Over the years I have had people at different points in my life, in different places and from different walks of life say to me ‘I find you inspirational’ or ‘thank you for all that you are, you have made a difference in my life’. And for a long time I was just confused by these sentiments.
After all, what was there about me to inspire others?
- As an adolescent I saw myself as an intellectual, gawky, shy female who in no way fit into any group. I changed secondary school because the ‘cliques’ of the first made me miserable. I changed the subjects I was studying every year. My ‘friends’ changed almost month-to-month. I spent breaks at school sitting by myself in the library because at least books were always there. I pursued a variety of interests including Girl Guides, drama, jazz ballet, keyboard, guitar, choir, Christian youth groups … I was a leader and rarely a follower.
- As a woman in my 20s I saw myself as stubborn, questioning, eccentric, single. I was regularly told that I was single because I ‘showed my intelligence too much’. I completed one degree and started another in a different topic in a different city. I grieved deeply when my father died, thrown into turmoil. I held part-time jobs and temporary jobs. I volunteered. I moved from Career 1 to Career 2. I met a group of people who for the first time seemed to accept me for who I was. I married one of them and we moved to the UK as I grieved the death of my brother.
- As a woman in my mid 30s I saw myself as a divorced, hurt, lonely individual trying to build a career that remunerated me for my years of experience and my breadth & depth of knowledge, skills. On one hand I had given up on being accepted for who I am and on the other I was determined to be as true to myself as was possible. I took a role in a global corporate conglomerate and tried to fit in without losing my star shape. I failed and moved employer. I had a year long on-again-off-again relationship with a man I refer to as ‘my learning curve’.
And yet there was so much more to me. It was as I was entering my 40s that I truly began to embrace all that I am as a Phenomenal Woman who continues evolving now. I owned that throughout my adulthood I have:
- learnt to face adversity with positivity and a determination to live this life to the fullest regardless of other people’s expectations or society’s conventional boundaries
- sought counselling and coaching at points in my life when I knew I had hard decisions to make or difficult periods in my life to progress through. And I delved deep within my Self to take 100% responsibility for who I was and where I was at to choose to transform and move forward
- self-funded my studies – moving on from academic qualifications to pursuing professional ones. Branching out to Neurolinguistic Programming, Transformational Coaching and mBraining
- built and nurtured amazing friendships with people globally. Learning how to connect meaningfully through quality rather than quantity. Allowing myself to hold lightly to those who matter to me so that we may all fly to seek sustenance where we need to. Trusting that depth of relationship keeps us connected
- filled my social life with quirkiness, fun, travel, gastronomy, culture, history and nature. Allowed myself to pursue new interests and drop those which had fulfilled my curiosity for now without guilt or any feeling of having ‘failed’
- took control of my physical well-being, determinedly healing from two open-heart surgeries to pursue outdoor adventures and share amazing experiences with friends and family.
When I knew it was time for a change – no matter how significant – I went for it. I moved countries, cities, jobs, careers to ensure that the dreams I have and my driving need for variety are being fulfilled.
And I discovered that as I owned the totality of who I am as a human becoming I loved my SELF and all that I have experienced, accomplished and progressed through. Fully experiencing a variety of hard lessons over a decade I learnt to embrace my SELF fully as a woman. I stood firmly in my strength, leadership, intellect, creativity, compassion, empathy, joyfulness, endurance, courageousness and I ROARED.
Now, as a Phenomenal Woman I am partnered with an equally Phenomenal Man, I am CEO of my own business, I am a global citizen, I am a home and tent owner, I have fabulously amazing friends and an awe-inspiring family. I live my values in everything that I do.
I am excited to be collaborating with Shamela Kylassum of Pansophia Associates in offering opportunities to other women to fully own their PHENOMENAL becoming! Together we women will further transform ourselves and we will go on to deeply transform our worlds. We look forward to connecting with you through our community!
In celebration of International Woman’s Day 2017 I have been reviewing the plethora of phenomenal women in my life. Having already introduced you to those from my own family and 3 of my long-term closest friends today my focus has been on five women who played pivotal roles in the direction my life took … each 5 years since I was 20 years old!
