But I was sick. A lot. And exhausted.
And then my grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said as a matter-of-fact,
I stopped dead in my tracks and let that statement wash over me.
There are no rules.
I’m not sure he ever meant it to that same extent but that didn’t matter. I realized I had made some sort of silent agreement along the lines that when I worked to achieve my dreams, it was going to be hard. Really hard. And miserable. Me against the world. Maybe because I had been taught throughout my youth that getting a higher education was disobeying God...
But I digress.
When I started moving again, I moved towards a new and different life. I still worked, and it was still hard, but I didn’t carry so much weight on my shoulders. And most importantly - I started to think outside of my limited box of self-imposed rules and ideas of what life “should” look like.
I decided after I graduated I was going to live in a big city (keep in mind I had lived my whole life in a small town and had just learned to use a parking meter for the first time). I was going to get my first passport and see the world. I was going to write.
After graduating, I spent a few years in Chicago. And then I decided to leave everything behind to backpack the world on my own. Most people didn’t know what to make of this as it was so rare at the time for anyone to do such a thing. Especially in the Midwestern United States.
Many didn’t believe me. Some encouraged me… most warned me. It was dangerous. What about my career? What about my health insurance, God forbid. Didn’t I want to spend that money on a house? Or settle down and get married?
I was different from my peers and had become wildly insecure about my dreams. I grappled for a long time about being different. But eventually I figured it out. I was deeply afraid about the new adventure I was about to embark on, but I went anyway. I saw the world.
And then I wrote about it. (Check out my book here.)
So when you read the story below, I hope you find it as inspiring as I do. It’s encouraged me to continue to face my fears and go out on a branch. To be unapologetic in my drive to see my dreams continue to unfold before me. To be loud and to be me.
In the 1960’s, Stephanie started a software company in her living room with the equivalent of $100. She employed only women at a time when women had relatively few rights. They were only just starting to flood the universities but once the babies came, they were supposed to be home. Mothers. Full stop. The end.
She pioneered a work paradigm so her employees could work from home with flexible schedules, allowing them to take care of their families as well as have a career. They made meager wages and the company was small. When she tried bringing in business by corresponding with others (they were called “letters” back then. Paper. Mail. Stamps.) she often heard crickets in response. Her husband had mentioned maybe it was “good ol’ fashioned sexism.”
So she changed her name to Steve.
Opportunities began to present themselves. Business came in. Not only did her company grow, it flourished.
Now it’s worth $3,000,000,000. Seventy of her employees are millionaires.
There is actually a lot more to her story but its SO much more interesting when you let her tell it for herself. Her TED talk (below) is inspirational. For many more reasons than what I’ve quickly listed here (think running from Nazi Europe and raising an autistic child and a few really amusing feminist anecdotes).
But I wanted to share her story because it says something about bravery.
Steve… Stephanie… Dame Stephanie Shirley to be exact— she had a vision. It was different. During a time when the glass ceiling was impenetrable, she didn't beat her head against it; she went in through the back door. She didn’t follow the rules—she made her own. During a time when women couldn't even open a bank account without their husbands PERMISSION, she ran a business. And a successful one at that. She didn't let society break her down or own her life. She had a dream, and despite the fact that the current “rules” stated it "couldn't" be done, she went for it anyway.
And what did they do when she put herself out on the wire for everyone to judge? Did they judge her?
Of course they did. They laughed at her.
But she kept moving forward and did it anyway.
Now Stephanie is a billionaire.
Stories like Steve’s -*ahem - Stephanie’s, teach us that when at first we are being brave, we must be brave alone. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Even if you happen to have all the support in the world (which most don’t), at the end of the day, it is still only you standing out there on that ledge.