Insights from the Hero's Journey in the baby space.

Those close to me know that I’ve been struggling for a long time. In the last few days, I finally found a collection of ideas that helped me understand why, thanks to thought leader and coach for women building movements, Nina Elizabeth.

The first was a quote:  

“Stepping up as a leader involves having the courage to be willing to have people disagree with you”


On the surface, it seems fairly obvious, right? But the emotional consequence of that, of pouring everything you are and believe in into sincere efforts to help people, of being motivated by your deepest pain or struggles to want to change that for others, to prevent them from ever having to face that torment; 
To have it thrown in your face, is nothing short of personally devastating and sometimes fatal. (Try Googling "Inventors who killed themselves")
Nothing could have prepared me for it.

A friend is another innovator of scientifically credible, road tested products that disrupt the status quo. She and her sister both have dwarfism and a talent for innovation. They’ve spent their lives literally experiencing the world from the viewpoint of toddlers, noticing what most of us couldn’t possibly know about how a world designed and built, by and for height-typical people influences everything from their mood to their behaviour;
And developing hacks to make life easier and more comfortable, or to make certain activities even possible.

Who wouldn’t want something built for their child by someone that understands their experience?

But they had similar criticisms.

The ones that I was most familiar with:

  • Universities / Researchers initially greeted Mashblox, both a commercial product and research tool that overcomes safety hurdles in trending worldwide research on infant self-feeding -

    • As if I only wanted their endless critique against the benchmark of the status quo for infant feeding practices, that all evidence indicates harms many children in a long term way, either because it’s wrong for individual children’s needs; or because current approaches are incomplete.

      I have answers for, and have answered at various times, every single point a critic grounded in the academic literature could raise. But to present them all in one sitting, would take me hours of intense focus, and for what? They mostly just wander away to think or forget about it and I'm left exhausted.

    • Or as if my motives were purely commercial, and I was someone to be "handled" from arm's length, rather than being viewed as a collaborator that can scale, popularise - via commercial means - as well as advance and amplify the efficacy of their research.

      For a robust literature perspective on this, conceived from academic origins, I recommend  the work of behavioural scientist Kristina Curtis et al. "Targeting Parents for Childhood Weight Management: Development of a Theory-Driven and User-Centered Healthy Eating App", JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 2015.

      My interpretation was basically that many of the best academics are sick of seeing their best work fall flat in the marketplace, while offerings with no basis in behavioural change or effective mHealth thrive, because they have the marketing. Both sides are required if you're really serious about making change and helping as many people as possible.

  • Investors and Mentors shirked me as if a credible purpose in health improvement made Mashblox a social enterprise. And they couldn’t be bothered with social enterprise. Some tried to talk me out of the research partnerships that fulfilled my sense of life purpose, while establishing unprecedented point of difference in a market place crowded with gimmicks and conveniences that demonstrably hurt children’s long term health.

    (While my unique approach nearly sealed a VC deal with a global business catalyst motivated by #impactinvesting within three years of founding - record timing.)
  • The Canberra Social Enterprise Accelerator that was being founded as I was establishing Mashblox dual research and commercial model, designed their criteria to specifically exclude health initiatives.
    (While I was so supportive of their development and launch, because I saw it as something delivering work that the world needs. So much for reciprocity.)
  • The Market made all sorts of cutting assumptions.

    • That I was hawking a gimmick. (Nevermind the endless hours and rush deadlines and overcoming rejection to connect and partner with leading specialists around the world and universities to design research aims. One particular woman from a focus group stunned me by shooting me in the face with this, mispelled a collaborator's brand that does for liquid foods what Mashblox does for introducing solids, practically advertising it to the rest. Then she put on a sickly sweet smile as she claimed a sample I offered to the others)

    • That I was only in it for the money. (As if! I could have picked absolutely any career and excelled, for fewer hours, more money than I've yet seen, greater job security and far less pressure or responsibility. And by the way, what do you really think motivates most of the big brands that sweeten and engineer baby foods to make them more palatable to fussy eaters by effectively addicting your child?)

    • That I was making a killing because I invested in a decent logo. (Did you know that I was literally homeless and on welfare when I founded? I drew no salary for years, lived in poverty and toxic environments in government housing, that I’m still recovering from. When I needed help because I was falling apart, I didn't have a single friend in the city that could loan me their spare bedroom so I could get more than four hours' sleep for the first time in 18 months.)

    • That I didn’t know what I was talking about. (Dozens on dozens of reviews say otherwise)

    • That I was making judgements on parenting styles. (No, just trying to help out with what went so painfully wrong for me.)

    • Don't get me started on some of the nonsense I heard from the #BabyLedWeaning crowd. (The limitations of the methods of which I understand better than they do or even could, without use of my product to expand nutrition and texture profiles. But I digress...)

According to my friend, it’s a feature of the market to shoot down new strategies with not just dismissal or criticism, but outright contempt. I can almost understand, in a space that parents are so overwhelmed with often unwanted advice and or parent guilt whether they’re doing the best for their child, that many simply aren’t interested and just don’t want to hear how to do things differently and potentially better: because it implies that they may not be doing the very best for their child at the moment, while they’re doing the best they can.

But Christ - if they knew the effort, time, blood, sweat, tears behind it all. If they even cared about the reasons. If they knew how many people consider themselves entitled to take a piece of you just because you're in the public sphere.

My friend and her sister turned their business in. And what a loss for the world.


