by Ashley Mitchell
Working within the venture capital industry is an enormous privilege that provides exposure to a spectrum of brilliant and talented women leaders—from bold founders and executives, to exceptional operators and builders to groundbreaking investors and innovators. Including many in the NEA family and portfolio network.
As we honor Women’s History Month, it’s easy to find many inspiring stories right around us. . Our team gets a front row seat to female founders building companies that are curing cancer (Tesaro), improving the global internet (Cloudflare), reinventing education (Coursera), making enterprises smarter (Knotch), and changing the way we consume products, services, and content (check out examples via our recent woman-focused commerce post for International Women's Day!). Venture is an incredible perch to observe where the world is headed and then women leading and building it. But it’s good to keep pushing the envelope.
This year, when we thought about ways to honor Women's History Month—we wanted to do something different. Our goal was to give our team the opportunity to hear from someone outside of our day-to-day world, an extraordinary individual who'd overcome adversity to achieve something no one else had—which led us to the legendary Diana Nyad.
Diana made a name for herself in the 1970s as an open-water long-distance swimmer. She is the first and only person to swim from Cuba to Florida (over 110 miles!) in open waters and without the aid of a shark cage. And as if this accomplishment isn't astonishing in and of itself, Diana conquered this feat at the age of 64. Diana's achievements were the result of a lifetime of hard work, discipline, and never losing sight of a dream. Our team was fortunate to welcome Diana to share her story, which left us in awe of her lifelong persistence and motivated by her unwavering pursuit. Though Diana's experience was rooted in sport, her inspirational appeal transcends boundaries. Here are some takeaways that we will carry with us to drive both personal and professional motivation.
Diana spoke about not limiting her goals based on other people's expectations and what had been done before. Instead, she set her sights on achieving the unimaginable.
"Don't accept anybody else’s limitations for you. Don't let anybody ever tell you that you can't dream what you’re dreaming...I believe in dreaming so big that success isn’t easy; having the courage to fail and making the dream so big that you have to dig down and you have to persist."
Early in Diana's pool sprint swimming career, a friend gave her advice to compete in such a way that when all was said and done, she could believe with certainty that she "couldn't have done it a fingernail faster." This was a mantra she carried throughout her life, and kindly passed on to us as well.
"No matter where you go or who you meet for the rest of your life—you’re going to do every day so you couldn’t have done it a fingernail better and you’ll have no regrets."
Diana spoke of her diligent physical training and the mental toughness required to complete her epic swim. She didn't give up after four failed attempts and she learned to take comfort in her level of preparedness and embrace the human emotion that goes hand-in-hand with pushing oneself and taking risks.
"I didn't have doubts about me and what I was going to give…I'm confident in what I've done to prepare my body and my mind. I was confident, strong, and scared."
Diana's famed swim may have technically been a solo accomplishment, but she is quick to highlight the value of her team of coaches, handlers, boat crew, shark experts, family and more. She puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on how many people supported her dream, and reminds us that every role on a team is an important contributor to success.
"Don't you ever forget my team…we did this together. I want to remember that it takes a team, and that if we never give up we will get to our other shores no matter what we’re chasing."
After detailing her life thus far and sharing her current initiatives (supporting a movie about her epic swim, founding the EverWalk initiative, and more), Diana left us with a powerful reminder (complete with trumpet fanfare!) to get up and go after something that matters.
"Get up. Don't sleep in, don't miss the dawn, don't miss your life. Chase something special."
Learn more about Diana, her story, and her initiatives here: http://diananyad.com/
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