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JUNE 26, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

We have an especially bold lineup for you today. Have you ever traveled solo? Have you ever wanted to travel solo, but fear held you back? Keep reading.

In today’s e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A guest column by Anna Nalean, community impact coordinator for Delta Dental of Iowa. Nalean quit a previous job to chase her dream of backpacking around the world as a solo traveler. Chasing that dream took Nalean to 30 countries in eight months. Her husband cheered her on from Iowa.
  • A Q&A with two leaders in commercial finance at Wells Fargo: Judith Goldkrand and Becky Gibson. Goldkrand said women are often "over-mentored and under-sponsored."
  • In the Headlines: It could take 131 years to close the global gender gap after an “entire generation” of progress was lost to COVID-19, according to the World Economic Forum. In a new report published Wednesday, WEF said that worldwide gender inequality looked set to endure until 2154 despite a modest improvement since the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Anna Nalean: ‘I quit my job to chase a dream of backpacking around the world as a solo traveler’
Above: Anna Nalean poses for a photo in Bulgaria in 2019. Bulgaria was one of 30 countries she visited as part of her "Get Busy Living Tour" in 2019. Below: Anna Nalean poses for a photo in Vietnam, the first country she visited during her eight-month tour. Photos submitted by Anna Nalean.
I was honored to be recognized this year as one of the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 honorees. During that process, former Fearless editor Emily Kestel asked me what I’m most proud of. After sharing my unusual travel story with her, she asked if I would be willing to share it with all of you, the Fearless readers.

Trying to put such a life-changing, personal experience into words is intimidating, but I have witnessed time and time again the ripples of inspiration that can happen when women are vulnerable and share their stories.

I share my story with a deep acknowledgement of the privilege I have on many levels that afforded me the opportunity and space to chase after such a big dream. I do not take that lightly or for granted.

May we continue to build a world where all women can boldly and bravely chase after their wildest dreams if and when they so desire.

The “Get Busy Living Tour”
In 2019, I embarked on what my husband, Bobby Nalean, affectionately titled the “Get Busy Living Tour.” I quit my job to chase a dream of backpacking around the world as a solo traveler. Chasing that dream took me to 30 countries over the next eight months, while he cheered me on from home.

We rang in the new year together in Des Moines. On the morning of Jan. 1, I boarded a train from Osceola to Chicago and caught a flight to my first destination, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I had booked where I would stay for my first few nights, but beyond that, I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t know how long I would stay in the city or where I would go next, allowing me the rare freedom to be completely untethered and to dance in the unknown, taking recommendations from locals and other travelers I met along the way, as well as letting my own curiosities guide me.

After Vietnam I made my way through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. By March, I was in New Zealand, where I rented a car, bought a tent, thrifted camping supplies and began driving and camping my way around the north and south islands for a month.

I made my way to Europe, where my husband would join me in Greece briefly. He then headed home, and I continued my journey, backpacking through less-touristed countries such as Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and the Czech Republic. I also visited many of Europe’s more well-known destinations such as England, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain. I briefly dipped into Africa via Morocco.

Before I knew it, eight months had somehow melted away, and I felt like I had barely scratched the surface of all the beauty and wonder of this incredible world. My list of places that I wanted to explore had somehow grown instead of getting smaller. As I lived out of my carry-on-sized backpack for eight months, I realized how little stuff I needed in my life to live comfortably.

A little back story
I didn’t grow up traversing the world. It just wasn’t something my farming family of six had the means or the time to do. But I had a curiosity and sense of adventure. I would get lost in my Grandpa Paul’s stacks of National Geographic magazines and the stories he would tell of places he had wanted to visit but hadn’t been able to for one reason or another.

My first flight was a short domestic flight at age 20 and my second flight would be to Thailand to study abroad for a semester as an undergraduate. That is where I got my first taste of solo travel and the freedom and the sense of empowerment it brought.

After that semester ended, I came home to Iowa, got married, graduated from Simpson College at the height of the recession, and started my career in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

Early on in our marriage, my husband and I decided that we wanted travel to be a priority and a key fixture throughout our lives, not just something that would be reserved for milestone occasions or our retirement years. We recognized the power of thoughtful travel to enrich our lives, broaden our perspectives and expand our understanding of the world around us and how we engaged with it. We learned travel didn’t have to be an expensive, out-of-reach thing and that we could find ways to do it affordably.

