Leading with less: the benefits of executing with scarcity

Nobody wants to go through it, but when we’re forced to, it turns out to be for the better. The reality is that, for the venture world, most of the new generation of entrepreneurs and investors have been educated in a time of abundance, with easy access to capital.

Raising round after round within six to nine-month windows became the norm. When money is easily found, it is also easily spent. During times like these, offices became nicer, overhiring was a common practice, and there was little concern over customer acquisition costs. Incentives were used to retain customers, as we know from the large number of coupons offered by companies like Rappi and Uber. Have you heard of the term VC2C? Well, it stands for Venture Capital to Consumers, which reflects the scenario I just described.

Now, the tide has changed dramatically, and those who can adjust with speed and a positive attitude will benefit the most. If you’re starting afresh, it’s easier because you won’t have to change habits. If you’ve raised in 2019-21, it will require more effort, but it should pay off. It’s important to keep in mind that Venture Capital money only came into place in the 1960s in the US and became more popular in Latin America around 2010. Before then, companies were created out of founders’ capital and with a lot of sweat. Entrepreneurship has always been a reference to hardship, resilience, and resourcefulness. Today, I spoke with a founder who is going through this process, and in her words, “We now have the mindset we had prior to fundraising. We’re doing a lot with very little.” Now that she has a plan in place and has accepted that she will not raise any time soon, she is energized and driven to make her company happen (this was not the case when she was trying to fundraise unsuccessfully). So, let’s go to the quick list of benefits of executing with scarcity:

Resourcefulness and creativity: This means finding creative ways to stretch your budget and make the most out of every opportunity. You will have to learn how to prioritize your spending and focus on the areas that will generate the most significant return on investment. By doing so, you will develop a keen sense of resourcefulness that will serve you well throughout your business journey. My recommendation is always the same: for early-stage startups, the goal should be finding product-market fit, which stands for having growing customers who are consistently engaged and paying for a product or service.

Agility: When you don’t have the luxury of a large budget, you have to be nimble and adaptable. This means being able to pivot quickly when a product or service is not performing as expected or when the market shifts. This also means making adjustments to team size and profiles quickly. With limited capital, your decisions must be swift. This will create a culture of strong performance that, if well-managed, will retain and attract those who are willing to fight with you over the long run. Of course, always communicate candidly and warmly.

Focus: Running a startup with little capital can help you maintain focus on what is truly important. When you have limited resources, you must prioritize what is essential to the success of your business. This means focusing on your core business model and avoiding distractions that can lead you astray. Priorities should be discussed on a weekly basis with the leadership team and on a monthly basis with the company at large. I recommend following the funnel model: start with the purpose of the organization, go to values, dive into goals, and then highlight the priorities needed to achieve these goals. People need to be reminded again and again why they’re there, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how to do it.

Let’s end with an old and reassuring note:

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Franklyn Roosevelt

Recharge in large, quick steps: the benefits of running well

We were born to run: to escape danger and bring down prey; to achieve protection and sustenance. Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, like good runners, would probably agree with this argument, but the one who defends it with the loudest voice is Christopher McDougall. Christopher is an American journalist and frequently writes for Runners World magazine; his masterpiece, however, is the intriguing book Born to Run, released back in early 2010’s. I just finished it and I strongly recommend it: for runners and the curious in general. Among his theses, there is one that I have personally been testing for over 4 years: running frequently is an excellent way to relieve stress and recharge your battery. Below what science has already shown to be true about the benefits of hitting the road with long (or short) and fast (or slow) steps:

Improve your health: increase the level of good cholesterol (HDL), boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and, for women, decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.

Boost your self-confidence: This is one of the most important non-physical benefits of running. Setting goals and physical challenges can dramatically impact your psychological self-esteem and self-confidence. Completing a run is an easy and inexpensive way to feel that your day was productive and that personal goals were achieved. Also, running releases hormones and neurotransmitters that function as natural, endogenous antidepressants. Some say running is the best cure for depression.

Bye bye stress: Decrease your appetite, increase the quality of your sleep, and feel that your entire body has been used according to its original design: not for sitting all day, but for moving, as Christopher would say, in search of protection or sustenance.

