By Jennifer Lopez (Co-Founder & CEO, Culture Kitchen)
Editor’s note: Jennifer Lopez is a host of Founder Friday Palo Alto on October 7, 2011 – Join Women 2.0 and Culture Kitchen at Color‘s office for Founder Friday Palo Alto. RSVP for free here.
I am a 24 year old designer/teacher/entrepreneur that lacks of understanding that maybe I won’t do great things in the world. I should sleep more, eat less and dream smaller, but I don’t. That isn’t who I am and isn’t how I live my life.
I grew up in New York City, a daughter of two incredibly hard working immigrant parents who named me Jennifer Lopez. So, by the time I was 12, it was quite clear that my name meant a lot to a whole lot of people and it would be my job to give them a new definition. I grew up in Queens eating lots of pizza, watching Univision (the largest Spanish TV network in the US) and ABC, just trying to understand what value I brought to the world. My parents never went to college, (and in fact my mother just got her GED in the past year, which I am extraordinarily proud of her for!) but they always pushed my sister and I to study hard and get a good education, because that is how they wanted their two daughters to succeed in life.
I am glad to say that my parents got their wish, both my sister and I went to college. I graduated from Dartmouth College and just completed my masters degree from Stanford University. But I am a total proponent of the process, not the product. So, my degrees are somewhere in a box under my desk, probably still in their nifty leather cases. But, the journey to get them, and to where I am now, that is my success and my measure for the future.
As of late, I have realized and become comfortable with something I have know for my entire 24 years, but often don’t say aloud: I make up the script for the play I act in, but it’s one hell of a play I get to star in everyday. I am the cofounder and CEO of Culture Kitchen, a means to connect people through the making of ethnic food. We host cooking classes, we share real authentic ethnic recipes and we give immigrant women to the US a means to express their culture in a way never before possible.
This job is incredibly difficult, but incredibly rewarding.
Today, I got a phone call from someone calling to simply saying thank you for making Culture Kitchen. Last week I watched a chef loudly introduce herself in a class with such confidence that it made me smile thinking of the first time we met, when a more timid version of her brought a translator to our meeting because she believed her English wasn’t good enough to converse. It is these moments that make every difficult meeting, or setback seem insignificant.
I have been training to be an entrepreneur my entire life.
I started fledgling businesses as a middleschooler, worked for corporations, and generally took on projects way bigger than I should have but did them anyway. The most important aspect of my training has been finding mentors to coach me and allow me to believe I can and will do whatever I put my mind to – that I have the opportunity to imagine a world and then create it. Jeff Georgantes taught me everything I know about metalsmithing and jewelry design (believe it or not I can wield a torch and a hammer like the best of them) and he taught me the most I know about achieving your goals.
Like most valuable mentors, his advice was simple and clear: know that others really want to help you succeed when you are sincere, and they know you will do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. You always have to dream bigger and harder and actually do it, whatever it may be. Even if you don’t know what you are doing, knowing the right answer doesn’t matter (dirty secret, right?). All that matters is you never stop problem solving your way out of the ditch.
So, that is how I have decided to live my life. I don’t know the answers. I just know what I want to do and see a vision of the world I want to live in and help create. I remember trying to understand what value I would bring to the world as a kid, and I guess I don’t ask that question anymore. It is too big. Rather, I ask myself what meaning I bring to other people in my life. It is funny because we live in an era where anyone can make a meaningful impact on people they have never met nor will ever meet.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that right now all I want is to bring Culture Kitchen to it’s greatest potential.
I want to keep providing people with value that improves their lives and moves them enough to realize they too can make a difference in someone else’s life.
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About the guest blogger: Jennifer Lopez is Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Kitchen. She has a background in jewelry design, metalsmithing and geography. She has taught Spanish to pre-schoolers, metalsmithing to college students, designed decorative accessories for Pottery Barn, and worked in marketing for non-profits. Jennifer uses design as a means to question both societal and business problems to create systemic change. She holds a B.S. from Dartmouth College and a MFA in Design from Stanford University.