After returning from a backpacking trip together through Peru in 2017, we were reflecting on what inspired us from our experiences – the culture and the people we met and what lessons we would like to carry forward into our lives. I had mentioned casually to Bobby how incredibly inspired I was by all the brave solo female backpackers we had met along the way on that trip. Instantly he said, “You’re doing it. I just pictured you there, being in your element, and that’s it. You’ve got to do it!”

I immediately rolled my eyes at him, told him that he was being ridiculous and began spouting off all the reasons why I couldn’t do that – why we couldn’t do that. “I have a job, we have student and car loans, a mortgage, other bills to pay, and we’re married.” I was not in an “Eat, Pray, Love” situation. No one we met was traveling for months on end while a supportive significant other was holding things down back home. What would people think?

Fear of the unknown
Fear of the unknown and seeking comfort in the familiar can keep us from living our lives fully, if we let it. While all the life and travel logistics were beyond reasonable concerns to sort out, it truly was the “What would people think?” piece of the equation that took up significant brain space and kept me from acknowledging to myself that I really wanted to do this.

I initially had fears of what diverging from the Midwestern sensibilities and practicalities I had been raised with and surrounded by my entire life would ultimately mean for my future. While I had financial security to some degree, as Bobby would continue to work, I was stepping away from a solid job. I was temporarily pausing my career in my early 30s, when I should be looking to advance to whatever that “next big thing” was.

I hadn’t known anyone who’d personally done what I was considering at this stage in life. How would I explain this gap on my resume? Would anyone want to hire me after I returned? Would this time away become a liability? So much of my life to this point was pursuing a more traditional definition of success – this would be straying far from that.

A core part of my story, which continues to bring perspective and focus to my life, was the unexpected death of my incredible dad when I was 19 years old. His passing at such a young age and the post-traumatic growth that comes with navigating the waves of grief gave me a profound understanding that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

I don’t live my life in fear of my mortality but I do acknowledge its inevitability. The truth is none of us knows how much time we have, and many of us live as though we have all the time in the world, myself included, until we don’t. After months of stewing, I began asking myself: What is the thing I am most afraid of, if I were told tomorrow that my time here was up?

In asking that question, it became clear – it wasn’t the next big career move or title, achieving material successes, community accolades, or legacy-building that came to mind, although doing meaningful work, bettering my community and serving others is very important to me. My biggest fear was that there were so many places I wanted to explore, experience and learn about firsthand, and that I wouldn’t have the opportunity or time to do it.

I desperately wanted to get lost in the world and navigate all the challenges that came with it, knowing that I would be lonely, scared and homesick at times. I knew I would have to work through times of incredible discomfort, but I knew those moments of discomfort would also bring tremendous personal growth.

One day, I finally stopped and asked myself, “Why not me? Why can’t I do this? And more importantly, why can’t we do this?” We can create our own blueprint for how we live our lives, and it doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. Also, I get to decide what my definition of a successful life looks like for me personally. With that, we began the 1½-year journey of saving, learning, planning and working to make the Get Busy Living Tour a reality.

Traveling solo as a woman
As in many areas of life, women who travel solo often receive different reactions than men who do the same. There were many concerns from loved ones and acquaintances alike for my safety, some even suggesting that it was careless to travel solo as a woman. Many projected their own fears and perceptions of the world and the unknown onto me.

The unfortunate reality is that women, regardless of whether we are walking alone in our neighborhood or are halfway around the world, must take additional precautions that men often don’t think twice about. But it doesn’t mean the world is inherently dangerous for us to experience and explore on our own terms. We just have to be more aware, cautious and prepared.

In all honesty, I often felt safer wandering in the many countries I visited than I do at home in the U.S. We all take risks every single day when we leave our homes; that is just a part of living, but we are more familiar with the risks we are taking and therefore more comfortable with them. My hope is that we as women don’t let an overly inflated fear of what “could happen” limit how we move in and experience the world.

Looking back, four years later
Writing all of this down makes this journey seem simplistic and easy. It definitely wasn’t. I was rereading some of my blog posts from early on in my adventures, and the fear in some of those early posts was palpable (read “Gaining Confidence One Street Crossing, Bowl of Pho and Laundry Load at a Time”), but so was the growing confidence and trust in myself and enthusiasm at facing these new and often humorous encounters.

