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When I was asked to consider influential women in my career and/or life, I sat down and wrote a long list. Reflecting upon my list and what I gained from these fine women was a fun exercise and I am so very glad I did it. It was hard, however, to choose just one to write about and, while I considered writing a bit about each of them, I will instead tell you about the woman I believe is the most significant, the most powerful and the most inspiring. She happens to also be the one I’ve known the longest, so I know quite a bit about her.
Here is her story.
From what I understand, she was a precocious young girl, often teetering on the edge of obnoxious and bossy. Her siblings, her classmates and even her teachers grew increasingly weary of her endless energy and chatter. I, however, saw her behavior from a different perspective. I considered her boundless enthusiasm to be spurred on from inquisitiveness and passion. I realized she always wanted to get things done and be productive and I saw she organized her thoughts, her projects, and her life very well. Early on, I recognized her excitement and her curiosity as contagious and I thought these things, when coupled with organization and structure, had the power to move mountains.
Her parents divorced soon after she was born and she and her older siblings were raised by her mother. The family was a smart bunch, some with genius IQs; truth be told, she was probably “the dumbest” in the lot, although she liked to think of it as being the “least smart.” While I don’t disagree with this assessment, I saw her intellect in a different context. It was true she wasn’t a genius but goodness, she was determined to learn. She struggled in making sense of complex equations and ideas but she understood analogies and metaphors and, once she grasped the concept, could not be stopped. Furthermore, she would explain it to others to ensure they weren’t left out of the conversation. Later, when I thought about how she learned and interacted with people, I began to see the tremendous value in listening, communicating, and truly engaging with others to make them feel valuable and worthy.
As a teenager, she got into quite a bit of trouble. The law, the school system, church leaders, and many business owners were often having to “deal with” this young lady. For a few years, she was, on any given moment, a decision or two away from detention or jail. Honestly, I kept my distance from her during this time as I didn’t want to know her better. However, later, when I reflected back on those years, I couldn’t help but be inspired. While many called it her contempt for rules, I think she simply had a disdain for status quo and ridiculous or discriminatory “tradition.” I saw in her a desire to do what was kind and just, even though she often went about it in the wrong ways. I found myself motivated by her fierce independence and determination during these years.
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When she was a junior in college, she lost her mother. With her siblings half-way around the world in both geography and spirit, she found herself alone and filled with regret. She entered what she would later call the “dismal dour days” in which she wallowed in self-pity for her many life choices. She was remorseful for the things she failed to say or do with those who loved her, and deeply shamed by how far she had strayed from her family’s values and beliefs. As the folklore goes, she woke up one day realizing her mother, who she presumed was in heaven, was able to see her every action. Fearful and embarrassed, she decided, cold turkey, to change her ways. Her tenacity to turn her life around and salvage her self-respect was impressive. Her commitment to seek forgiveness and build upon the foundation that had been buried over the years was encouraging and I found myself respecting her energy and her spunk even more.
She finished college prepared to follow two different career paths, pulling from her mother’s advice of always having a “Plan B.” When potential employers told her she didn’t have what it takes to succeed in her first career choice, she kept her head high and told herself it was a darn good thing she was prepared with a backup. Her refusal to let failure impede her goals, and her ability to pull from what she learned and use it to amplify her “plan b” career path was impressive. Watching her over these years helped me realize that resourcefulness and cleverness are extremely valuable and I was inspired, once again, to commit to learning and to “think harder.”
She became a wife, a mother and a quick rising professional but she appeared to really struggle with balance. Her career took priority for numerous years, even after she lost a child when she was in her mid-30s. It was not until her marriage, and subsequent life, fell apart that she committed to changing her life’s trajectory once again to reconnect with her foundational values and beliefs. I was encouraged by her determination to prove herself professionally and I was also inspired by how she handled her grief. I knew how disgraced she felt because of her failures and heartbreak but then I noted how she developed a strong sense of empathy, compassion and forgiveness that can only come from personal hardship. I found her vulnerability disturbing as well as incredibly motivating and encouraging as I watched her slowly rebuild her life and validate once again her value and existence.
Today, this woman touches all aspects of my life. I find she gives me strength and joy and I know she kindles in me fiery persistence and gumption. Her ability…and willingness..to make lemonade out of lemons has taught me that a positive attitude and willful spirit can overcome most barriers. By forgiving my faults and mishaps and empowering me to celebrate the learning that accompanies these things, she has incited me to get out of my comfort zone more often. In addition, her acceptance of me “as I am” encourages me to lead a more authentic life. And finally, her unyielding commitment to do the right thing, regardless of its popularity or its difficulty, has and continues to motivate me to be a better human.
As I wrote earlier, I’m lucky enough to have been influenced and inspired by this woman for quite some time. She’s been with me through thick and thin, and she serves as a constant source of energy, love and acceptance. I consider it an extreme privilege that I have had the opportunity to learn from her. As I reflect upon her existence, I know, without a doubt, that she is more powerful, more significant, and more motivational than anyone else I know.