Meet Ann. After overcoming brain cancer, she quit her job, packed her bags, and began a new chapter of her life dedicated to taking smart risks and pursuing her dreams. Those dreams included traveling to over 40 countries and starting Venture with Impact, a business that merges her passions of social entrepreneurship with community building on an international scale. Ann reminds us all to take risks, do what you love, and live with ambition. And yes, of course, she’s blooming.
You’re interviewing from Medellín, Colombia! Tell me about where you are in your life right now.
While I was at Tulane University in New Orleans, I set up dinners with students and local social entrepreneurs so that students could develop an understanding of both business and social impact. Through this experience, I knew that I wanted to do work after college that not only contributed to the social good, but also allowed me to be financially stable which led me to Teach for America (TFA).
Near the end of my teaching year, I was stressed emotionally because TFA was a rough place to start a teaching career. I was working with a lot of disadvantaged children, many of whom had some form of PTSD from Hurricane Katrina. One day, I went out for a run with a few of my friends and felt a tingle in my left foot. Shortly after, I was on the ground and undergoing a grand mal [full body] seizure. I was rushed to the hospital, underwent CAT scans, and I thought I was 100% fine because I felt fine.
Eventually the doctor came in and she was crying. I found out a few days later that I had a golf ball sized tumor in my brain. I went back to the Midwest, where I’m from, and underwent brain surgery. Shortly after, I had to undergo chemo and radiation. That was the most difficult year of my life.
Life after that kind of shifted for me. Once I recovered, I decided to go back to Teach for America to finish it up and see if teaching was what I wanted to do long term. I moved to Brooklyn but realized soon after starting that the real reason I was teaching was because I was interested in working for the social good, and I had a stronger passion for international development.
This past May, my friend from college and I came up with the idea to start Venture with Impact. My best experiences abroad have always been when I have stayed in one place and gotten involved in the community. Venture with Impact allows people to work remotely and live abroad without losing their financial stability and professional development while simultaneously giving back to the community.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your pilot program?
We launched our pilot program in January 2017 with fourteen people. We provide accommodations, a private room in a 2-3 bedroom apartment, high speed Internet, and a workspace if needed. We then match each participant or Venture with a local non-profit organization that aligns with their interests and work schedules.
We started in Trujillo, Perú and are partnering with seven non-profit organizations, all of which are very different. We have a public health organization where volunteers assist doctors and nurses, an environmental non-profit that installs solar panels in public schools, a few organizations to teach English, and an archeological organization that does work in the Moche Valley.
We are always looking to grow so I’m currently here in Medellín, Colombia to meet with more non-profit organizations in Medellín. We have plans to start a Medellín program at the end of summer 2017.
To dig more into your blooming process, how were you able to stay positive when you were first diagnosed with cancer?
The experience is part of the reason that I have been able to be comfortable on my own, quit my job, and start my own business. I have friends that are young cancer survivors. For some, they can get quite depressed, but for me, the rational part of my brain shut down. I went into survival mode and tried to be as positive and optimistic as possible. Even though there were times that I had breakdowns or was scared, I never truly comprehended that I would not make it. After I went through all the treatment and entered remission, the realization of “I had cancer” hit me the hardest and I was able to process more.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR 18-YEAR-OLD SELF?
I would give myself the same advice that I tell myself today - at the end of your life you don’t want to have regrets about the things that you didn’t do. What stops me from doing the things that I want to do is fear, and fear of failure, but failure is part of living life to its fullest.
What was your processing like?
To be honest, I had and still have a little bit of survivor’s guilt. One of the first things I did when I was done with treatment and moved out to New York was join a support group for young adults. There were so many people in my support group that had been in remission and later had a recurrence of the old tumor. I luckily, have had clean scans ever since I was treated.
The first year after remission, I thought about it multiple times a day. My brain kind of went back and forth between feeling lucky and feeling scared. Over time, I started to think about it less and less, which is both a good and a bad thing.
My first year after remission, I wanted to go do everything that I had ever wanted to try which is part of the reason that I traveled more and became a bit more of a risk taker. No one would ever say that cancer is a gift but it was something that made me think very differently about how I wanted to live my life in a positive way. Even before I had cancer my favorite saying was the old Abraham Lincoln quote that states, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.”
You’ve mentioned your travels quite a bit; can you tell me about your favorite place you've visited?
Latin America has been closest to my heart. I’ve learned from traveling, that if you are willing to embrace and learn about the cultures of others, they will embrace and be curious about you. When it comes down to it all people are people and in general, we all have the same core characteristics. I’ve connected the most with people in Latin America partly because I speak Spanish and also because the people here are what you call in Spanish, familiar, which means family oriented. I’ve found that to many, extended family does not have to be blood related and I’ve felt like a part of many families in Latin America.
Every time I’ve traveled, I’ve grown as a person. Whether it’s because I learned something new or because I’ve had an interaction with a person that made me think about something in a new way. When I travel, I see something that changes my perspective of the world.
What does community mean to you and your brand?
The mission of our organization is to expose professionals to new cultures, ideas, and people so that they can become both more empathetic and global citizens. For Venture with Impact, Venturers will form a community with participants in the program, who they live and travel with, and they will also build a community made up of their non-profit organization and the locals that they volunteer with.
What would you tell an entrepreneur who is just getting started?
Well I’m kind of an entrepreneur that’s starting! [laughs] I’d tell them what I tell myself: take risks, be positive and optimistic, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and use your network. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your idea and spread the word. We are so afraid of failure and what others think…but most people don’t spend time thinking about what that you failed at, but if you succeed, it’s something that they notice.
So how will you Bloom in the next year both personally and professionally?
This next year is so exciting! Professionally, there are so many things that could happen with Venture with Impact. We launched in January and there is so much that can come out of this moving forward. We are looking to start at least one or two more programs in other countries which is amazing because it means more traveling, meeting more people, and partnering with more amazing organizations.
I’m also figuring out what it means to be an entrepreneur every day. I have to motivate myself, tell myself it’s going to be okay, and maintain optimism because it’s a big risk that you take. I have so much support but I’m doing it for the most part on my own right now.
A KICK BUTT FORUM THAT AIMS TO INSPIRE, COMFORT AND UNITE INCREDIBLE WOMEN (& DUDES) THROUGH DYNAMIC INTERVIEWS