My mother is a pretty rare bird. At the same time, she’s the most gutsy and the most positive person I’ve ever met. That makes for a pretty unstoppable combination…
Looking at my mom’s life, the best advice she ever heard was the advice she chose not to take. As a kid growing up on a farm in poor, rural Pennsylvania in the early 1940s, the expectation was that she’d be a farmhand, not a student. With a strict, unsympathetic stepfather–who saw her largely as manual labor–school became a haven and a vacation of sorts from life at home. Still, she craved learning and excelled in school, especially in math and science. She wondered often, “What’s on the other side of the farm?” and “Will I ever see another part of the world?”
Around 17, a university recruiter came to my mom’s school and tested students interested in nursing. She performed so well that they offered her a full university scholarship on the spot. The first of her 7 siblings to go to college, my mom set off for the big city (Philadelphia) and life was never again the same. Training at the largest hospital in the area, she met doctors and nurses from around the world and sought out every new experience possible. During her summers off, she traveled on safari to India with her new friends and sailed all over Europe on a dime. All of her hopes and dreams were coming true.
Talk about guts… My mom was so open to new adventures that when some friends asked if she wanted to be a partner in yet another new venture on their summer off, she said yes. Her international crew wanted to open the first Indian restaurant in Philadelphia. With lots of optimism and a little bit of seed money ($300), somehow they did it. At the same time, my father, a homesick, relatively new immigrant from Pakistan heard about the Taj Mahal, a new restaurant in Philadelphia with food from home. He met my mom his first night there, fell in love, and the rest is history. Just as my mom’s opportunity to go to college represented a strange unknown to her family, her marrying a foreigner was even stranger to them. She chose to persist anyway, following her own instincts.
Through my mother’s ability to take risks and be daring, she may never realize how much her actions impacted those around her for the better. Sometimes when you see someone with unprecedented courage do new things, it helps nudge you a baby step further in your own life. My mom has and continues to have that effect on people around her. Part of her legacy, I’m convinced, is to catalyze the thought in people she meets: “If she can do it, just maybe I can do it too.”
– Selena Rezvani
Selena Rezvani is an author, speaker, and consultant specializing in women and leadership. She’s the author of “The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School.”
Revisit Selena’s interview on No Country for Young Women
Selena’s website: nextgenwomen.com
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– Interview by Elena Rossini