Turning Our Perceptions of Failure Inside Out

We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”

— Whoopi Goldberg

“Success is not final and failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

— Winston Churchill

In the summer of 2010, my best friend since late childhood was suddenly diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, during a routine physical. A funny, humble, gifted, scholarly, child psychologist with a head for business and a heart of gold, she was in the midst of planning a startup launch with me for a unique consulting business. One that would pair education and entrepreneurship to promote women leadership in the special education arena. Socially Speaking LLC was born the summer Pixar’s Toy Story 3 wowed audiences at the box-office and the original iPad® wowed people at home.
At that time, I was a school based pediatric speech-language pathologist/Autism specialist, with a head for technology (especially Apple™ tech), and a flair for public speaking and writing. I was in the middle of creating my Socially Speaking™ Social Skills Curriculum pairing toys and iOS tech in treatment of young children with Autism. It later became the basis for my national/international Socially Speaking™ Seminars, my 2012 social skills assessment iPad® App, and my 2015 published book Autism Intervention in the iEra. Some of my work was also recently featured in Apps for Autism: Second Edition (2015).

I had a career as a speech therapist and then decided to take a risk and become an entrepreneur.  I left my comfortable, somewhat predictable full time position in a school district where I was on the tenure track, and opened a door to the unknown. I traveled all around North America giving conferences and consultations on all manner of things related to social communication and iOS technology.

My best friend worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help me launch and manage my startup, all while juggling her own private practice, her part time job at the International Center for the Disabled (ICD) in Manhattan, and her chemotherapy appointments. She did it with such practicality, grace, and humor; all of which I have tried to embed in my company’s DNA, mission, and its brand.

We often joked that our shared history (which includes traveling abroad together during the gap year after high school, and then attending college together), similar Theory of Mind (our inner landscape and emotional engagement with others) and dissimilar approaches to problem solving (I tend to be a less linear and more “outside the box” thinker) made for great teamwork, not to mention great conversations. The results of those conversations are what I put into practice right away, while marketing myself on the road, and on social media, and what I put into my 2014 business book, The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur-How to Balance Your Cravings for Humanity and Technology in Today’s Startup Culture.

When my best friend, mentor, muse, and silent business partner lost her long, valiant, and painful battle with breast cancer in December 2012, I felt totally lost. But I knew it was time to truly share what she had taught me– by example. I took the plunge and decided to remove the safety net, and delve into freelance consulting/entrepreneurship full time, by myself, without venture capital.

I remember trying to find solace, strength, and meaning as I went through all the 5 stages of grief  first documented by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. I lost myself in my full day seminars and extensive travels, in Pixar’s ode to Girl Power, Brave, in seeing/enjoying that “Aha” moment while teaching others best practices re: Autism intervention and/or how to integrate the iPad® into their workflow, and in writing. I took time to become an authorpreneur; penning The NICE Reboot and a subsequent column for The Huffington Post at Arianna Huffington’s personal invitation. I also remember spending a lot of time in real time and online, pondering the nature of innovationsuccess, a meaningful legacy, and what it means to succeed and  lead.

Through trial and error, and viewing the world through a “Why not?” lens focused on the power of the human spirit, I learned about myself, and about the beautiful tapestry of this thing called life. I learned life altering and sometimes painful lessons which I will always cherish. I learned about personal digital branding, about  resiliencyharnessing time,  creativity, the art of storytelling, the importance of balancing humanity and technology, and the importance of taking time to play and make good products that “do good”.

I also learned the value in looking deeper under the surface; at people and events, to see the Big Picture. I learned that everything one experiences and everyone one crosses paths with, can and does provide teachable moments. Ones which enable a person to “connect the dots” in unusual and meaningful ways, and remain authentic to his/her true self and calling.

For the past 3 years I have had one foot in the special education arena and one foot in the women entrepreneurship/leadership arena. I have straddled “the fence” (sometimes to my own detriment!) and actively pursued tangible and intangible, profitable and purposeful, and easy and difficult opportunities on both sides of it. To strategically collaborate. To provide thought leadership. To make a real difference in the lives of others, and thereby enhance my own personal development and sense of accomplishment. I have experienced triumphs and tribulations, successes and failures,  “eureka” moments followed by periods of befuddlement, and many sleepless nights and jam-packed days meeting more great people and seeing more wondrous things as a tourist than I can count.