I am 21-25 years of age. Meet Josephine Gray, mother of Beth-Anne who I introduced you to in ‘Women who influence you for the better’. Jo welcomed me into her home and her heart from day one. Over the years that Beth-Anne and I studied at law school together I spent many happy hours with her family, eating, talking, praying, laughing, crying and healing. And upon my graduation she welcomed me into her home as a boarder. I call her ‘Ma’.
Jo is a woman of deep abiding and evangelical faith. She has been through many challenges as a woman – moving from the UK to Australia to Panama to New Zealand. She married a wonderful Christian man with a very different personality to her and joined him in their missionary calling abroad. She birthed 3 children and went through many difficult times whilst raising them in foreign countries. She re-trained to practice nursing so that she could support her family financially. She has faced serious health scares and been challenged deeply in her faith. And yet, at all times Jo kept an open and warm home for those in need. She has an effervescent personality and is always willing to share her insights whilst listening to others. I have known her for over quarter of a century and in that time I have witnessed her on-going growth and development as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend and as a believer. Jo is a Phenomenal Woman!
As I turned 25 years of age I had learnt from her what it means to live the faith you profess and how to have a welcome hospitable home full of intelligent debate coupled with warm hugs. Also I had begun to learn the value of being vulnerable in order to be strong.
I am 26 – 30 years of age. Meet Shae Ronald, senior solicitor at Youthlaw Tino Rangatiratanga Taitamariki where over the years I am in turn a volunteer researcher, solicitor and member of the management board. During this period Shae taught me how to be a solicitor who paid attention to details to make a difference, she talked me through my approach with clients and on pursuing their cases, she provided mentorship in the steps of my career.
Shae is a woman who cares deeply about making a difference for the vulnerable and disenfranchised people of society. She is passionate about injustice and holds herself as well as others to high standards which at times created challenging situations for her. Socially she pursues a range of interests and develops friendships wherever she goes. As we work together she welcomes me into her social sphere, introducing me to her partners and friends, inviting me to gigs and days out. Making me feel valued as a professional, as a woman and as a friend. I have known Shae for two decades and in that time she has courageously pursued her own personal growth, thrown herself passionately into relationships and taken time out to learn more when they have ended. She has developed deep abiding compassionate creative friendships. And she has stayed true to her self. Shae is a Phenomenal Woman!
As I turned 30 years of age, having moved to the UK, I had learnt from her how to be a professional leader and a caring friend, how to enjoy life’s diversity and to learn lessons from difficult times before moving on. Another lesson in vulnerability being strength.
I am 31-35 years of age. Meet Deeti Vyas, newly moved to the UK from Canada and house-sharing with a mutual friend. She is a professional in financial services, incredibly stylish and loves outdoor adventures. During this period we both moved cities and then returned to London, changed jobs a number of times, and went through some of the most challenging personal moments of our lives. We developed a deep abiding trusting friendship.
Deeti is a woman who leads from her heart. When something feels right she pursues it wholeheartedly without necessarily considering the logic. She is generous in her hospitality and real in her conversations. She has no time for shallow inanities. Deeti is a woman who takes risks, re-defining how she interacts with the world and income-generation to do so on her own terms. She has deep value-based foundations in her family and friends. She challenges herself mentally, physically and soulfully – pursuing wide-ranging interests to keep herself stimulated on all levels. Deeti has overcome societal, cultural and personal expectations to create a relationship and lifestyle that is truly a reflection of her as a global citizen. Deeti is a Phenomenal Woman.
As I turned 35 years of age I had learnt from her how to access and embrace my emotions, giving me a whole-istic approach to life. I had learnt to experience whatever my feelings were at any given time and to align them with my ever-analytical thoughts to create a more well-rounded and balanced life. I had experienced vulnerability as strength.
I am 36-40 years of age. Meet Alexis Michael, newly appointed management consultant at Accenture. We meet at our first week-long training in the company school near Chicago. That is where Alexis lives. She, too, is an experienced hire. We connect immediately. Her background is in psychology and we both have high hopes for the opportunities we have to develop our careers at Accenture.
Alexis is a strong woman who has worked hard to meet expectations whilst struggling to remain true to herself. She has faced challenges in her career, social world and personal life throughout adulthood. Through hard lessons she has redefined dross from her life to define what matters to her and the elements she needs in her life to be happy. Over the decade I have known her she has reclaimed her career in psychology, created a strong social community and learnt to ensure her own physical and mental well-being. She has healed important relationships and moved on from toxic ones. She has defined her own standards for lifestyle and relationships as an independent woman. Alexis is a Phenomenal Woman.