In addition to these obvious advantages, running outdoors is also, above all, an act of expression of freedom and citizenship. It’s free and requires little equipment; serves everyone, of all ages. It’s also an excellent means of exploring new places. It was on the run that I got to know avenues, corners, parks, lakes and views in places like London, New York, Paris, Ljubljana, Jakarta, Shanghai, San Francisco, Bali and so on. Specifically, it works well in the morning before the heat picks up, around 7.30 am: I drink a black coffee with sugar and I’m off on the road. The advantage of exploring a new place on the run is that you see a lot, from a unique perspective, in a short amount of time. As touristy as the city is, early in the morning is the time for local residents to occupy streets and parks, allowing for authentic observations of local life. In Ubud (Bali), for example, I run down a street covered in smoke that mixes the smell of burnt coconut and lotus incense — religious offerings — with, ah not romantic, burnt garbage — an ancient practice still used by much of the village. The best of all is to hear from ladies and children a friendly and humorous Salamat Pagir!, good morning in the local language.

Finally, I share a remarkable passage from Born to Run, about the training method of Coach Vigil, one of the most important running coaches in the USA:

“…Coach Vigil’s magic formula for running well had nothing to do with running, it was basically:

Practice abundance by being generous;
Improve your interpersonal relationships;
Demonstrate integrity in your values.”

His diet recommendation for Olympic marathon runners was simple and straightforward: “Eat like you’re poor. Coach Vigil believed that one had to become a strong person before becoming a strong runner.

If you’re still not convinced that we were, in fact, born to run, check out Christopher McDougall’s TED talk as a last resort.

A Theory on How Travel Makes You a More Authentic Leader (and Individual)

Traveling can provide a remarkable experience, building and transforming your story. Each step, each inquiry, each surprise is original and quality raw material for another chapter of his autobiography. So, time to turn the page and start the next one?

Saint Augustine already said “life is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”. In that spirit, I write here to expose the hypothesis that, yes, leadership and creativity can be developed and cultivated through the expansion and possible irreversible disruption of our microbubbles.
This reasoning is based mainly on the personal experience of the HIKE team, but it certainly draws on the literature produced by travelers, poets, philosophers and thinkers in the field of leadership.

I agree that the association between travel and leadership in academic books or articles is not obvious, but you see, all we need to do is piece together the evidence.

To begin with, there is a consensus among leadership thinkers and great leaders that there is a direct correlation between leadership and individual characteristics such as:
. intelligence
. flexibility and ability to adjust
. extroversion
. conscience
. openness to the new and experience
. self-sufficiency

Yes, there are those lucky enough to be born with all these attributes, but science believes that most of them are developed during life. Experiences that force adaptation to the new, open communication with strangers, the awakening of perceptions to a new world that reveals itself, and survival in the apparent chaos — even if for a short time-, bring a practical, visceral, and authentic. Out of the bread and butter of everyday life and “navigating” the unknown, we are uncomfortably pressured to act smartly and efficiently, quickly and sensitively to the challenging source.

You already got it, didn’t you? Connecting the dots, it is imperative to relate the development of all, absolutely all of these attributes, with the experiences that can be gained through a good independent getaway. Generally, the longer and further away than usual, the greater the shock and the better the result.

Traveling takes us away from the traditional way of thinking about our microbubble — work, friends, family, society, pains and loves. Facing the world — the big bubble — through another lens results in the rupture of that microbubble, possibly reaching very different spheres. The different can be bigger, smaller, worse, better… in short, the focus is on experiencing what was previously unknown.

When we stumble and life gives us a fright, seeing through a different perspective leads to an understanding beyond your current condition. The result? You become more self-confident when you realize that the situation is much less complex than it seems. Traveling also forces you to reconnect with yourself, renewing your spirituality and expanding your self-esteem. An extra dose of self-confidence is always welcome to lead indispensable changes, on a personal and professional level, in a world in constant transformation.

