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  • Writer's pictureLinda Kinning

Dedicating the month of November to doing things that scare me

Updated: Feb 6

You know that feeling of excitement rapidly followed my doubt or fear? When you want to do something but you're scared you might fail and everyone will wonder why you even tried -- including yourself?

For the past 5 years, I've celebrated YESvember -- a month dedicated to noticing that feeling, often in the pit of the stomach, and making that my sign to commit to doing the scary thing. No matter what.

Looking back at this experiment, the evidence this clear: this practice has made my life more full, interesting, and meaningful and it's a practice I carry with me throughout the other 11 months of the year.

5 years ago

I was stuck on the problem of why paying taxes felt so terrible as a citizen and why didn’t it feel like I could see what I was paying for? I had an idea for a data visualization platform that would show citizens exactly where their tax dollars went and would (hopefully) build trust and accountability between people and their governments.

I talked with engineers, and civic tech folks, data-nerds, and entrepreneurs, thinking surely someone else should build this already?!

"Pitch this idea at the Thursday pitch night" a grad school friend told me.

I was terrified. I didn't know how to code, I wasn't in government, or a tax expert, or a Capital F- FOUNDER of anything.

But I did it. I ended up spending the next three months working on the concept as a social enterprise.

I learned...
  • How to pitch an idea I was still working through

  • Research a new (to me) market rigorously

  • Finding people who like your product is fine – but finding someone to pay for it is more important – and harder

  • That I had a higher risk tolerance for pushing my comfort zone

4 years ago

I saw a VERY COOL looking research assistant position for the Big Data for Global Development Initiative at UChicago/ The research was at the intersection of public policy and big data and I wanted it. The job posting was asking for STEM students and referenced a computer science background -- I had neither of those things.

But I am a interdisciplinary communicator, rigorously curious, and practiced in stretching my comfort zone.

I applied, got the job, and began one of my fruitful professional collaborations with Abhilash Mishra

I learned...
  • How to write research memos and do landscape analysis

  • Much more about big data and AI (and how much I wanted to contribute to this field)

  • How to apply a business lens to academic research to find opportunities

  • A lot about datasets that measure human capital and relate to SDGs

After 2 years of YESvember, I started doing things that scared me year round And it felt less scary My muscles for taking risk and trying new things and trusting myself to learn were growing

3ish years ago

In March 2020 – the absolute worst timeline I got a call from The Center for Applied AI asking me if wanted to work on a COVID19 project and, if yes, could I hop on a call in 20 minutes to meet with the research team?

Everything was very urgent

I wasn't a public health expert, but I was a swift and organized project manager, a product thinker, a public communicator, and a damn good cat wrangler (useful for academics)

I worked with and organized a team of engineers, public policy experts, and economists to develop a data tool to help policy makers make better tradeoffs between the economy and public health. The urgency of the crisis meant we were releasing product weekly and it could look like a New York Times piece with helpful data viz or a policy memo to a governor or a data interact and visualization tool that could test out different trade off scenarios between economic and public health.

I learned...
  • What “all hands on deck” really means

  • How to hire engineers and data scientists

  • How to MOVE FAST before the opportunity changes

  • How to build a prototype and scope an MVP

  • The logistics of data-as-a-service

  • The risks of building your main value prop off data you don’t own

  • How to structure a public-private partnership and how to pitch to collaborators

  • Adapt product features to the market

  • Build much better pitch decks

2 years ago

I joined the founding team of a startup called UnGig to help freelancers access to benefits, training, and community. We had a prototype, a customer list, a plan to bootstrap, applications to 6 accelerators and a lot of research.

I learned...
  • Build faster ( you can over research)

  • How to no-code/low-code (but also the benefit of having a technical cofounder)

  • How to call myself a co-founder – even if the business ultimately failed

  • So SO SO much about leadership and hustle from the phenomenal Raabia Budhwani

1 year ago

I decided to move away from SF – be leaseless for a bit – and spent a few months in Japan launching Inna Circle and building out the entrepreneurial education product and venture accelerator with Moon Creative Lab.

This November

I left a wonderfully secure job to launch a new venture studio with Equitech Futures and I couldn't be more excited. But the things that scare me these days are less work-related.

YESvember has been one of my favorite experiments to date – but the longer it’s gone on, the less necessary it’s felt. Over the years I've said yes to:

  • Learning to sail and repair wooden row boats

  • Planning to hike 96 miles in the Scottish Highlands and ending at 56

  • Starting a blog and writing publicly

  • Speaking in Oxford about more diverse funding models for venture

  • Moving in with my partner

  • Moving to SF! Leaving SF!

  • Adopting a cat named Lucy Dacus

  • Launched the Computational Medicine Legal Accelerator

The muscles of “doing things that scare me” have been built and they give me strength

These days, I think perhaps the scariest thing is learning to say no in an effort to focus

Or maybe just to be

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