Solo travel has challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but it also allowed me to meet, break bread with and befriend so many incredibly inspiring women, both locals and other solo travelers (there are a ton out there) from all walks of life, stages of life and from all corners of the world. Women who shared their life stories of heartache and triumphs with me, who welcomed me into their homes, into their businesses, introduced me to their passions, who shared their hostel rooms, meals, rental cars and rides on the back of their motorbikes with me. Women who picked me up when I was doubting myself along the journey and lent me a bit of their bravery, confidence and fearlessness in times when I needed it.

I kept family and friends updated on social media throughout my journey so they could follow along and learn about the world with me as I knew many would never be able to experience this for themselves for a myriad of reasons. I especially wanted to normalize the idea of exploring the world for my nine nieces and nephews, but especially for my nieces.

What I didn’t anticipate were the messages I received from women I knew from various stages of my life that were following the Get Busy Living Tour unbeknownst to me. Several of them were now embarking on their own solo travels, whether it be a weekend away in the U.S. or a far-flung adventure overseas.

All this to say, I share my story with you not to toot my own horn (although I’m pretty dang proud), but because I want to acknowledge the ripple of inspiration that was started when I met those fearless women in Peru.

They have no idea the impact they’ve had on my life and so many others – all because they bravely jumped into the unknown and boldly lived their lives a bit differently. I am forever grateful.

Anna Nalean is the community impact coordinator at Delta Dental of Iowa. She and her husband, Bobby Nalean, live in Des Moines. She can be reached at

Wells Fargo commercial lending executive: 'Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored'
Women business leaders should establish relationships with banks early on, even if they aren’t yet in the market for borrowing to grow, a Wells Fargo executive told Fearless.

“They’re going to understand your business better when you [do] need it,” said Judith Goldkrand. Goldkrand is a Wells Fargo senior vice president, National Women’s Segment Leader and National Asian Segment Leader for Commercial Banking. She is based in New York.

Goldkrand and Becky Gibson, senior vice president and market executive for commercial banking in Iowa for Wells Fargo, sat down with Fearless last week while Goldkrand was visiting the region.

Goldkrand and Gibson discussed how women’s roles have changed during their careers in commercial banking and what things are most important for women business leaders to know as they make plans to grow.

This Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What are some obstacles that women are facing in terms of capital?
Goldkrand: On the access to capital side, a lot of it is really an understanding issue.
Do you understand what type of capital you need? You understand when you need it, and what it’s going to do for you, so that you approach it accurately. And whether you need a small-business loan or a commercial banking loan, do you want angel funding, venture capital funding private equity? They serve different purposes. So one of the focuses that we have at Wells Fargo is we want to make sure that we have provided the resources to women-owned and -led businesses so that they can make good decisions.

One of the things that we did earlier this year is we sponsored a seven-part webinar series called “The Fundamentals of Capital.” We made it readily available through an open link so that people could actually go ahead and listen to the webinar series and educate themselves as they saw fit. In September, we’re sponsoring a women’s capital summit, where we’re going to offer not just panels and fireside chats, but it’ll be a room full of women founders, entrepreneurs, business owners, along with different capital providers so that we’re going to create that network opportunity for them to get to know each other so that women can feel like, “Oh, I need angel funding, I actually know somebody that I could call, where I can be in touch.” Because a lot of what happens for women is they don’t know where to start. They don’t have a pre-built-in network to understand where to access capital.

When you meet one on one with women entrepreneurs, what’s some advice that you’d give them in terms of capital?
Goldkrand: Be intentional. Understand your exit, or where you’re going with capital. I think when you take on capital, it’s a promise; it’s a promise to pay back if it’s debt, or it’s a promise to your investor to increase the value of your company so that you can exit. So you really want to be thoughtful about the type of capital you take on when you do it, the kind of risk that you’re accepting. The other big piece of advice that I give to women, especially women owners or leaders, is you need to own your own numbers. If you’re the business owner, it’s important to the bank that you understand the basics of the financials of your company.

Gibson: And that’s true of any entrepreneur. Because sometimes you know what you know – you’re really good at whatever the widgets you’re making or whatever it is – but that financial piece is so important to understand, too.

Goldkrand: I think the other thing is to form a relationship with a bank at whatever stage you are. That’s true not just for women. … The more that you can share what you’re doing, what your vision is, what your history is of the business with somebody who works, for example, on Becky’s team, the more inclined they’re going to be able to help you, because they’re going to understand your business better when you need it.

Gibson: Someone like a Wells Fargo, even though we’re a traditional bank, we have different layers of capital. Now, that’s probably not your startups, it’s more as you grow, but it’s nice to know that those options are out there and exist.