Convinced? Far be it from me to fill you with theory, so I suggest that you validate (or reconfirm) this hypothesis yourself. Put it into practice! Get away from your comfort zone for a few hours, days or weeks, embarking on a new experience where the most different is the most attractive. For those who do pack their bags and decide to leave, going solo potentially enriches the experience, as you’re likely to face surprises unusual for group travelers. Book your tickets and the first two nights of accommodation; for everything else, adapt according to demand. Ideally, the shock should be complete: inversion of time zones, language, culture and season. Your money will also be limited, forcing open communication with travelers in the same situation: which restaurant offers the best barbada? The best way to move from A to B? Does everything seem wrong to you on this side of the world too?

The destiny? The expansion of your micro-bubble, now perhaps a stretched-out mini-bubble through an intense workout centered on flexibility and adaptability, exercises you did without even realizing it. Oops, there’s more out there: being the author of your own story, bringing with you a dose of lifelong courage to experience creative possibilities in life that will make your autobiography increasingly rich and authentic.
Of course, traveling all the time is unrealistic, but experiences like these can be practiced easily in virtually any context. Exploring a new neighborhood, learning to play the guitar, becoming interested in the mysteries of the deep sea, trying a different cuisine, taking a circus class, studying macroeconomics, feeling the pleasures and (potential) frustrations of vegetarianism for a week: what What matters is leaving your comfort zone and exploring, immersing yourself in a new world. What happens next boils down to renewal: reconnection with your own values, goals, dreams, fears, and everything that relates to being human and being alive.

Start small: experiment small, and build a platform for bigger, more ambitious goals. Big changes are based on small steps towards a big idea. Be prepared to adapt to the unpredictable and see harmony in chaos.

The bottom line: breaking your micro-bubble, as daunting as it sounds at first, can become a tool capable of positively impacting every facet of your life: work, home, community, and individual, including mind, body, and spirit. Then, proportionally to the size of the expansion of your microbubble, self-confidence and self-esteem are inflated. To lead — be it your life, a business, a team, or a project — these elements are absolutely essential.

Finally, remember that we are today a reflection of yesterday. What we have seen, felt, tasted, heard, learned and experienced in the past shapes our behavior and attitudes today. So is it time to turn the page and start writing the next chapter?

Get out of your comfort zone before you get kicked out of it!

It’s a fact, our primitive brain seeks stability, predictability, and minimal energy expenditure to keep it safe, nourished, and alive. Interestingly, this same organ sometimes gives a nudge and provokes us to leave the place, to unveil the unknown, to question this much sought after stability and — oops! — including risking it in pursuit of something greater. The human mind is indeed confused, and luckily there is philosophy, therapy, meditation, running, surfing, beer, wine and friendly shoulders to alleviate our permanent conflicts. Even so, one cannot ignore the fact that whether or not the desired stability is increasingly far from the vast majority of mortals, especially us here in this Tupiniquim land in this year of 2015.

In the corporate world, hierarchical layers are being cut from all sides, accumulation of responsibilities, increasingly distant goals and the growing insecurity that your chair can rotate. In the creative and entrepreneurial universe, professionals of all ages seek to launch the next blockbuster application, create the new and most efficient productivity tool and find the long-awaited autonomy and financial independence — attitudes that we personally admire, but inserted in a context with demand exponential investment and limited capital availability. On the educational agenda, there are criticisms and provocations of changes communicated daily, coming from researchers, specialists and, notably, from civil society itself. In the vast majority, they are initiatives that aspire to take us to a scenario closer to true learning, which is very good. Even so, it only reinforces the feeling that the world and the way we live is being disrupted, having its structures dramatically shaken. Even the dreamed world of public tenders, the emblem of the search for stability and with more and more aspirants, samba to unpredictable rhythms masterfully led by tight public accounts and macroeconomic instability.

Thus, the question arises: what can be done to better navigate this galaxy of uncertainties and ambiguities? How not to despair with the expectation that we can, at any moment, be kicked far from our comfort zone?

The proactive path is to deliberately leave that comfort zone, consciously deciding and against the will of that primitive brain to provoke and challenge it. Over time, these exercises result in stronger, more defined muscles, and a body and mind ready to fight and even have fun when that kick comes. After all, a kick hurts much less in an athlete’s body, muscular and well trained, than in a skinny and sedentary body.

