“I don’t see what school finance has to do with equity.”

A school district CFO once said this in a meeting and it knocked me flat.

What does school finance have to do with equity? Only everything.

Historically, U.S. schools have been funded primarily by property taxes. And American property is deeply problematic. Funding schools with local property taxes is inherently inequitable: property-ownership and property values in the United States are rooted in nearly 300 years of violence, racism, segregation, and systematic denial of capital. 

The whole concept land-ownership in this country has a giant asterisk since the United States is founded on land-stealing and the forced removal of Native Americans through violence and trickery. This land was stolen and then cultivated with forced labor. 

For 250 years of slavery in this country, Black people were treated as property – enriching white landowners at the expense and exploitation of of Black lives.

The Jim Crow era ushered in another ~100 years of segregation, violence, and oppression. The practice of redlining began in 1934 – the systemic denial of loans and insurance to keep Black people out of white neighborhoods. It’s pretty difficult to become a property-owner without a mortgage or insurance.

It wasn’t until 1965 that Brown v Board ruled racially segregated schools unconstitutional; it wasn’t until 1975 that the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act brought transparency and change to lending practices. 

That is a grand total of 45-55 years out of the nation’s entire history during which people of color are not being formally denied access to owning property and attending schools. 

The very word “property” in this country is inextricably tied to white supremacy and its myriad -isms.

EdBuild’s February 2019 report estimates that predominantly nonwhite districts receive $23B a year less than predominantly white districts despite serving the same number of students.

I estimate that the disparities are much greater if we look at intradistrict allocation of dollars on a per-school basis. The new financial reporting regulations in ESSA aim to produce per-pupil spending data at the individual school level. 

I am deeply concerned that this data will be imprecise and inaccurate for at least several years because antiquated accounting systems are not set up for this level of reporting. Retroactive, proxy attributions will likely continue to hide the true extent of inequities in funding across race and class lines for years to come. 

For 300 years, the US has denied property and schooling to people of color, but to this day we perpetuate those injustices with the inequitable allocation of educational resources to Black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

States have tried to close these gaps with supplemental revenue, but nearly every state falls short of making up for the disproportionate benefits of communities with lucrative property-tax bases. 

Collectively, our system of funding schools remains rooted in racism and white supremacy. We must dismantle this long history of property-segregation and wealth oppression to fix the most broken parts of our education system and society.

Earlier this week, EdBuild published a new report called Clean Slate with a bold proposal to pool local revenue at county or state levels to mitigate the effects of gerrymandered school district lines and long history of racist policies. 

It is a rather straightforward proposal that will likely still be deemed “politically infeasible” because of a vocal, politically-connected minority that has a death-grip on ill-begotten wealth. 

The vast majority (69%) of students stand to gain resources from a wide-scale redistribution of school funding. And the country will collectively benefit from an education system that dismantles racist structures and works to elevate ALL students to their full potential. 

That is what school finance has to do with equity, in a nutshell. 

2019 Life Olympics

At the end of 2018, I was fried: emotionally, physically, financially. It had been a brutal year that took a huge toll on my health and home. I kept having these episodes where I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing so fast that I worried it would explode. My GERD was the worst it had ever been, I was head-cold sick more than not, and I was literally struggling to breathe. The past few years of work were catching up to me and my body was showing it. I was honestly starting to feel like I would certainly die of some stress-related disorder before I turned 40. And then one of my friends died from a heart-attack and I made the decision that some things had to change. My friends tease me that I only do things in my personal life when they benefit Allovue and in many ways, this was true here, too. I realized last year that I wanted to do this work for a long time to come. And I realized that my life’s work would be cut pretty short if I killed myself from stress before I turned 35. When I shared this with my exec coach as well as how past attempts to prioritize my health had always fallen by the wayside she said, “Well. I think you’re just going to have to make up your mind to… do it.” So I did it.

This year was all about getting my body, mind, and heart in a place that allows me to do work that I care about for the rest of my life if I want to (and ensuring that the “rest of my life” is actually a good long time). 2019 was about setting boundaries on my time and energy so that I could be a fully-functioning whole healthy person. And it turned out that in a year in which my general mantra was to “do less” (no more setting +30 annuals goals and working myself into a stress-addled mess), my life felt the fullest. Here we go:

2019 Life Olympics Recap

Career – Gold 

Please try not to laugh at my extremely “duh” realization that the more I took care of myself, the more the company thrived. My exec coach deemed my transition from December 2018 to January 2019 a “DOS to Windows” level upgrade in my general approach to business strategy. In no small part, this is because we were raising money and it’s just a little easier to feel confident with $4M in fresh funding in the bank. But I took that gasoline and poured fire on it – unleashing ideas and plans and ambitions that I had been holding back on for years. One Board member asked me in December, “Do you want to be a large chicken or do you want to be a 10-ft tall murder bird?” Let’s not psychoanalyze this too much but for some reason this image really resonated with me and I spent the better part of this year channeling this vibrant Cassowary:

Don’t ask me why, but it worked. Allovue had a banner year and we’re on track to fulfilling a vision that I have been working towards for 7 nearly years.

