I've often wondered how the perception of success changes when life is derailed by personal difficulties, especially what it now looks like for those who have already made it to the top of the game within their industry.
Life happens in the middle of our pursuit of success, and finding the courage to remain open and vulnerable, especially when tragedy strikes, is not an easy thing. Here are three such leaders who have inspired and encouraged me with their willingness to remain transparent and open even in the midst of difficulties.
Jeff Pulver: Cofounder, Vonage
When I first discovered Jeff, it was through his inspiring posts on Twitter - talking openly about his weight loss (or as he calls it, outsourced) as well as his previous struggles with health. But he also posts frequently about his pure joy of now living in the moment.
Jeff rarely mentions his own accomplishments, but he's enjoyed many - from cofounding the first internet telecom business, Vonage, to assembling a coalition to prevent the regulation of the VOIP (voice over the internet protocol) industry. In fact, if you use Facetime or Skype, you can thank Jeff that it's free.
Jeff is considered a Pioneer of the Internet and is a serial entrepreneur who has invested in over 350 startups since 1998. He was an early investor in both Twitter and Foursquare.
Jeff's advice about how to find success has helped me be more comfortable with my own style of leadership and approach to entrepreneurship:
"It's sometimes allowing yourself to follow the flow of life, as hard as it may seem, that can give you the biggest and most successful returns - emotional, physical, financial. Learn mindfulness - give yourself permission to turn off and let go, disconnect. Learn that you matter, too."
Beatriz Acevedo, Founder, Mitú
I met Beatriz during the speaker dinner the night before the 2016 Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York City. Hosted by Joanne Wilson and Susan Solomon, the event brings together powerful women leaders from across the globe to engage in dialogue about a wide variety of topics within the theme of entrepreneurship.
Beatriz wears multiple hats - founder, mother, wife, daughter. She and I talked about the challenges of parenting while building a company. It's not an easy thing to balance, and through our visit that night, it became clear to me that no matter where we are along the journey to success, the worry over not being enough for our children remains a constant.
And as this year closes, Beatriz is facing what is far too often another constant among entrepreneurs - coping with illness or loss of a loved one.
When we visited a few days ago, Beatriz gave me this advice:
"I have been for the past few days with my dad in the hospital - on a red eye to eight meetings in New York. I turned back around the same day to be with him after surgery. He is 83 years old and in really delicate health.
I think that if this was just a job I could not do it. What makes me keep going is that I really know we are making a difference in our community - we are inspiring a new generation of young Latinos to have a voice and change stereotypes. But I can't lie to you it's hard to balance work and personal life."
Ted Rheingold, Founder, Dogster
In the past year, Ted's entire life has been upended - and it was his very raw, poignant post about the devastating changes in his life that caused me to first connect with him.
One day he was a whirlwind of a leader, a serial entrepreneur and a mover and shaker within the venture capital community.
The next, he was a man, a husband, a father with a single purpose - doing battle against cancer.
His willingness to be honest about the horrific rollercoaster ride of his past year, of the victories, the insights, the low places - it is a thing to be admired and a window into a world that many entrepreneurs want to pretend does not exist, that moment when health is not a given and when time is not an expendable asset that goes on indefinitely.
When I asked Ted what he would tell other entrepreneurs, this is what he had to say:
"Founders should set rules in advance about what they are willing to sacrifice or not. For me, it was my health, but not my marriage. For everyone, what is crucial to them will vary, but every founder will confront ruining much outside their business and will be in a better place if they already know in advance what is and what isn't acceptable or risk losing more than they calculated.
"I was ready to sacrifice my physical and mental health as long as I felt I could recover from it later.
Some advice I came to accept was having to play hurt is the norm and not the exception. And play hurt I did.
I also had to push on my mental health harder than I ever imagined, yet I developed strategies to use my personal time to bulwark my mental strength against debilitating mental demands."