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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?