I had this great idea to write a post on what it means to be a woman for International Women’s Day and when the time came to write it, I stared at my screen and watched my cursor blink and blink… and blink. What does it mean to be a woman? I thought the words would be flowing. I mean, I’ve been a woman for some time. I’ve been surrounded my exemplary women my whole life. Alas, still no words. I closed my eyes, hoping something profound would to come to me but that’s not what happened. Instead, vivid memories came to mind. I was unsure of why I was transported back to these moments but was comforted by the nostalgia, so I allowed them to play their course.
I was seven, playing in the schoolyard at recess. We were all in uniforms. I was wearing my navy blue dress and my red cardigan, as I did every day. But despite being dressed like every other girl, I was headstrong on repping my personal style. I was wearing my favorite necklace and my hair was held in place by my matching red hairband. I had white frilly socks and cute buckled shoes. I also flaunted bandaids on each knee, proudly showcasing my jungle gym battle scars, and rocked fake ninja turtle tattoos on each ankle. I was feminine and a tom boy, and didn’t feel the need to fully associate with either. I was confident in who I was.
I was nine, I lived in Ontario, what seemed like miles down a dirt road, across from a nature reserve. I was embarrassed that I was the only one in my grade who couldn’t ride a two-wheel bike. The night before, I dreamt that I was riding my bike alongside one of the horses that would often be on our lawn and told myself that was going to be the day I said goodbye to my training wheels for good. And it was, because I was determined.
I was eleven, standing before an auditorium full of strangers about to attempt public speaking for the first time. I gave a talk on how the world would be a better place if everyone was color blind. It was the best way I could explain to adults that they should not see people by color or race, they should see people for who they are; unique and beautiful. There I was, with only eleven years on the planet, tackling the topic of racism and equality. I was fearless.
I was thirteen, barely through my first year of high school. I connected to my dial-up internet on my colorful Mac computer and searched Yahoo for the admissions office information for Yale University. I wrote them a letter of intent letting them know that when I graduated, I’d be coming for them. As it turns out, I never applied to Yale, but it was never an impossibility because I believed in myself.
I was sixteen, standing on a glass plank, no bigger than three feet wide, atop a canyon in the Swiss Alps. A bungee cord was harnessed to my waist. I saw nothing but the blue sky above me, I felt on top of the world… until I looked down and saw the sharp rocks beneath me. My palms started to sweat and my heart began to race when it occurred to me; the only way down was to jump. I took the leap and as I was falling in mid air, I fully absorbed that moment and have used it as a reminder every time I’m scared that I am brave.
I was nineteen, wrapping up my shift at the bar at 4 AM. A friend and I were going to grab an early breakfast at a nearby twenty-four hour restaurant. He was initially supposed to ride with me but as it came time to leave, I got the feeling I should go alone. Not really understanding why, I told him I him I’d meet him there. I never made it. A drunk driver ran a red light and we collided at 120 km/hr. His car hit mine on the front passenger side. At the speed we crashed, and later discovering that the passenger airbag was disconnected, had my friend been in my car, he likely would not be here today. I am forever grateful I listened to my intuition.
I was twenty-two, and woke up to a phone call that shook my world: my uncle committed suicide. He was only eighteen years older than me and was more like an older brother. I could not fathom what had happened. In the months that followed, I wanted to crumble as I saw those closest to me cope in sometimes devastating ways. I tried, to the best of my ability, both for them and for myself, to stay strong.
I was twenty-seven, my life as I knew it was turned upside down. I had no job, was out of a long-term relationship and in my own place for the very first time with little furniture and cash to my name. After a hot minute of panicking, I remembered who I was, what I’m capable of and bounced back stronger than ever, because I’m resilient.
I was twenty-eight, looking back on how much my life changed over the course of one year. Grateful for everything I had and the new course of my direction, I wanted to give back. I partnered with a great team to bring awareness to Montreal’s homeless. Upon walking the cold winter streets with warm jackets, scarves and food, I met a man willing to share his story. Laughter turned to tears and before long, he was crying in my arms. I have never felt so connected to someone I just met and am happy he found momentary peace in my compassion.
Just last year, I jumped on the opportunity to educate and empower a group of entrepreneurial women in Ghana, Africa. I took my passion and skills overseas in hopes of adding value to their lives and businesses. Little did I know how much value I’d bring home. The trip further confirmed my mission: to continually improve and act as an agent for positive change.
Back in the present moment, I opened my eyes and couldn’t help but smile. “What does it mean to be a woman?” I asked myself aloud, and the words wrote themselves. A woman is so many things. Among them, although perhaps not all at once or in the same period of her life, she is confident, determined and fearless. She believes in herself, listens to her intuition and is strong. She is resilient, compassionate toward others and is brave. Last but not least, she is critical to realizing significant and world-altering change.
When I reflect on how I grew to be the woman I am today, I see my tribe; relatives, friends and mentors -- women who are all such profound sources of love and support. My tribe doesn’t need to be by my side, they choose to be, just as I choose to be by theirs. They understand my inability to settle for the status quo because they, too, hunger for more. They don’t just tolerate my quest for success, the propel me forward and inspire me to be better every single day. They are there to celebrate my wins, and help me overcome my losses. They recognize both my strengths and my shortcomings and keep me balanced. With them by my side, I am reminded that there is nothing I can’t achieve.
When I was approached to participate in a photoshoot to celebrate some of the city’s most influential women, I couldn’t say no. Let me tell you, when 25 women come together to support and empower each other, magic happens! Beneath the glamour of the gowns, hair and makeup were stories of struggle, persistence and unwavering purpose. Regardless of their stories, in them I saw myself. Though our group photo has been immortalized into an incredible piece of art, the true beauty of this initiative was the energy that filled the room. In unison, we stepped fully into our power, both for ourselves and for each other.
Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their story, to all the women who have played such fundamental roles in my life and to the men who have equally supported my journey and taught me to go after what I want, claim what is rightfully mine, and not take no for answer.
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