Fall Down Seven Times… Or is it 700 times?Featured
There’s a Japanese proverb you’re probably heard before: “Nana korobi ya oki," or, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” The thing is, you never know how many times you’re going to need to stand back up. It could be a lot more than eight times.In high school, I was an average student. I dreamt of becoming a physicist. I was told that I didn’t have enough math for Calculus-based Physics. I fell down. I got back up and taught myself to speak French, to speak Japanese, and to write computer code.I received a scholarship to attend undergraduate university and entered as a double major in Physics and Art. During a class titled “Computer Art,” the professor held up my work as an example of what a computer could do for a person who had “no real artistic talent.” Fell down again. Got back up. Changed my major to Cognitive Neuroscience.I became enthralled with the physical structure of the brain and how it could be simulated in computer code. I asked the university for permission to take six months off to write a thesis on my representational theory of the mind and brain. “Not if you want to keep your scholarships, Carolyn.” Fell down again. Got back up. Graduated.I wanted to start my own company. How could I do it? I was told that I needed a lot of money. Fell down again. Got back up. Looked for a job.I applied to Graduate School. I wrote to my undergraduate thesis advisors to see if they would write me letters of recommendation. One of the three wrote back. She indicated that I had worked so independently that she didn’t feel comfortable recommending me. Fell down again. Got back up. Took a job running a non-profit organization.I applied to Graduate School again, this time in Instructional Technology. I got in! I worked at two different startups during the day and attended classes at night. After receiving my degree, I interviewed at a business intelligence company in Silicon Valley. I had to give a presentation to their executive committee as a part of the interview process. After my presentation was over, I was congratulated on my outstanding performance and the VP quipped, “Now she’s not going to go and get pregnant, is she?” I turned bright red. I fell down. Again. And got back up.I applied for a new job at an HR Technology startup as their Lead E-Learning Developer. I was hired! We grew the company and it was acquired by one of the largest HR Technology companies in the world. Everyone figured that it was the end of the road. Fell down again. Got back up and applied for a job with the acquiring company. I got it!My new role was running one of the acquiring company’s Learning & Performance organizations. A few months after taking over the team, they took an employee engagement survey. One question asked “Do you feel that your manager or someone at work cares about you as a person?” Less than 50% of my team responded positively to that question. I fell down again. Got back up. Worked exceedingly hard to improve the team’s engagement, performance, and productivity.After a few years’ time, there wasn’t a single team at the company – out of more than 5000 teams – who had a higher engagement score than our team did.I still wanted to start my own company. My family discouraged me: “Carolyn, you aren’t male, you’re not young, and you aren’t an Ivy League college dropout.” Fell down again. Got back up. I floated some ideas by a good friend (and serial entrepreneur) and his nephew (a grad student in Computer Science – AI.) It was a go!The three of us founded Humaxa. I took 17 years of experience helping HR Technology clients solve their human capital issues and poured it into an application. We decided that using Humaxa had to be fun and meaningful for both employers and employees. “Max”, our AI Assistant, was designed to predict and initiate the actions most likely to help employees engage and perform. It was a $160 billion dollar problem and not easy to solve. I fell down and got back up many times.I tried to raise money. At one investor meeting, I was asked if I was a first-time founder. I said “yes.” The investor looked surprised and replied “Better late than never.” Fell down again. Got back up.As a fellow Elpha, as a woman in STEM, as a company founder, and as a friend – I love helping others stand back up. I’m a bit of an expert in it! Falling down a lot means that you are trying to do hard things. Please connect with me and thank you for reading!Carolyn Peer (CEO and Cofounder of Humaxa) is an award-winning Human Capital Management industry leader with an MA in Instructional Technology and a BA in Cognitive Neuroscience. Carolyn started her HR Technology career as the Lead Instructional Designer at an early stage HR Tech startup called ProBusiness. ProBusiness was acquired by ADP in 2003. After taking a leadership position at ADP (running one of ADP’s Learning & Performance groups for National Accounts), she guided her teams to a top-20 placement in Training Magazine's Top 125 organizations and a top-5 placement in CLO Magazine's worldwide ranking in 2014. Between 2007 and 2016, Carolyn’s direct teams went from less than 50% engagement to 100% engagement. There wasn't a single other leader within the company's 5000+ leaders who had a higher engagement score in 2016. Carolyn left ADP in 2017 to join forces with two associates and found Humaxa, an AI/Machine Learning-powered employee retention platform that connects feedback to actions via fun chatbot conversations.
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your story Carolyn, hearing about the twists and turns in your path are so valuable for someone like me. Thank you!
Hey there, Alison! You are very welcome... it's cathartic! :) I hope all is well with you.
Thank you so much Carolyn for sharing your strength with us! What would you say has helped you getting back on your feet every time?
Hi, Mickaela - It's a good question. I actually don't consider myself to be particularly strong... more like stubborn. Perhaps harnessing that "negative" emotion and turning it in a positive thing is what helps. And sometimes it's not just about getting back on one's feet but getting part way up... then a little more... and being kind to yourself in process. I hope this helps. :)
Carolyn - this is hugely valuable in framing success within a broader and more complete context. All too often we only see the highlight reel. Thank you so much for sharing the peaks AND valleys of your career trajectory!
Thank you so much for sharing your story. The journey to the goal is for sure a bumpy one. I always hoped it would be easier but unfortunately that is not the way it goes :)
Thank you so much for sharing your story in this way, without editing out all the parts that aren't highlights. It's so helpful and reassuring to see examples of ups and downs in a successful path. I know research says that women often suffer more from perfectionism, partly due to attitudes that are internalized from society. I'm no exception to that and am usually my own worst critic, especially when perceiving a fall.It's relieving to be reminded this happens to everyone. During the times when you've experienced falls, do you also feel the tendency to be hard on yourself and how do you handle that?
Hi, Julia! You are very welcome. I think I used to be much harder on myself that I used to be. I have come to the realization that when I'm really at my wit's end, I need to be kind to myself - it's the only way forward. So, I've gotten better at not being too much of a perfectionist. It's hard though! :)
Thanks for posting this! I think being able to get up after you fall is a muscle we all need to grow (I'm working on it every day). And when we make bold choices, we have to be open to the idea of readjusting if needed.
Carolyn, I feel like you've created a new "type" of post. I'd love to see more women share their fell down and got back up again stories. You've inspired me to start crafting my own.♥️