NO Is The New YES

Living in Silicon Valley, we are ALL over committed. Whether it be our jobs, volunteer efforts, sports, kid activities, or our lively circle of friends, we are always on the go. But when you’ve been in this rat race for over twenty years, you start to wonder if these commitments are based on priorities or just trying to keep up. Should you cut back and simplify your life?

If you Google, “Simplify life,” you will find a myriad of and . There are even to simplify your life. You can get advice from many sources but when it comes down to it, you need to look at your priorities and starting saying NO.

I bet when most of you were just babes, learning to talk, your favorite word was NO.

NO, I don’t like Brussels sprouts.

NO, I don’t want to take a bath.

NO, I don’t want to go to school.

NO, I don’t want to clean my room.

Somewhere along our journey through life, we stopped using the word NO. And I’m not talking about those situations where “No” is appropriate. I’m talking about being a a fixer, and a constant .

If I want to do something, I don’t want to hear, “NO, you can’t.” I want to hear, “YES, you can.”

Understand that I love to be part of a community and to help people. And I take on most anything thrown at me. I love new tasks. Even if I’ve never done it before, I just dig in, learn what needs to be done, and do it. I have become a YES person.

YES, I will work late tonight to finish that project.

YES, I will organize the neighborhood party.

YES, I will introduce you to that person.

YES, I will volunteer in my child’s classroom.

I say YES to most anything as I love connecting people and feeling part of a something bigger. And it makes me feel good to say YES and complete a task. I’m the busy person people call to complete a task because everyone knows I get shit done…and shit done well.

But then I realized, “WTF am I doing, trying to please everybody else?”

That’s when it hit me. I have a problem…with saying, NO.

Over the summer, I took some time to think about my life. I’m fortunate to have found a loving husband who still puts up with my shit even after twenty years. I’ve got kids who are young but on the edge of being self-sufficient. I volunteer a fair share of my free time to amazing organizations. My knees are aging so I have to rethink my exercise routine. I have many friends and family getting divorced. My day job is all consuming that my passions are now shelved off to the wee hours of the night. My parents and in-laws are aging way too fast. My entire family ecosystem sometimes feels like playing hot potato with a cactus. And health issues are constantly coming up all around me. Throw in a couple tragic and natural deaths and you start to question your role in this adventure I call life. What is my purpose on this earth? I see many people going through the motions of life but not focusing on what is important to them. Life is way to short. Don’t you want to make a difference on the path you take? I know I do. That is why I came up with a list of five top priorities:

#1 family #2 health #3 passions #4 friends #5 day job

Don’t get me wrong, I will always help a friend in need. No questions asked. And some of these priorities do overlap. But with everything life throws my way, I need to take a step back, look at my priorities and start saying NO. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of your life. And it doesn’t mean I don’t want to help. It just means that I’ve got a lot of shit going on and I have to make hard choices.

So next time you see me and ask for the world, understand the YES inside of me would love to help, but the new NO might take over and politely turn you down.

And that’s alright. It’s okay to say NO if it means YES to focusing on my priorities in life.

Work Hard, Play Hard

You always hear talk about living in the rat race that is Silicon Valley. All the hard work we do to innovate the world and make it a better place. But behind the scenes, we also play pretty hard and live a very active lifestyle. The Bay Area is an amazing playground for those of us who like to get out into its natural beauty and amazing weather.

I grew up in Palo Alto, I lived in an area that you could consider “rural.” I had miles of hiking trails through neighbors open yards and open fields. I’d go out after school and not come back until sunset. It was a different time back then but the landscape hasn’t changed much.

The rolling hills between 280 and 101, along the Page Mill corridor, still looks the same from my youth. The main difference today is the high tech giants of VMware, Tesla and SAP that hug the hillsides.

But it’s not just the natural beauty of this area that makes it so appealing. It’s the accessibility to so many amazing areas to play that are only a quick drive away. 

There is always a body of water nearby. Reservoirs of Crystal Springs, Lexington, Calero are just minutes away and you can paddle board, boat or just enjoying the beauty. Santa Cruz and the majestic northern coast are just over the hill for surfing, paddling boarding, kayaking, kite surfing, sailing, and swimming.

