What Teens Can Teach Us About Social Entrepreneurialism

Tara Cousineau and I recently talked about what is likely the most challenging, finicky, distracted group of humans on earth. No, not your clients, but teenagers. They like something one minute, shove it aside the next. Rejection, whether from your teens or your clients, comes with the territory. Embarrassment from being around a chatty mom or from fearing rejection from a client takes a thick-skin and lots of humor.

This resilience and humor has come in pretty handy in building BodiMojo, Inc., her start-up, which is developing web and mobile-enabled health applications for teenagers. The most common reaction she hears from people is, "Teens don't care about their health." It's stated as an edict with little room for dialog. What successful entrepreneur hasn't had to plow through the sea of doubters?

So now I retort, "Oh yeah? Ask them."

Tara, unlike the majority of us, has a background as a clinical psychologist and social scientist. Traversing the unchartered territory of entrepreneurship had her thinking about what other women entrepreneurs might face all the time. The discussion at various start-up gatherings is often about the ways women entrepreneurs undermine their capability. Women give up too easily; they feel they have to do it alone to prove worth; they don't get out to "pitch"—and when they do, women don't ask for enough money. It's a pull that is both cultural and silent. In psychology, this influence is called "unconscious scripts"—or the messages and images that we internalize from family, relationships, or past work experience.

Becoming aware of internal dialog is hard to tune into. Take, for example, the types of automatic negative thoughts that are fairly common among women: perfectionism, personalization, discounting the positive, and the "shoulds." In classic cognitive behavioral clinical practice, one identifies the thought, labels it among a series of categories, and tracks when these thinking patterns creep up. I call it finding your "brand of negation."

The hard part is not so much labeling the thought patterns once one catches them—as many women can easily relate to a label like perfectionism. But the challenge is the ability to reframe the thoughts into a more positive way or at least neutralizing the nagging narrative. This is where clinical psych meets start-up life. Once you take the plunge, you have to coach your way along the highs and lows of building a business and finding a network of mentors, like Tara did with the SheEOs in Boston. The start-up stresses are inevitable. The signs are palpable and often physical. Ever experience a tension headache? Digestive problems? Craving of comfort foods after midnight? Insomnia? Fatigue? Inexplicable bouts of sweat (unrelated to menopause)? Shortness of breath or a rapid heartbeat? These are all important clues to take a few deeps breaths and tune into one's brain chatter.

A reframing practice is critical. It allows women to experience more personal control, higher self-confidence, and lower anxiety. For instance, here are some ways I reframe:

Perfectionism (subscribing to ideal): "No one will take me seriously unless I get an MBA."

Reframe: "My track record in life and work shows I am an accomplished and skilled woman with creative ideas."

Personalization: "If I wasn't so out there with my opinions, so passionate, I'd be farther ahead in the game."

Reframe: "My voice is an important one; I can work on expressing myself in a more concise way depending on the circumstances and not compromise my spirited self."

Discounting the positive: "If only I had worked all weekend and done some extra research, the presentation would have come off better."

Reframe: "We covered al lot of material and got some hard questions, but the feedback from the audience was pretty good and helpful for the next time."

In some cases, getting to the negative narrative is difficult because most of us are on autopilot, going about a rather tired and repetitive conversation in our own heads. How does one rebrand the internal dialog? Well, it's highly personal and intuitive. And it takes a bit of that adolescent mentality of invulnerability and risk-taking. I think fellow entrepreneur, Jules Peiri co-founder of Daily Grommit, said it to me best:

"Claim your vision: Be ballsy."

How's that for rebranding?

[Image: Flickr user bass_nroll]

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