Standing Even Taller

Originally Published in Entrepreneur Magazine

On my 14th birthday, my grandmother gave me a present: a framed photograph of her and my grandfather as teenagers in the 1940s. Then she explained the purpose behind it. “Your dad told me that you’ve started slouching when pictures are taken,” she said, “because you’re taller than the other girls and boys in your grade.”

My cheeks flushed. I didn’t know anyone noticed, but it was true: I wore flat shoes and slouched to better match my peers. 

“I’m happily taller than your grandfather,” she continued with a sly wink, “and I’ve never made myself shrink around him.” Then she shifted her finger in my direction. “No more slouching. Stand tall. And” —she paused to focus her kind eyes on mine– “it only matters that whoever you’re with can lift you up.”

That was 30 years ago. I’ve taken my grandmother’s gift everywhere I’ve lived since. It inspired me to stand tall as I transitioned from a career in public education to earning my Ph.D. And it provided support as I navigated that career–becoming the first faculty member of an innovative online college, then teaching writing independently, and finally venturing into entrepreneurship full time.

I started my company six years ago, and the daily challenges often make me want to slouch. I have changed the company’s name and even its business model. So when someone asks me what I do for a living, I’m sometimes hit with a flurry of thoughts—all about challenges I’m dealing with, and whether people take me seriously or question my abilities.

That’s when I really reflect on my grandmother’s message. Then I lengthen my spine, make eye contact with whoever I’m talking to, and respond: “I’m the founder and CEO of an EdTech startup. We lift people up by teaching them how to use writing as a tool for life.”

Today, the photograph sits directly under my computer monitor reminding me to stand tall—and to be grateful for the people in my life who lift me up.

Originally Published in Entrepreneur Magazine

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