Susie Lee ’94

Susie Lee

Our first Q&A is with Susie Lee DC ’94, who describes her relationship with the unknown and shares her philosophy on fear and sacrifice. Susie is a visual artist and founder of Siren, a dating app grounded in the concept of spontaneous and natural connections.

If you are interested in meeting with Susie to hear more, please contact us and we will arrange an alumni gathering at Siren’s offices.

Purpose

What might your mission statement be, if you had one?

With mischievous and intrepid curiosity, dive into “I Don’t Know” spaces

Describe your latest big endeavor, and what compelled you to start it.

At the nexus of art, creative entrepreneurship and technology, Siren creates a safer and more humane online discovery space. I believe an artist’s voice is vital in the creation of the technology we all use. Artists recognize underlying patterns, create unique associations and see potential overlooked. So when I saw the pathetic state of online dating where most people were frustrated and uncomfortable, I knew I could do it better.

We are at an inflection point in online social discovery. If you are single and looking for a relationship, but you also like Amazon Prime, Eat24, Netflix, and work long hours with a longer commute, then chance encounters become rarer. The question of online dating isn’t “If” people are using it, but who will create the better “how.” Given that most sites are creepy (who would want their daughters or nieces on current dating sites??) with little reputation capital, I knew there was an amazing opportunity to break through the noise.

Siren sets the tone for respect, safety, conversation, and intimacy. The space slows down the process of introductions with daily ice-breakers to start conversations and view personalities in context, and it allows women to choose who sees their photos to safely send clearer signals of interest.

In the past year, Siren has proven that an artist can listen, create, and deliver a meaningful platform that I hope will prove to be a successful business model.

How do you check in with yourself on whether you are on the right track?

The simple answer is that I make decisions that are best for the now. When the present seems solidly right, it sets a course for the future better than any plan I can make.

How do you plan ahead?

Since my life drives towards increasing resistance to categorization, (from medical school, to teaching teenagers, to art-making to start-up life) I see narrative arcs with trajectories, but almost never imagine the arcs will be completed. So I always envision a new arc in a different space at a different time. I try to anticipate in the near future, but know that most of what I anticipate is unlikely to happen. So better than rigid planning ahead is remaining alert, responsive and flexible.

How have your values changed over time?

I’ve gone from pursuing certainty and recognizing accomplishment by external validation to resisting categorization and setting internal markers for success.

Sufficiency

If you have any thoughts on the concepts of “soul” or “spirituality”, please describe them.

There is a lot of buzz around the ideas of meditation, authenticity, play, engagement, journeys, mindfulness, bucket lists, and meaning with a lot of packaged advice from talking heads. But any decent artisan knows that imitations look almost like the real thing, yet upon closer look, they’re crap and totally non-functional.

Still, we know when a person has soul. It’s less a pursuit and more of an active state of grace that comes from a continual harnessing and depletion of energy. Simple, quiet habits by oneself erases self-consciousness, cultivates discernment, and gather the energy necessary for intense creative expression. Flaubert does say: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Somewhere in there is vitality and soul.

Do you experience fear or hesitancy when starting a new endeavor?

Probably not enough for the people who worry about me. But since I keep putting myself in “I don’t know how to do this” circumstances, over time that sensation is becoming a more familiar scary. So now I recognize and lean towards that fear, which often feels like walking into a pitch black room to find a door on the other side and thinking there is a giant pole that you’re going to smack into. Your senses are ultra-heightened; your arms are outstretched; your fingers are searching for that imagined pole, and you keep shuffling your feet forward. You’ve got to keep moving because you don’t want to stay in the dark for too long.

When is it enough, and how do you unplug?

When I’m tired, I sleep. I don’t multi-task. When precision and clarity are demanded, but the thinking is sluggish, I stop and shift completely to less critically demanding work. Strong performances never came from sloppy practice, and the same awareness applies to work. I am fortunate that a good portion of my days is flexible, so I can stop and restart.

I also don’t waste energy worrying about the twenty things on a to-do-list. I know I’ll get three of them done well in a day; I’ll get two more started but will need to refine; and the bottom ten frankly will sort themselves out because some circumstance will change, and suddenly those bottom ten aren’t relevant or important anymore.

I have a Shiba Inu who loves lying down on a hot surface in the sun. His relaxed sigh and blissed out eyes half-closed are great reminders of sensory pleasures. I love lying down on the couch with a cup of tea, a chunk of dark chocolate and a magazine with the delicious anticipation that I’ll be asleep within half an hour.

What have you sacrificed?

This suggests a belief in some kind of “having it all,” which sounds awfully stressful. I am so grateful that I have choices and the agency to act. Those choices have made life feel expansive, not restrictive or sacrificed.

True, there are times when you wish you could live multiple lives, but humans have found a brilliant solution to be able to glimpse the infinite life ­­ through incredible stories told in myths, literature, art, and the history of friends and family. If you work towards profound empathy, you can experience the richness of so many different lives.

Community

Describe the dynamic between what others want you to do, and what you want to do.

When there’s a discrepancy, persevere. The ones who care about you will eventually catch up. Others can’t hear your ongoing internal dialogue, and when you make a significant shift in your life, it takes time to overcome the inertia of people’s expectations. But when you show real signs of coming to life, worry becomes support, and people take comfort when you say: This is really what I want to be doing right now, and I’m thriving, even if things look crazy.

And the ones who don’t care about me—why would I care about what they want me to do?

Perhaps the only thing all Yalies have in common is our experience of access to a privileged education. What in your present life is still influenced by this experience?

A Yale education, like other privileges in regards to race, class, and gender, means quality is assumed and associated with you without having to prove it. You can downplay an Ivy League education or play it up when convenient, because with privilege, you get to taste “non-privilege” and jump back out at will.

Privilege lowers hurdles, so one can choose to make life easier, and more separate from those who lack those privileges, or one can use it to gain access into system to change them. I choose the latter.

How does your support network help you?

Support from my friends, my colleagues, my family, and my Siren team is the absolute only reason I can do what I do. They shape, inform, protect and rally. I am nothing without them.

If you were to mentor your younger self or someone else with similar values, what would you most want them to know?

School teaches and rewards knowing answers. Things are far more entertaining and interesting when you don’t know. If you think the end point is knowing, you reach a plateau instead of a springboard.

How do you continue to learn?

How can you NOT continue to learn?