The hills surrounding the Bay Area provide miles of hiking, horse back riding and biking trails. And whether you venture to Muir Woods, or the Santa Cruz Mountains, you are never too far away from home. It is amazing to think that 20 minutes outside of downtown San Jose, you can find the tranquility of a redwood forest with only the sound of the wind and birds chirping in the trees.

Just beyond the Bay Area we have the Sierra Mountains. Only a short 3 hour drive takes you to Tahoe area. With its majestic lake and outlying trails, for biking, hiking and in winter skiing, it’s an outdoor paradise. Whenever I venture up to this area, I feel it is a mini vacation from the craziness of the Bay Area. A place I can reconnect with family, soothe my soul and refresh my mind.

And if you like wine, Napa, Livermore, the Santa Cruz mountains, and Morgan Hill provide ideal day trips to indulge.

The roads that connect all these places are also fun if you are into motorcycles or just love a Sunday drive. Just push the pedal to the metal through the rolling hills of 280, the pacific beauty of 1, the winding roads of 9, 84, and Skyline. Or the lost valleys off 130 that take you deep into a forgotten period of time.

Silicon Valley is a fast paced, highly innovative area. We work extremely hard to live in this area. But if you take a moment to step outside and enjoy its natural beauty, you’ll realize why this is one of the best places to live and play.


Addicted to Multitasking

My name is Ursula and I am multitasking addict.

Living in Silicon Valley, working moms take multitasking to the extreme. We are always on, leaning in, reclining or shrugging it off. Our worlds revolve around the hamster wheel of innovation and progress. Always pushing us forward into the unknown void of a supposedly better future. And if you can’t multitask, you’re going to fall off that wheel or loose a limb or two. So, is multitasking endemic to our environment or part of our DNA?

For me, it’s a little bit of both. Even before the digital age, I was always someone who had to be doing 5 things at once. Maybe that is why I am ambidextrous and today can watch multiple TV shows while checking work emails, , and creating this blog.  But I’m also a multitasking addict because of the choices I have made in being a mother, my career and wanting to spend more time with my family. And I think I am not alone.  How many of you working moms have found yourself in this situation:

7 AM. I have a headset in my ears, phone by my side and laptop on the kitchen counter. I log into the connect session for my second call of the morning. As I wait for coworkers to join the call, I feed our dog, Maverick, and then begin prepping breakfast and lunch. Oh yes, I forgot to mention my husband is in Europe on a business trip—he also works in high tech. As the call begins, I look at the agenda then head upstairs to wake the kids as I listen to the first speaker.

My kids are 8 and 10 years old, so fortunately, they are used to this routine. And I rarely get any grief from them especially when Maverick is with me, ready to give them a juicy kiss. I wake them up, give them a quick hug and point to the morning “To Do” check list posted outside the bathroom door: Go to the bathroom, brush teeth, brush hair, get dressed, make beds. They have until 7:30 AM to make it downstairs. I continue to listen to the first speaker and can actually visualize the Powerpoint slide he is referencing. As I walk back into the kitchen, I check my  and schedule a couple tweets.

Once in the kitchen, I position my laptop behind the food prep workspace. I can see the presentation and actually engage in conversation about the topic while I spread mustard on a piece of wheat bread. As I reach in the refrigerator for the turkey meat, I receive a text from my husband, “How are you?” I type my response, “Great. How are you? On a call, let’s talk in 30.” As I hit the send button, I hear my name mentioned on the call. I make a comment about the topic. And then if on queue, my son runs into the kitchen followed by my barking dog. I hastily hit the mute button on my phone as a co-worker makes a crack about my living in the “Wild Kingdom.” I continue with the call, pack sandwiches into lunch bags and then start in on making breakfast. I cut up some fruit and scramble some eggs. The call ends. I yell out, “breakfast,” and the kids come running in. I take the headset off and sit down at the kitchen table. We discuss our plans for the day as we eat.

This might seem extreme but this doesn’t happen all the time. And I do set aside time every day to disconnect from my electronics. If I meet people face-to-face, I engage in a conversation without checking my phone ten times. Family dinners are mandatory and a time to reconnect. And unless I have an important project, I don’t check work email on the weekends. Yes, at times it is exhausting to be a multitasking addict, but without it, I wouldn’t be able to find that precious quality time with my family. And to be honest, that’s just how most of us moms roll, living and working in Silicon Valley. 