Goldkrand: Certainly we serve the entire spectrum of businesses through their life cycle. So if it’s startup businesses, we’re serving them through our branches, through small business lending, and then as they grow … some of these various types of capital we have available, all the way to the other side where we’re going to leverage our investment banking services, to help them potentially acquire a business or sell their business or an IPO and issue a public bond.

Gibson: I’ve been banking in the Iowa market for 33 years. And when I first joined, it was a different bank. I’ve been with Wells Fargo 17 years, but prior to Wells Fargo, I was with a different bank locally that covered the whole state. I was one of the very few women in banking. I had hardly any peers who were women. It was all going to meetings and being in a room full of men. My customers kind of mirrored that same situation. It was very much men who dominated in the business world, and you just didn’t have as many women back then. It’s so refreshing now to have so many women CFOs, women CEOs, women owners that we’re doing business with. Not only that, you know, as I indicated, I’m a woman who’s the market executive for Iowa. I report to a woman who is the division executive for our five-state division, who reports to a woman who’s the region exec for our entire 11-state region, who reports to a woman who runs all of commercial banking for Wells Fargo. And it’s not because you’re a woman, it’s because they’re good. Judith and I were having this conversation earlier; it’s just so different to be able to go into a room and not feel like you’re the only woman in the room. Sometimes it’s a man who’s standing awkwardly not knowing who to talk to.

What do you think drove that change over the past three decades?
Goldkrand: I think part of it is just a culture shift, not just internally, but in our country, where women have different opportunities. It may be you [Gibson] and I were more unusual in the moment, because we wanted to enter into a career that looked like this, and more women were siphoned into other jobs. But I think one of the things about Wells Fargo, I think they’ve done a really great job; people can start anywhere in the company and spend a career. We have people who started their careers as tellers, who are now very senior in commercial banking or they’re in investment banking. So you can really create a career and have professional development in a bank like Wells Fargo, where we have that national presence, with so many different lines of business, and interesting opportunities. And the bank is very focused on making sure that our team members and our leadership teams reflect the communities in which we work. One of the roles that I have is to create portfolios and help diversify the portfolios that we work with, so that our portfolios start to look like the communities in which we live and work as well.

Sometimes younger generations get a lot of flack for a lack of financial literacy, or what it takes to really be an entrepreneur. Are you seeing that?
Goldkrand: From Wells Fargo’s perspective, we’ve taken a focus on education. I’ll give you three examples. One is what we call Hands on Banking. Hands on Banking is an online program. And we have it for different age groups all the way from elementary school through adults. And there’s also a business owner module. People can go in and you can do it self-paced, or teachers can pull down our information and they can use it in their classrooms or in after-school programs. So I think Hands on Banking is one of the contributions that we’re trying to make institutionally to say we know that people not just need financial literacy but they need financial readiness.

Then, the other side of it on the small-business side is we have something called Connect to More. Connect to More is specifically for women entrepreneurs through our small business team. The small business team has a relationship with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center. Through our relationship, we’re providing mentoring and coaching and some classes, and then we also are working, for example, with WBENC, which is the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and we participate in their financial center of excellence. So we provide webinars and thought leadership for women entrepreneurs of all sizes to come and learn.

Gibson: Even outside of Wells Fargo – I went to the University of Iowa, and they now have an entrepreneurial degree that didn’t exist when I went to college.

Do you have any advice for women who are entering into either a mentor or mentee relationship as far as how to get the most out of it?
Goldkrand: From a women business owner perspective, I highly encourage women to get into peer advisory networks, and there are a lot of them, depending on the size of your business. Having the opportunity to work with other women and learn from their experiences and to learn together has really helped a lot of women scale their businesses much more quickly than they could do it on their own. You’ll hear many women, and many CEOs probably say in general, it’s lonely at the top. And they feel that they don’t have someone to talk to. And sometimes they’re afraid because they don’t want to talk to a competitor because they think it will jeopardize their business.