Sharply juxtaposed with my murder bird imagery, it’s worth mentioning another consequence from this year of being a whole person: I was kinder. It turns out that sleep and exercise and proper nutrition increase your capacity for patience and kindness, too. I made more time for people and I felt less reactive. I was able to process setbacks more quickly and productively. I had energy for more team outings. I started doing weekly CEO Chats where I spend 30 minutes 1:1 with every member of the company. It’s my favorite part of the week. I even noticed this in small ways, like having the energy to make friendly conversation with Lyft drivers. Being too tired to be friendly is a state of being that I plan I leave in the dust of this decade.

Lastly, this year I felt like I led the company with the most love. Love for the work, love for our team, and love for our partners. While there are many forces and headlines in this capitalist world that may lead you to believe that love and success are incompatible, I humbly, flatly disagree. Leading from a place of love and kindness is the only way that feels right to me. And if the past few years have taught me anything about business: if it feels right, it is right. They don’t call it the golden rule for nothin’.

Home – Silver

This was a tricky one! First: there were no catastrophes this year! After 2018’s cascade of house-related disasters (ceiling caving in! flood! awful tenants! roof leaks!) I was hoping the gods of hearth and home would leave me alone this year. As a peace offering, I gave my bedroom a little makeover and finalized my will. For good measure, I cleaned up my backyard and built a little porch. And my property manager has been an actual gift from the heavens. All was quiet on the homefront this year.

But, um. Finance is also in this category. And on matters of personal finance this year? Well, this was an area of my life considerably devoid of boundaries. Dinners, drinks, wine clubs, concerts, personal training, specialists, massages, travel, shopping, new hobbies, home improvements – I did it all. I was a pure hedonist this whole year, as you probably already know if you follow me on Instagram. So why did this spending spree year not plunge me into the depths of “Did Not Place“? Because I believe in balance in all things. Since starting Allovue, I’ve been very scrappy. In the first year of Allovue, my gross income was $9K. The following year, it was about $20K. It’s risen to more livable wages over the past 5 years, but I’ve still been at-times frugal to a fault. So this year, I let loose a little. I indulged. I explored. I released myself from fretting about whether I should splurge the extra $4 on the meal I really wanted. I tipped very generously. I had a LOT of fun. But I still did all of this within my means, so it’s not as though I drove myself into debt on fancy dinners. I had many wonderful experiences this year and no regrets about a year of limited saving. Next year, though, is going to be a year of saving and mostly free fun. I already canceled the wine club memberships.

Health – Gold

GOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLDDDDDDD. I’ve never given myself Gold in this category before! I’m actually tearing up a little bit right now because it took me 10 years of working at this entirely self-constructed, self-imposed framework for adult living to feel like I did a good job taking care of my own physical health but I did it and I feel great. I had so much help, though! I worked with an allergist who helped with my persistent colds (non-allergic rhinitis from years of not treating my allergies effectively) and GERD (apparently sinus health is closely connected with digestive health). I worked with a personal trainer to help me learn more about strength training and increased my muscle mass by about 5%. I worked with a nutritionist who helped me identify food triggers and get rid of the GERD entirely and get off all the prescription meds I had been using to treat it. I started working with a therapist to take care of my mental health. I increased my physical activity by 250% and had the most consistent year of exercise ever. I slept well. I took vacations and breaks when I needed them. I reduced my sugar intake. I learned about protein! I figured out the daily breakdown of fat, protein, and carbs that makes me feel best. And perhaps most importantly, I didn’t allow my energy to be drained by things that I had no power over. There is really something to that serenity prayer and I can’t overstate the benefit to physical and mental health by learning to recognize the things that are out of my control and letting that shit go.

So this was a categorical improvement for me this year, but there is still a lot of work I need to do in the next decade on my body image. It’s hard for me to admit this but I think it’s important to be honest about challenges as much as celebrating successes. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled mightily with body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and general body image. At times, I have starved myself on as little as 800-calories a day; I have tried every fast, juice-cleanse, colon-cleanse, fad diet, and magic pill on the market. The negative self-talk is constant and vicious; I often wonder what on earth I could accomplish if I ever managed to free up all that mental energy. I have a near-phobia of taking pictures because I am so paranoid about how I will look. I have a complicated relationship with mirrors. I have extreme anxiety about bread. In the summer of 2016 I contracted a food-borne illness on vacation and couldn’t eat or drink much of anything without vomiting for two months. I had a parasite and it was the best I had ever felt about my body.

I’m not utterly lacking in self-confidence: I have confidence in my ideas, my ability to solve problems, my judgment, my ability to love, and my capacity for creativity. But I live in a world that constantly reminds me that what’s in a woman’s head doesn’t count for much if we can’t count her abs. I have been thus far unsuccessful at squelching that narrative internally. For a while, I was under the impression that this was just a narrative of immaturity. I imagined that when I turned 30, I would suddenly be very wise and self-accepting. When that didn’t happen, the body-hate somehow intensified instead: How are you over 30 and still obsessing over this? Why can’t you let this go?

This is a work in progress and something I’m going to prioritize with my therapist and nutritionist in 2020. My goal is to someday be able to look in the mirror or at a picture of myself and feel proud. Please do not interpret this as an invitation to tell me that I look good or that you think I’m thin or pretty or whatever. It is not invited and it will not help. I do not need any external validation on these matters; this is an inside job. I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of this, but if there’s anyone else out there who always feels like they are 10, 15, or 100 pounds away from happiness, know that you are not alone.

