About eight years ago, Wen-Jay Ying was playing in bands in New York’s underground music scene. It was a backstage conversation at a Flaming Lips show with lead singer Wayne Coyne that altered her life’s direction; Coyne counseled that sometimes the biggest impact one can have is by supporting the local community.

That advice resonated. After reading an article about how the decline of supermarkets in New York City has forced many people to rely on bodega foods, Ying pivoted to work with food nonprofits, community-supported agriculture (CSA), and farm stands before launching her own business, Local Roots NYC, an alternative CSA model catering to lower-income New Yorkers.    

Elana Karp’s heartstrings similarly led her into a food career. As an elementary school teacher, Karp became interested in the impact food had on her students’ energy and mood. She started teaching them about healthy eating and where their food comes from. That passion spurred her on to culinary school, and her current role as culinary co-founder and head chef at meal-kit service Plated, where she now teaches people how to cook and lead healthier lives.

Even Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, who joined Ying and Karp at Made by We in New York for a recent panel discussion on food entrepreneurship, found her path by taste, parlaying her love of food into a career. Writing about food brought her to culinary school to study on a deeper level. After many years at Food & Wine, she struck out on her own; a freeform life as a cookbook author, television personality, and full-fledged personal brand followed.

If the paths of these women food entrepreneurs don’t sound one-size-fits-all, that’s because they aren’t. So how can aspiring entrepreneurs interested in emulating their success find their way?

(From left) Wen-Jay Ying, Elana Karp, Gail Simmons, and moderator Daniela Galarza discussing launching a career in food.

Plan ahead, but not too far ahead. Simmons advises versatility and making smaller, more attainable goals. When she made the jump from full-time employee at Food & Wine to working for herself, she had no designs to become a TV personality. But when the Top Chef opportunity came along, she embraced it. If you look too far ahead, she said, something else will inevitably come along and redirect your well-made plans anyway.

Karp emphasized the importance of predicting problems—something you can’t do too far in advance—for near-future needs. When it comes to scaling, she says it’s essential to anticipate needs and fill them before they’re urgent. As an entrepreneur, she’s had to learn foresight. “If I want to get from A to B, I need someone to take this off my plate so I can focus on getting there,” she says.

You don’t have to be just one thing, and you probably shouldn’t. While Simmons is best known for Top Chef, filming each season only takes up about six weeks of the year; she keeps many other plates spinning so that if one falls, she doesn’t find herself without work.

“You can plan all you want,” she says, “but we won’t know what the next piece of new technology or the next platform or the next thing is. If you are an entrepreneur and have a little bit of pivot-ability, that makes you nimble and able to pivot wherever the world takes you. And that’s what I love about what I do, because I don’t have to just be one thing.”

(From left) Karp, Simmons, Ying, and Galarza posing together after their panel conversation.

Ying is also a wearer of many hats. Her daily tasks often include managing Local Roots’ social media, running operations, and taste-testing, as well as tackling emails and support requests. “We are a really small team,” she says, “so we all eventually do everything.”

Ying attributes her pivot-ability to her beginnings in the underground-music scene, but it’s a skill every successful entrepreneur should have. When you’re just starting out, you might not have the funding to hire an office manager, social-media manager, and bookkeeper, as well as a CEO; you may have to be all those things.

Learn how to metabolize harsh feedback. It’s challenging not to take negative feedback personally, but it’s something Karp often experiences at Plated. She finds it easy to focus on one negative comment about a recipe, despite ratings showing that thousands of other people tried and liked the same dish.

“In terms of recipe feedback that I get all the time, I hear one person say, ‘This was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten,’ but when I look at the ratings and I see the thousands of other people that tried it and liked it, it proves that even though that’s the one comment I remember, it’s not actually the truth,” she says.

Her advice: “Anchor yourself in data.” Feelings can be blinding, but when it comes to business, you typically have hard numbers and facts to rely on, like Karp does whenever she’s confronted with a recipe-hater. One squash-casserole detractor does not cancel out thousands of five-star reviewers.

Photographs by Liz Devine; header photograph by iStock

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In The Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

Think about how much food you’ve unintentionally let go to waste in your refrigerator on your best week. Now imagine how much more must go to waste in the hands of a restaurant or grocery store on any given day. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide gets lost or wasted—that’s 1.3 billion metric tons.

Karma, an app launched in Sweden in 2016, is working to change that.

Its four co-founders initially launched the company as a sort of crowdsourced Groupon, where users uploaded photos of discount offers and earned “Karma points” (more discounts) in return. “We failed 100 percent in our first eight months,” co-founder and COO Elsa Bernadotte says.

