creativity

I’m on my way to the U.K.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash. Taken at the Marble Arch in Park Lane, London.

I’m on my way to the U.K. to begin my dream of starting a graduate program in sustainability leadership at University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. Such a mix of emotions at this pivotal moment in history— gratitude, elation, responsibility, nervousness, excitement, fear, anticipation. All of that is in my heart now as I start this path of purpose to hone all my business, science, and storytelling skills and experience to play a role in saving our planet, our stunning natural world, and all species, including our own.

When I booked this flight months ago, I had no idea how consequential this time would be for the U.K. and the world. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has brought a new sense of meaning to this trip. For decades, The Royal Family and especially King Charles III have been advocating for economic and social transformations to address climate change. King Charles is a graduate of Cambridge with a close association with the graduate program I’m about to begin, and I feel fortunate to be on this path in this place at this time. I will witness this moment in history, and will share what I experience by posting regularly here on this blog.

I feel a huge sense of responsibility and duty to use my time to protect our only home. This work is personal and professional for me. Everything I’ve been through in the past 2+ years, from the pandemic to my own successful battle against cancer caused by environmental toxins, has been fuel for me to take this journey. With the help of my doctors, modern medicine, innovative science, and my community of friends and family, I healed myself. Now I want to heal the planet.

I am willing to do whatever it takes. The changes we make (or don’t make) now will dictate how the history of our world unfolds for the next several thousand years. The consequences are that profound. We will absolutely turn the corner over the next few years. The question is what awaits us when we do, and that answer is up to all of us, individually and collectively.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to get to this place and cheered me on. There are so many of you who moved mountains and I promise to pay forward all of it. Now, it’s time to go have an adventure and personally witness this momentous time for Britain and the world. I’m excited to bring you with me.

creativity

How my life and career prepared me to work on climate change

When people ask me, “what do you do?” my response is always, “have you got a minute?” If they say yes, I say, “I’m a digital product developer / business leader / journalist / author / biomimicry scientist / public historian / tour guide, and I kicked cancer’s ass during a pandemic. Now I’m bundling up all of that experience together to fight climate change and protect the planet. Do you have any questions?”

Some of the most important research on climate change has yet to be done: What happens in a worst-case scenario? This week, an international team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge (where I will start my graduate studies in Sustainability Leadership in September) published a paper about the urgent need to do this work. As I read the piece and considered my experience, I realized my life and career have primed me to be a part of this endeavor.

Cancer during COVID-19
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. You think taking precautions to protect yourself and others from COVID is inconvenient? You think changing your lifestyle so we curb climate change in inconvenient? Trying getting cancer. Now that’s inconvenient. 

Cancer upends every facet of life to battle it. And even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you’ll be cancer-free. Having to face that demon and my own mortality (several times thanks to a life-threatening chemo allergy I had and never knew about) changed me. Then to find out that my cancer had a strong environmental component added insult to injury. It also lit a fire under me to change my life and dedicate my career to healing this injured planet. 

Nothing teaches you how to live like having your life on the line. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Since I had to go through it, and have emerged on the other side cancer-free, I’m determined to use what I learned to help make this world a better place for all beings.

Hope for the best; expect the worst
I’ve lived my entire life by this philosophy. At times, it’s exhausting but the tremendous upside is that I’m often prepared and rarely surprised. This thinking gave me a stiff upper lip as I’m not someone who runs from conflict or difficulty. I’m incapable of deluding myself or anyone else with any kind of pollyanna scenarios. Just give me the facts. Tell me what I could be up against and I’ll take it from there. I’ve mastered pro-con list making and I love a good SWOT analysis. Difficulty doesn’t depress me. I can sit with suffering and not be consumed by it. I’m not afraid of the future; I’m here to shape it. 

Product development
All product development, regardless of the product, service, or system being built is anchored in two principles: what problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for? I don’t fall in love with anything I build or any idea I have. A long time ago, I fell in love with serving others and making the world a better place. My ego and my fear of rejection hover near zero. Being a product developer requires me to be measured and methodical, to care about the grand vision and every tiny detail. Strategy and tactics are two sides of the same coin and they serve each other. I like both of them equally. 

Business and leadership
I’d love to tell you that well-meaning governments, NGOs, and nonprofits are going to save the planet and humankind from destruction. They aren’t because they aren’t the problem. Business, and how we conduct business, is the problem. Because business is the problem it’s also the solution. 

Business is responsible for climate change because of the way it operates. Change the operations and you see progress toward solving the challenge. It’s not easy work. There are a lot of stakeholders with conflicting interests and priorities. Then you add the whammy of many people in the world being down on business and capitalism, and rightly so. Given all that, it’s easy to see why some businesses toss up their hands with a “I can’t do anything right so I’m just going to soldier on as I always have.” 

