Liz Klinger: “I’d hope that our suffering won’t be in vain”

I’d hope that our suffering won’t be in vain. I think the crisis has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities that have existed for a long time, especially economic and racial inequalities. I hope that such a shake up in our lives will move us towards finally addressing some of these problems that have been lurking in […]

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I’d hope that our suffering won’t be in vain. I think the crisis has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities that have existed for a long time, especially economic and racial inequalities. I hope that such a shake up in our lives will move us towards finally addressing some of these problems that have been lurking in our lives for a very long time.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Klinger.

Liz Klinger is the Co-founder and CEO of Lioness. She is also one of the inventors of the Lioness Vibrator, a smart vibrator that helps users see and improve orgasms through biofeedback, precision sensors, and AI-guidance. During the COVID-19 outbreak, Klinger also co-founded Mask-Match , a volunteer-run project that has matched close to 600,000 (and counting) domestic mask donations from individuals to front line healthcare workers who desperately need them. Mask-Match was ABC New’s Person of the Week and has also been featured in The New York Times, Fox News, and SFGate.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

My childhood is eerily similar to Pixar’s Inside Out. I’m originally from Wisconsin and I really like cheese. I moved to the Bay Area when I was 5 and remembered having a hard time adjusting, though I was around a lot of technology and used computers and my trusty Palm Pilot all the time growing up. I feel really lucky to have supportive parents who encouraged me to pursue difficult endeavors as well as keep my creative/artistic pursuits alive.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was younger, I really enjoyed reading Bonk by Mary Roach. It was one of the books that got me intrigued about what was going on in terms of sex research, our understanding of sex, and all the things we don’t know.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Corny as it may be, I guess it’d be one of Steve Jobs’ quotes: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

It’s a bit dark, but it resonates with me because I lost several friends when I was growing up and wasn’t able to say goodbye. I learned early on that death doesn’t spare the young, and sometimes it feels really unfair and senseless.

Realizing that there would be a day where I would no longer be here or be able to do the things I can do today has shaped a lot of what I’ve decided to do in life, be it starting Lioness as a 25 year old woman, starting Mask Match today, or falling in love and marrying someone I’ve known since high school… which I NEVER would’ve expected if you asked me before I met him. But life is sometimes funny, and sometimes making these jumps can make life so much more worthwhile.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

We started Mask Match after the reality of the mask shortage at hospitals sunk in. My mom is a life-long nurse, and after I found out her mom was forced to work without a mask, I panicked. A couple of friends and I quickly got together to form Mask Match in mid-March, and it’s really taken off from there.

Chloe works in supply chain for PPE and I’m pretty familiar with the complexity of electronic manufacturing which has been pretty helpful here. We kicked off the program with the help of key volunteer leads and donors to be able to act quickly to crowdsource and ship 600,000 masks directly to frontline healthcare workers.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

I can say what I think a hero shouldn’t be. A hero shouldn’t be an identity or an idol. Being heroic is a quality anyone (and I mean anyone) can be at different times. I think it’s important for us to remember that anyone can be a hero because it can inspire more of us to display heroic behavior at times when we need heroism the most.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

This can easily get long and windy so I’ll focus on one quality that I think matters more than most. I think it boils down to giving a shit and doing something about it. It’s easy to be complacent or to cut corners on things. While we can’t put 110% of ourselves into everything all the time (that’d be very exhausting and impossible) we can step out and try and do something when it matters the most.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

What is an ordinary person, anyway? This is why I focused on “giving a shit” as a top characteristic of being heroic. Pretty much everyone gives a shit about something, which is one reason why I believe anyone could be a hero.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

My mom was a big reason why I started Mask Match. She’s a lifelong nurse, and she told me that her floor wasn’t distributing masks even though she was working with an at-risk population and is at-risk herself. With the Bay Area being one of the first places with COVID-19 cases and with pretty much no tests in existence in March, I was worried I’d lose my mom. She was the first and foremost reason why I started this, so I can help her and other people’s friends and family who are on the frontlines as healthcare workers.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

As said, I’m not really one to idolize people. I admire anyone who’s willing to go out of their way to do good things for other people for no other reason than to help and contribute some good into this world.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

I’m afraid of the long-term mental health outcomes we will experience because of the friends and family we’ve lost directly from the pandemic as well as the jobs and income that we’ve lost indirectly because of the pandemic.

I remember graduating during the last recession and thought that was bad, and I also remember the ensuing depression, and the uptick in suicide and drug dependence because people’s lives were quickly altered with few resources to support us during tough times.

If this unemployment rate continues to be on track to be as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s, along with the fear of illness and loss of friends and family, I’m very concerned about how we will be able to cope as people through all this.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I’d hope that our suffering won’t be in vain. I think the crisis has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities that have existed for a long time, especially economic and racial inequalities. I hope that such a shake up in our lives will move us towards finally addressing some of these problems that have been lurking in our lives for a very long time.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

There are a lot of people who want to help and are generous. In a world where we tend to focus on the bad and dumb things people can do, I think we forget the great things we can also do.

I am pretty disappointed that we’re treating COVID-19 like how some of us treat antibiotics — stopping our regime when we don’t see symptoms just because they’re not obviously there. Just because it’s not immediately obvious doesn’t mean it won’t come back (or that it has left).

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Not really — as said, I think the crisis has highlighted, exacerbated, and in some cases, sped up different societal changes that were already happening.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

So many! If I had to choose a few things, I’d hope our healthcare system (and supply chain) gets a huge revamp. I hope we can be more aware of the prejudice we have in our healthcare system towards POC, LGBTQ, the elderly, and anyone who’s vulnerable and may get overlooked or not taken seriously. I hope essential workers in general can be treated more fairly and get the protections and compensation they deserve. I could go on, but these are high on my list.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Doing something that you care about while being able to help others can be extremely fulfilling. It can be anything you care about — whether you care about issues like climate change, sex education, video games, fashion… anything. If you can pursue it with passion you can make a positive impact with anything and anyone.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Make sex education available to everybody throughout our lifetime. That’s essentially my work with Lioness and with making a biofeedback tool available to people with data that has never been available before.

Sex is an area of our lives that has been long overlooked by research and education due to a lack of funding and societal taboos. Focusing even a little bit of our energy there could take us a long way in terms of understanding how sexual function plays a role in our health and wellbeing (and vice versa).

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sara Blakley from Spanx would be interesting to chat with.

How can our readers follow you online?

@ThisIsKlinger on Twitter and IG on Facebook

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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