Tech Shabbat. Why don’t you switch off

Rewind to one and a half years ago: I had just timidly switched off all my screens for 24 hours for the very first time as I wanted to incorporate “screen free” episodes in my life.

My relationship with technology is best described as obsessive. I never met a screen or an app I didn’t like.  Switching everything off seemed crazy and the mere thought gave me separation anxiety. Yet, I wanted to give it a shot.

I had watched this video where Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards, talked about her Tech Shabbats. A weekly ritual, where Tiffany would turn off her screens from Friday night to Saturday night. She called them her “resets for the soul” and I was scared — and intrigued! It helped that she was a respected figure in tech and not a random person, overwhelmed by the possibilities of today’s technology. What she said carried weight.

It’s been one and a half years and the weekly Tech Shabbats have become a habit. It’s just something I do. Every Friday night at sundown my screens go dark. My smartphone, my laptop, my tablet. No Facebook updates, no Instagram photos, no tweets, no emoji-based conversations on Whatsapp, Threema, Google Hangout.

It’s pretty drastic.

Often really inconvenient. (Have you tried to find an address without Google Maps in the past 8 years?)

Sometimes a bit annoying. (Especially to those around you who are used to changing plans on the fly, with a text message.)

But I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. My weekly disconnect.

I vividly remember the first time. I nearly broke into a sweat. Would I miss something? Would I miss EVERYTHING? I distracted myself with aimless activities. Hair needed to be braided. Makeup brushes needed to be cleaned. By Saturday morning I was convinced that I would die if I didn’t immediately switch everything back on. (You think this sounds like the workings of a teenager’s brain? It felt like it too!)

But I learned to appreciate the weekly habit. Felt refreshed. Gained clarity. If I had hit a wall with a business problem in the previous week, during my Tech Shabbat, the solution often presented itself in those screen free hours. It was a bit spooky at first. Now I practically count on it.

Because it makes perfect sense.

We are rarely in situations anymore where we rely only on ourselves. Moments of reflection, quiet, and, God forbid: boredom are scarce. When do “heavy screen users” like I clearly am (and you probably are) just sit down and stare aimlessly into space? How long can a glimmer of a thought develop before we scare it away with a distraction? When do we allow ourselves to be a little bored without immediately resorting to our routine refresh tour-de-force through all our apps?

Now those moments of reflection and quiet are a normal part of my week.

It’s a bit of an acquired taste — like the taste for oysters. But those 24 hours every week work for me. And maybe they work for you too.

If you’d like to try it and are scared I want to remind you that I was basically beside myself. You can do it too!

And I can promise one thing: It’s worth it even just for the joy of switching everything back on again!

Why don’t you try it once and see how it goes?

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– Katja Bartholmess. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”

The most dangerous place: Your comfort zone

The most dangerous place in this world is the comfort zone. And yet, nothing very exciting ever happened there.

The comfort zone is furnished with convenience and ease. Upholstered in the softest fabrics so that it’s hard to get your butt, once parked there, up again. It’s decorated with a managerie of things that we’ve always done like this until we thought it was the only way there is. On the walls hang images of what we like to think are the “lesser evils.” So familiar that we think they were always there and will always be there. We are sure that what’s lurking “out there” will prove far more threatening.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

It’s a dangerous game.

A game against ourselves. Our happiness. Our success.

It’s one of humankind’s best and worst characteristics that we can arrange ourselves with the worst conditions.
This quality is a lifesaver when we find ourselves in catastrophic circumstances, like war and disease, and when it helps us to not lose hope entirely. It helps us in situations that we cannot escape and gives us the strength to endure.

This quality, however, is a pretty annoying ball and chain when it prevents us in more normal situations to make decisions that might widen our horizons, make us learn a thing or two, improve our lives. If we resign ourselves to our comfort zone — that frankly isn’t always so comfortable in the first place — we will miss a whole lot.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

“Do something every day that scares you.”

I think it’s a great piece of advice. We are all scared. We all find things scary. That’s normal. To consciously try to do something that catapults us out of the deep cushions of our comfort zone is a great goal.

It can be something small. First you poke your toe out of the comfort zone, then you’ll take a step, and then a whole leap.

It’s worth it.
Otherwise you’re just stuck.

Remember, nothing very exciting ever happened while we’re lounging in our comfort zone. And life’s really too short and too precious.