Except they can’t. Business and businesses will have to change and evolve. It’s not a choice anymore. Destroy the planet and every business, every person perishes. So business colleagues: buck up, roll up those sleeves, humble yourself, and get to work to make your business sustainable. I’ll be in the trenches with you and I’ll help you.  

Scientific studies in biomimicry and sustainability
Biomimicry begins and ends with the mindset of looking at a problem and asking, “how would nature solve this?” It’s a fascinating, hopeful, and wonderful way to live and work. I feel fortunate to be a biomimicry scientist. I’m excited to begin my studies at Cambridge to extend my work in biomimicry and business through sustainability leadership and bring them together to build a better world. 

Digital media
I’m often asked, “do you make your whole living in biomimicry?” No. I don’t. I have an MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia and I’ve worked for years to become a storyteller in a variety of mediums. I make the majority of my income working as a product developer for a media company and from my writing. I also produce and host a podcast about joy called JoyProject, used to manage Broadway shows and national theater tours, and hope to get back to producing and hosting storytelling shows, in-person and on screens large and small.

Science is what I do because I love it and it’s a force for good in the world. With my studies at Cambridge, I’m hoping to work with energy companies to end the production of fossil fuels. You can read more about my career plans here

Being a journalist and a fantasy and science fiction author
Writers make stuff up and write it down. We love playing out scenarios and asking questions like, “What if…?”, “And then what happened?”, and “How did we end up here?”. We research. We interview people. We observe. We dig through historical documents and archives. We create characters and we put them into impossible situations. This is the kind of thinking and acumen the climate change movement needs. 

Public historian and tour guide
Science was my first love. History was my second. I was a history and economics major in college at the University of Pennsylvania. I majored in history because everything has a history. It felt to me like I could do anything if I was a historian. I can happily spend countless hours reading and uncovering history, talking to people about history, showing people history, and imagining what once was, why it impacts what is, and how it will shape what’s yet to be. 

I’ve never been a person who easily fit into a box of any kind. I had no interest in that. When I was interviewing for my first job out of business school, a man interviewing me commented that my resume looked like I had done a lot of exploring. He didn’t mean this as a compliment; he was criticizing me because he thought I lacked focus. I didn’t. My focus just happened to be on anything and everything that interested me, and a lot interests me. 

I got the job, but that guy who called me an explorer was never approved of me. That’s okay. He just couldn’t see what I knew to be true—the solutions to worldwide problems need worldwide views. They need lots of different types of experience to create something that’s never been done before. Turns out all my exploring gave me exactly everything I needed to make the world a better place, and that’s what I will do. 

creativity

How being a writer will help me get my dream job working with fossil fuel companies

In September, I’m starting a Master’s program at University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership. It’s my intention to use that degree as a springboard to work with fossil fuel companies — and convince them that it’s in their best and most profitable interest to stop producing fossil fuel and invest everything they’ve got in clean renewable energy. 

I’ve talked to a few people about this dream. Most laugh at me. Some think I’m wasting my time and talents on this dream. Some think I’ll never be able to do it. 

Here’s why it’s worth trying: 89% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels and industry

We could do everything else right when it comes to slowing down or, dare we imagine, to reversing climate change and it won’t matter if we don’t quickly and massively reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel production.

What Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. got wrong about the SCOTUS majority opinion on the EPA
The SCOTUS majority ruling in West Virginia v. EPA removed the ability of the EPA to limit emissions by power plants. The majority opinion is a travesty for many reasons. It also happens to be false, or at least incomplete. “There is little reason to think Congress assigned such decisions to the Agency,” Roberts wrote. “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself.”

That last bit about Congress isn’t entirely true. The energy industry could make the choice to limit, or eliminate, its emissions.

I know some of you are laughing at that idea. You know what’s even more laughable? Imagining that Congress will get its act together to make it happen.

I understand why people hate on and rail against capitalism. However, it’s the economic paradigm that powers the world. We barely have time to get for-profit businesses to change their behaviors before the planet faces irreversible damage that will compromise life on this planet. We absolutely don’t have time to reinvent and adopt a new world economy before that happens.

Yes, capitalism is deeply flawed and yes, I wish humans were neurologically wired to act in the best interests of the greater community rather than themselves. I can’t change either of those facts and neither can you, not in time to protect the planet.

We have to work with what we have right now. We don’t have time to lament over human selfishness. We have to use it to our advantage; that’s exactly how nature would solve climate change and it’s exactly what we need to do. Now. It’s what I plan to do by working with fossil fuel companies. 

What fossil fuel companies care about
Fossil fuel companies don’t produce fossil fuel because they love it. There is precious little to love about dirty fuel that’s poisoning the planet and poisoning us. Fossil fuel companies love two things: money and power. Their long-term profits and power aren’t in fossil fuel. It’s in renewables for one simple reason — they’re cheaper to produce and are, as the name implies, limitless. Imagine the economics of a business built on inexpensive, infinite raw materials that produces a final product that protects the health of every living being? You don’t have to imagine it. It’s here. It’s renewable energy. 

