Inspiring Women: On Entrepreneurship & Excellence - EleVen by Venus Williams

Inspiring Women: On Entrepreneurship & Excellence

Central to EleVen’s values is a core tenant:

“The best is just a moment. Better is eternal.” To celebrate the spirit of “better” in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re profiling inspiring women in the EleVen community about personal motivation, challenges, and everything in between. Each of these women reflect EleVen’s core values: Excellence, Teamwork, Entrepreneurship, Generosity, Integrity, and Wellness. From artists to scientists, nurses to corporate execs, these women embody growth and renewal amidst the honest realities of living life in 2021. 

1. EleVen Core Value: Entrepreneurship

Faith Christansen Smeets

Occupation: Artist

Age: 40

Current locale: The desert 

Via: The desert

Follow her: / Instagram 

Q. What are you most proud of?

Raising good kids and showing up for people. There are a lot of things I am proud of, but there are many things I wish I would have done differently. My whole life I’ve wanted to ‘achieve’ things. I have had to redefine what that means. As it turns out, I am not great at achieving things in a traditional sense. I am built more to do things like stop fights between adults at grocery stores, make students laugh at the community college, shut people up at Hamilton when they talk and eat during an entire scene, noticing when a kid is too shy to ask for what he needs, or a Kenyan in the bush is suffering from skin issues and needs oils rubbed on her sores. I am that Faith. The 3-5 minute hero. My role is wholly different than what I thought it would be. 

I once thought my resume would be packed full of impressive accomplishments from Rhodes Scholar with invites to the Aspen Institute to interloping with Interpol and Heads of State and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Nope. I am an artist in the desert and I notice when people need me to just show up. No place for that on a job application.

Q. What motivates you?

Right now, making money with my art and following what I believe God created me to do. Women need to make money and artists should make money. And women artists need to make money. I have a lifelong dream that I am ready to tackle it at all costs. For me, the cash flow is a means to an end. Painting and writing are thankfully integral to my motivation.

Q. Have you made any career pivots?

I was once in the public affairs field. I loved a ‘win', I loved a fight. I loved the shaking hands and kissing babies. I loved working with all walks of life for the same cause. I loved the fast pace. I loved that everything felt like it was all on the line at all times. But unfortunately, mostly I was a blonde pawn in an archaic, limited, and oppressive system. That being said, I gave my high school graduation speech on civic duty, truth, and the vote, and I stand by it almost 20 years later.

Q. How do you set goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable?

I write them down (thanks Oprah for teaching me that years ago). And I tell friends. But I need to find someone who will punch me in the face if I don’t stick to them, so I am hoping to find a friend to punch me in the face. I recently read Atomic Habits and so now I am in ‘making habits’ mode and I think this is a much better system for me. Small changes add up to monumental shifts. I can sense it. 

Showing up to paint and write every day is one habit. Just showing up to create whether I feel like it or not has created better work and an abundance of work. I have also started lifting extremely heavy weights to fatigue and have seen a huge shift in my physical endurance.

Q. What do you appreciate about where you are in life right now?

I appreciate the age of my children and I appreciate that my husband and I still have so much ahead of us. 

I have decided to do a few projects that I was afraid to do because my biggest fear is being ‘misunderstood’ or disregarded because I was not ‘smart enough.’ I am over that. I am ready feared backlash or judgement to make my point to the masses and help out my fellow mankind. Also, I hope people laugh.

Q. What’s a personal challenge you’ve endured?

I have endured many personal challenges in my life from a miscarriage to death to losing everything in this pandemic, but I would say my marriage is my hardest personal challenge. I am learning from it every day.

Q. Any mantras you live by?

God is good. And: always, always remember you get to start over, start fresh, start new as many times as you want. Just keep showing up.

Q. How do you find your eleventh gear? 

My eleventh gear is my family and the incredible women in my life. I'm surrounded by strong, brave, and one-of-a-kind women.


2. EleVen Core Value: Excellence

Ran Liu

Occupation: Lead Machine Learning Scientist, Amira Learning 

Age: 34

Current locale: Seattle, Washington

Via: Arlington, Virginia

Follow her: Github / Instagram  

 Q. What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all the people I have mentored or taught throughout my life, both formally and informally. From giving piano lessons to academic tutoring, Big Brothers Big Sisters to helping aspiring data scientists make career pivots. It is the best feeling to see people learn and grow to achieve their goals and live more enriching lives.

 Q. What motivates you?

I believe that learning, exploration, and compassion are the keys to becoming the best version of yourself. If we can inspire these qualities in young people through high quality education and mentorship, we would start to build a world with more thoughtful and contributing citizens and make faster progress on solving many of our current-day problems.

 Q. Have you made any career pivots?

In the final years of finishing my Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience, I became somewhat disillusioned with the culture of the system around academic/scientific research and the lack of potential for direct societal impact. After some soul searching, I realized how important it was to me to have a career with positive and broad impact, and education has always been the domain that I am most passionate about. I decided to pivot my career to work in education tech, motivated by the vision that technology enables us to take an effective educational program and scale it for broad impact.

I was lucky enough to have a few connections at the time that would enable me to make this pivot, but it was a difficult grind. I simultaneously took technical (machine learning) and non-technical (education policy, principles of education technology) courses, volunteered my time on a project applying machine learning to educational data to prove that I deserved the fellowship position I was targeting, and completed my entire Ph.D. thesis in 9 months so I could finish on time to take the position. It was a marathon. But it set me on the path that I’m on today, and now I’m working a dream job.

Q.What have you learned from your successes? 

I’ve learned to embrace challenges. I’ve learned that hard work, combined with a growth-oriented attitude, are the keys to success. I’ve learned to adjust my chronic underestimates of what I can achieve and what I am worth -- I’ve learned to ask for more!

Q. What have you learned from your mistakes? 

I’ve learned that it is important to make mistakes, because they teach us the most valuable lessons in life. And, more often than not, you’ll end up someplace interesting if you focus on the learnings rather than the regret.

Q. How do you find your eleventh gear? 

I meditate on the problems we face as a society and remind myself of how lucky I am to be where I am in life and that, no matter how hard I’ve got it, so many people out there have struggled and continue to struggle harder. The feeling that I cannot afford to be complacent is what pushes me into my eleventh gear.


Written By: Stephanie Morimoto
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