Another idea was “Courage fatigue”.

Releasing a product takes guts. Pitching to investors, to distributors, to collaborators all require different skills and courage.

Telling others your heartfelt ideas to help people and designing initiatives to do so does too, but releasing them to a world that doesn’t necessarily know you or your "Why", many of whom don’t care and may even want to hurt you for daring to stand up, if in so doing you remind them of what dreams they hid away or let die -
– that’s a whole different ballgame.

Innovators are often driven by people pleasing (or I certainly was), and depending on the depth of their sincerity and sensitivity (which in my book, makes perfecting and applying products and service offerings all the more targeted) they're all the more affected and vulnerable.

It took one of my shareholders (!) cutting down my annual presentation of my progress for me to snap. To my knowledge, I’m the only entrepreneur not only in any Accelerator cohort to win business leadership awards internationally for my work, approach and efforts outlined here; but also the only one in the entire Canberra Innovation Network.

But I let him stop me before I even got to announce it to my audience of peers and potential investors, because I just didn’t have the energy left to stand up for myself. Because after all this, I so badly needed support that I was apparently prepared to cut myself to size for group approval, to save them the trouble. 

I can only imagine that he did it out of the unconscious sexism that I’d been weathering all along, that I'd become so used to that I didn't even notice it;

Because I’d been talking 2/3 as long as any of my male peers, and he was bored of hearing about my world-first successes, including offer of a PhD placement for my thought leadership in population health science.

And countering that constantly that takes a whole different level of courage and strength.

I remember being the most decorated, progressive, and recognised visionary in a circle of struggling entrepreneurs at every other networking event, and newcomers known to me (and often that had hit on me at some point) would greet every person in the all-male circle upon arrival, except me; then acknowledge each besides me as they left. People I'd always been courteous to and supported. People I’d gone out of my way to do favors for.

Aforementioned mentor present never thought to set a better example. Bit by bit I shut down my femininity until I literally didn’t recognise anything about myself on any level. Meanwhile I watched the female staff at the network wither, leave, or succumb to subservience – while they wondered why they couldn’t get more female entrepreneurs into the space. Hm.

Imagine four years of that in otherwise almost complete isolation while I worked myself to death.

Damn right I’m fatigued. It nearly killed me. I didn’t even have a single space in my life that I felt safe, encouraged or fully supported. Let alone standing up for TEDx, or local political candidacy (for my motives in systems thinking approach to health policy) from such foundations.

Finally; I remember being treated with respect, admiration and recognition for the first time, by other leaders that actually understood what I was doing, and just blinking back at them like, Holy sh!t. So that's what that feels like. 

If you wonder why great ideas from new businesses just disappear, this is some of what they're going through. Literally nothing is good enough for the wrong people, new ideas attract the fiercest and downright nastiest criticism, and if they're female-led innovations, then they're likely going through a whole different amplified levels of pain. I haven't even covered a fraction of it.


The third idea that helped me turn this around, was of:

Putting what you have to offer out there with the intention that those that need your services, products, unique insight will come to you.


It works! If you know who your audience is, and specifically what you have to offer them, then writing for them helps bring them to you.

The status quo is by definition, at least in social health outcomes, the oldest and potentially most outmoded practice still accepted and understood by the majority. Do you realise that health authorities simply won’t promote any idea holding the slightest relative controversy or risk, because they lack the risk appetite or tolerance to handle ramifications of scale implementation?

Only the most open-minded, and those that know that the humdrum doesn’t work for their child (or have observed it hurt others) will be willing to explore or consider alternative lines of thought.

I really thought that because I was promoting messages both grounded in science - credible and university validated science; as well as grounded in common sense – parent and child endorsed common sense: that everyone would embrace what I had to say. But not so. Many aren’t even motivated to help their child avoid something that they’ve struggled with their whole lives, if they haven’t been able to solve it for themselves. Not unless they need meaningful change now. As someone raised in an intensely neglectful and abusive household, that is beyond my comprehension. But I also don’t have kids, so while that benefits my insight to see things from their perspective, I haven’t lived those pressures.

They say that business and startup enterprise is the most gruelling journey of self-development, and I wish ‘they’d said that from the get-go. But another thing that they don’t prepare you for is the array of values that you will encounter, so foreign to your own and possibly incompatible. Whenever I was called upon to guide someone, I took their approach and goals into consideration and was capable of recognising their merit regardless of how they did or did not resonate with my own.

And perhaps that’s still intensely valuable for supporting parents with healthier happier mealtimes, because it’s all relative, right? Introducing vegetable crisps might be a very important step to a kid on the “beige diet”, while any form of cereal might be a major step for a kid toddling through on packaged foods. But I was expecting the same of those around me, that those invested in me would listen or notice where I was heading, and put my interests first – as I did for everybody - to support me for me.

A concept of my own is that we always have what we need to move forward, if we know where and how to look at ourselves. Personal growth starts as a series of toggles where we acknowledge our intrinsic motives to perform in a particular way under certain conditions, and then recognise that we can flip the switch to apply it elsewhere that it will be more beneficial, or celebrated.

Time to approach things differently.


If you believe in scientific innovations, things that help kids, and you'd like to support me, please start with:

Following me on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or The Health Horizon, where Mashblox was recently featured among scientific innovations to watch supporting parents.

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If you're using my product already, please tell me and the world how they're helping you, hashtag #Mashblox #MakesGoodFoodsFun.