needed to listen to something while I’m running. Usually, I run “naked” (without headphones), especially when I’m in the mountains or on trails. But, after a few 0.95-mile loops, I want some stimuli other than “another loop.”
I decided to go through some Tim Ferriss podcasts and listen to some of my friends that he interviewed. I think the world of Tim and have learned a lot from him, even though we haven’t spent a lot of time together. And, whenever I listen to any of his podcasts, I learn at least one thing, and they often cause me to think about a few things.
In order, over the past few longer runs, I’ve listened to:
It was in the middle of Seth’s interview that the phrase “contemporary mentors” popped into my head.
I was searching in the background for a phrase different than “entrepreneurial heroes.” I started my first business in the 1980s and my entrepreneurs heroes include Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor, Steve Case, and Dan Bricklin.
But Seth, Jerry, Ryan, Tim, Madeleine, and Jim are in a different category. They are mentors of mine, in a long list of mentors. Some – like Jerry – are soulmates. Others, like Madeline and Jim, are people I know a little bit but respect enormously. And Ryan and Tim are contemporaries on a different vector entirely.
Aha – “contemporary mentors.” The ideal mentor-mentee relationship is when the mentor and mentee become peers and learn from each other. But peer mentorship has never become an easy category for me to explain as it implies an evolution from a mentor-mentee relationship. What if that’s not what happened.
Tim and Seth – thank you. As I listened to you today on my run, I learned from each of you, while having a close emotional connection from my own relationship with each of you. And from it came a new phrase for me: “contemporary mentors.”
A key ingredient of Techstars accelerator programs is our experienced and engaged mentor community. Mentors embrace the Techstars “Give First” philosophy by offering founders their time, advice, and connections. We treat mentorship seriously – you can read about it in our Mentor Manifesto and my blog series on the mentor manifesto. And, my book Give First, coming out at the end of 2017, will cover mentorship in depth.
Our global network now consists of over 5,000 mentors, including many successful Techstars alumni. As Techstars continues to selectively expand into new geographies and industry verticals, our mentors are important as ever.
Serving as a mentor is intrinsically rewarding on multiple levels. Guiding founders through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship creates a deep sense of contribution. It provides an outlet for mentors to engage in their local startup communities and keep a pulse on emerging technologies. It’s a chance to learn by teaching, and engage with a new generation of entrepreneurs. And it’s fun.
Beyond the intrinsic rewards, Techstars has been considering creative ways to recognize our mentors while deepening their relationships with founders. Today we’re happy to announce a new partnership with AngelList to offer Techstars mentors and alumni an exclusive opportunity to invest early in accelerator companies. Our first two pilot funds will be the 2017 city programs in Austin and Boston, launching on January 23rd. The AngelList funds will give mentors and alumni early investment access while providing companies with additional early stage capital.
At Foundry Group, we learned a lot by running our own FG Angels syndicate. AngelList syndicates helps enable seed stage investing at scale. We believe in the model and its power to further enhance the Techstars network.
If you are a Techstars mentor or alumni founder and would like to learn more about the Techstars AngelList funds, or an experienced entrepreneur or tech executive interested in becoming a Techstars mentor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.