As I turned 40 years of age I had learnt from her the value of embracing vulnerability to be strong and that independence is only as strong as the connections we have with others.
I am 41-45 years of age. Meet Tessa Folkes, adventurous creative genius extraordinaire who I meet one evening over a glass of wine through a Facebook social group, Single in London. She is a director for a qualifications and professional certifying body who decides to expand her horizons by starting a Masters degree. Together we develop a social life that takes us all over London, from one end of the UK to the other and to different points on the globe.
Tessa is a woman who pursues her curiosity wherever it may lead her. She has had many jobs across a variety of careers, always moving into roles of leadership and strategic direction. Her interests span outdoor adventures, creative endeavours, cultural musings and anything that draws forth her inner child. She has travelled the world independently and has friends in many countries. She inspires others to embrace the silly, the unusual and the ‘outside the comfort zone’. Although Tessa keeps her self internalised she has a deep loyalty to her friends, making time to include them in her world and providing empathy when needed. She embodies living life to her fullest, opening herself to new opportunities and challenges regularly. Tessa is a Phenomenal Woman.
As I turned 45 years of age I had learnt from her to step outside of my comfort zone to explore unusual and wonderful adventures, to reclaim my love of the outdoors and to embrace life even more fully than I ever have before.
And, on this day, I am curious – who are the women who have been pivotal in your life?
What are the attributes of a Phenomenal Woman? Here are some examples for you to drawn your own conclusions.
In 1991 three very different women burst into my life in New Zealand and have been influencing me for the better ever since.
The first happened on my very first day at university. I was shyly sitting outside law school reading the bright red book we’d been sent for preparation when she sat down and started talking to me. We were inseparable for the next 4 years. Beth-Anne & I supported one another through our law degrees, we socialised and shared in one another’s hopes, dreams and challenges. We moved to different parts of the world – Beth-Anne to Panama, me to the UK. And yet we Skype regularly, we connect through social media and we see one another in person about every 12-18 months.
The second I chased down the corridor following a lecture in South African history because I’d recognised her as one of my sister’s friends from secondary school. She helped me move out of the place I was lodging into the halls of residence she was in – we never looked back. Throughout our many trips back and forth to Auckland Tamie & I encouraged one another through our different qualifications and kept one another real. When we had both moved to the UK we became one another’s ‘whanau’. Now that she has moved back to Australia with her husband and daughter we continue supporting one another virtually through our social media connections whilst we both grow our own businesses.
The third I had actually met the previous year at one of my sister’s parties. They were in school together too. She popped by to visit at uni one weekend. We got to talking and that was it – the world changed. Annegrid and I are rubbish at staying in touch virtually. However, we have a depth of friendship that means when we see one another we just pick up where we left off. When I return to visit NZ we always book quality time together and often I stay with her. We have adventures in different parts of the country, we explore the mind and soul of our selves and the world. We laugh – a lot. Usually at her husband or with her daughter.
Beth-Anne, Tamie & Annegrid have each played pivotal roles in my life. When I have needed someone to listen, challenge or bring an alternative perspective I have been able to connect with one or all of them. Because they are different women who have followed their own life paths, each brings something unique to my progression through chaos into decision making. Despite their separateness, on those occasions when my world has fallen apart they have formed a triangle net to catch me so that I avoid total rock bottom. Each time I achieve a key goal, make a significant change in my life or leap out into the unknown they have celebrated with me.
Although we all live in different countries now I have had the privilege to stand in awe as I have participated in and witnessed pivotal moments in each of their lives … relationships, career shifts, country moves, travel adventures, marriage, grief, health, birth. All have grown, developed and created change in their lives as well as others. Each is the delighted, surprised and sometimes lovingly frustrated mother of an incredible daughter.
None of them are world famous, yet. All of them are strong, independent, intelligent, compassionate women. All of them lead extraordinary day-to-day lives – caring for themselves & their loved ones, working, learning, socialising and adventuring. These are examples of Phenomenal Woman. Why do I know that? Because they are wholly themselves, they seek to constantly be learning and evolving, and through their friendship they influence others for the better. I am blessed to be one of those who is better because each of them is in my life.
And I am curious, who are the women in your life who influence you for the better?
