“Every single one of us has something special to do in this world. Our greatest challenge is become who we are at our very core and honor it.” — Angella Nazarian
All writers write because, through writing, they are coming up with their own answers to questions. What set me off writing Pioneers of the Possible was a train ride from Washington, DC to NY in the dead of winter at the end of my book tour 2 years ago.
I had just read this research that cited “personal example” as being one of the most important mediums of social transformation. What this means is that other people’s lives are a vehicle for inspiration and change in others. If we look back at our growth, there have been people, family members, or mentors that lead and encouraged us in our growth; and truthfully, I think we need a wider spectrum of women that hold the mirror before us and urge us to find our own personal source of genius and dedicate ourselves to it.
So in that train ride to NY, a light bulb flashed in my head: I wanted to research the lives of pioneering women, women who broke gender, socioeconomic, and social barriers from all over the world and find what common threads they all shared with each other. Given that my training is in psychology, I wanted to dissect their motivations, dreams, struggles, challenges and triumphs and see what was the secret to their success.
The women I showcased in the book led very different lives, they lived worlds apart from each other and were born in different circumstances. They made their mark in varied fields, whether it was art, architecture, spirituality, entrepreneurship, politics, human rights, or the field of sports. Yet, what I found in studying their lives is that there were fundamental or core beliefs and attitudes to that led them to such heights.
All of them felt strongly about what they were doing and wanted to share their vision with others. For Anais Nin, it was the expression of female sexuality that she valued and the freedom for women to express fully who we are without shame; for Somaly Mam, it was the innocence of her youth that was stolen, which she wanted to protect and redeem in the lives of other young women sold into sexual slavery.
For Helen Suzman, it was her arduous passion for social and racial justice that kept her fighting against apartheid in South Africa until it was overturned; for Estée Lauder it was her love of beauty and sharing that helped her found the globally recognized 8 billion dollar cosmetic enterprise that bears her name.
I was riveted to encounter these women through their personal stories and find that the simple secret to success is not in some formula, but it’s something that speaks to the core of who they are.
Sincere passions translate into a vision. And coupled with the right ingredients — unending determination, fearlessness against adversity — and by allowing inspiration and creativity to feed them, these women became world changers.
Here are just a few of the lessons learned:
Allow your heart to lead you into your life’s work.
These women allowed their passions to determine their life’s work, rather than try to fit into a role dictated by their culture. As Golda Meir, Israel’s first Foreign Minister, Labor Minister and Prime Minister once wisely stated, “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”
Don’t be afraid to pursue big dreams, or go it alone.
Each of these women were pioneers — they accomplished things that no one had done before them, and they certainly didn’t quit regardless of the voices that may have challenged them. Often times, their true supporters met up them later, after they had begun their life’s work. Martha Graham, named “Dancer of the Century” by Time Magazine, started dancing as a young adult, which was considered late in life for anyone serious about the profession. She was told that she didn’t have the right body for the art. She not only ignored the criticism, but went on to create her own school of dance, and became the first dancer ever to perform at the White House. Today she is considered one of the most famous dancers of all time. As Martha used to say, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
Don’t accept failure as final.
Pioneering women succeeded not because they were perfect and made no mistakes; on the contrary, they like us, made mistakes along the way but kept moving forward and refining their strategies. Take for example, Wangari Maathai. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement that is responsible for planting over 13 million trees in Africa. She also became the first woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize. For many decades she led a uphill battle to institute change in her country of Kenya. Her biggest advise has been: “Faced with enormous obstacles in our path, we should develop the resilience to keep trying for new solutions.”
Find your “fearless tribe.”
These women, once committed to their path, attracted other passionate people who rallied behind them in support of their cause. Look beyond the confines of your inner circle, and you will learn that there are many others whose heartbeats match your own. When you find them — cherish them, support them. For these are the ones who will stand the test of time, amidst the glory and troubled times; they will weather the storms of life with you and will be the faces you look for when you find victory.
For me, reading about the lives of these great women and harbingers of change left me wanting more for myself, for my friends, and for all of us women out there who are searching for a more meaningful life.
I hope that in our journey we help and support each other in choosing a life story that supports us—that shows proof of our resiliency and creativity.
I hope that we honor ourselves in a way that allows us to be generous with the roles we give ourselves and be patient with how many chances we get to learn what we need to know.
When we realize that we are the authors of our own lives, we can become “pioneers of the possible.”