What West Virginia cares about
Why did West Virginia bring this case against the EPA? Jobs. Plain and simple. Money and income. West Virginia and other fossil fuel producing states have no particular attachment to fossil fuel except history and a large number of jobs. 

If they could preserve jobs, or better yet increase the number of them and the income those jobs generate, they’d do it. With renewables, they can retrain people, preserve their beautiful land, water, and wildlife, protect workers, increase tax revenue, and promote the health of all beings. But they can’t do it alone. We have to work with them. We have to support them. 

The power of legacy
Legacy is a powerful motivator. As Hamilton says, “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” In addition to money and power, fossil fuel companies and those who head them care about legacy and how they will be remembered. In 2019, BP spent millions on an advertising campaign about its low-carbon energy and cleaner natural gas when 96% of its annual expenditure is on oil and gas. This was greenwashing to the extreme, and BP isn’t alone. Greenwashing is a fossil fuel industry problem

Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, INEOS, RWE, and Shell have all done it. The advertising campaign they all need, rooted in truth, that will send their stock prices soaring, generate priceless innovative partnerships, and cause the best and brightest talent around the world to work for and with them is this: “We will reduce the production of fossil fuel by at least 50% by 2030 and completely replace it with renewable energy by the year 2050.”

I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, met with some of the highest officials in Saudi government, and traveled to the Empty Quarter. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have the geographic space and wealth to be the largest renewable suppliers in the world. Forget greening the desert there. Create the solar fuel farms we need on land that has very little life to disturb. 

Fossil fuel companies are fiercely competitive. Once one company does this, the rest of them will scramble to do the same. There’s a first mover advantage here. With this kind of decision, they will rewrite the history of this planet and forever be remembered as the company that protected and saved life on Earth in its darkest hour. Now that is a legacy.

Why I’m built for this work
I’ve worked inside a number of large multinational matrix for-profit companies. Many are populated with enormous egos and deep pockets. 

Bureaucracy doesn’t grind me down; it sharpens my resolve. 

I love finding out what makes people tick and what they care about most. Then I show them how my projects help them in their pursuits of what matters to them. I learned this skill as a fundraiser and as a product developer who had to internally lobby for project funding. My mentors were the best of the best at this. They showed me how it’s done, and done well.

Being a writer will help
While building a successful business career working with a variety of startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies, I also honed my communications and storytelling skills by building a strong portfolio as a writer, author, journalist, editor, interviewer, public speaker, and podcaster. 

This shift from fossil fuels to clean renewables is as much about storytelling as it is about science and business. 

Being a writer means I’m constantly inventing characters with motives. I build worlds with words. Now I will use my words to paint the picture of what a clean, sustainable, and healthy world looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like. 

While the climate change movement has done an excellent job of describing the grim future we’ll face if we don’t shift away from fossil fuels, they haven’t shown us the alternative of a happy, joyful future on this planet. We need to long for that alternative so much that we’re willing to change and endure the transition, which may be painful, expensive, and inconvenient.

My cancer was environmentally-driven
During the COVID-19 pandemic prior to vaccines, I was diagnosed with and treated for early stage breast cancer. My doctors believe my cancer was driven, at least in part, by environmental factors. We can’t prove this definitively, but when we triangulate all the data we know about my case it becomes clear that the environment was at least a major contributor. 

Nothing motivates and activates like nearly dying. My health, your health, and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. And they’re worth fighting for. I’m fighting for all of us, and that means I have to work with fossil fuel companies. 

In the words of the late great Babe Ruth, it’s tough to beat someone who never gives up, and I won’t give up until we get this done. 

Change is an inside job
While change can be driven by outside pressure, I’ve seen change happen quicker and more extensively when pursued on the inside of an organization. Sometimes to get things done, we’ve got to go into the belly of the beast. We have to walk right into the lion’s den armed with the undaunted courage and willful determination to sit with the lion, understand their perspective, and then show them how you can all move forward together for everyone’s benefit. 

I know it’s going to be a steep climb. I know there is a chance it may not work. There is a chance I’ll come home empty-handed with nothing to show for my effort and time. 