Soul – Gold

Picking up the thread on spending, you can see that I really enjoyed myself this year. I indulged in everything that brings me pleasure and joy this year: delicious gastronomic experiences; travel to Cancun, London, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Miami, and Tulum; concerts; plays; museums; singing. I felt creatively on fire this year and attribute a good chunk of that to surrounding myself with creative energy at every occasion. I also rediscovered a love of camping this year. I bought some new gear and enjoyed several camping trips around Maryland before it got too cold this Fall. My only failing/complaint in this category is that I had a lackluster and uninspired year of reading and writing. I think it was offset enough by my other creative experiences but I do want to reprioritize reading again next year.

Relationships – Gold

I know this category is the only one you care about and that’s why I save it for last. Hopefully, I tricked you into caring about the rest of my life, but if you skipped to the end I’ll forgive you. As many of you know, this year I took a big hiatus from dating. I quietly started my hiatus around September of 2018 and broke my hiatus in August 2019 when I met someone in real life who I actually wanted to go out with. Probably because I was fried in other realms in my life, I was beyond exhausted with dating last year. It became something I completely dreaded and I decided I needed a long hard break from trying. Did it work? Yes. Better than I imagined.

Up until hiatus, dating felt like something I needed to do to fill a missing part of my life or myself. I was operating from a deficit standpoint. I felt like lots of things in my life were great but my singleness represented some hole or flaw that needed correcting. As a result, the act of dating felt extremely high stakes and I always felt anxious and insecure about it. Giving myself the freedom to not care or not try at all was truly liberating. Suddenly, I was not worried about reserving time and space in my life for something or someone that may or may not materialize. I made plans with friends, I went on trips, and I planned my evenings and weekends with zero regards to men who may or may not commit to plans; who may or may not cancel at the last moment. My life felt instantly larger. Time and space just expanded. Instead of feeling like a restriction, my world opened up. I spent so much time with friends this year. And did I mention how much fun I had? I also made more time for my parents and enjoyed trips and concerts and other activities with them, too.

I’m dating again but it feels completely different now. I learned that my life and my heart are already full. Nothing at all is missing or broken. Now dating is a value-add activity only and that is a completely different game – one that doesn’t make me feel anxious at all. I also learned to expand my definition of love this year. All the romantic rhetoric about finding “the one” or finding love “at last” or “saving love” are really… limiting. Taking romantic love off the table for a year allowed me to receive and give love in so many other ways: friend love, parental love, coworker love, self-love, city love, etc. In a year that I thought would require an absence of love, I actually experienced the greatest abundance of love. My definition of love had been narrow; I was being far too precious about it. As I expanded my definition, I experienced love and gave it more abundantly. So I guess it’s true what they say: you find love when you stop looking for it – it just looks and feels differently than I expected.

2020

So that’s a wrap on 10 years of the Life Olympics! Next year, I am planning to bring lots of energy inspired by Baby Yoda and Moira Rose. My theme for 2020 is Intention because I want to take the energy I feel right now and deploy it with more intentionality next year – bringing increased mindfulness to how I spend my time, money, physical and mental energy. And because I love wordplay, I also literally want to spend more time camping “in-tent” to enjoy more peace and quiet and beauty in nature.

When I started working with the nutritionist she gave me a list about “Mindful Eating” which I scoffed at for having tips like “Chew your food” but decided to try anyway. As it turns out, I was not really chewing my food at all, so much as just quickly and eagerly swallowing whole bites – much like the rest of my life. In 2020, instead of swallowing life whole, I’ll learn to chew it.

bebe yoda wink.gif

 

 

 

Clearing the (mental) clutter

When I read Marie Kondo’s book Tidying Up a few years ago, I promptly purged the overwhelming majority of my clothes (some from high school), knick-knacks, expired makeup, mismatched glassware, paper, and other junk that I had collected and stuffed in drawers and closets over the years. To my surprise, I’ve been able to maintain the system by seasonally going through clothes and systematically discarding stuff that I formerly would have held onto for years. I’ve been more conscious of what I let into my house  – I’ll turn down swag at conferences or ditch it in the hotel room; I donate or share books after reading them; I’m more discerning in the fitting room.

Even amidst a rough 2018 of homeowner problems, my house looked pretty tidy, but my mind still felt cluttered. Throughout much of the last year, I felt scattered, exhausted, and just generally unwell. For years, I had neglected the Health category on my Life Olympics and I was feeling it. I committed to finally making my mental and physical health a priority for 2019… and that was going to require setting some boundaries.

