Biology lecturer & Fear researcher, San Jose State University
Mary Poffenroth is a biology lecturer and fear researcher for San Jose State University. In addition to contributing to Science magazine, Forbes, TED, and SXSW, she advises growth driven individuals and organizations on how to use science and the power of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to transform their relationship with fear to increase creativity, improve strategic decision making and cultivate more authentic communications.
My life is the F word. I research it. I give individual and high growth organizational workshops about it. I get on stages around the world and talk about it. I teach about it at university. I’m writing a book about it. I experiment with it, both professionally and personally. It’s the F word no one wants to talk about, but everyone knows it so well. Fear. I’m an academic researcher and lecturer at San Jose State University that focuses on how the world’s most impactful leaders in tech and creative cultivate a relationship with fear and how the rest of us can use those strategies to get to our greatness. My focus is to get down and dirty with fear so I can share my science based understanding with others on how we all can get friendly with our deeply shared fears. I also infuse my talks and trainings with stories from my own life of trying, failing, and sometimes.. every once in a while.. succeeding with my own very human fears.
Being ok with being wrong. I spent so much time being terrified of being wrong, of doing the wrong thing or making the wrong choice. In many ways I still am. But I recognize the power in the wrong – admitting when you’re wrong and being more comfortable when you make a bad decision. It happens – it has happened and it will happen again. Perfection doesn’t exist, so reminding myself that being wrong means I took a leap, a stretch in my expertise, is a success for me. When you get to a certain level of mastery in your industry, it’s so incredibly easy to rest on your previous wins and proven knowledge. But to stay vibrant and relevant, you need to always be a student and always be willing to risk being wrong.
Just Keep Moving. People get scared and stop moving forward because they feel like they’re going the wrong way or have gotten lost. Once you stop, it’s too easy to never start again. There is power in the pivot – never be afraid to try a direction, find out it doesn’t work for you, and pivot over and over again.
How did you get into the industry?
There is a need to bridge the gap between science and art. The left brain vs right brain is a myth that needs to stop. There is both an art and a science to everything and I’m excited to bring both of those worlds into my classroom and my consulting.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Don’t be afraid to say yes to opportunities outside of your discipline. Some of the greatest moments in my career have come from being around people independent of science and finding new, innovative ways to collaborate with one another.
Any emerging industry trends?
Content was once king, now it’s experience and story. All my events are immersive and narrative driven – that’s how you cut through the clutter and the noise of our visually saturated media ecosystem.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
To feel something. To resonate. Of course, this is easier said than done – but when you offer yourself up in a transparent way as a guide, people want to come on the journey with you. It’s my job to do everything I can to make sure that trip is one worth taking.
How do you motivate others?
My most powerful motivational tool has been sharing my stories of failure and hilarious missteps. I’m a bit of a klutz and a modern day Lucy from I Love Lucy. From almost setting the dryer aflame because I didn’t know you needed to clean the lint trap at age 32 to being chased by a bear while running away with a pizza, I share my fiascos to help give science a soul.. and if I can make people laugh in the process then I consider that a win-win.
What Else to Know?
I’m currently writing my next book and looking for stories of moments when you decided it was time to pivot. What made you see it? What strategies did you use to get comfortable with fear and find your courage? I would love to chat!