For many years when asked to name a ‘famous person’ whom I wanted to emulate I really struggled. There were lots of people who I agreed had fantastic characteristics and were achieving amazing feats of wonder. However, I had no desire to be them or even to be ‘like’ them.
When pressured I would choose Nicole Kidman … because I think she is an amazing talent who has lived life on her terms and she is Antipodean, tall with sometimes red hair.
It was in my early 30s when I realised there were two reasons for this struggle:
The first was that I have always adamantly wanted to be ME … in all my complex, paradoxical, geeky, growing, celebratory, quirky, compassionate, intellectual, curious and goofy ways. Even as an adolescent I refused to succumb completely to peer pressure and made my own choices. I knew that for many conventional people and groups I was an uncomfortable fit. And this hurt, at times a lot. However, I considered the feedback I received, learnt from some of it, discarded most of it and moved on.
The second was that I came to the UK and met as an adult my maternal Grandmother and Great Aunt. And I realised that I have never needed to look at ‘famous people’ to find women of immense strength, courage, achievement, complexity and humour to emulate. On both sides of my family I have generations of stunningly fabulous women who I have learnt from, been inspired by and have sat in awe with as they have shared their stories. Let me introduce you.
- Generation 1 – Nanny Cooper – gardener, knitter, baker, mother of 3. Thrived through both WWI & WWII, supported the raising of her 4 grandchildren by providing a home whilst their mother worked 3 jobs to provide for them.
- Generation 2 – Grandma Coulthard – hair dresser, cook, nursing home matron, single mother of 4. Ensured her children born throughout WWII were clothed, fed, housed, educated, churched and loved. Generously encouraged them as they all flew the nest to different parts of the world to establish lives in exotic locales.
- Generation 2 – Aunty Cooper – signaler in the ATS through WWII, secretary and bookkeeper, European traveler and explorer, single woman who provided compassion, care and fun for her 3 nephews and 1 niece.
- Generation 2 – Grandy Coombes – one of 7 siblings, nurse from WWII and with mental health patients until the late 1970s, antique shop owner, cattery owner, fast driver & dancer, mother of 1. Moved to NZ when she was in her late 60s to be near her son and grandchildren. Provided safe haven, quirky guidance and a glass of sweet sherry regardless of whether it was wanted.
- Generation 3 – Mother Coombes – youngest of 4, trained at teacher’s college, within 2 weeks of meeting Father Coombes was engaged, moved to NZ in 1969 and had 3 children. Did part-time work throughout children’s early years from fruit picking to teaching life-saving. Led and trained girls and women through the Girl Guide movement. Worked as a school librarian, went back into teaching, retrained to educate children with disabilities. Widowed in her mid-40s, lost her son when he was 26. Provided her second daughter with support and encouragement with all the challenges faced through raising 4 children. Traveled the world, made quilts, collected teddy bears. Overcame leukemia to be in remission and continues to live life to the fullest.
- Generation 4 – Sister Blow – middle of 3 siblings, trained as a nurse, single mother for 3 years, met husband and moved to Australia & UK with him before returning to NZ. Had further 3 children. Re-trained as a plunket nurse (caring for children and their families from birth through to starting school). Co-founder of a charity that supports the education of children with Downs Syndrome as inspired by her middle daughter. Coped through leukemia experienced by daughter with Downs and anorexia of eldest daughter. Dealt with her own health related to having Marfan’s Syndrome as well as that of her eldest (son) and youngest daughter. Began career as a community officer working with families to keep children in school. Traveled, camped, partied. Continues to live life to the fullest as her children move into and towards adulthood.
- Generation 5 – as my 3 nieces move through adolescence towards adulthood I am awed at the women they already are. And the options that are open to them as they make choices each day. They, too, are strong, independent, creative and compassionate. Each is glowingly unique. Each has her growing pains. Each has her celebrations.
From these women I learnt grace under fire, independence, strength, compassion, endurance and appreciation of the joys of life. I learnt about being true to self and being generous towards others. I learnt tolerance, acceptance and open-minded curiosity. I learnt that whatever job you are currently doing you can learn from it and make the most of it. I learnt to appreciate the now, plan for tomorrow and dream for your future. I learnt that success is about the quality of the connections we have and what we do to make the world a better place for others.
I’m curious, how have the women in your family shaped you?