One month into 2019 it is not an exaggeration to say that I feel like a different person. I feel clear-headed, healthy, and full of energy. Perhaps most importantly, I have indeed reignited a feeling of deep joy after removing some mental and emotional clutter. Here are some things I put in place this month to declutter my mind and body:

  • A bedtime routine: Far too often last year, I found myself compiling spreadsheets and compulsively sending emails until the minute I went to bed. Shocking, then, that I wasn’t sleeping well. Technically, I was in bed for 7-8 hours a night, but I was maybe getting 3-4 hours of actual sleep. I woke up feeling groggy and lethargic every morning. I implemented the following routine and I stuck to it for all but 2-3 nights for the month of January when I made exceptions to stay out with friends:
    • 9:00-9:30 – wind down work-mode. I finalized emails and messages; brain-dumped to-do lists, and settled my work devices into their charging stations for the night.
    • 9:30-10 – 30 minutes of yoga. I started the Commit30 planner this year and my January goal was at least 30 minutes of yoga every day. Even with a month of nearly 20 days of travel (my usual excuse for slacking on exercise), I got it in all but two days, which I made up with doubles. I can’t overstate what this does for my mental and physical health.
    • 10-10:15 – get ready for bed and do my new skincare regimen because I see those lines creeping on my face and I am not ready to age gracefully.
    • 10:15-10:45 – light some candles and read for 30 minutes.
    • 10:45-11 – listen to the Daily Calm meditation while I fall asleep.

I actually started waking up before my alarm and not feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck all the time! I also have energy to spare for fun activities on evenings and weekends.

  • Taking control of my calendar: An undeniably important part of my job is taking meetings – with current and potential customers, partners, employees, and investors. It’s a LOT of meetings. And for years I have felt like I should make myself available to all of these people, anytime, anywhere. This often resulted in a calendar that consistently looked like a game-over screen of Tetris. I had meetings all day with 30-45 minutes between them, leaving me no time for deep-focus work (cue late night spreadsheets and such). I sat down and blocked out an ideal weekly calendar with strategic periods of time for 30- or 60-minute meetings and 2-3-hour chunks for focused work. I created appointment slots using Calendly and now use that to schedule meetings. I have occasionally made exceptions for conference schedules and such, but overall my schedule feels more manageable. In addition to carving out more time for strategic work, I also feel more clear-headed and attentive for each meeting that I do schedule.

None of these things is particularly drastic but the cumulative effect has been amazing. So why have these minor schedule improvements felt so impossibly out of reach for me for years? My big transformational life changes involve taking two hours a day of personal time and setting some modest parameters on scheduling?

what like it's hard.gif

But it was, in fact, really hard to make these adjustments. At times, it was nauseatingly difficult for me to say no. I take a lot of pride in being available to my team and partners. There is also a lot of social pressure for entrepreneurs to appear indefatigable and I’m not immune to it. The media hype around the “hustle and grind” image makes it easy to feel like needing time to relax and unwind is a weakness – and there is even more pressure for female CEOs to feel like they can keep up.

I realized that my unwillingness to draw boundaries was rooted in fear. It sounds silly, but when I reflected on it, I realized that saying no/turning off prompted feelings of fear that people would think I was lazy or ungrateful or maybe not worth their time anyway. I am a big believer in the notion that speaking your fears takes away their power. Do I really think this partner won’t ever work with me if I tell them I can’t meet tomorrow? Do I really think a teammate will feel demoralized if I tell them I can’t meet until Thursday? Do I really think people will deem me lazy if I respond at 9am instead of 9pm? Probably not! I’m not totally cured of this insecurity/anxiety. I still feel it, but I’m working on recognizing it for what it is and literally asking myself these questions.

I’m only a month into the year, so I’m not yet ready to award myself the Gold in the 2019 Life Olympics, but this is honestly the longest streak of healthy behavior that I’ve been able to maintain since starting the company, so I’m taking a moment to celebrate. Cheers!

 

 

School Design of My Dreams (Literally)

I had a dream about school design (as you do) and wanted to get up and model it to see if I could make it work financially.

Scenario: Middle/high school students are on a year-round semester schedule. They get a week off in July, October, December, and March/April. Semesters run July-December and January-June. Being in school year-round minimizes summer learning loss and takes the child-care/camp pressure off of parents over the summer. This is great for students but a tough sell for teachers: most are currently paid for 10-months of teaching time with 2 months for prep/PD/vacation. But what if…

What if teachers only taught one half of the year, 4 classes per day?

What if they had one quarter of the year off for vacation?

What if they had one quarter dedicated exclusively to prep, observation, and PD?

Students would be on a block schedule, taking 4 courses one semester and 4 courses the other semester. Each class would meet for 90-100 minutes per day.

I did a very rudimentary financial model to see if I could come close to making this work. I used $12K/pupil as the base funding (average U.S. per-pupil funding). I held back 7% for overhead and 25% for debt/obligations. This leaves $8,160/pupil for instructional dollars. From instructional dollars, I allocated 85% to personnel, and then 85% of that for teachers (holding back 15% for support/administrative staff). Teachers end up about 50% of the total per-pupil allocation. I used $85K as the fully-loaded average cost for teachers.

From here, 50% of the teachers would be “in rotation” for instruction, 25% would be on holiday, and 25% would be in their prep/PD rotation. Plugging in all of these variables, I think the minimum enrollment for this model to conceivably work is 500 students. At 500 students, you can keep class sizes at 30 and still have a discretionary non-personnel budget of about $600K (~$1,200/pupil).

Pros:

  • I would have loved this model as a teacher. I would almost certainly still be in a classroom. This would give teachers time to step back from the daily grind of lessons and grading in order to really take time to observe great teaching, explore new methods and strategies, think deeply about lesson planning and curriculum, and truly take embrace the professionalism of teaching.
  • I also LOVED having 90-100 minute blocks of instruction with my kids. 45 minutes is hardly enough time for deep-focus work. Juggling 6-8 classes a day is rough on teachers and kids – so much context-switching and homework and grading!
  • You could create the opportunity for students with low-proficiency in core subjects to double up on math/reading courses so that they were effectively getting two years of math and/or reading instruction in a single calendar year.
  • On the flip side, advanced students could move on to more advanced topics or electives if they show mastery of core material.

