“Who ate my ice cream?!” I fumed as I stomped into my kitchen.

I was 8-years-old, still wearing my bicycle helmet, and craving my midnight cookies and cream Haagen-Dazs. But today, the sacred carton was practically empty. Violent spoon marks carved out a thin crust of melted ice cream. Not only had the culprit eaten my snack, but they had let it melt before carelessly tossing it back into the freezer. Now, all that was left was a sticky rim of refrozen milk and sugar.

Not appetizing at all.

I looked around, wanting to blame someone for this tragedy. Anyone! That’s when I saw my Nani’s pink saree out of the corner of my eye. I scurried over.

I was in third grade and it was summertime. My grandmother, who I affectionately call “Nani,” was visiting to help my parents look after my younger sister and me.

“Nani, do you know who ate my ice cream?” I questioned, while opening the Haagen-Dazs bin to display the meager remains.

“Beta, the ice cream is spilling onto your parents' new carpet” she cautioned, peering over the book she was reading.

“You’re missing the point, Nani! I’m angry!”

“Beta, why are you so upset about your ice cream? It’s not about who ate your ice cream. You picked a fan favorite. Isn’t it great that your choice was so loved?”

This continued throughout the summer. My grandmother would pause me in the midst of any complaints, and force me to restate my woes, but with an optimistic twist.

“Mom says it’s too late to go to the park with my friends,” I lamented.

She reasoned back, “Think about it another way. You don’t want to get bitten by mosquitos, right beta? What if I taught you how to make aloo parathas instead?”

The next day, I showed off my parathas while my friends itched their inflamed mosquito bites. With this conditioning at an early age, optimism has become second nature. Even thinking back on the last 3 years, I’ve seen this optimism permeate my life as a founder, student, and daughter.

During my sophomore year of college, my grandmother’s optimism helped save my startup. After a pitch competition, four friends and I had decided to create a social-impact company to provide clean water to villages in Kenya. It felt refreshing that I could solve issues at the intersection of technology and social good while solving my computer science problem sets. But, no all-nighter spent studying for a midterm prepared me for the problems of building a company.

We quickly realized that we needed to raise money from investors to sustain our startup. I still remember what one investor sneered as I wrapped up my pitch: “Why would I invest in a risky startup like you with such high capital costs?” After what felt like 1,000 rejections, I channeled my grandmother and revised our fundraising strategy. WellPower, the company I co-founded, was built on optimism. And, that optimism generated $40,000 of equity-free, non-dilutive investment and temporarily saved our company.

Of course, not all events can be viewed with naive optimism all the time. My outlook was most intensely challenged three years ago when my mother fell deathly ill. Between undergoing brain surgery and heart surgery, we weren’t sure if she was going to make it.

This was a terrible backdrop to my junior year. I was doing virtual reality research and trying to turn around my failing startup. I often felt myself slipping into negativity and overwhelmed by my commitments, but my Nani’s message stayed with me.

It wasn’t so easy to respond with optimism, because my mother’s illness seemed so bleak and so out of my control. This situation sucked all the light out of me in a way that previous setbacks never had. As I was struggling to grasp any threads of hope from the doctor’s updates, I realized that my optimism wasn’t something that was externally contrived or validated. As an ice cream-deprived child, social-impact founder, and student, my Nani was in the back of my mind pushing me to restate the negatives as a positive. But, at that moment under the uncertainty of losing my mother, I realized that my optimism is internal and enables me to overcome any obstacle.