Jessica Carson: Surrendering to Surprise

Jessica Carson

"What is most personal is most universal." Carl Rogers

Jessica Carson is a thought-leader in entrepreneur psychology with a background in startups, venture capital, psychology, yoga, and mindfulness. She started her career as a Neuroscience & Psychology Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), before entering the world of startups and venture capital. With a passion for psychology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, she is now an intrapreneur at American Psychological Association (APA). Jessica is the founder of ColorfulCortex where she writes and speaks about the psychology of creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

Nothing if not surprising.

What first interested you in psychology and neuroscience?

That you never have to worry about not having enough customers? Hah. But really, the study of the self is universally applicable, eternally relevant, and infinitely scalable. I guess I also saw it as a cheat sheet in my back pocket -- a pair of x-ray goggles that help me see through people and situations with great clarity. But what I’ve learned over the years is it’s not my degree that gives me this insight -- it comes from a natural intuition, empathy, and emotional intelligence that many people possess. You just have to be intensely curious, observant, and sensitive to the energy, emotions, and feedback of those around you.

What was your area of focus as a Neuroscience & Psychology Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health?

I studied the neural basis of creativity, flow states, decision making, impulsivity, and novelty seeking. On both humans and monkeys, which was a trip. I also did some neat research on the comprehension and production of language and music. Who doesn’t love an excuse to put rappers and composers in brain scanners?

Did your knowledge and study of neuroscience and psychology influence your decision to start your blog, ColorfulCortex?

Yes, in more ways than one. In fact, I started my blog the week I left the laboratory. I was quite anxious about not knowing my next step and wanted a creative outlet. My first articles were more like public therapy sessions -- I wrote about things like the psychology of meaning, decision making, and personal growth. In reality, my writing was a way to take my own monkey mind for a walk. But that’s the real meat of creativity: leveraging your own struggles, musings, and fuming as fuel for creation. It was just icing when people started to relate to it.

What does ColorfulCortex content surround? Are there specific topics you focus on more than others? 

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It has evolved over time. For several years, my writing focused heavily on dating and relationships. I wrote about what I directly knew, heard, and felt -- and at that time, I had a lot of dating content (eek!). But not wanting to be immortalized as a modern day Carrie Bradshaw, I shifted my focus. As I spent more time in startups and venture capital, I developed a sincere passion for entrepreneur psychology, which is the focus of my writing today.

From a career in neuroscience and psychology to the world of startups and venture capital. What made you change your path?

I resonate so intensely with the energy, passion, and creativity of entrepreneurs and creators. Coming from the world of academia, it was an uncanny and intoxicating energy that I wanted to cultivate in myself. I also made the change because I had a fundamental shift in my self-concept. I always assumed I was logical, independent, introverted, and analytical because those were the qualities I chose to practice. But as I started flexing different muscles, I realized I’m at my best when I’m creative, collaborative, gregarious, and thinking big picture.

Can you share your experience at IVY and NextGen Venture Partners? How did these roles come into play? 

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IVY was my first job outside academia -- and no one saw it coming less than me. I attended IVY’s launch party in DC where I stumbled backwards into a conversation with the Co-CEO & Founder, Beri. We instantly hit it off! They didn’t have a formal job title or description, but knew they needed someone to launch, grow, and run the city. I offered zero experience or indication I would be any good at the job, but the team took a bet on me. They had an intuitive hunch I would grow into the role, and I did! I’m so grateful for the people who took unwarranted bets on me. During my time at IVY, I discovered novels-worth of insights about myself and what I was capable of. It was a magical time. The move into venture capital was inspired by my one-day dream of starting a company. At NextGen, I had a similar role launching and growing their many markets, in addition to marketing, strategy, business development, and product. I’ve always been happiest in Jill-of-All-Trades gigs.

You are now an Intrapreneur for the APA - what made you want to switch gears? 

I was hungry -- or perhaps starving -- to re-integrate psychology into my life. I knew I wanted to work at intersection of psychology and entrepreneurship, but fussed at myself because I didn’t know what that would look like. So when this brand new position at APA landed in my inbox, it was like ultimate proof in the creative problem-solving of the universe. Now, my days are spent understanding the needs of psychologists and building new, innovative products, services, and content. It’s a very cool collision of all of my worlds.

Along with being an Intrapreneur for the APA, you are also a yoga teacher. What made you want to pursue yoga as well? 

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Yoga transformed my life from the inside out, so sharing that with others is the ultimate karmic gift. I also just love being in the seat of a teacher -- I do believe it’s my calling. Teaching yoga is an incredible opportunity to flex my teacher muscles in preparation for what I hope is a lifetime of teaching -- yoga, my writing, and beyond.

Is there any advice you would give readers who are striving to stay positive, be zen and be mentally healthy? 

Figure out what you can control and surrender the rest. All suffering is embedded with coding for accelerated growth: The more you trustfully lean into the lessons, the faster you can get to the “next level” of the video game and transform temporary struggle into forever learnings. So embrace unpleasant invitations for growth, welcome the unknown of “the void,” and learn how to use mud as fertilizer.

What drives you to be energetic and positive? 

Because I don’t feel like I’ve ever failed. Don’t get me wrong, I fall off the tracks every other day. I’ve made major missteps in every stage of my life. But in hindsight, all those “failures” were generous invitations to discover a strength, interest, or opportunity that was previously hidden. My greatest struggles have been my most potent sources of inspiration. I wouldn’t be where I am without falling on my face... a lot. I suppose I’m positive because I’ve learned that life is never as bad, hard, or scary as you think it is.

What is your mantra or a quote that your live by? 

The quote currently plastered across my life is Joan of Arc’s, I am not afraid. I was born to do this! My personal mantra is: I trust my Self. I trust my Path. As someone who will obsess about the details of the journey if left unchecked, I find a lot of peace in trusting a bigger plan.

Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers?

I am majorly excited to be writing a book about entrepreneur and creator psychology that will be published later this year, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can follow my blog or social media to learn more about my speaking, teaching and writing. 

Jessica's Blog: ColorfulCortex

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