Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
It all started with... a gene.
When she was 22 years old, Lindsay Avner discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene, which meant she had a high-risk for developing both breast and ovarian cancer. She bravely decided to undergo a double mastectomy and at the time, became the youngest American to do so. But Lindsay was more saddened by the lack of resources and education that could have helped her as she faced traumatic risk. So she decided to dedicate her life to creating a solution. She founded Bright Pink in 2007: the only non-profit in the U.S. specifically focused on early detection and prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. Find out how Lindsay turns tragedy into triumph every single day.
Dress, David Koma; Bag, ZAC Zac Posen; Bracelet, Elizabeth and James; Sunglasses, Elizabeth and James
How did you decide to become a non-profit founder?
I didn’t want to let cancer define me. My story wasn’t going to be about someone who was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to be an amazing friend. I wanted to one day be a great wife and a wonderful mother. I wanted to be a women’s health advocate. I came face-to-face with this concept of not wanting to be just one thing. I realized I could actually choose what and who I wanted to be. I was so proud when I was at an event in New York City once and nobody knew who I was. All they knew was Bright Pink. It wasn’t the “Lindsay Avner Organization,” it was this amazing national movement that had expanded outside of Chicago and was changing and saving people’s lives. The organization I founded was living on it’s own without needing to be attached to me.
It’s inevitable that you’ll hear the word “No” as an entrepreneur. How do you respond?
When people say something is not possible, that lights my fire and drives me to figure out how I can make it happen. I think it’s actually possible for us to live in a world where women are not dying from breast and ovarian cancer. And I think that when people say, “Oh, there’s enough pink out there,” or “Oh, we don’t need that — it’s already being done,” my attitude is that until people stop dying from cancer, it’s not done. So we have a lot of work to do.
I am literally in a room with people who believe that we are all crazy enough to change the world. And there is that shared knowledge that we’re the mavericks — the ones that people think are crazy. I live to be amongst these people dreaming up possibilities and solutions.
How did you get people to join your team?
It’s so easy to say, “I’m going to get us there. Get on board with me.” But you win as a team. And ultimately, the fun on a journey comes from getting there with people you love and admire rather than doing it in isolation. We have what we call a “balance scorecard” at work to measure success. In the non-profit industry, you need to have key performance indicators, so every single aspect of achieving our success is laid out in a really clear and personalized way. And I love that because it allows my team to feel that they’re in control of their own destiny.
When you’re having a down moment, how do you keep going?
It’s been a big effort around self-kindness and recognizing that at any given point, I only have so much emotional energy, physical stamina, or attention span. You have to give yourself the room to not be perfect. When people are going into surgery, they often say things like: “I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” “I’m sleeping so much,” “I’m being so antisocial.” I always say, “Treat yourself as you would a friend going through a similar situation.” Would you criticize a friend as much as you criticize yourself? No.
Bag, ZAC Zac Posen
If you need an extra push or jolt of inspiration, what do you do?
I work out a lot. I love the opportunity to zone out and focus on sweating. In some ways my greatest ideas come to me when I’m on-the-move. I’m a big fan of walking and we just got a treadmill desk at the office that the team is using. I think it’s all about getting up and getting active. That’s when all the good stuff is unlocked.
My biggest challenge is accepting all the stuff that I don’t know yet.
I feel like I have good intuition and motivation to hustle and do hard work.
But there’s so much around the corner that I know I have yet to experience. That keeps me going.
How does style factor into your life as the head of a non-profit organization?
I think it's important to be relatable and yet dress like you mean business. I wear a lot of black because it’s easy to mix-and-match, especially when I’m traveling. Plus, you can always have fun accessorizing. If I have a big meeting or event, a smart, classy dress and pumps make me feel the most confident.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Hands down: fail fast. We can be so afraid of failure. There’s good failure and there’s bad failure, and we need to do everything in our power to embrace the good failure. We need to talk about it, sometimes even celebrate it, then move on from it quickly.
My mantra: Be bold and fail fast. All it takes is 20 seconds of really crazy, insane, over-the-top courage for something amazing to happen.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
In the beginning of your career, so much is wrapped up in success and failure and feeling as though they’re directly correlated to who you are as a person. I have a different sense of confidence now — I’ve learned to be confident in my competence. I’ve learned to lean in to that confidence. I may not know everything, but I strongly believe that I’m the right person to be doing what I’m doing.
Bracelet,Elizabeth and James
What do you find the most rewarding?
I have married my purpose with my passion and my profession. I have the opportunity to play a role in people’s lives that I may never even meet or know. And because of the work we’re doing every day, there are so many more mothers that are going to be around for their little kids, grandmothers who are going to get to watch their grandson graduate college and it’s all because we’re starting young. That is just so inspiring to me and it doesn’t get old.
What I do never feels like work. I’m more fired up today than I’ve ever been.
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