But, and how to take the first step out of the bubble that constitutes our routine? We risk here some logical ideas and concrete actions, which have been tested and proven in our past experiences, as managers or coaches.

1. Recognize where you are today: What industry, role, and geography do you find yourself in? What is your career progression to date and the prospect of growth in your current job? In what areas, competitors and industries do you see yourself adding value and delivering impact — or in other words, what skills from your current job can you easily apply in other contexts? Before starting any challenging sport, it is important to have a medical evaluation in order to diagnose your current physical condition and design a healthy and robust training plan. With your career, it works the same way: an honest and concrete diagnosis, based on facts of where you are today is a fundamental step to guarantee the solidity of your future roadmap.

2. Making an analogy to the financial investment strategy, diversify your portfolio of professional skills: an investor reduces his risk by investing in a varied portfolio of companies (read geography and sector). So, when one goes wrong, there’s probably another one to balance the equation. Why not do the same with your skills? It is important to know how to navigate and communicate with different functional areas (marketing, finance, operations, HR), to develop skills that allow you to easily be relocated to other areas and geographies and feel ready to quickly make things happen beyond your own bubble.

3. Challenge yourself in your spare time: But life is not just work and everything we do outside of it impacts our perception of it. The people we interact with and the activities that occupy our time away from the office influence how we see ourselves as individuals and professionals. Thus, it is worth reflecting on how we spend, or invest, our spare time: (1) sleeping, (2) in front of the TV, (3) exploring a book, a new concept, and provoking the mind to learn something different, (4 ) playing or experiencing a physically challenging sport, (5) traveling and exploring unknown territories that challenge our perception of how the world works and what is right and wrong? The list is long, and the important thing is to mix rest and challenges, aware that the brain is plastic and, if we do our part, new synapses will continue to happen.

4. Discover and explore personal passions (which may eventually turn into professional ones): It’s not easy to know what our true passions are. It is not an intellectual, rational process; on the contrary, it is something organic, practical, that happens as we explore and experience possibilities. Example: I (Alex) only discovered that running was a passion after 3 months of continuous practice 3 times a week. Once the first phase of euphoria, fatigue and adaptation had been overcome, I could see after 3 months how much my life had improved due to the exercise. Likewise, release curiosity and explore new sources of energy: crafts, volunteering, extreme sports, nature walks,
conscious eating, meditation, music, independent travel through inhospitable and little-explored places. Dedicate time and energy to exploring dormant interests and needs, opening up new avenues of possibility.

5. Experience transition possibilities and greater learning: Taking a broader step, why not invest in more radical transformations, such as preparing for a change in sector or even country? Here, the investment of time, energy and money is much greater, and therefore decisions must be weighed according to your financial and family situation. We are talking about Masters, MBAs or PhDs abroad, in top schools, which can open up previously unimaginable personal and professional possibilities. Without having to go that far and with a much more modest investment, professionals interested in changing the world through social entrepreneurship have the possibility of learning in practice by engaging with institutions that propose innovative learning models. Why not look for solutions to social challenges and problems without making radical career changes, experimenting and learning little by little? Graduate programs with this purpose, for example, can function as a career transition platform and a bridge to a world with potentially different and revealing people, values and definitions of success.

By recognizing that your professional value is not just limited to a position in sector X at company Y, possibilities increase, as well as your (emotional) dependence on what is written on your badge decreases. Many of the professionals who seek the services of a career coach only see a linear evolution for their careers. For example, a finance analyst in the consumer goods industry can see only one evolution to a management in the same area and sector. The secret lies in the intersection of skills, experiences, passions and talents, and when people can connect these dots, they unlock a universe of possibilities.

Finally, everything that challenges us and forces us to rethink the world and our role in it results in strengthening our ability to reinvent ourselves in times of crisis and face unexpected situations. It results in greater resilience, self-knowledge and self-leadership, fundamental elements of professionals who bring a positive impact to the world and, not least, live an integrated personal and professional life, full of meaning and happiness.