The Top 10 Things I Did to Finally Write That Book

We all have a story to tell. And living in Silicon Valley, our stories usually center around innovation. I’m a “chupacabra” of sorts, since I was born and raised in Palo Alto and decided to stay after college to pursue a career in high tech.

I cut my teeth on some no-name startups, grew up at Adobe, became an evangelist at Apple and am now a “mompreneur” doing the contract gig. And like most working moms, I’m trying to figure out the whole work, life balance and not lose my identity.

I volunteer on a couple boards, help out at my children’s school, and I’m involved in my community. But every step of the way, I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself. Who have I become? What is missing from my life? I have a great career, family, and friends but what is that one thing that makes me feel whole?

I LOVE to tell a good story. I can’t count the number of times in high school, my imagination got me out of trouble. I observe life and rethink the possibilities through my writing. This passion began in my youth, in the privacy of my bedroom with a journal. When high school came along, my creative writing took a backseat to boys and homework. And then with college, the start of my career, a marriage and two young children, life got in the way. Would I ever write that book?

Then I began to think about my career and how I had created some real life stories with all of you. If I twisted things around, the fictional outcomes were endless. I slowly began to write whenever I had a free moment. You see, for me, I discovered  the writing process soothes my soul from the chaos of life. I can transport myself to another world, if only for 30 minutes. So, several years ago, I decided to take the plunge and go for it. I decided to write that book.

Last week, I finally did it. I my debut novel, , a high tech thriller about the inner workings of a Silicon Valley start-up on the eve of its IPO. It’s been a labor of love that took YEARS of hard work.

The first question most people ask is “How did you do it?” That would require a long discussion over a bottle or two of wine. For this blog, I’ve come up with a list of The Top 10 Things I Did to Finally Write That Book.

  1. Just Write! Easier said than done but it’s true. All you need to do is come up with an idea and start typing.
  2. Get a Support Network: You need at least one person in your life to support your dream. My husband was that person. And I put him through hell and back but he was my anchor, reassuring me ever step of the way that I could do it.
  3. Make Time: Carve out time every week to write. I work full time. I volunteer. I have two kids, a husband, a house, a new puppy, extended family and I wake up most days at that crack of dawn to exercise. My life is booked solid and I don’t even drink coffee — crazy right? But in between these events, I make myself write. And I always carry my laptop.
  4. Observe Life: Wherever you are, look, listen and feel. You will find the best material all around you. And you can capture any moment on your phone through a photo, video or your own words.
  5. Attend Writing Workshops: Learn the craft of writing for your genre. My favorite workshop was the in Marin County. I got the opportunity to spend three nights and four days immersed with people like myself and published authors. After that weekend, I realized I had found my tribe. I was born to be a writer.
  6. Read Books: Read books in your genre and see how other authors craft their stories. This is the cheapest and easiest way to learn the art of storytelling.
  7. Meet Authors: Build connections with published authors to gain their insight and advice. Attend readings or workshops. Don’t become a stalker. Be smart and ask questions to build a rapport. Almost all successful authors will help aspiring writers because at some point in their career, they were like you. Thank you , and .
  8. Know that the 1st Draft Is CRAP: I’m just being honest. No author can write words of gold the first time. The point here is don’t get lost in the process of editing. That can take you down a rabbit hole of distraction—and I know this from personal experience. Just complete the first draft and get the story down. Then you can begin the editing process.
  9. Be Open to Feedback: There is always room for improvement. But you need to be able to accept constructive feedback as you edit your book. Find a writing group to test your work and learn from others. But at some point, you will need to go beyond family and friends. Hire an editor who knows your genre and will be brutally honest. As famed novelist and screenwriter once said, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”
  10. Never Give Up: It took me YEARS to write . And it was not easy. Life always has a way of interrupting well thought plans. But stay on point and get it done!

The above is just the tip of the iceberg but hopefully it will resonate with some of you. Although I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon, I will continue to write — book #2 is already in the works. I’ll leave you with one last thought. When I worked at Adobe, they had a marketing campaign that said, “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do it.” If you have a dream of writing that book, what’s holding you back? Just go write!