Life Lessons from Christopher Columbus

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

— Amelia Earhart

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

— Christopher Columbus

Three years ago this week, during this month of October, which is ironically Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my cherished best friend (since late childhood), first mentor, and founding silent business partner, Dr. Natalie “Nechah” Hochstein PsyD, discovered that the chemo just stopped working. She learned that her days were numbered and accepted the news with the humor and quiet grace so typical of her actions and persona.

Nechah started to feel quite poorly in October and began to rapidly deteriorate. After a valiant 3 year battle, she bowed out, and passed away from stage IV breast cancer, a mere two months later, on December 12,  2012. I was with her on the last day of her life, where she gave me some last minute advice. She also asked me to publicly share my work (and hers) with others.

So I spent the last three years lecturing around North America full time, and publishing my experiences.  I shared my various takeaways in The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur and in Autism Intervention in the iEra: Practical Social Communication Strategies for Integrating Toys and Tech in Treatment. I spent the last three years profoundly missing her; trying to find ways to pursue purpose and profit to honor her memory, and trying to make sense of this convoluted collective pathway known as living.

Nechah’s life and overall teachings as a child psychologist, woman warrior fighting breast cancer, and a fellow startup entrepreneur, have profoundly impacted the way I now approach things. How I see life,  the world in general, and the process of problem solving; as a professional woman and Autism Specialist, as a social entrepreneur, and as a human being. How I view things like happinesslearningintrospectioncreativity, and innovation.

My own professional odyssey as a modern woman, an educator, leader, and “techie” interested in the brain, gender, and tech, coupled with the journey I embarked on with Nechah (when she was first diagnosed in 2009), provided many life lessons on a variety of topics. After careful reflection, I realized that they can be watered down to three takeaways I specifically learned from her. Three takeaways from her favorite quote; one by Christopher Columbus, just in time for Columbus Day:

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

— Christopher Columbus

What are the 3 takeaways?

1. Crossing the proverbial ocean happens a lot in life, and must be seen as an adventure, the way teaching kids should always be viewed. So that the environment impacts you as much, if not more, than you act on/impact on it. So that you can discard what’s not working and streamline.  So that you can let go of old ideas and let new ones in. So that you forestall inertia, cynicism, and stagnant thinking; all of which contribute to entrepreneurial perfectionist tendencies and fatigue.

2. Happiness is a verb, one that manifests itself most when transversing new terrain figuratively and physically. One that depends on taking action and being proud of it. One that depends on honing one’s character traits and positive outlook. Both of which affect one’s mindset (thoughts) and attitude (deeds). Both of which are integral to the human process of self actualization, first posited by Dr. Abraham Maslow, and made popular again in today’s socially connected startup culture and social media circles.

3. Reading voraciously, whether a paper book or on a tablet,  is a necessity, not a luxury, a life-long habit to empower you, help you create and live your personal brand, and nurture your mindReading helps you develop your inner landscape AKA Theory of Mind i.e. empathy and perspective. So that you increase your knowledge, emotional IQ i.e. empathy, and creativity; all of which are integral to professional (especially entrepreneurial) success. Especially in today’s tech-savvy, eager to learn, uber-competitive, and globally connected society!

Learning takeaways from others, especially those whom we respect, is essential for us to better ourselves; professionally and personally. We need them to counteract cognitive bias and obsolete best practices, no matter which industry one is in. These takeaways shape the way we develop emotional intelligence and teaching/mentoring strategies for others, not to mention developing ways to actually do good for others.

Each of us has innate leadership skills and real contributions to offer others. Each of us has the ability to rise above our circumstances, obstacles, and choices, to leave the people and the planet better off than when we first arrived on this earth. But first we need to bear witness to the wide experience of being human, and share those takeaways with others. Just like Dr. Oliver Sachs did before passing away from liver cancer on August 30, 2015, and just like my friend did, before her untimely death as well.

If life is like a conveyor belt propelling us forward, it is so crucial that we take the lessons of our pasts with us into the Great Unknown; for ourselves and for others.



Note: This post simultaneously appears in LinkedIn and in Tumblr.

Columbus   Prevailing

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, is the founder/CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program and Socially Speaking™ iPad App. Her work was published in Italy in 2014 in the European textbook Special Educational Needs, and in her new book Autism Intervention in the iEra. Penina has spoken around North America on the topics of social communication development and strategies, iPad App integration into professional workflows and educational curricula, personal digital branding and social media, and practical and psychological aspects to female entrepreneurship. She is also the author of The NICE Reboot-A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur: How to Balance Your Cravings for Humanity & Technology in Today’s Startup Culture. To learn more about her work, visit, and follow her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina. She recently became the Clinical Support Specialist at the new Autism PreK Program for The Kennedy Child Study Center in Manhattan.


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.
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