You’ve curated a career of bringing forward stories that might otherwise go untold. How did you become so passionate about storytelling?
Stories are how we connect to our world. They take away the “other” and make things that matter deeply personal to us. I have had the privilege of meeting moms and dads and little ones in some of the toughest places, and of telling stories that help readers and viewers see their strength and courage and heart. They are not different from folks in the U.S., but their circumstances and challenges are. It is the same story in the service member community: when I wrote Ashley’s War it was a story of courage and grit and heart and being part of something greater than yourself. Less than one percent of this country has fought 100 percent of its wars with far too few folks noticing. I wanted to make those young women’s journeys feel deeply personal to readers.
What about Shield AI’s story is most compelling to you?
Two things attracted me to Shield AI: the commitment of the team and the idea that an emerging company could have a sizable impact in the most significant and highest-stakes settings. I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time in places where conflict has become an awful normal. And I immediately saw and understood what having the best visibility in the toughest of circumstances would mean for service members and for civilians. How much it could change. What a difference it could make.
The team also grabbed me: this is a team determined to achieve its mission at scale. The plan is bold, achievable and audacious. And that is what I wanted: a company built of people filled with integrity, driven by mission and invigorated by the challenge it is undertaking. Serving on the leadership team at a company that takes on tough challenges with great authenticity for the right reasons with the right team -- who would not want to be part of that?
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I gave a TED Talk where I talked about my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. My mother said, “On a scale of major world tragedies, yours is not a three.” My grandmother taught me, “This too shall pass.” And my aunt, who is a survivor of domestic violence, said, “Never import other people’s limitations.” All three of those pieces of advice serve me every single day. Keep perspective. Remember nothing lasts forever. And always, always push your own limits regardless of naysayers: everyone will tell you no, until you achieve it, and then they will say they knew you could do it all along!
When I speak with young women in particular, I always say never listen to anyone. Truly. Because trusting yourself leads to the soundest decisions. Tuning out the noise is the best thing you can do for yourself, especially when tackling challenges of magnitude.
What was the most rewarding or challenging thing that you have worked on recently?
Everything at Shield AI! In earnest, we are building a company to endure, so creating the strategy to share the work we are doing here is a great challenge and incredibly rewarding. As is being part of the team here.
On the storytelling front, I am working on a next book set in northeast Syria. I have had the privilege of meeting so many people with extraordinary grace and talent there, and of taking away the “other” to make their journeys and lessons real to readers and viewers -- that means everything.
As an author, are there any books that you would recommend related to strengthening leadership skills or career development generally?
Read, read and read more. That is my rule! I believe in reading history. And I believe in reading those who took on audacious tasks and persevered.
Right now I am steeped in books I am reading for book research, but when I am not only reading for writing, I love Marcus Aurelius and Emerson. Poetry from Maya Angelou. I have a biography of Mary Shelley that is next up on my desk. And one on Ada Lovelace. I love fiction also -- in the character’s journeys you can grow and learn so very much. For fun I love the fiction of David Ignatius. And my former boss from the Wall Street Journal, Ian Johnson, has a book out about China -- do read it. Also, Reshma Saujani’s new book, Brave, Not Perfect.