Cons/TBD:

  • Since it was 5am and I only had an hour, I didn’t model out the intricacies of complex demographics (specifically various Special Ed LRE scenarios) that could very well break this model.
  • It absolutely won’t work for small schools; 500 students I think is the minimum.
  • Probably only works for middle/high school, but I’m not sure.
  • This model would probably only work in a charter school because it requires very lean central support and overhead. Otherwise, districts would have to totally strip down central services to schools.
  • Teachers would have to give up their planning period during the day and teach 4/4 courses per day in order for the model to work.
  • I haven’t totally thought through how lunch would work, which is non-trivial. I think periods 2 and 3 each day would have to split up so that you would have four 45-50 minute lunch periods, in which case you would need a rotating schedule that could be confusing.
  • There would be a fairly limited number of course options that would be almost entirely driven by enrollment, which could be tough at the High School level in terms of offering things like AP courses.
  • Related, you’d have to really carefully plan the teaching rotation schedule so kids could take courses in the right sequence and graduate on time.
  • Unless you had the capacity to add a lot of variety in courses, you could run into a scenario where a student had a year between, say, math courses, which would be even worse than summer learning loss. The sequencing of courses and semesters would have to be very carefully planned.

I would love to hear from anyone who has tried something similar and how it worked!

I’m sure there are a ton of things I haven’t yet considered, so please share thoughts and comments. A girl can dream!

2018 Life Olympics

Let’s get one thing straight: 2018 was not a year. 2018 was actually a decade in annum’s disguise. Things happened in January or February 2018 that I would have blindly guessed had occurred at least three years ago. The Winter Olympics, for example. How do you measure a year? In heartburn, in wrinkles, in gray hairs, in stress disorders.

Have you ever had a moment when you come face-to-face with your own specific brand of crazy? (I know the answer is yes because you’re reading this and all of my friends and casual observers are a little bit crazy. It takes one to know one). Anywho, the other day I sat down to do my annual reconciliation of goals that I set this time last year… all 32 of them. 32 goals. What the what? What sort of lunatic sets 32 annual goals? Even several days later, I can’t even type this without laughing at myself. Some of these goals are things like “Raise X million dollars” – a months-long affair involving dozens or hundreds of tasks. 1/32! I tallied it up and I somehow managed to hit 20 of these crazy goals, in a year that I had written off as “terrible,” “horrible,” “no good,” and “very bad.”

Coincidentally, my word for 2019 is “boundaries” – may I set them, may I respect them.

2018 Life Olympics Recap

CareerBronze

By objective measures, Allovue had a pretty good year. We are now supporting over $10 billion in school budgets for about one million students – milestones of which I’m very proud. We added terrific people to our team, we made huge improvements to the product, we hosted an awesome Summit, and we brought on exciting new partners.

Personally, I just didn’t feel like it was my best year. This is partly because I set insane expectations for myself and then felt disappointed when I couldn’t match them. My attention was divided across several core functions, which made me feel generally frazzled and unfocused for large swaths of the year. When I get stressed, my instinct is to double-down and work harder, which catalyzes a vicious spiral of overwork/exhaustion.

At least twice this year, I dismissed serious health issues as “probably just from stress” and I got sick more than I have in the past several years combined. Next year, I’m putting boundaries in place to help me focus on the goals that really matter to me and to do so with a clear head and a healthy body.

Home – Did not place

Ooph. The gods of hearth and home were not on my side this year. I had an attempted break-in at my rental house that resulted in someone smashing through my backyard fence Hulk-style. My second-floor ceiling caved-in from water damage. Tenants made a mess of the house, resulting in three months of deep-cleaning and painting (and income-loss). My basement flooded. I discovered (because I smelled gas one night) that the gas line in my house was too small (who even knew that was a thing?) and had to be entirely ripped out and replaced. My taxes increased 300 percent. And to top off the year, a new roof. Throughout all of this, I really tried to exercise gratitude for having house(s) in which things break, but it still sucks to write those checks. I’m praying that all will be quiet on the home-front next year. Please.

::Burns sage::

Health Bronze

While I felt sick and run-down quite a bit this year, I still did some healthy things that I’m proud of. Early in the year, I made the decision to give up my car when the lease was up. I have always characterized my driving as “all of the adrenaline but none of the skill of Batman” and I think it’s maybe safer for everyone if I sit in the passenger seat of cars. I anticipated that I would spend about as much money on transportation with increased rideshare spending, but thought the trade-off of stress and time spent driving would be a net good. I was wrong:

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In 2017, I spent $5,067 on transportation. In 2018, I increased my spending on rideshare 1000% but it still didn’t come close to the total cost of having a car. In 2018, I spent $2,791, which includes the remaining $550 balance on my car payments. If I take that out and factor in post-car rideshare spending, I’m still saving 50% or more on transportation costs. This is wild. One cost not shown here, since it’s a one-time expense, is my new bike. I could buy and outfit a brand new bike every year and still only hit about 75% of my spending level with a car. I’m extremely pleased with this decision.