Article originally written by Alex Anton and Rajesh Rani, published in Harvard Business Review Brasil in June 2015.

My personal narrative, the longer format

Backpacking in Vang Vieng, Laos, 2008

This writing is an exercize in connecting the dots, which we should all do from time to time. It’s a journey through memory lane as well as a recollection of moments registered through journalling, which I have been practicing for more than 20 years (everybody should do it too, it’s like doing therapy for free).

As a Brazilian, being born in a working-class family basically means that you are fated to have your life pre-designed. Typically, you follow the steps of your parents, beginning with standard education, heavy pressure to get into a public university, some odd jobs to raise all the pocket money possible and, after graduation, facing the usual battle to get the first job. Once you have made it, you are supposed to consider yourself happy, get married, and enjoy life playing soccer and drinking beer with your best friends. That was all, my mom had thought, until early 2003 when I took the initiative to apply for a traineeship program in Potsdam, Germany. Enthusiastically and doubtful, I put all my efforts into that application. Two months had passed, and the German-stamped envelope finally arrived; it was a “yes”, and that was the beginning of a series of events that led me to found HIKE today.

Following that amazingly surprising outcome, many beer cans were opened, numerous cheers celebrated, smiles, good laughing, and some tears at my hometown’s airport. Suddenly I was hit with different feelings, assorted faces, and an odd language; I had arrived in Berlin. Back then I hardly spoke any English, and my German was non-existent. Now I realize how pretentious I was in expecting that a place would be exactly as my mind had projected. From Berlin’s airport to Potsdam’s train station, I realized that some feelings are simply so profound that they belong only to the ones who’ve been through them, and alone, during those 65 minutes, I experienced scents, temperatures and emotions that would seem silly if written here. They were mine, and if translated into one word, that would be “discovery”.

Since then, my journey has been illustrated with significant independent-driven discoveries. It hasn’t always been easy or romantic, but by walking off the beaten path I could experiment things that otherwise would never have come across my way. Essentially, in my past 20 years I have witnessed that it’s out of your comfort zone that you truly become aware of your inner soul, beliefs, fears, dreams, passions, prejudices, and everything related to self-awareness. I have been fortunate to allow myself the freedom to explore the beauty of self-awareness; consequently, I have realized that I want to drive my existence towards something meaningful and tangible.

I have always been curious and passionate about designing products and services that have the power to add real value to people’s lives by offering solutions to their physiological and psychological needs. Consequently, today I am glad to introduce myself professionally as a scientist, turned entrepreneur, investor, coach, mentor; above all, I am and have always been a strong people-person. As you can see through my Linkedin, I have been fortunate to work with world class people and companies, having excelled on the startup and scale up world, where I deeply connect with the culture of pragmatism, dynamism and purpose-driven leadership. Despite all the good-looking brands on my CV, these are external metrics; on the other hand, the experiences I had through all the amazing people I’ve met are all internal and there’s no dollar sign I can put on them. I feel grateful and privileged for the journey so far.

Through the Jungfrau mountains in Switzerland, 2009

I learned that I thrive when working with people who are curious, open-minded and ambitious on their own terms; through authentic conversations, I feel the power and joy of inspiring and getting others to reach their potential. This is my calling and what I want to deploy, develop and grow at HIKE.

I am always driven to walk the talk, and I love talking to strangers. I am not afraid of initiating new ventures and am passionate about entering new territories. Through my own initiative, I have lived and worked in Germany, UK, Canada, Switzerland, USA, China, and Malaysia. I truly embrace diversity and I like to think I was born to be a citizen of the world. As a good citizen, I have independently — and with very limited resources — explored more than 60 countries. I am also a father of two, a marathon runner, surfer, and a lover of the world and all its nuances.

With the iconic Jack Welch, in Harvard Business School, 2012

I truly believe that authentic leadership — learned through intense and multiple experiences driven by your own initiative and with the support of strong communities — is the key to making this world a more tolerant, accessible, real, and possible place. I work to empower and cultivate more of such leaders.