But the flop prompted the partners to assess what about their platform was working: They noticed how eager users were to access discounted food—and that led them to research the food industry. “We learned that discounted food exists because if it’s not sold, it’s going to become food waste,” Bernadotte, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 41 Corsham St in London, says. “And we realized that food waste is a massive environmental problem.”

Within three weeks, they retooled their platform to connect users with discounted surplus food from participating restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores—and convinced their initial investors to stay on board. “The response [from users and the food industry] was crazy,” Bernadotte says. “I was blown away.” Today, Karma works with 2,000 retailers, has half a million users (a number they expect to double by the end of the year), and reports “rescuing” 295 tons of food to date.

Below, Bernodette, who relocated to London to launch Karma’s UK market earlier this year (next up: Paris), shares a diary of a recent workweek.

Monday

6 a.m. Wake up confused about where I am, then remember I moved Airbnbs yesterday. I move around a lot. My motto is to be where I’m needed the most, and right now we’re very much focused on growing the business here in the U.K.

6:15 a.m. Out the door and to the gym. I’ve got a challenge going with a friend back home in Stockholm to work out three times a week, so I send her a text to brag that I made it. Loser buys dinner, and I’m super-competitive.

7:30 a.m. Back home and jump into the shower.

7:45 a.m. Daily 15-minute “micro” update call with the management team. We set the call just before working day in Sweden at 8:45 a.m., which means the U.K. office joins the call at 7:45 a.m. This almost always means I’m on the call while in the shower. I also fry a couple of eggs and put on my makeup before the call is even up. Sometimes it works, but this time I burn the eggs. Eat them anyway.

8:15 a.m. Out the door for an early start at WeWork. Make a coffee as the rest of the U.K. team filters in. There are 13 of us in the U.K. and about 40 in Sweden.

9 a.m. Join the Monday morning all-hands briefing on video chat (we’ve got a TV set up in our office).

10 a.m. Prep deck for a big retailer we’re trying to get on board.

12 p.m. Stop for lunch. Open the Karma app and pick out some sushi to rescue from one of our best-selling retailers in Shoreditch, only a 10-minute walk from our Old St office.

1 p.m. Head down. Back to work on deck and other tasks.

5:30 p.m. Gather the team to celebrate progress with drinks and cake. If we’re going to have radical candor, it’s also so important to make sure we have fun. We do one or two team trips every year with that in mind. Just a couple weeks ago we went skiing together in the north of Sweden.

7 p.m. Meet a friend for dinner. We go to Cay Tre for some amazing pho and catch up about life.

9 p.m. Back home. Try to unwind, watch Netflix, and switch off, but end up catching up with emails and Slack messages instead.

12 a.m. Fall asleep with my laptop open. Oops.

“We learned that discounted food exists because if it’s not sold, it’s going to become food waste,” says Karma co-founder and COO Elsa Bernadotte. “And we realized that food waste is a massive environmental problem.”

Tuesday

7 a.m. Wake up later than usual—it’s a no-gym day. Take my time and get on with my usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.

8:30 a.m. Get to the office and put out some fires before my day properly starts.

9 a.m. Coffee. Essential.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday is the day when I have most of my staff one-on-ones, so I’m usually chatting back-to-back with my direct reports. We practice radical candor at Karma, so I’m having what I like to call “positive arguments” with some recent hires. I actually love it when the team has strong opinions and we disagree—it helps us grow faster.

My parents used radical candor with me early on, and I found it very painful, but also very helpful. It made me less uncomfortable with being quite blunt and direct about things, and it builds a lot of trust, which ultimately creates the most meaningful relationships.

7 p.m. Thinking about dinner. Decide to order a pizza at home.

8 p.m. Dig into pizza while catching up with the computer-science course I’m doing part-time at Harvard. Sounds fancy, but I’m just trying to speak the same language as the tech leads at Karma.

11 p.m. Get into bed to read. I’m usually juggling several business books at once, but I’m trying to read more fiction to switch off more.

Wednesday

7 a.m. Wake up and do my usual routine.

8:30 a.m. Breakfast meeting with the ex-founder of Hello Fresh, a recipe-box service, to learn about how they conquered the U.K. market. Part of my job is to meet a lot of people who can add different perspectives and values to the table. You never know what insights someone might have until you talk to them—in this case, I learned a ton.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Back in the office. This week we’re setting our OKRs (objectives and key results) for the quarter, and it’s taking a lot of time to align everyone across the company as we’re onboarding a new tool. OKR drafting always takes time away from the day-to-day work of the team, but it’s for the greater good of the company and essential to goal-setting for each team member—or Karmeleon, as we say internally.