Throughout all this, I have continuously sought to learn, to do, to change my perspective about things, and adapt. I have sought out all kinds of takeaways from so many sources, to pack in my proverbial suitcase and to allay my fears. Fears about my legacy, my trajectory, my balance sheet, and ultimately my desired outcome(s).

It wasn’t until I recently saw Pixar’s best movie yet, Inside Out, that things crystallized for me. I gained clarity about what it really means to be a self-actualized human being who exercises one’s Theory of Mind to adapt. I discovered the power in saying “no” after 5 years of saying “yes”. I realized that it’s time to embark on a new journey of collaboration and self-discovery. I understood the need for change, like the 11 year old girl named Riley, whose family moves from snowy, bucolic Minnesota to sunny, crowded San Francisco, which is the catalyst for this film.

I cannot stop raving about Inside Out to everyone I meet; especially in the Autism community and education arena! I’ve always loved the Pixar “origin story” and what the company stands for. I use examples from the Toy Story films in all my Autism related seminars. I devoured Creativity Inc. which is the ultimate behind the scenes look at the “Pixar Process”,  and is probably the best management book out there– ever. I even wrote about it and about creativity, and “feeding the beast”, and how the nature vs. nurture debate impacts productivity and success.

Success in life; especially in entrepreneurship, is an ever-changing, fluid staircase. One which requires introspection, hard work, and resiliency to make the stairs increase in number. I’d like to write about 3 life lessons I gleaned from this Oscar-worthy, brilliant, deceptively simple movie. One that should be on all our summer homework lists as we build those staircases; in our minds and in our lives.

What I Learned About Life from “Inside Out” (Without Spoilers):

1. Memories Lie.

They are not always true representations of what happened. Memories are colored by our own perceptions of people/places/events at the time of that experience. This can be a scary proposition, because memories fade but never truly disappear. So “acting on instinct” could potentially be an unproductive way to tap into those fuzzy memories and make poor decisions. So can living in the past and holding on to prior best practices and cultural mores.
2. Own the Bad. 

It’s the bad times in life that help a person “step up” and grow, and have a deeper appreciation of the good times and not take them for granted. Take ownership of your bad days, mistakes, your anger and sadness, and other undesirable events and feelings which help shape your present and future self. Life’s “bleachable moments” are necessary to retain for greater progress, independence, and success, and should only be erased with Clorox on TV!
3. Rock the ‘People Power’.

We all need our inner circle (whose members come and go) to “have our back” and keep us “on track” in all ways.  All human beings crave social and emotional connections with others to forge bonds that promote well-being, learning, and problem solving. This is what drives us in our quest for validation and meaningful interactions; at home, work, at school, and online via social media. Thanks to technology, collaboration has taken on a whole new meaning. Thanks to Inside Out, the way we collectively view others and their needs, will never be the same.

Pixar and all it stands for, is a shining example of the future of work where creativity reigns, and the conundrum surrounding the quest for better balance of humanity and technology is always addressed. Inside Out is a shining example of the power of a best friend, albeit an imaginary one named Bing Bong, who can change the course of a person’s life (not to mention thought processes) and be that person’s  hero.

Riley learns to let go, and to embrace change. Joy learns that change is good, and that there is no “I” in team. I have learned how I myself can better help others develop a mindset and legacy of turning Me > We. As Tina Fey says, “there are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

I will be taking my tech savvy, my knowledge and experience in Autism intervention, and my entrepreneurial perspective and mindset and applying them to my my new job.

I’ve just been hired to be the new Clinical Support Specialist at the Kennedy Child Study Center in Manhattan. New program, new location, new school year, new supervisory leadership role, new possibilities, and new ways to help children with special needs redefine success and failure. All while continuing to share my Socially Speaking™ company vision and work which I started with my best friend 5 years ago.

Seems like a lifetime ago, but that’s just my perception…..

I want to sincerely thank everyone who has physically, virtually, emotionally, intellectually, collaboratively, and creatively accompanied me on my journey.

I am a better person as a result, and eternally grateful!





About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is the author of "The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur". She is an Autism specialist and educational technology consultant turned social entrepreneur. She is also a pediatric speech therapist and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program & iPad App. Her second book, "Autism Intervention in the iEra" was published in 2015. Since 2010, Penina has been a national/international speaker about social communication development, balancing humanity and technology, and best practices re: mobile and social technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more. You can also find her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina, Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC, Google+ at The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, and Pinterest and YouTube as well.
This entry was posted in Balancing Humanity & Technology, Creativity, Life Lessons, Musings on Humanity, Thought Leadership and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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