Nekia, 27, Bahrain

Whafor blogt is your story of strength?

I’ve always felt empowered in seeking knowledge. From a young age I learned I didn’t have control over everything around me but I did have control over the information I was able to obtain and the way I allowed it to influence my thoughts and how I grew. While I had plenty of examples around me of resilience and inner strength, my roots are divided – I come from a family that was so busy surviving that I had to conjure my own ideas of what would be possible for me beyond the boundaries set by our socio-economic limitations. I think there is a fundamental hardening in a child when you have to grow up earlier than you should. When you have to worry about money and things that are beyond the scope of what a child should worry about (which is of course subjective, but I am speaking within the context of my own upbringing in California). With that said, there was no shortage of love, and a big source of my resilience and strength comes from living through my parents having children young and seemingly unprepared.

So I would say my story of strength derives from a determination to break past limitations and an ability to wield my independence in order to seek information and experiences. It also stems from a hunger for self-improvement. My career has always been international and my life has been focused outside of the States for the past nine years, and that has really helped me understand what I’m capable of. I’ve lived and worked in 12 countries since I was 19 years old, and that’s allowed me to synthesize the many varied environments around me and to grow and achieve greater levels of success.

Finally, a big part of who I am and where I draw power from is literature, absorbing the revelations and formulations of great minds one page at a time – the intellectuals, the crazies, the dreamers. I was reading at a really young age. And you know how people sometimes just feel safe in really small spaces? This sounds strange but I would read anywhere I could, even finding large cardboard boxes to crawl into with a flashlight and a magazine or a book or whatever I could get my hands on and read, no matter what was going on around me. I always had this hunger. A special person in my life shared with me the writings of Marcus Aurelius (the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher) in Meditations, and there is a line from that collection that is an excellent reminder to me at times: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” This much was true in AD 180, and it is certainly true today too. Some human truths just remain.

Can you tell me about a woman in your life that embodies strength?

My mother, my ex-stepmother, and my sister. All three in their own ways are the most stunning examples of grace under near constant pressure and uncertainty that is exerted upon single mothers, survivors of abuse, women operating in male dominated areas, and women in general.

They are women of indescribable beauty on the inside and out. They are so giving. Their strength doesn’t seem to be for them, they always want it to be for someone else, and to  me that is indescribably beautiful. Sometimes life really can be a hurricane and they just remind me of a tree firmly anchored in the middle of the storm. They are elegant and empathetic and protective and wise and are the most incredible support network for the people in their lives, especially for me. 

Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?

The start of my career was very challenging, and I felt as though I was constantly failing. I work in publishing and there are so many moving pieces to the projects I manage that it took me time to master the choreography. In hindsight of course I see how the many perceived failures taught me in a very concentrated way how to navigate just about any situation in my job, but at the time it was incredibly disappointing to work 80 hour weeks and still feel as though you aren’t succeeding.

It taught me humility, it taught me the value of discipline, and having at this point reached what I imagine to be the first peak in my career (and even though it is almost excruciatingly cliché to say it) I realize every time I missed the mark, I was forced to become a more accurate shot. To be able to practice self-reflection and to continually learn and be self critical was a big challenge for me, but I’ve definitely overcome it. Now I may be even too self critical, which has is its own challenges, but I’ve found that writing priorities down and setting goals is helpful- to have a tangible list to attack. The enormity of ambition can be so heavy that a big part of what defines me as a woman now has been the ability to strategize and adapt and regardless of the outcome, continue to learn and be confident and intentional.

On a related note, a challenge I face, and I know it is a common ailment, is a tendency towards perfectionism, and here I am deeply grateful to my yoga practice as an outlet and tool for self-reflection. In such a fast paced, screen-obsessed time where nobody seems to have time for anything, yoga brings me back into myself and allows me to forgive, to reset, and to feel inspired. No matter what, we can’t forget to have at least one thing that leaves us feeling inspired.

How can women better support each other?

Feminism in one form or another is something that’s been important to me since starting University, though I admit it’s been relatively recently that I have felt a deep sense of camaraderie with other women when discussing it. One prevailing observation I have is that there’s a pattern of putting each other down rather than building each other up, and it’s a pity. One of my resolutions this year is to be incredibly mindful about my thoughts. To condition myself and train my mind towards being kind to women in action, thought, and words. We could talk for hours about the roots of these competitive dynamics that contribute to these impulses to tear other women down, but something you do have control over is your thoughts and how you react to those impulses. We all have our habits, but we can train our minds to be more positive towards women, and I don’t think a lot of women work on it because we have so many other things that we are up against that we prioritize.

The power of mentors is also something I’ve noticed making a difference in my own life. Having a positive role model or seeing another woman do something bigger than you ever thought possible can be so powerful. It’s so sad that we don’t have more examples of women who have broken through the glass ceiling, but that’s the world we live in. I wish I had had more professional mentors when I was younger. That’s something that’s very important to me in my career right now and it’s something I take very seriously. Being a mentor is something that I love and I don’t profess to be an expert but there’s an element of naturalness in connecting with another woman in a collaborative manner – it’s such a natural and even biological thing. Sadly, women have really been divided a lot and even pit against one another and we are all fighting so hard for a seat at the table that the weight of everything just becomes exhausting at times. Again, I think we can better support one another by being intentional with our thoughts. A big goal for myself is to check myself when I find myself being negative in a destructive way, and ask- is it something that’s going to serve or benefit anyone? If it doesn’t serve you or some greater purpose, then what are you wasting your time for?

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