Mindfulness for leadership, focus and creativity

According to Wikipedia, mindfulness, translates as full attention, alert mind or full awareness. If we are strict about the origin of the word, mindfulness means the essence of the Vipassana measurement stream. Whereas other types of Buddhist measurement aim to empty the mind of any conscious reasoning or direct attention to a single image or idea, Vipassana practitioners seek to uncritically gain awareness of all thoughts and emotions experienced in the moment.

Attention: this rich and delicate philosophy cannot be explained in detail in just a few lines. The objective here is just to expose the concept to those who are interested in the subject or have heard about it but do not know what mindfulness means in practice. Personally, I believe that the frequent practice of Vipassana meditation can bring more focus, calm and energy to the mind and body. Specifically, Vipassana followers believe that our minds are constantly busy re-processing the past or anticipating the future, allowing little time and energy to truly live in the present. Theory comes to practice through simple exercises that can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. The principle is to focus on the breath, for example, and indirectly increase awareness of what goes through the mind, always in a non-critical and detached way.

Although a monastic life dedicated exclusively to the contemplation of the moment is light years away from the world most of us live in – that is to say the rush, the hustle, the emails, the pressure (external and internal) – there is a growing interest in how the principles of this practice can be applied to our lives in a pragmatic and realistic way. American psychologist and professor Ellen Langer has been studying mindfulness for a number of years, and her main theory is that practice plays an important role in the learning process. For her, meditating often increases her ability to see the world through constantly new angles. New angles, of course, require curiosity and commitment, as well as letting go of past concepts.

Letting go of old ideas, she warns, is especially difficult because possibly these “ideas” are already part of our DNA and we are not aware of them. With greater awareness of what we know and what we don’t know, we become more open and creative to new solutions.

Meditation & Leadership

In March of 2013, an important American newspaper dedicated a page to this topic: what is the interface between mindfulness and leadership? Who responded was Bill George, professor at Harvard Business School, former CEO of a billion-dollar company, and strong advocate of a productive, creative and authentic lifestyle. Bill argues that the subject is so much in evidence that at the last World Economic Forum in Davos the most attended lecture was given by the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. The latter, French and scientist with a doctorate in the West, is a scientific adviser to the Dalai Lama and author of the book Art of Meditating.

What is causing this dramatic shift in the way we think about what it takes to be an effective leader today? Well, it starts with the changes taking place in the world. We live in an era where globalization and advancing technological change create volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity. This impact grows exponentially through a job market in constant transformation and the new world where communication is present 24 hours a day. Seven days a week.

See how interesting: companies like Google, General Mills, Genentech, Target and Cargill, for example, have developed training programs for their employees focusing on mindfulness and leadership. The expected (and achieved) benefits are summarized in more creative, focused and determined managers. The correct word is resilience, but other adjectives help color the impact of meditation practice.

Following Professor George, practicing meditation for 20 minutes a day (I practice 10 and I believe it already has an effect) is essential to increase your effectiveness and sense of well-being. He has been doing it since 1975, and the result can be measured through his resume.

“Meditation allows me to forget about unimportant things and focus clearly on the important matters. My most creative ideas come from meditation. Also, meditation improves my energy level and allows me to have more compassion for others”, says Bill.

You see, it’s not just sitting down for 10-20 minutes a day, every day, that brings you the benefit of mindfulness. Praying regularly, keeping a journal, interesting and intimate discussions with people close to you, and solitary exercises such as running, walking, or swimming make us live in the present. The most important thing is to have a form of introspective practice that allows you to calm your mind and focus on what really matters.

Advancing towards the “what can I do?”, is the suggestion, scientifically proven, to practice meditation for 10 minutes daily. The important thing is to have discipline and follow the plan regardless of the context. Establish your routine as you see fit. Personally, it works well in the morning, after showering and before breakfast. Having a dedicated chair or cushion for practice also helps. And for beginners, guided meditation is an excellent tool to help “tame” the mind.

Article originally written in December 2013

Resilience: what, why and how

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, an individual’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who falls along the way. That’s true for cancer patients, it’s true for Olympic athletes, and it’s true for executives and entrepreneurs in the boardroom,” states Dean Becker in a 2002 Harvard Business Review article.

