Throughout our lives, we learn lessons from many different people -- our parents, teachers, colleagues, bosses and friends -- that help make us who we are. One person who taught me a great deal about being fearless was my childhood friend, Jennifer Goodman Linn, a Duke and Harvard Business School graduate and marketing executive who, this week, at just 40 years old, lost her seven-year battle with a soft tissue cancer called sarcoma.
Five years ago, Jen and her husband Dave started a fundraiser called Cycle for Survival, which has blossomed into a national movement that has to date raised $9 million to fund rare cancer research at New York's renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After running marketing at Fortune 500 companies including Ann Taylor and Nickelodeon, Jen had launched a consulting business and website called You Fearless, fueled by her personal philosophy that "anything is possible if you eliminate fear from the equation."
An unstoppable force (she was appropriately inducted into Energizer's 2010 Hall of Fame), she refused to let cancer or any other obstacles stand in her way. Whether the goal was to expand Cycle for Survival from one New York City location to several around the country, to land herself on national television to spread the word, to get a celebrity to support Cycle, or to push her doctors to fight as hard as she did to find a treatment that worked, Jen wouldn't take no for an answer.
Case in point: Cycle for Survival is now in such markets as Chicago, San Francisco and New Jersey; Jen booked herself on the TODAY Show and Rachael Ray to promote the cause, appearing on the latter with SNL's Seth Meyers, who also filmed a commercial for Cycle; and when her amazing team of doctors at Sloan-Kettering ran out of options, she went for experimental treatments at Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute and, finally, to Switzerland for her last effort -- unfortunately an unsuccessful one, despite Jen's relentless fight.
Jen's ability to stay upbeat and energetic (she went to the gym every day she could, even after chemo) in the face of adversity was truly amazing and, on days when I'm feeling down, frustrated or scared, I try to think about how she viewed life. Jen had written on her website, "I noticed that when I took fear out of the equation and 'went for it', I was more creative, more inspiring and more effective both at home and at work. I was able to express myself more fully, resulting in a happier, more satisfied life."
In memory of Jen Goodman Linn, who inspired me -- and countless others -- to be fearless, here is some of her best advice. I hope that it convinces you to stay positive, focused and to never let fear stop you from reaching your goals. (You can read more of her words of inspiration and wisdom on her wonderful blog.)
In a eulogy at Jen's funeral (which was standing room only because she had touched so many lives), her best friend Alicia said: "Jen was a small but powerful and empowering woman. She was an indomitable spirit." I couldn't agree more.