This week I spoke with a potential Board member for Living Vicky, of which I’m the Board of Director’s Chairperson. In our discussion, she asked, “What drew you to this mission (free career mentoring for women in the U.S.)?” It was the first time someone asked me that question in the two years I’ve been actively involved with the non-profit… and my answer rushed out of me like carbonated water after a bounce and the cap removed.
“I grew up hearing about the legacy of women in my family.”
I went on to explain how my parents and extended family shared wonderful stories of the impact the women in my family. From their careers and cooking to community service and church. They used their voice, their gifts, their pies, their stubbornness, their hearts, their business savvy, their network, and their faith to make the lives of those around them better.
Of my paternal grandmother, I love the story of how she strong-armed the local dentists to provide free services to children in her class at school who needed help but could not afford it. No, was not an answer she accepted. My maternal grandmother chose to be a youth advisor in the church as she aged to stay connected to the next generation. She also took homemade pies to anyone for any reason, good or bad. Then there were the memories of the 14 Reynolds sisters and their brother who vacationed at Myrtle Beach in a block of beach front houses that inspired my family’s annual beach vacation, or stories of their trips together around the world.
Core to every story was connection and community. Someone was always helping someone. They also didn’t wait for permission to act. Boldness, within a Southern exterior, ran through my female ancestor’s veins.
But these stories were not the singular cause of my call to mentor and advocate for women. They were compounded by the relentless support of my parents to claim and take my space in this world, however I was called to do so. I never felt the sentiment that I was a girl and had restrictions because of it. Rather it was the opposite… that I had female superpowers like my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and others in my family. I was destined to build on their legacy and tap into their essence that ran through my veins.
Compounding this were the tangential women in my life. Spunky female teachers (Ms. Moye, Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Foster Gearing, Mrs. Edwards), Sunday School teachers (Ms. Gentry, Ms. Smith, Ms. Welborn). Bosses (Ms. Stolov, COL Scotka). Volunteers (Ms. Adler, Ms. Berry, Ms. Leecy, Ms. Hashim). So many friends too. All of whom reinforced my legacy. From the standards they set, the conversation they shared, the wisdom they offered, the feedback they gave, the contacts they provided, and the encouragement they showered on me. The connection and community of boldness reinforced throughout my journey by so many women had to be paid back, or rather paid forward.
I lived into my legacy in a variety of ways. Some public and some personal. From the roles I took and the relationships I cultivated to the causes I supported and conversations I had – each time laying a brick for others to step on and upward from. Living into my legacy with intention includes:
- Graduation from Mary Baldwin, a then women’s college
- Presidency of the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a women’s leadership development organization
- Session member at Westminster Presbyterian Church
- Practice lead at Grant Thornton with an all-female leadership team of which 50% were minorities
- Board Member of Child and Family Network Centers
- Host of “Fire & Wonder,” a group of female executives I connected together
- Speaking at the Young Professionals Network at Guidehouse
- Mentor, ally, and advocate for those with different origin stories than mine
The older I get the more grateful I am for what I now see as my origin story and the legacy I strive to live into and build upon. I also know how lucky I am to have a positive origin story as it’s easier for me to walk my path due to a foundation of empowerment.
I also appreciate that I know that it’s a story that I have the power to change at any time. The women in my legacy made it clear that there are many paths, and I am the only person who can set mine. It’s with this knowledge that I strive to help other women reclaim their origin story or redefine their legacy.
I encourage folks to understand your origin…. claim what you want…. discard what doesn’t serve you…. and define the legacy you want to leave on your own terms. What formed your core internal story? What plays in your head from your childhood or past that is no longer true? What is the origin story of the you that is now? What is your legacy? How will you live into it?
After all, it is your own story to tell.