5 p.m. Why am I already hungry for dinner? Grab a decaf coffee outside the office to get some air.

6 p.m. Is it dinnertime yet?

7 p.m. Grab dinner from Tesco (a U.K. grocery store) and make a halloumi salad. Then devour some Ben & Jerry’s. Life is about balance, right?

8 p.m.-10 p.m. Catch up on work. I spent last week in Dubai with my fiancé, so I’m feeling behind.

11 p.m. Meditate for 15 minutes with the Calm app. Tell myself I’ll meditate more often because I feel so great afterward, but I never manage to make it a habit. Get an early night.

“The response [from users and the food industry] was crazy,” says Bernadotte of launching Karma in Sweden in 2016.

Thursday

6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. I didn’t sleep well, so I’m a bit slower today.

7 a.m. Shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.

8 a.m. Take a call with one of our investors. We have a close relationship—they’ve been behind us as we’ve grown internationally over the past two years.

8:30 a.m. Head to WeWork. Obligatory coffee.

9 a.m. Work as usual. Things are busy—everyone’s playing catchup on the time they lost on OKRs yesterday.

12 p.m. LUNCH! Stop by Pret for a salad. I’m trying to eat more vegetables.

12:30 p.m. Back to work. Big sales meetings happening this afternoon.

4 p.m. Sales meeting. It’s a huge success and could be totally game-changing for us. Can’t reveal any more than that, but I’m so excited that I can’t concentrate for the rest of the day.

5:30 p.m. Finally get my focus back and am deep into a spreadsheet tracking U.K. costs to date. Is it sad that I love a good spreadsheet? Because I totally do.

6:30 p.m. Dinner with the U.K. team. I’ve invited them over to my humble abode (the Airbnb flavor of the month) to host a “Working With” workshop, where everyone gets to discuss how they prefer to work. I love doing these sessions—there’s massive learning potential.

Friday

6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. Ping my friend that I’m two sessions ahead of her and it’s Friday… I’m loving this competition.

7 a.m. Back home for the usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.

8 a.m. Pack for Berlin. Surreal and dream-come-true moment: We’ve been invited by the Obama Foundation to meet former President Barack Obama for a roundtable discussion with other “future leaders” in Europe. Fingers crossed we get to work with them more.  

10 a.m. I hate packing—it always takes longer than I expect.

10:15 a.m. Head to WeWork for a half-day before my flight. I’ll not see the U.K. team for a week while I’m away so I’ve put some meetings on my calendar to catch up with everyone.

12:30 p.m. Starving. In Sweden, lunch is usually no later than 12 p.m., but in London, everyone waits until 1. Rescue some Turkish food for lunch from the Karma app.

1 p.m. Back to work before leaving for the airport.

6 p.m. Fly to Berlin.

10 p.m. Get to my hotel for the next two nights. Room service. Crash. I love routines, so the traveling lifestyle doesn’t fit perfectly with my personality. But on the other hand, I believe in our mission, and right now there are a lot of things that need to be done. That challenge I love.

Photographs by Connor Reidy

The role of executive assistant has been horrifyingly characterized in dozens of books and movies. Who can forget the terror Andy Sachs suffered at the hands of her impossible-to-please boss, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada?

But there’s more to the role than pop culture lets on. At “The Power Job,” a recent panel hosted by Conductor, speakers Katrina Conte, executive assistant to the CFO, The We Company; Morgan Sandoval, executive assistant to the COO of Firstmark Capital; Alexis Soper, chief of staff, Luntz Global Partners; and Melissa Crespo, executive assistant to the CEO of Conductor, discussed what being an EA really entails in the modern workplace, and how to succeed.

“I started at Time Inc. when I was 18. I was part of the secretarial pool, and every day was like secretary roulette—you never knew which man you were going to work for that day,” said Katrina Conte, recalling the start of her career more than 35 years ago. These days, Conte works directly for one person, and during her six years at WeWork, learning every aspect of her boss’s role has allowed her to excel in her own right.

The thing is, an EA job isn’t just an entry-level position anymore. In fact, the longer you’re in this high-pressure spot, the more valuable you are. As a virtual extension of the executive you support, you give her more hours in the day and twice as much brain power to complete tasks. The panelists agreed it can take a good six months to start really becoming adept at anticipating your boss’s every move.