I also joined a new gym and hired a personal trainer this year. These costs probably offset what I saved in transportation, but I feel good about investing in my health. I exercised more regularly this year than ever before, even if it wasn’t quite at the level of frequency I was aiming for, and I built a lot of muscle with weight training.

My biggest health fails this year were 1) eating like crap during busy travel seasons and 2) generally eating way too much sugar. I’m increasingly seeing studies about the long-term health consequences of processed foods and sugar. I don’t do well with total elimination diets, but I want to dramatically reduce my intake of sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods, as well as managing my diet better when I’m on the road.

Soul – Silver

Shockingly, this was my best category this year. I hit the most goals in this LO category, which included time for writing, singing, traveling, theatre/concert-going, and other activities that make my soul happy. I saw some terrific performances this year, including Audra McDonald and Cynthia Erivo at BSO, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Wonder in My Soul at CenterStage, Waitress at Hippodrome, Ingrid Michaelson at the Beacon, Spring Awakening at StillPointe, Remember Jones at Soundstage, Wye Oak at Ottobar, and Once on This Island on Broadway. I didn’t write quite as much as I had hoped (ya’ll, I thought I was going to draft two books this year. My concept of time is WILD.) But I still had op-eds published in The Baltimore Sun and Forbes, as well as a few pieces in Medium and on my own blog. I also sang a lot of songs that I loved this year and played the piano more than I have in years. More of all this. I fell short of my 36-book reading goal, but still clocked in a respectable 32 – my second-best reading year since I started tracking in 2012. For the past several years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to diversify the authors I’m reading. This year, 53% of books I read were authored by people of color and 60% were authored by women. Only 15% were authored by men of color, so that’s an area for improvement next year.

Favorite novel(s): Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Favorite poetry: Helium by Rudy Francisco, Felicity by Mary Oliver

Favorite business/strategy: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath; Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

Favorite memoir/essays: we are never meeting in real life. by Samantha Irby; We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

Relationships – Bronze

I had a fun time engaging with friends and family in new ways this year. I hosted a wine-tasting night and piano concert at my house. I went on trips and to festivals with friends. I also made peace with letting go of some relationships. I spent time with my family and celebrated 21 years of our Boxing Day tradition with my Dad.

I’m taking a hiatus from dating through 2019; at least, a sabbatical from trying. The various apps and profiles have been deleted; my swiping finger is retired. I’ve been at this game for over a decade with very little success and there’s absolutely nothing else in my life that I would invest this much time in for so little joy or purpose. A big part of my goal for 2018 was to retire old narratives that no longer suit me and I decided around November that this story of infinite first dates is just not working for me. For a while, it was fun, then funny. At some point, though, it turned into an exercise in drudgery. I cannot continue to invest this much time and emotional labor and hope into an activity that continuously drains and disappoints me. There is too much else far more worthy of my time and energy: myself, Allovue, my family, my friends – the true loves of my life.

ListenI see you grinning over there, thinking, “Oh, this is it. Now that she has given up, love is just going to drop right into her lap.” I think you’ve been watching too many Hallmark Holiday movies; this is not The Christmas Crush. This is the real world where men flake and cheat and ghost and zombie and ghost again and I’m all the way over it. Let me be. I can live happily ever after anyway.

Andddd that’s a wrap on 2018. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. I’m closing out the year in Mexico, binge-reading novels, listening to the ocean, doing yoga, eating chilaquiles, and setting a reasonable number of goals that (mostly) adhere to the confines of the space-time continuum. See you on the other side.

 

Dear City Council: Vote NO on Short-Term Rentals Regulation (18-0189)

On Thursday, the Baltimore City Council will vote again to pass strict new legislation on property rentals that would impose a “9.5 percent hotel tax on Airbnb-style stays. It would also ban people from renting properties other than their primary homes.”

Baltimore City Council, I implore you to vote against this legislation. I’m going to share my story of how being an AirBNB host changed my life and was good for Baltimore with the hope that you will realize the net-good impact short-term rentals have on our city.

I moved to Baltimore in the summer of 2009 as a fresh college grad. I began teaching for Baltimore City Public Schools and bought my first house in the up-and-coming Hollins Market neighborhood in the spring of 2011, taking advantage of the various grants offered through assistance from Live Baltimore.

Within a year, I learned about AirBNB and started renting out a spare room in my 3-bedroom house. Shortly thereafter, I started renting out a second room, which gave me enough income security to leave my job by 2013 and start a company called Allovue, aimed at addressing budgeting and financial management challenges for school districts. (Yes, we are now working with Baltimore City Schools.)

Largely thanks to my income from AirBNB, I was able to work without a salary for a couple of years while I worked on building the business. Even after I put myself on salary, I was able to work well below market rate and keep our operating expenses lower because of my supplemental rental income.