Resilience, therefore, is the ability to control your response to physically or mentally stressful situations. Science shows that the more resilient the individual is the further he will go in his personal and professional life. It makes sense. Success is the reflection of countless falls and defeats that were seen as opportunities for learning and growth.

In my experience living with and working with extremely talented individuals – at Harvard, McKinsey, as an investor and around the world – it is clear that the most interesting are those who have gone through adversity, sometimes heavy, and had the strength to rise again even greater. They have a contagious inner energy, empathy and humanity while demonstrating strength and unerring determination. Example? Liz Kwo, my colleague and co-coach in the program that we concluded in 2013 in Shanghai through Fullbridge: born in Taipei to a poor single mother, she illegally immigrated to the United States with her mother and sister when she was still a baby. In San Francisco, where they arrived by ship, they lived in a garage while their mother sweated in simple jobs to bring food “home”. She had everything to go wrong in life, but today her walls illustrate diplomas from Stanford, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School, simply the best educational institutions in the world. How? Because she knew that her only chance would be through education and merit, which she demonstrated by always being the most engaged, curious and determined student. Listening to her talk it is clear that her journey was not easy or romantic, but she says

“every time I felt like a loser, someone marked for bankruptcy, living in poverty and being a victim of an unfair and cruel world I closed my eyes and I remembered that my mother’s effort had to be worth it, and then I released the beast inside of me”.

It’s inspiring to hear that from her, even more so because her words come without pain or rancor; she tells her story with pride, softness, humanity illustrated with vulnerability and determination to keep going.

Clearly, the resilient individual is not the one who avoids stress in any and all forms, but the one who learns how to manage it and turn it into productive energy. The resilient person is likely to bend, but not break, when faced with adversity, trauma, tragedy, and threats. She is, most of the time, active and not passive in relation to what happens around her and in her life, always believing that she is the author of her present and future, and not a victim of her past.

Well, fortunately, many of us have not gone through dramatically impacting situations that shake our values and make us question our mission in the world, which is often heard from extremely resilient people (have you ever heard the story of someone who survived a serious accident or illness? ). So what if your life is comfortable and relatively linear? Scientists Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney of the Yale University School of Medicine recommend 4 scientifically proven strategies to boost your resilience:

Work with your physique: Physiologically, moderate physical activity promotes the release of endorphins and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which reduce symptoms of depression and improve mood. An animal experiment has shown that frequent running decreases various phobias and increases courage in exploring new environments. The recommendation is one hour and 15 minutes per week of intense aerobic activity such as running and swimming, or two hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity such as walking, for example.

Embrace Challenges and Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Taking a step beyond what you normally would, whether on vacation, on the weekend, or at work, stretches your comfort zone and potentially increases your security. There are no limits and everyone knows what that means for them, but it can be overcoming a fear, making a presentation in a new language, exploring another country with few resources and infrastructure, or starting to say no instead of always molding yourself to please others.

Meditate, and develop a positive view of the world: Meditating often can bring you clarity, focus, and make it easier to prioritize where to invest your energy. Meditating connects you with the present, avoiding regrets about the past and excessive worries about the future. This is proven to reduce stress and allow you greater control over your life and decisions, making you a more confident and determined person.

Friends and your relationships: Finally, the last tactic for increasing resilience encourages you to spend more time with people with whom you show mutual acceptance, respect, and admiration. It only works, however, if you’re really connected to that person and can count on them for advice, tips, or just a shoulder to lean on. It helps if your network is filled with individuals who are examples of resilience in person, as you will have role models to observe and follow. Mimicking behaviors and practices that make others stronger can also be of high value. For example, when you are discouraged and ready to give up, remember that there is a “beast” inside each of us, as my colleague Liz would say.

Finally, writing your story with the knowledge that you are the author and protagonist, that you decide to spend more time celebrating small victories than lamenting how the world is unfair to you, increases your motivation, determination, productivity and, ultimately, happiness. That’s why the most competitive universities and companies in the world expect to hear stories of overcoming and resilience in their selection processes. Given all this, I ask you, the reader, as well as myself: what’s next?

