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My mom showed me there were no obstacles I couldn't overcome. She was the first to instill that in me. That has continued to resonate with me as I've met people all over the world.
I have just returned from Ethiopia, where I met a woman who had walked from Somalia, with her seven children, to escape the conflict and flee from her husband. As we spoke, she told me how important it is to her that her children get an education -- all of them. Here is a woman who is dealing with such adversity but is willing to make enormous sacrifices for her children to have possibility and hope.
It is embedded in the fabric of so many mothers to instill this idea that anything is possible for their children, by being willing to do everything they can to get those kids on the right path.
My mom always said life is what you make it. You can make it good or bad, but the choice is yours. It gave me a sense of ownership over the path I took. Life didn't just have to "happen to me" -- I could decide. It empowered me.
When I was in middle school, we were evicted from our apartment in South Carolina. It was a moment that could have been very frightening and daunting. It was certainly embarrassing. But through my mother's determination, we moved from that apartment to a better one, and for less money.
I learned from watching my mother during this experience that when you get knocked down, you don't have to stay down. Even moments that are seemingly terrible don't have to be defining moments. The true defining moments are what you do after that. My mother's will and perspective provided us with a better opportunity, despite something that could have taken our dignity. That's what makes moms inspirational. It's what they do.
My Other Mother
My best friend growing up had a mother who was very different from my mother, and I learned so many different things by spending time with their family. My mother is a single mom and she was strict. She had me when she was 19 and wanted opportunities for me that were better than she had for herself. She sacrificed endlessly for me.
In my friend's family, there was a lot more freedom. By spending time with them I learned that every part of you is valuable and worthy -- every part of you should be celebrated, even your flaws. My "other mother" approached life as a creative dance. She embraced me and my less than perfect parts.
My own mother prepared me for life. My other mom prepared me to be able let my guard down. I feel so grateful to have seen both -- all of the inspiration and motivation is fantastic, and so is feeling real and being yourself.
From my other mother, I learned to be myself. From my mom, I learned to be my best. Through these two powerful women, I learned to be my best self.
Learning and Giving
My mother instilled in me the importance of education. She always said, "Education is the one thing no one can ever take from you." The fact that I'm an advocate for girls' education through Girl Up comes from the fact that my mom placed extreme importance on learning.
I was "given to" a lot as a child. My mother would open doors, and if we couldn't afford to go through them, people would help us. There were scholarships, work/study opportunities and I learned to volunteer at a very young age. Giving fills a hole in my heart. The only thing I need to be happy is to make someone else's life better. Gratitude has a ripple effect, it gets passed on and on and on. Any time I've let a gift stop with me it dies with me. But if I continue to pass it on, it grows and it always comes back to me when I need it most, when I'm empty. Being of service and having generosity of spirit always makes it so clear we are just here to lift each other up and take care of each other.
I've watched my mother's quiet compassion. She works with seriously disabled people in one of the most selfless jobs a person can have. Every day she works to give people dignity. She sees all people as people. I have witnessed from her that every person on this planet has value. All people deserve to be treated with respect, kindness and love.
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