During the seven years that I was an AirBNB host, I hosted hundreds of guests from around the world. We had conversations at my kitchen table, where I was able to dispel some of the harmful myths and perceptions about Baltimore that people had picked up from skewed media reports or The Wire. In the morning, I sent them to my local neighborhood coffee-shop instead of a hotel-lobby Starbucks; on weekends, I directed them to local festivals and our Farmers’ Market; in the evenings, I shared my favorite locally-owned bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile, since Allovue’s founding in 2013 we have attracted nearly $10M in venture capital from around the country to be invested in Allovue and Baltimore, which has helped us to create dozens of jobs (and counting – we’re hiring). In just the past year, 25 percent of our staff bought new houses in Baltimore City – three of whom had moved to Baltimore from out of state to work at Allovue. Thanks to the rental stability of my first house, this year I was able to buy a second house closer to our office in Remington. I got rid of my car and take advantage of awesome bike lanes like the one on Maryland Ave. The property taxes on my new house are 10x that of my first house (bless those historic tax-credits), but I’m happy to continue investing in Baltimore.

From just one AirBNB host, Baltimore has gained a rapidly growing social impact company, dozens of new jobs, several new residents and homeowners who have invested well over a million dollars in Baltimore City real-estate, and increased patronage of locally-owned shops and restaurants. And in the midst of all of this, hosts are engaging with folks from around the world to improve the public perception of Baltimore.

The economic and qualitative benefits of AirBNB far outweigh the measly $1M projected hotel-tax revenue. Rather than imposing restrictions on short-term rentals like AirBNB, Baltimore City Council should do everything in their power to help short-term rentals to thrive. Imagine hundreds of stories like this? Or thousands? The impact is incalculable.

 

The #family channel

About 4 years ago, when an Allovue team member was expecting his first child, we created a #family channel in Slack as a repository for baby pictures while he was on paternity leave. As our team has grown and evolved over the years, the #family channel has remained one of my favorite bastions of our corporate culture.

Importantly, the #family channel leaves “family” open to interpretation. Diversity and inclusion are celebrated company values, so everyone’s definition of family is a little different.

In the #family channel, we share the joys of life milestones big and small: graduations, weddings, babies, haircuts, piano lessons, first days of school, vacations, meltdowns at the dinner table, science projects, new homes, workouts, renovation projections, pet snuggles, and all of the silly just-because moments that make us feel grateful and loved every day.

Because life happens, the #family channel isn’t all happy moments. We also share moments of grief: a death in the family, a relative in the hospital, a friend diagnosed with a terrible illness. While I welcome the daily dose of cute children and animals, the more somber updates have convinced me how critical the #family channel is to our work.

I’m not sure anyone has ever successfully siloed their “work life” and “home life”; it’s all just life. And frankly, why should we want to? To pretend that these categories exist in an emotional vacuum is to ignore the basic humanity of our coworkers and deny our team the opportunity to connect and empathize on a higher level. Our company culture is richer and our work is more fulfilling because we get to know our colleagues not just through their professional skills and contributions, but also who they are as parents, spouses, friends, siblings, caretakers, and fur-parents. We grow to understand each other as whole people.

The #family channel makes us better colleagues and managers. We subscribe to Kim Scott’s philosophy of Radical Candor – a management approach that exists at the intersection of caring personally and challenging directly. It’s naïve or delusional to dismiss the impact of personal matters (good or bad) on someone’s productivity at work. As managers, we must care about who people are outside of work and understand the circumstances of their lives in order to support and grow our team members to their full potential.

If your team doesn’t already have the equivalent of a #family channel, I encourage you to start one. Come for the cute pictures, stay for the meaningful connections.

Make America Debate Again

As early as 3rd grade, I had set my sights on a career in law. If you had straight-As before the dot-com boom, the binary career paths offered to you were doctor or lawyer and I didn’t like blood so I chose law. Throughout middle school and high school, I prepared for my future career as a prosecutor with our mock trial teams. This exposed me to hours of exercising critical thinking, writing, and debate skills on topics such as DNA-based discrimination and vehicular manslaughter. I barely remember most concepts from high school math, but I have a deep understanding of vector analysis because it was a critical (and dramatic) component of my cross-examination.

 

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St. Leo’s 8th-grade mock trial team at the NJ Law Center

 

Yesterday, I read this heartwrenching article from the Miami Herald detailing how the survivors of America’s latest school shooting have been relying on notes and research from last year’s class debate topic on gun control. I was gutted with emotion reading the teens’ accounts of debate class and competition, remembering the ferocity and fervor my friends and I brought to debate practice as teens. It was some of the most academically rigorous work of my life – we did exhaustive research on the topics and diligently poked holes in each other’s arguments over countless pizza dinners until they were airtight. With this context, I am not at all surprised how thorough, biting, and compelling the Florida teens’ case has been on the national stage. Their performance is the quintessential assessment of their preparation through the cruelest test.

Their articulation of the issues at hand is turning heads in part because they are, well… articulate. And rational. And supported by facts. And utterly devoid of the rampant logical fallacies and sensationalism that have dominated public debates, social media, town halls, and media coverage of politicians in recent years. They are driving a well-reasoned and level-headed debate about one of the country’s most emotional and divisive issues with charm, poise, and humor.

This is public education at its best. This is America at its best. This is the kind of heated yet rigorous debate on which this country was founded. They are young, scrappy, and hungry and they are not throwing away their shot (I was also a theatre kid).