Article originally written in Sept 2013

On fear of failure

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears,” wrote Les Brown. Fear is a natural human emotion that helps us stay alert and protected in dangerous situations. However, when fear becomes excessive, it can prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. It can hold us back from pursuing our dreams, taking risks, and experiencing new things. In this self-serving article, I would like to explore strategies for conquering fear and living a more fulfilling life, particularly the fear of failure, which can impact our lives by preventing us from following our hearts and achieving our full potential.

Conquering fear has been a major theme in my own life. Leaving my hometown of Florianópolis, Brazil, to explore the world with no money, learning new languages despite ridicule, and leaving comfortable career paths to find what truly makes me come alive, are all examples of how conquering fear has stretched my possibilities in unimaginable ways.

The fear of failure is a common and powerful fear that can hold us back from pursuing our goals and dreams. I have met many overachievers who have put several ambitious personal and professional projects on hold due to the fear of not being able to deliver on these new paths. However, science shows us that with the right mindset and strategies, we can learn to overcome this fear and achieve our full potential.

A learning opportunity

One of the first steps in overcoming the fear of failure is to change our perspective on what failure means. Instead of viewing failure as a negative outcome, we can reframe it as a learning opportunity. Every failure is an opportunity to grow and improve, and by embracing this mindset, we can reduce the power of our fear of failure. It is important to remember that everything that has been created in this world was created by people similar to you and me, and they all had to go through a learning process with very few getting it right on the first attempt.

Set realistic goals

Another effective strategy for overcoming the fear of failure is to set realistic goals and break them down into smaller, achievable steps. By focusing on incremental progress rather than perfection, we can reduce the pressure we put on ourselves and increase our confidence in our ability to succeed. Perfectionism is a powerful enemy if we want to design and execute new projects; the best path is to get it done little by little and then iterate and improve it, like in the Design Thinking process.

Revisit your beliefs

It can also be helpful to identify and challenge the underlying beliefs that contribute to our fear of failure. For example, we might have a belief that success is only achieved by those who are naturally talented or lucky. By challenging this belief and recognizing that hard work and perseverance are also key factors in success, we can reduce the power of our fear of failure. As Angela Duckworth has shown, grit is a major determinant of professional success. It is a matter of trying, iterating, learning, and doing it again and again.

Be kind to yourself

Practicing self-compassion is also important when dealing with the fear of failure. Rather than being overly critical of ourselves when we experience setbacks or failures, we can practice self-kindness and remind ourselves that everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. For type A overachievers (like myself), it’s much easier to be kind to others than to ourselves, as our bars are always set high. However, by talking to others, changing contexts, and expanding one’s life through multiple genuine relationships, we gain perspective on what we’re trying to accomplish, allowing us to detach from perfectionism.

Share where you are heading to

Seeking support and accountability from others can be a powerful tool in overcoming the fear of failure. By sharing our goals and progress with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor, I have gained encouragement, guidance, and motivation to keep pushing forward even in the face of obstacles. I have three people in my life that I call my personal board of advisors, folks who are present to me when I need them and who ask me the right questions at the right time, making me accountable for my decisions and actions while encouraging me to go further.

Accept that life is short and the others’ opinions don’t matter

Lastly, I would like to recall some of the lessons from Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich states that “without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free”. When reflecting that most of our fear of failure is based on how others will judge us, I found helpful to highlight the five remembrances from Buddhism that Thich elaborates on his book “Fear”:

  1. I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature to have ill health. I cannot escape having ill health.
  3. I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.
  4. All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  5. I inherit the results of my acts of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.

Recognizing that life is short and that change is the only certainty, allows me to see life in perspective and to not care to how others will potentially judge me for a project that fails. Not caring about others’ opinions is a form of freedom, and the path to listen and be your authentic self.

In summary, conquering the fear of failure is essential to our evolution as human beings. Conquering fear is expanding our comfort zones, learning new things about ourselves, connecting to our authentic selves and allowing us to dream bigger and do more of what makes us unique. This, ultimately, is what the world needs: a community of people who are living their unique strengths, collaborating with each other and making the world a better place.