“There is a lot of power in this role,” Conte told the audience. “Be wise with it.” With access to the people at the very top, there are plenty of opportunities to learn, make connections—and even get your own ideas and opinions heard.

The speakers shared the most important qualities of a power EA.

Hyperorganization. Details matter. “Never assume, and always confirm,” said Luntz’s Alexis Soper, who has been in her role for 13 years. She recalled one instance when she realized her boss, who was traveling through Asia, was without a visa for China. After a momentary panic and some quick research, she discovered that travelers going through China to another country can enter without a visa for 144 hours. Crisis averted—and lesson learned.

Ability to solve problems. Even the best executives are only human. When mistakes happen—files are lost, meeting rooms are incorrect—the panelists agreed it’s best to acknowledge it and be prepared with at least one solution. In the long run, being able to think on your feet is what really matters.

A thick skin. You know how you’re more honest and argumentative with your closest friends and family—emotionally or sometimes simply geographically—than with acquaintances? Prepare for a little of that from your boss. Throughout her career, Soper has reminded herself, “I’m the closest person to him, so he’s taking it out on me.” Unless it feels abusive, don’t take it personally. And if you do feel like you’re being mistreated, move on. “Don’t stick around with someone who doesn’t value you,” Sandoval said.

An acute sense of timing. This is another skill that improves the longer you work with someone. For example, consider the best time deliver certain news; if they’re running for a train, maybe it can wait. “Pay attention to their mind-set,” said Firstmark’s Sandoval. “I am very deliberate with my approach.” Also, learn how your boss likes to receive info: If she understands things better when they’re presented visually, don’t waste time typing up a summary that won’t hold her attention.

A love of the job. Being an executive assistant can be a fulfilling lifelong career, not just a stepping stone to somewhere else. “Get up every day and be proud of what you do,” said Conte of The We Company. “We face a different challenge every day: One day we’re their therapist, sometimes we’re a seamstress—at other times, even the dentist.”

A desire to learn. Yes, there are schedules to maintain and errands to run, but in between those moments, the executive assistant role is like a crash-course MBA. You have access to every department of an organization. The more you recognize how everyone works and what you can do to fill in the gaps, the better the company will run as a whole. And if you ultimately decide that you’re not a career executive assistant you’ll be better poised to reach for a role that is.

Photographs by Stocksy

“When I told people I had a new book, they said, “Is it about cyber wars or foreign policy?” says Jared Cohen. It’s a natural assumption—Cohen, founder and CEO of Jigsaw (a technology incubator created by Google), worked in the office of Condoleeza Rice as one of the youngest foreign-policy planners in American history; served as chief adviser to Google’s Eric Schmidt; and is a New York Times bestselling author, having written two books on the intersection of technology and foreign policy.

His new book, as it turns out, is a little different. “It’s about dead presidents,” Cohen laughed at WeWork 500 7th Ave in New York. Cohen, along with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan, was there to discuss Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, a book he’s been waiting to write his whole life. As a child, Cohen was captivated by American history, and as an adult, his focus narrowed to the eight vice presidents who ascended to the top spot after assassinations and illnesses claimed the men elected to the job.

Far from being fated, according to Cohen, the rise of men like John Tyler (vice president to William Henry Harrison), Theodore Roosevelt (who became president after the assassination of William McKinley), and Harry Truman (successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt) could have been cataclysmic for the nation, and it’s clear not all of the accidental presidents on Cohen’s list were cut out for the job. There was Andrew Johnson, whose biggest claim to fame as Abraham Lincoln’s second-in-command was getting so drunk at Lincoln’s second inaugural that, says Cohen, “he slobbered all over the ceremonial Bible,” or Chester A. Arthur, who spent more time redecorating the White House than he did governing.

Others, though, Cohen holds up as examples of leaders who triumphed over the odds and more than rose to meet the demands of their new positions. “In 82 days as vice president,” he says of Harry Truman, “he only meets FDR twice. Doesn’t get a single intelligence briefing, doesn’t meet a single world leader, isn’t briefed on the new patent project. He was an awestruck provincial politician from Missouri.” And yet with the help of key advisers who understood the importance of Truman’s success, he effectively ended World War II.

(Top) Author Jared Cohen with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan. (Above) “Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America,” out now.

While the stakes of modern-day business might not be quite as high, Cohen does see a correlation between presidents like Harry Truman and contemporary CEOs. “The ones that succeeded were the ones who had a combination of two things happen. The advisers they inherited wanted them to be successful and worked with them to help make them successful. And two, they had the judgment to figure out where to listen to them and where not to listen to them.”

