It would be impossible to write about all the women I’ve met who inspire me. But in honor of International Women’s Day coming up, here are some of the women who come to mind when thinking of those who inspire me. My grandmother and mother aren’t on this list, but their sacrifices are what planted the seed to meet everyone along the way, so in many ways, these lessons are a reflection of them as well.
I met Jana on a plane from Charleston to LaGuardia back in 2012 and we bonded over our fear of flying despite doing it all the time. Despite being strangers we held hands at takeoff and landing. She was a great example of a strong woman who keeps it together until someone else reaches out to support her – a rare occurrence.
She was a 40 something willing the share her wisdom with me on the short flight. I was an eager 19-year-old at the time who was just realizing I didn’t want to work for someone else after college. Her advice was simple: follow the thing that makes you feel alive. She had worked in corporate America for years only to realize she’d be chasing a feeling of satisfaction she’d never achieve working under people who never truly understood her value. The flight felt shorter because of our fluid conversation, our bond was short and sweet and merited a goodbye hug and numbers exchanged. Every year she invites me to her annual clothing swap where she unites her favorite women in her life: you show up with clothes you don’t want, and leave with other peoples’ hand-me-downs. The concept is brilliant on its own, but leaving with a new network of badass women has to be the greatest part.
Katherine, American in Charles de Gaulle
Katherine is a life coach I met in the international departures hall of Charles de Gaulle in 2012. I was on my iPad facetiming (before facetime was on phones lol) and she came over asking me what apps she needed to download to stay hip. She must have been in her 60’s with a full head of white hair, but her spirit and charisma were more youthful than most in their 20s. She was on her way back home to Charleston after spending a week in Paris to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband. After 10 minutes, she gave me hope that age shouldn’t mute the spirit, but rather become a tool to see more with each passing year. It was clear to see why she was a life coach, she listened to me with intent as I told her about my entrepreneurial ideas to build a travel show and business for young people, and she gave me encouraging words to keep moving things forward despite the obstacles. I met up with her and her husband for dinner about a year later after she came back from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – what a badass. And what’s best is that every now and then she sends me an email to catch up.
Dani, German in Costa Rica
When I met Dani, she was a 20something German who oozed life. She was volunteering at a Spanish language school in Costa Rica and was the liaison between the new students and the administration. Her Spanish was as rich as her confidence, and even though she arrived completely alone in a foreign country, she was never alone in a place that she made her second home. Remembering the courage she had to get on a plane and move to a foreign country so far away from her home and culture is always a reminder that if you’re courageous enough, you’ll live a remarkable life. When I think about Costa Rica, I think of a German girl.
One year, after slaving away behind a desk in my unamusing 9-5, I decided to spend as much time in Italy as I could before 1) running out of money and 2) running away from real life back in the USA. I was determined to make it an Italian summer filled with romance, Italian language, and host family bonding. After a few emails to Apple Languages, they put me in a homestay I’d truly feel at home, but it was all because of the new uncle and aunt I adopted as they adopted me into their family. I knocked on the door of strangers and they opened the door with curious eyes wondering who’d they just willingly let into their house. Within the first hour, we broke the ice by drinking Limoncello, eating Gnocchi, and talking so much I started to feel fluent in Italian. My host mom, Francesca, was a tour guide in Pompei and convinced me to skip the first day of Italian class so she could tour me around Mount Vesuvius. Not only did she tell me to skip class, she called the school to let them know I wouldn’t be attending, but she gave me a day with more knowledge than I got that entire month. I asked her why she hosted foreigners into her home – she had two toddlers, it seemed like a handful. She looked at me and said that after having kids she missed the feeling of meeting people from all walks of life after she stopped traveling, so instead, she brought travel to her home. Plus, she liked the idea that her children would grow up in a home with faces that didn’t look like theirs telling them stories they’d never learn in Sorrento.
Abuelita Yolanda, Quito, Ecuador
Abuelita Yolanda became my Ecuadorian grandmother in the month I lived with her. She hosted foreign students, young and old, and welcomed them home as if it were the home of the world. She made the best soups, told the best stories, gave the best hugs, and always woke up with a smile saying “Feliz dia.” And the days were genuinely happy considering she had that grandmotherly feel reminding me of all the years I missed out on my grandmother’s morning hug. She baked a chocolate cake on my birthday, invited her extended family to sing Feliz cumpleaños, and made my favorite soup just like my own grandma would do.
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My soul craved the simplicity of sheets drying with the wind, of walking around barefoot on moist grass, and of circling around grandma’s table for every meal. I didn’t know what was harder to accept, that it has been 22 years of missing out on moments like these, or that these moments were running out just as quickly as they were happening. Time waits for no one to realize their actions have consequences. It was the first time my family had been in the same country since 1998. We tried to condense two decades of memories and lost time into a week for my grandma’s 80th birthday. My mom and siblings and I stopped whatever busy work we were doing in the USA to get on planes to go back home. Not Connecticut home, LA home, or New York home, Rio de Janeiro home where our roots were so deeply rooted that fruit sprouted from trees we planted before we left. (2/6) #josjournal
Ana Maria, Brazil
Ana Maria is a 30 something badass filmmaker I met while filming a series in Brazil a few years ago. Much like other producers, she worked freelance meaning that the next paycheck was never guaranteed. When she’s not on set, she chooses to travel to expand her horizons. She cut her hair drastically and embraced a new look right when we met. I couldn’t notice, she always felt like a badass from the minute I met her onward. She was an emotional Cancerian so we bonded over leading our lives with tough exteriors while being complete mushballs on the inside. She always had a way of lightening a situation up even if we were on a hot bus touring Brazil stuck there for hours. I asked her what her plan was after the shoot was over, and she said she wanted to go to a beach town and give herself space to think – a luxury I’d never allow myself. She constantly reminded me to zoom out and dig deeper into the meaning of it all even if it meant abandoning the crippling capitalistic thought that I always needed to be productive.
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[mini book caption] Soon the retreat would finish and I’d stay in Wellington on New Year’s Day and catch an Auckland bound flight on the 2nd where I had booked a glowworm cave tour with a complete stranger I met on an app (another story for another day). On my last day of the retreat, one of the fellow retreaters mentioned that he had come all the way to New Zealand from Arizona to watch the first sunrise of the decade in one of the first places it’s seen. I hadn’t even thought about that, but he also revealed later to me that he was a neuroscientist, so clearly the guy just thinks a little differently. After our last yoga session of the morning on New Year’s Eve, I asked him if he had found a place to watch the sunrise he had come all this way to see. He smiled, said that he had found a remote beach per local recommendation. We parted ways to relax before our sound healing ceremony that would go until the midnight fireworks overlooking the city that sits on the water like a perfect postcard (I swear you can’t make this up). (2/5) #josjournal #35mmfilm
Toni and I met almost a decade ago. I sent her a message on LinkedIn asking if she’d accept a coffee in exchange for advice, I was on the prowl for a mentor and thought her LinkedIn bio fit the bill. After all, she was a psychologist who coached executives in the big accounting firms to be less asshole-y. Imagine if that was her actual job title? A decade later, we’re still meeting for coffee and having life talks, only this time as close friends. She lives her dream life in New York City, and her independence and commitment to self-care are commendable, she’ll never not do the things that make her feel like her favorite version of herself. She reminds me to do what makes me feel like my favorite version of myself – we can’t expect others to treat us how we need to be treated. Another life tip from Toni: never dim your light for anyone else, shine bright and if they can’t keep up, they should leave the room.
Who are the women who inspire you?