There’s also a chance that it could work. There’s a chance that this could be the most meaningful, valuable thing I ever do with my life that will make the world a better place for all beings. And so with that hope and that goal, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Allowing climate change to progress unabated is akin to burning down our own house and wondering why we have no place to live. Nothing survives — not a company, a government, nor a living being — if the planet perishes. With that in mind, there is no work more important than getting fossil fuel companies to stop producing fossil fuel. This work is what matters most.

creativity

Joy today: Day 1 of my new job in TV and film production

57277825_10104886286269956_3692905922977333248_oMy expectations for Day 1 of my new job were insanely high & they were exceeded in every way. See the hearts in my eyes?! All the side hustling & creative struggle for all these years were absolutely worth it. And I’m so grateful. I’ll find a way to pay forward this joy. Thank you to all of you who have been on this ride with me. Your constant support means more to me than I have words to express.

creativity

Joy today: I accepted a new job…at the movies

I’m absolutely THRILLED to share that I’ve been offered & accepted a new job as a Development Manager at a TV & film production company in New York City to develop, produce, and write. I’m over-the-moon excited about this new adventure and dream job. I’m literally pinching myself to make sure this is really happening! A year ago I never would have believed this was even a possibility. It’s been a huge lesson for me that if we live our passions and share them, our lives can change in ways we can barely imagine.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Becoming an entrepreneur again

This week is perfect for establishing goals. This week I’ve been writing a business plan that uses science and biomimicry as a basis to develop sustainable products, systems, and processes while helping at-risk youth, reducing recidivism, and providing training and jobs to people with low incomes. I’m working hard to roll everything I love into one endeavor without compromising and helping as many people as possible. You’d think I’d be scared to start my own company again, to try my hand at entrepreneurship knowing how hard it is and having suffered my fair share of hard knocks the last time. But I’m not. I’m not afraid at all. On the contrary, nothing fills me with more hope.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Grad school is the gift I gave to myself this holiday season

This is adulting at its finest: what opportunities we don’t see in the world we must make for ourselves. Grad school round 2 starts in less than a month – this time getting a Masters of Science in Biomimicry. In the past week, I’ve registered for classes, ordered my books for those classes, and applied for scholarships (waiting to hear back). Honestly, this gift to myself is what I’ve wanted for many years and is only now possible with this new program at ASU and my clear-eyed view of the next chapter of my career to combine my work in product development, business, storytelling, invention, history, and sustainability with my passion for science and endless sense of curiosity. Like all the best gifts, it’s one that gets better with time.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Cross-polliNation podcast about everything I love about my career

8df410eb-5004-4241-b7de-8fdbd820fdff-originalExcited to share this podcast episode where I talk about everything I love in my career: product development, science, biomimicry, the arts, writing, my book, storytelling, technology, and the power of our imagination coupled with curiosity. Thank you to host N.B., and to Carolyn Kiel for recommending me! You can listen at this link (www.crosspollination.co) and wherever you get your podcast feeds!

creativity

A Year of Yes: How I got interested in bringing biomimicry into my career

A few months ago, I asked myself the question, “In 5 years, what would I like to be doing in my career on a daily basis?” I could only think of 1 answer: I want to spend more time with animals. While animals have always played an important role in my life, they’ve only once been a (very small) part of my career. I thought about working at a museum, zoo, animal hospital, or a nonprofit like the ASPCA or Wildlife Conservation Society. I explored those ideas and found that the jobs that match my experience are all administrative, and that’s not what I wanted. I wanted actual work with animals.

I care deeply about making our cities sustainable, living, breathing, joyful places. They aren’t now, and I think my passion for changing this coupled with my experience in product development and management, and business is not only helpful but critical.

So I began to think about how to bring my profession in business and product, and my passion for science together. Biomimicry—the study of biological structures and processes, and the application of their wisdom to our built environment—is that answer to my question. Biomimicry involves learning from the wisdom of all six kingdoms of life: animals, plants, protists, fungi, archaeans (single cell organisms found in extreme environments like boiling water), and eubacteria (single cell organisms mainly found in soil and other organisms).

This reflection was part of what prompted me to think about getting some formal education in biomimicry. That’s how I found the online graduate program, Master of Science in Biomimicry at Arizona State University. I’ve applied and am waiting to hear if I’m accepted into the program. They only take a small handful of people every year. Despite the odds, I put my best foot forward in my application. And in the meantime, I’m reading and learning everything I can about the field and its application.

I continually evaluate my life and career. Every day I ask myself if I’m happy, and I then I answer the question why or why not. This reflection holds me accountable to me. And even better, it also helps me find and follow my dreams.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Getting personal about time on a podcast about change

Yesterday, I did an interview for a podcast called How Humans Change. I spoke with hosts Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton about change, transformation, death, trauma, writing, mental health, choices, poverty, technology, career, the passage of time, therapy, science, dinosaurs, biomimicry, super powers, and how healing, while difficult, is the best motivator of all. It’s my most personal interview to-date.

Some people who hear it will be surprised, and others will have answers to some long outstanding questions that I have rarely discussed in the past. I’m making a more concerted effort to address these topics thoughtfully, authentically, and often.

I always love meeting members of my tribe and these guys are definitely part of it. Thank you to my amazing friend and mentor, John Bucher, for connecting me to them. I’ll share the episode link when it’s live. Until then, give their first season a listen by clicking here.