In a foggy, rainy afternoon, around 7 years ago, I found myself on the edge of a plane, 4,000 meters up in the air, looking down. Heart pumping. I’d seen the person in front of me slide to the edge, scream to their lungs’ content, and disappear outside. I was next.
At that moment, all thoughts vanished and I was left with a few seconds — which felt like an eternity and, at the same time, the briefest of moments. You can’t hear anything, as it is literally so loud, and yet, peaceful, serene and… liberating.
I want you to try to imagine that stillness and ask yourselves: what fear or thing that you dread the most, challenge that most paralyses you, would you go out and face if you had absolute certainty that you couldn’t be hurt — or fail — or have that metaphorical parachute close on you?!
I knew that, in 2009, as I took a sabbatical year from a Law degree in Cambridge, where I felt inadequate and like I didn’t belong, that that plane was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.
I want to talk to you about turning points.
You don’t acknowledge them until they’ve gone but you can’t imagine your life without them.
By 19, I had lived in 3 different countries, taught myself English, lived a secret life (more on that in a second), thought I’d met the love of my life, seen a shoe being thrown at a judge in a murder and attempted murder case at the Old Bailey, and lost 85% vision in my left eye…
All of that — I’m grateful for.
All of that led me to be standing here in front of you today, telling a bit of my story, hoping that it’ll help you see that there are no right or wrong answers or questions but that the key is that you must keep asking.
This brings me to…
1: “The quarter life crisis”
Right, laugh away, the point is: in a world where “you code like a girl” is not yet a compliment (…we’ll make sure it is one day!), we are encouraged to follow the status quo. The usual “good grades, good university, top career” path.
I did that quite well, and yet even at one of the world’s top university, I felt exposed, ah that“imposter syndrome”, like I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, skilled enough,… the list goes on.
As I listened to the coulds and the shoulds, the plane noise, the voices of society, friends, family and even celebrities you look up to growing up, subconsciously guiding you to be or behave a certain way, I became very seriously depressed. I felt alone. But that, I kept hidden.
Today, I proudly say, that just wasn’t my THING. My WHY.
See, growing up in Brazil, only child, introvert and terribly shy, I had a whole secret life. My imaginary best friend so to speak was this big bulky beige box that would often get me screamed at for cutting my parents’ phone connection… A 1990s desktop computer.
Now… you might think, this sounds a little sad. I did too. I judged myself for it, I hid it from my peers, teachers, not from my parents ’cause they were screaming at me, but from the world. In my room, my sanctuary, all preconceived notions were brushed aside… and my attention focused solely on that little screen, the stimulation it gave me, the challenge, the fact I was building the official Brazilian portal for Friends the TV show… I even got a couple hundred of hits by 2000 and, naturally, moved on to create the Jennifer Aniston Hub Brazil and Ross & Rachel fanpage.
And yet… I felt embarrassed, of that side of me.
Little did I know then that I was meddling with HTML, FTP, and animated gifs, and that that, my secret hobby, could’ve been a very promising career now!
How many of you think tech and coding is cool? Real, brutal honesty here. Show of hands?
Ok, you might be biased because you’re at a Women in Tech event but I’ll let that one slide…
2: “This man. These two”
The easiest lifehack? Find a mentor. A benchmark. Ask questions. Find those who have walked the talk and are where you want to be now.
I met this superstar on the left, Dr Mark Esposito, at a Systems Thinking course at Harvard. He has been my teacher, friend, peer, advisor and inspiration ever since. We had to write a paper on what our personal and professional dilemma was. I answered, like many of us do at those tricky job interviews, ‘perfectionism’. He went ‘bah’.
He said, “Forget about me. Forget about what I might think of you. Forget about what you *should* say. Just think about it, empty your mind, and write”.
So I ended up writing about “The WikiBrain: Overstimulation of technological stimuli and how it’s shaping the way we interact with the world/information today”.
That’s when I realised I loved tech. That’s what made me get involved in startups and fall in love with the ability to use tech to connect us, for good.
On the right, my parents. The most important people in my life. Dad: the reason I’m in tech and, 70 years old, sporting his very own VR headset. Mum: a hustler, an artist, my rock.
They’ve inspired me to… find my place in STEAM.
To fight for diversity/inclusion & tech (VR) for good.
3. “It’s all in the mind. What you think = become”
I want you to be open to it. Don’t quiet your voice, like I did. As Queen Bee touches upon in Flawless, we’re facing a deep cultural/societal issue…
“We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls,
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful”
Thankfully, I was born in the generation that heralded ‘disruptive tech’ and the ‘sharing economy’ so I would eventually end up in startups. It’s ok to go down the corporate route, as it’s ok not to. The key is having the opportunity to choose.
Today, the average person will have 27 jobs spanned across 6–7 industries in their lifetime. (Thank you Sherry Coutu for the inspiration at FutureFest). The world has opened up to the curious, the explorers, who, like me, weren’t content with a predefined path… and who craved fast-paced change and flexibility, freedom of thought and time.
Time is, for me, most important asset. Every moment counts. So I ensure I wake up every day loving what I do.
4. “There are no failures, only lessons.”
As I run out of time to talk to you, let me leave you with a question:
How far are you willing to go to be the very best version of yourself?
Promise me this, whatever challenge, big or small you’re facing today, even if just procrastinating on an essay, do it. Take that first step. And the rest will follow.