The America we want to deserve

I will never forget the first time that I realised why America is the leader of the free world and what that really looks like.  Sure, I had been on holidays to the United States before just like lots of other people; shopping in New York, theme parks in California.  But it wasn’t until I was part of the winning team of the John Heine Entrepreneurial Challenge in 2009 and was chosen to represent Australia in the Global Moot Corp Competition held at the University of Texas, that I truly understood the American impetus for driving business innovation and technology and how that in turn drives business globally.

The competitions that I speak of are aimed at MBA graduates who develop a business idea and plan, one which they intend to launch and pitch this idea to a panel of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The pitch is comprised of three parts; a written business plan, a business plan presentation by all team members for 30 mins with additional Q&A from the panel and a 60 second elevator pitch to an open audience by one team member, which was me. These competitions are not comprised of fluffy pronouncements about projected earnings or promises to produce the next best mousetrap.  The tech needs to be solid.  The financials need to be credible and stand up to the scrutiny of some very experienced investors like the Melbourne Angels. And the pathway to launch needs to have sound logistics. We fought hard during the Australian rounds and beat all the other competing Australian universities and we were confident in our prep work heading over to Texas for the global competition.

We had beefed up our pitch to focus on a larger launch plan encompassing the global markets, which would not only increase our potential earnings but would accelerate the path to market.  I had memorised my presentation and could say it verbatim in my sleep. I was there to win and so was the rest of our team.  Each member had worked hard and was willing to go the distance needed to win.

Our team was comprised of our founder and CEO, who had licensed the technology we were pitching from the CSIRO.  A finance expert who had been involved in many significant IPO’s on the ASX. A logistics expert who worked in plastics technology and design for a leading Australian manufacturer.  Our academic advisor and seasoned entrepreneurial coach. And me, practicing the dark arts of marketing and sales and highly proficient in jazz hands for presentations.

Despite the throngs of people, the University of Texas was just like any other university campus that I had ever seen more or less (Go Long Horns), just bigger and maybe a little bit prettier. It certainly didn’t create any degree of intimidation in me, just the joy of the buzz of all the competitors from leading universities around the globe who were just as determined as we were to win the competition for their respective countries.

Behind every Wonder Woman you find?

I unashamedly loved the new Wonder Woman movie. Loved it! Ha! It was exciting, action packed and the lead character was confident, intelligent, sassy and beautiful. Not to mention fit as hell with legs that went on forever. Gal Gadot oozed charisma on the screen and played one of the most iconic female superheroes like a boss.

However, perhaps like some others, I did approach the movie with some trepidation.  Would it turn out to be another failed attempt at mollifying feminists, stripping the plot and characters of their fun and relatability? Or would it be cheesy and lame with bad gags and a one dimensional leading lady who acted dopey in an unsuccessful attempt to be more sexy. What a revelation it was to see that it was none of those things. It was authentic, fun and delivered on what is demanded of the genre.

And there was one thing even better than seeing the movie. (Which is saying a lot because what is better than geeking out on a superhero movie? Am I right? 🙂 ) The thing that was even better was seeing the reaction on social media and the loads of fans who reasonated with the strong and cool female lead. The public gave the movie a huge bravo and the box office records responded in kind. Awesome.

Which got me to reflecting on female characters in current movies and TV. It goes without saying that there have been approvements in leaps and bounds in the last 10-20 years when it comes to how women are represented in pop culture. Previously there was basically no female roles other than the doe eyed, sweeter that sugar, brighter than a summers day, non-offensive, non-threatening, non-opinionated damsel in distress, that simply swooned with pleasure at a mere glance from the handsome leading man. And you know what? I’m a realist.  There are women who are genuinely like that.  They are not really women I tend to be friends with and I sometimes uncharitably question whether they are for real or if it is just an act, but there are most certainly women that conform to that archetype. What used to stick in my craw was the monotony of it.  There was no other role available it seemed and it got very boring, real quick. Other than the transcendent Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the rebel warrior Princess Leia in Star Wars, there was basically meh, meh and more meh.

For the feisty, spunky girls who wanted nothing better than to slay and change the world, Hollywood and pop-culture used to provide no more inspiration than a diet of cardboard…or kale.  Thankfully those days are long gone.

Writing out loud to rekindle inner voice

Embarking on the 30 day writing challenge seems like a counterproductive solution to being overwhelmed with launching a business, but bear with me through the thinking on this one. I find myself smack bang in the middle of launching a business, with an aim to support myself and work towards achieving the life I want. A lofty goal and one which fills me daily with fears, reservations and self doubt…. all things that induce anxiety at best and cause paralysis at worst.

So in the midst of trying to figure out just what should be done to motivate me and push me to the next level, I was listening to a Fizzle podcast and heard from a Fizzler, Jonas Ellison who launched his blogging career, purely (sort of 😉 ) through doing the 30 day writing challenge and posting his thoughts online to build up his writing mojo. And like most things that come to you in the form of the proverbial bolt of lightening, inspiration and creativity, my brain shouted “Eureka” and that was that.  I knew how I was going to take the next step forward. A blog.  Musings, thoughts and spontaneous writing about things that I want to write about, for me… and maybe for you if you are reading this. Unlike journals which are private, a blog is the type of writing that forces you to compose your thoughts and make them at least somewhat intelligible for the reader.  Hence the training. Hence the discipline.  Hence the process (hopefully) to spur me onto action.

Culture shock in the Paris of the East

Moving to Shanghai, the so called Paris of the East, has been a bumpy ride filled with many new experiences, mostly all counterintuitive to your basic gut instinct of how things should function. I had heard of the term ‘culture shock‘ prior to moving here, but had never really embraced the full implication of the term. When I worked at the Queensland Ambulance Service, someone “going into shock” after an accident was dazed, confused, irrational, capable of walking into oncoming traffic and not really able to understand that this was essentially a poor life choice.

Culture shock as opposed to traumatic shock is like the more chronic version of it’s acute level cousin. You think you are perfectly fine, whilst stockpiling toiletries until your home resembles a WWII bunker and you can’t get in the front door.

Are your actions rational or productive? Not really. But unlike walking into oncoming traffic, you can get away with them for quite sometime before the sane part of your brain or peer feedback kicks in and forces you to reassess.

Now the upfront disclaimer here is that we are living in the very swanky Former French Concession Area.  TripAdvisor rates it as #11 of the places to visit in Shanghai because “it is appreciated for it’s cafes, tree-lined avenues and tudor houses”.  All true and if there is one place that is more of an oasis in a city of 23 million people officially or 27 million people unofficially, depending who you speak to, the Former French Concession Area is a place of relative peacefulness and cleanliness in the never ending peak hour debacle that is Shanghai. Or just China in general.

However, to truly appreciate the factors that lead me to my months long culture shock, I need to tell you few stories.