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– Katja Bartholmess. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”

For confidence’s sake: Find your inner cheerleader

People usually think that my confidence is indestructable, indefatigueable. Even close friends who’ve seen me reduced to a heap of teary doubt think that my confidence never wavers.

And they are right.

Because what I have managed, is to develop my inner cheerleader.

Let’s take a step back: I see confidence not as an all or nothing kind of arrangement that you are either lucky enough to have — or not. It’s nothing you have to be born with or will forever lack. I see confidence as something that can be tickled out.

Start by thinking about the things you do really well. What are you good at? What are the things that make you feel great? What are your hidden or not so hidden superpowers? –Maybe they are small things. Doesn’t matter. Acknowledge them. Pat yourself on the back for them. Cheer yourself on for them. It’s worth it.

That we are our harshest critics isn’t new. But beating ourselves up won’t get us anywhere. We should feel more awesome.

It’s up to us.

We can’t sit around and wait until someone comes by and validates how we feel about ourselves. We have to find a way to feel good about ourselves. It’s not easy. But there’s no other way. There will always be challenges, there will always be something to be bummed out about. Maybe we didn’t win that client, maybe our presentation fell flat, maybe someone told us to our face that something we did left a lot to be desired. If we want to be able to bounce back from those disappointments, we need to find a way to make do with our inner resources. We need to unlock our inner cheerleader.

It will take a little while to shut up the inner critic and to turn on the inner cheerleader. Keep at it.

Why don’t you make time in your day for a little self-praise:

  • “I’m really good at this.”
  • “I’m absolutely outstanding when it comes to that.”
  • “I am amazing at this. Nobody has ever been as amazing and I doubt anybody ever will. I am a superstar.”

You think that’s a bit much? Well, remember that you usually let your inner critic go all the way too. You let her say the harshest, meanest things about you, don’t you? — Why not let your inner cheerleader go a little overboard as well?

Exactly.

Our thinking influences our being. And I’d really rather run the risk of feeling a little too good about myself than feeling too bad.

What do you think? Have you found your inner cheerleader or does your iron-clad confidence not need any crutches? Tell me in the comments.

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– Katja Bartholmess. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”

What magazines do you read?

If you are a woman who likes to be taken seriously, chances are that this feels like a pretty loaded question.

Doesn’t it?

What’s the ideal conspicuous reading material? What glossy favorites can you safely admit to? What is best kept hidden in the bottom drawer lest you want to have your intellect, resolve, professional strength questioned?

Why can’t we just say that we like to leisurely browse the pages of Elle, Vogue, Glamour without fearing that we must be some kind of a disgrace to our fellow enlightened ladies? Must be failing at feminism.

Looking at the latest fashion styles, products that allow us to care for our skin, that new lipstick color that’ll be fun to try. It’s relaxing, no?

With all of that said we were happy to read this article in New York Magazine: Finally, “serious” women are standing up for fashion magazines.

They asked:

“Why should we consider clothes and child care such insulting topics in the first place? Why shouldn’t those conversations coexist with ambition and professional accomplishments?”

Yes, why should we and why shouldn’t they?

Soooo, between us: What magazines do you read?

Perfectionism is a Trap

Did they tell you too that the one weakness you can gladly admit to is that of being a bit of a perfectionist? As if perfectionism was really rather a badge of honor?

If you tell me that you’re a perfectionist, I’m immediately skeptical. Will you ever get anything done?

To me, perfectionism is just a euphemism for “not able to confidently declare something done.”

Most products and projects are never “naturally done.” You could theoretically adjust and edit and iterate anything until the end of days. Products and projects are done when either the deadline alarm goes off or you say so.

And I think that people should dare to say so. And maybe say so before they have revised their work a thousand times.

To me, it shows confidence and competence if you boldly stand there, point to your work, and tell me with professional pride, “Here! This is it. It’s great and you’ll love it because it’s amazing.”

Don’t get me wrong. When I’m working with designers, writers, photographers — for instance — I obviously expect stellar results. I always have high expectations so I expect everyone to go the extra mile to really bring it home. But an extra mile is not a marathon.

From what I can discern, perfectionism is less about trying to go the extra mile and more about a measure of insecurity. The fear that the results might not dazzle as intended. I’m not blaming anybody. As a creative I’m certainly not a complete stranger to this fear. I’m just calling a spade, a spade: You’re not a perfectionist, you’re just a little scared.

Why am I so persistent, you ask?

