I was headed back to my hotel after spending the day at a chatbot conference where I'd given a talk on the work my team is doing with cities to use virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home to address accessibility barriers such as literacy and visual or mobility impairments. It is work I love, because it is using new technology to make a city more accessible to those who are often left out.

It had been an inspiring day, but I was feeling uneasy about my flight home early the next morning after briefly seeing early news of an accident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight.

I was chatting with my Lyft driver while scrolling through news stories on my phone as we inched along in Palo Alto, California, rush hour traffic, and in the instant that I saw the name of the person who had been killed on the flight, I started to cry. The rest of the ride was silent, as my poor driver silently checked on me in his rearview mirror.

I've known Jennifer Riordan for several years and considered her a friend. Her texts to me were often unexpected words of encouragement or kindness, and she was an early champion and avid supporter of Hautepreneurs, an organization for women entrepreneurs I co-founded with Jessica Eaves Mathews. I also had the privilege of working alongside Jennifer as part of City Alive, an initiative aimed at removing barriers to economic mobility within our city of Albuquerque.

Jennifer was beloved by many in our city. She was a loving wife, dedicated mother of two, friend to so many, and a highly successful leader and role model who spent her time and efforts helping others. Jennifer had this special quality of making all of us feel uniquely special in her presence, and she was, by far, the most positive, kind, generous person I've known.

In the days that have followed since that horrible news, the number of people who have shared personal stories of her kindness towards them has been overwhelming. The community has already found ways to honor her, through dedicating a day of service in her honor and establishing a memorial trust fund to continue to support the causes she believed in. Those of us who had the privilege of working with her are also finding ways within our own groups to ensure that her vision and efforts continue into the future.

Many of us, myself included, have found comfort in resolving to be more like her in our own interactions with others. After reflecting on my own interactions with her, I've found myself re-committing to embrace the values she demonstrated, so that my actions can honor her life in some small way.

  • Be brave. Don't make the answer no because of a fear of rejection or failure.
  • Don't hold grudges. They weigh down our hearts and keep us from being truly happy.
  • Be kind. True strength comes in choosing kindness when someone doesn't deserve it or maybe even want it.
  • Be authentic. If we want to truly connect with others, we don't have to be the smartest, best looking, or wittiest in the room--we just have to be authentic.
  • Be patient. Some things take time, whether it is seeking out an opportunity or waiting for ourselves or someone else to grow.
  • Be generous. We don't lose joy by being happy for someone else. We don't lose success by cheering on another. And we don't lose anything important when we choose to give.
  • Be present. When we are truly present and willing to experience the moment with someone else, we come away the richer for it--and we leave a positive impact on the lives of those we touch.
  • Be ready. Courage is saying yes even when we don't feel ready or think we're qualified to rise to a challenge. Nothing is certain beyond right now, so there is no better time to be bold, embrace the future, and bring others along as we rise. 
Published on: Apr 20, 2018