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Finding Myself in My Choices

Melanie Aronson CEO of Panion

writer icon Melanie Aronson     DRAŽEN LOVRIĆ   |   Startups     🕐 21. Oct. 2019

Every now and then, situations arise where you are forced to evaluate what type of person you want to be. Just a few hours before writing this article, I encountered one of those moments.

It is 4 am at the Copenhagen airport when a man approaches me, struggling to communicate as he attempts to check-in for his flight. While trying to help him, I soon discover that his wife has mistakenly booked the wrong date for his return ticket. I proceed to explain in Spanish that he probably needs to buy a new ticket, then I leave him to wait for the ticket office to open while I head to my flight. As I ascend the escalator and cross the overpass, our eyes meet as he waits below with a look of confusion, and my heart sinks.

I pass through the first security check, and it suddenly dawns on me that I should have advised him to rebook his ticket directly from his phone so he could still catch the flight. I feel responsible for him, knowing there is little chance he will find another translator at 4 am, but even more so because of what had happened to me just 12 hours earlier.

12 hours earlier
I wake up early to prepare for my afternoon flight to San Francisco, but everything manages to go awry. I discover my suitcase is broken as I am leaving for the airport, I encounter a number of train delays which doubles the time it takes for me to arrive. Then, after a failed sprint to the check-in desk, I am told check-in has closed and that I am not allowed to board the plane. Despite speaking to multiple airline representatives, no one even proposed the possibility of changing my ticket to another time; instead, I end up having to book an expensive new flight.

As I stand at security, thinking about the man who is about to miss his flight, I weigh the options. While I cannot risk missing yet another flight, I keep replaying the hopelessness I experienced the day before, and I know that if I can prevent another human being from feeling that misery, then it is well worth the risk.

I receive special permission from the security agent to go back through the security gate, find the man I helped, and wait until 5 am when the ticket counter opened to explain his situation to the woman behind the counter.

While Running My Company
As I reflect on this experience, it feels much like the decisions I have continuously had to make running my company, a constant battle between risk-taking and sticking to my values.

For example, at the beginning of my time in the Fast Track Malmö accelerator, I was encouraged to find a technical co-founder to make Panion seem more investable. I ended up welcoming a number of different strangers temporarily into my business, testing our compatibility and trying to figure out how I could suddenly trust someone I barely knew with everything I had worked so hard to build. So when one of my candidates started profiling the 'laziness' of developers based on nationality, I knew deep down what had to be done; or, when a prospective investor made a discriminatory joke about one of the new markets we have seen major growth in, despite the large sum on the table, I knew in my gut it was not the right match.

Since entering the startup world, I have been urged on multiple occasions to define our company values. However, in order to define these values, I realise now, I must first define my own.

As a participant in the Transformative Technology Academy, we were asked to identify parts of ourselves that drive behaviours that oppress or deny a part of who we are. My homework assignment this week is to actually write my core values down on paper. While it feels like a daunting task, I can definitely see its value. I know that it will give me a guiding reference that I can continuously consult, to know if I am on the path to who I want to be as a person and as a business woman and to not stray from my purpose no matter what I build, who I am faced with, or what reward they may offer.

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