Well, because I think that explaining the urge to do millionth revision with the perfectionist excuse is a trap. There’s no way out or around it. If you however decide to embrace the fact that you might just be a little scared of how a project or product is being received by the intended audience, you can deal with it. Maybe even solve it.

Why do I think it’s not done yet? What is the worst that can happen if I say it’s done right now?

Nobody can wait for anyone else to legitimize your work or your decision. There’re no cookies and no pats on the back. No clouds will part so a booming voice can say: “You are done!” Only you can make that decision and move on to the next heroic act. — Or buy that cookie. Because it’s totally deserved.

That’s how I see it.

How do you see it? Do you want to go to bat and rehabilitate perfectionism? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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— Katja Bartholmess. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”

Future Entrepreneurs

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Ambitious women often start out as ambitious girls.

If you show these girls examples of what careers and successes real women can achieve and honestly share what it takes, then their dream of what they can achieve can become bigger and they can start mapping out their path with confidence. Or, in the words of Lupita Nyong’O with the heavy golden Oscar statue for her role in Twelve Years a Slave in her hands: “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

That, in essence, was the motivation behind a new summer program organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum NYC (where I moonlight as Observer of the Board and creator and moderator of The Future of X Think Tank Series).

A week of entrepreneurship for high school girls — for future entrepreneurs. Everyone came together at Rockefeller Center, on the 36th floor with views of the Empire State Building (thanks to Lori Hoberman at Chadbourne & Parke for the invitation). It was a sweet mix of doing and learning.

Every day, the girls worked in groups on their own impromptu entrepreneurial projects and toward a final presentation to a jury. The business ideas these bright young ladies dreamed up and developed included a dress shoe with an adjustable heel from high to flat, a green gym that would use the kinetic energy generated by cardio equipment, a restaurant and workshop concept that would combine lunch and learning, and a tech truck that would rent out tablets, laptops and other devices around schools.

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Each day, entrepreneurs shared their stories. Among them were Ouidad of Ouidad Curly Hair Products, Sarah LaFleur of M.M. LaFleur, Tammy Tibbetts of She’s The First, Nikki Robinson of Gloss and Glam, Stephanie Cion from Wellalarm, and me, Katja Bartholmess of gimmegorgeous.com.

Everyone talked about starting out without a map and highlighted the importance of networking and having people that support you and your goals. Everyone agreed that the road to entrepreneurial success is a winding one that you need to have the stomach for. But one very worth taking.

We targeted junior girls in public high schools all over New York City and roughly 50 students applied. Students were required to be interested in business or any STEM fields and perform in the top quartile of their class. Students were selected from the following high schools: University Neighborhood High School, Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies, School for International Studies, High School of Computers and Technology, and Manhattan Academy for Arts and Languages.
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 We all saw ourselves in these girls and tried to tell them what we hoped we had been told about being an entrepreneur and creating your own path at that age. That week was a passion project for everyone involved.

At least it was so for me. A true passion project.

What about you? Do you have a passion project? Would love to hear about it.

– Katja Bartholmess. Founder of gimmegorgeous.com. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”

Thank you for being successful

If you can do it, I can do it.

This mantra has been with me for most of my life.

The success of those around me is one of the biggest motivations for me. The more successful, the better. Because every success you are able to achieve broadens the frame of what I believe to be able to achieve myself. It’s entirely logical: Let’s assume you’re not a superhero with supernatural powers (sorry, if you’re Spiderman). Then you must have achieved your success with entirely human qualities and capabilities. That means it’s not impossible. And therefore I might very well be able to replicate your success with my own entirely human qualities and capabilities. Makes sense, right?

Mind you, I’m not saying or expecting it to be easy. Not at all. I’m expecting it to be mind-bendingly hard. I’ve always preferred the path of most resistance anyway. And there is a dramatic difference between “mind-bendingly hard” and “impossible.”

I feel inspired and delighted by all types of success, not just the ones I actively pursue in my own life and career. Whether a friend is being hailed as one of the most important new filmmakers or a friend ends up on Broadway. If these very wonderful and very human people reach the highest achievements in their fields, I should be able to do the same in mine.

It goes both ways, obviously. If I can do it, you can do it too!

What about you? Do you have a mantra that keeps you balanced and focussed throughout the day? Would love to hear about it.

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— Katja Bartholmess. “It’s my passion to inspire and motivate other ambitious women with my stories and experiences from over a decade of entrepreneurship.”