So these peer advisory groups give them that opportunity to learn. The other piece from a woman’s perspective is to think about how to leverage a certification of being a woman-owned business. So as a woman-owned business, we can apply through WBENC for a woman-owned certification. Then companies like Wells Fargo, or any other large companies where we have goals to diversify our supply chain, when they apply, then they come in and they’re certified so that we know that we can potentially count their spend if we choose to do business with them. I think for women, unfortunately, women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. And so I would encourage women to not just have mentors, but really look for sponsors to help them in their careers.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?
Goldkrand: I think women have to define their success. Getting funded with venture capital funding isn’t the only way to be successful. If you take venture capital funding, you have to be prepared to exit in a certain number of years, because that’s what the investors are expecting, and so women need to think about what is the path to success that they’re looking for. And perhaps a bank loan or an SBA loan is where they want to go and where they want to stay. And they don’t have to take on outside investors, necessarily, in order to succeed. It won’t necessarily affect their valuation once they’re ready to exit. But they need to be mindful of that.

In the headlines
It could take 131 years to close the global gender gap after an “entire generation” of progress was lost to COVID-19, according to the World Economic Forum. In a new report published Wednesday, WEF said that worldwide gender inequality looked set to endure until 2154 despite a modest improvement since the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when the timeline stretched to 135.6 years. Saadia Zahidi, managing director at WEF, said many of the factors that have set women back over recent years — including insufficient care infrastructure, workforce disruption from new technologies, and stagnation across sectors — remain prevalent. “We’re starting to see things get slightly back on track. But what it does mean is that we still have lost an entire generation on the road to gender equality and, essentially, progress has stalled,” Zahidi told CNBC.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark was nominated for a 2023 ESPY Award. She is up against three other athletes in the “Best Breakthrough Athlete” category – Brock Purdy, the former ISU Cyclone who is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Angel Reeese of LSU and Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners. Clark is also nominated for the “Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports,” according to WQAD in the Quad Cities. Voting is open now through July 9. The awards ceremony will be aired live on July 12 on ABC. Clark is a graduate of Dowling Catholic High School and grew up in West Des Moines.

Black consumers are a group that beauty companies have underinvested in or outright ignored for generations. Yet with people of color making up an increasing percentage of the U.S. population, it has become a business imperative for beauty companies to understand the millions of consumers with textured hair, according to the New York Times. Each week, the global conglomerate Unilever brings women into a salon to test new products. It’s hoping to get a bigger piece of the long undervalued but growing Black beauty market. "I’ve been amazed with the work that’s been done so far, but also the work we still have to do," said Peter Schrooyen, who oversees Unilever’s research and development for a dozen beauty brands in North America. "We have a lot of understanding of people with darker skin from India, from Africa, but there’s relatively little information we have on the African American, the Black and brown and Hispanic people from North America."

A bedrock component of pandemic-era relief for households is coming to an end: The debt-limit deal struck by the White House and congressional Republicans requires that the pause on student loan payments be lifted no later than Aug. 30. By then, after more than three years in force, the forbearance on student debt will amount to about $185 billion that otherwise would have been paid, according to calculations by Goldman Sachs. The effects on borrowers’ lives have been profound. More subtle is how the pause affected the broader economy, according to the New York Times.

Worth checking out
Lexi Rizzo fought to unionize her Starbucks. Now she’s out of a job. Her struggle is just beginning. (Washington Post). Nike is coming out with a soccer cleat specifically for women (NPR). Over 90% of women say periods affect working life, with almost half uncomfortable discussing menstruation in the workplace (Irish Times). Is the Army's new tactical bra ready for deployment? (New Yorker).
Fearless hosted a panel discussion about confidence on June 22. Look for coverage of it in next week's e-newsletter, along with video of the event. There will also be an official playlist of Fearless songs.
A parent's dream summer camp for children?
My 7-year-old daughter attended a Little Dribblers camp hosted by Drake Women's Basketball last week.

The same day that I wove neon-colored pipe cleaners into her hair for "Wacky Wednesday" at basketball camp, my husband sent me this humor article by McSweeney's about a parent's dream summer camp for children: "If your child is averse to the outdoors and physical activity, we provide a plethora of indoor games to wear them out. Our guarantee: they come home exhausted and ready to sleep, or we stay and put them to bed ourselves. Each week, we also offer themed spirit days — such as 'Star Wars' Day, Crazy Hair Day, Crazy Socks Day — and supply every camper with the appropriate attire and/or crazy socks, because asking you, the parent, to do it all would be crazy."

I'm that weirdo parent who (typically) enjoys dress-up days. But they're also sometimes part of the invisible labor of women that is rarely discussed or recognized.

If you have a child or children in your household: How do you feel about dress-up days at school, at sports and at other activities? Are they sometimes too much? Or are they a fun labor of love? Send me an email:

Yours in colorful pipe cleaners,
Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer
Be fearless with us
At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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