 

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Red Bank Catholic High School mock trial team

 

The teens’ exemplary display of rhetoric skills is a sharp juxtaposition to the fanaticism around STEM in public education, often at the expense of humanities courses and programs. After my first year of teaching as a middle school social studies teacher, the school cut the social studies program in order to extend English language arts classes and I had to find a new school. Social studies is not a state-tested subject, so it often falls by the wayside of education programming, although history, public policy, and economics are some of the most relevant and requisite topics for active citizenship and preservation of our democratic ideals. They are also some of the most fun, memorable, and defining experiences of schooling for many kids.

After watching a night of mock trial rehearsal, the teacher who coached our school’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter recruited me for the public speaking category. I initially rebuffed the idea, wholeheartedly and exclusively committed to the legal profession at the ripe age of 15, but she talked me into it (probably because of the free overnight trip with my friends, to be honest). It was 2001 and I crafted and delivered a speech about corporate responsibility in the wake of the Enron scandal, which won 1st place in the state and 10th place nationally. I remember scoffing that the experience was wasted on this future lawyer. Indeed, one can never predict when an opportunity will meet preparation.

Fashion trends I want to burn with fire

A few weeks ago I tweeted about the tribulations of shopping for a professional wardrobe and it really struck a chord in my little Twitterverse.

I don’t know about you all, but I think women’s fashion is having some sort of collective crisis right now. I am actually having a hard time spending money on clothes and shoes and that is not a typical affliction for me. These are a few fads that need to swiftly die:

bell sleeve

Bell sleeves: These silhouettes are cool… in a tableau. The prospect of wearing bell sleeves when I need to, um, do anything or go anywhere or say anything is terrifying and, frankly, hazardous. When I look at a bell sleeve, all I see are many spilled drinks and my untimely death when I inevitably snag one in a subway door. Someone in my wingspan radius is going to lose an eye the minute I start gesticulating, which is every time I open my mouth. Are these designers just sitting there like, “How can we make women’s lives more fraught? Ooh… let’s cloak their arms in huge cones of fabric!” I can barely tolerate normal sleeves. My wrists and forearms need air and space for angry typing and wild hand gestures.

Cutouts: Is there a textile shortage or something? Why does every women’s garment look like a paper-snowflake activity gone wrong?

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Don’t get me wrong, those cold-shoulder shirts are cute… but, like, one of them. I don’t want random swatches of fabric cut out of every item in my closet. The cutout contagion has spread from shoulders to stomachs, sides, chests, pants, shoes, and bags. Did everyone just get over-excited about their new laser-cut manufacturing equipment? This fad was irritating but tolerable in July. It is now February and you are still trying to die-cut all my clothes. Staaahp it.

V603913_CROP1Bralettes: Just what you want with your support garment: a diminutive suffix. This is some infantalizing nonsense. Bralettes win the form over function award on this list. They are pretty, though… pretty useless. Basically, these are training bras with more lace and less utility. I find it kind of creepy that we’re sexifying a garment that is designed for pre-pubescent girls. The entire sexy-baby fetish can go. I am so ready for the bralette burning party.

Mules: I repeat: do we have a textile shortage? Why can I only buy half of a shoe these days? Why do they still cost as much as a whole shoe? Look, I love a good slip on… in the spring and summer months. Mules are having a moment in the dead of winter for why? Apparently, the footwear options this winter are over-the-knee boots or mules. You can have 710% of a shoe or 40% of a shoe. As a point of practicality, mules are not the best running-for-trains-and-planes shoes. I also have elfin feet, so my shoes fall off if they’re not literally strapped around my ankle.

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Upon further reflection… perhaps I should wear more mules and see if I can contrive some sort of millennial Cinderella story and then write a screenplay called Lost Soles.

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Ruffles: I don’t really have a pragmatic argument for this one, I just hate ruffles on my clothes. I find it very hard to take myself seriously if I’m covered in ruffles. They always seem to be draped over parts of my body that I would rather be as svelte as possible. They never lay right. If they get wrinkled, they’re impossible to iron. They add bulk.Ruffles are my personal nightmare.

Is it too much to ask for unadorned garments in fabrics that travel well and give me free range of motion? Is it??

 

What are the latest fads you want to throw on the fashion pyre?

 

5 years ago was my last day of “work”

5 years ago today I did a crazy thing.

I walked away from a great job to pursue an inkling of an idea. This was a clean (psychotic) break from the first 25 years of my life, during which I played by all the rules, colored inside the lines, and took well-trodden paths. Goodbye to all that.

I didn’t feel compelled to recapitulate the details of what’s transpired since then. Instead, I was going to reflect and summarize what I’ve learned over the past 5 years, but I found myself at a loss for words. What could I possibly say to capture the love and fury and joy and indignation and on-the-brinkness and sheer thrill and terror and sense of purpose I have felt (sometimes all at once) during these years?

Everything boils down to platitudes: be yourself; trust your gut; never give up; get some sleep; hustle; surround yourself with the right people; blah.

The platitudes are true but utterly devoid of meaning until they’re colored by personal experiences (usually mistakes) that you just can’t cheat. Entrepreneurship has a way of making you learn things the hard way and kicking you when you’re down. And then there are these barely perceptible yet completely addictive glimmers of progress that make you feel on top of the world. It’s either sadness or euphoria.

In an acute moment of doubt, a great advisor, and, later, an investor once said to me:  “Well, I like an entrepreneur who burns her ships on the shore. Just keep going.”

Onward.