It’s this balance of strategy and vision that Cohen frames as universal. “In many respects, the story of accidental presidents, it’s like CEOs taking over for founders: finding that balance between leaving your own mark and continuing the legacy of your predecessor.”

It’s clear that for Cohen, what we can learn from the men who weren’t supposed to be president goes beyond shock at how many times we’ve come perilously close to political chaos, but that their stories offer a glimpse into what we might do if suddenly faced with daunting new responsibilities.  “Every business leader should get a nice dose of history,” he says, “and I think biographies are good for the soul. If you can find time to go to the gym and meditate, you should find the time to read about Harry Truman.”

Photographs by Lori Gutman

From established entrepreneurs to those just starting out in their career, everyone is familiar with the perils of being driven to distraction. Now that technology makes us more connected than ever, “the office” follows you wherever you go. These blurred boundaries may help us be more flexible than ever, but it can also lead to burnout.

For years, experts have recommended that it’s vital for today’s worker to find meaningful ways to detach and recharge. But what about when it’s time to plug back in? A study published in the Journal of Management found that “reattaching” to work might be just as important as detaching from the grind.

“Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work,” writes study co-author Charlotte Fritz. “They’re more satisfied with work, more committed to work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better, and help out more with extra tasks.” Through the study, Fritz concluded that reattachment practices led to positive performance results for employees and the companies for which they worked.

So how do you put this into practice? Whether you spend most of your day at a desk or work on the go, we found several ways to get your head in the game and make this habit work for you.

Get motivated. Using the first part of your day to engage in a little strategic planning, like making a to-do list, is a perfect way to reattach. Try and focus on three realistic accomplishments you can finish by the end of the day that combine tasks that both need immediate attention and move projects forward.

“Getting to the end of the day having answered a thousand emails but not feeling like you have accomplished anything is the worst feeling,” says Courtney Brand, founder of career-support network The Lighthouse, a member at WeWork 368 9th Ave in New York. “As an entrepreneur, there are a million things I have to do, but setting my top three at the beginning of the day helps me feel successful and hyperfocused.”

Block also sets aside an hour at the beginning of each week to review short- and long-term plans and company feedback so she can feel equipped to work more strategically in the future. For Block, this time of reflection is an important component of “future-proofing” her career.

Engage your brain. Think of reattaching to work like stretching before a race–your mind is like a muscle, after all, and you wouldn’t sprint before you warm up. Tapping back into a different, but complementary mental activity is a good way to engage your brain before you begin work.

Podcasts that take a deep dive into the trends and news of your industry are a useful way to reattach (and make the most of that daily commute). You may want to try How I Built This, where NPR’s Guy Raz speaks with business leaders about how they built their career, or Cntl Alt Delete with Emma Gannon, which focuses on internet culture. If podcasts aren’t your thing, subscribe to trade journals or magazines in your field—either way, you’ll be staying up to date so you can be informed when tackling the projects on your plate. Bonus: You’ll become the go-to person in the office for industry news, which will undoubtedly come in handy at your next networking event.

Energize your body and mind. Who says self-care can’t be productive? While you’re probably used to cooking a comforting meal or tucking into a good book when it’s time to unwind, you can also dip into your grooming arsenal to help you reattach.

Janice Buu, founder of CBD-focused skin-care company Kana Skincare, takes an organic approach to getting her mind in the right place. Buu uses lavender essential oils at night to wind down, but during the day replaces perfume with a citrus-scented oil for an energizing aromatherapy effect. For Buu, who runs two companies and is always on the go, a five-minute stretching and meditation with CBD is the perfect way to switch gears and get ready for her next project. “If I wasn’t using CBD, I wouldn’t be able to handle work as well,” she says, noting that CBD can provide a sense of calm and focus.

Meditation can also be a powerful tool to help you reattach. Studies have shown benefits to include a sharper focus, more creative inspiration, and decreased stress—all powerful parts of a productive workday. If you’re not used to the practice yourself, download a guided meditation—look for one with the keywords “stress” or “productivity”—and zen out at your desk. If you’re in a rut, meditation can also be a great tool to help with problem-solving. Ten minutes before you begin your day or as part of your afternoon coffee break is not only energizing but could provide the creative breakthrough for which you’ve been waiting—and with your new practice of reattaching, that breakthrough could last all day.

Illustrations by Alana Peters / The We Company