Inspirational Women – Who Inspires You? (It may not be who you think!)
‘Inspirational Women- Who Inspires You’ was the theme for one of the big events I used to organise for International Women's Day. For each event, we chose a keynote speaker with an inspirational story. A story about how they were able to overcome whatever life threw at them.
We invited the lovely Penny Power OBE once, author of ‘Business is Personal’ and co-founder of Ecademy. It was her groundbreaking global social media platform that paved the way for LinkedIn and others. Many ‘Ecademists’, myself included, were very sad when it didn’t survive.
On another occasion we were inspired by the amazing Liz Jackson MBE, author and CEO of Great Guns Marketing who had started the UK's leading telemarketing company from her kitchen table — despite being blind!
Hearing evidence of our speakers’ vulnerability, but also their resilience and determination, was a very uplifting experience for everyone. And every year our guests left with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.
So who inspires you?
At one of these events, our attendees discussed how much they benefit from having female role models — famous business women, artists, actors, politicians and scientists.
But they eventually came to the conclusion that the women who inspire us most, will often be found closer to home. Our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, close friends or women in our local community.
Who inspires you most?
My mother’s experience still influences me
My mum was never a traditional role model. If anything she was probably the opposite. But to this day (she died 34 years ago), her legacy spurs me on in everything I do.
She had grown up in a successful rural family business — a large village shop and dairy that supplied several villages with everything farmers needed in their homes. Having learned to wear a business hat from a young age, she grew into an enterprising and ambitious young woman.
But unfortunately for her it was the 1950s!
What happens when no one helps you up?
Everything changed for my mum when she got married and moved away with my father. From one day to the next, she was expected to be just a housewife and mother, which was customary for married women in Germany at the time.
She felt lonely, surrounded by competitive neighbours and girlfriends who judged each other by how ‘spick and span’ their houses were.
Social convention in our small town discouraged married women from working outside the family and if they did, life became so much harder for them.
As a way of coping with her limitation, my mum took responsibility for the family finances. She scrimped and saved, putting us children in handed-down clothes, and renting out rooms in our house. Needless to say, she managed the household budget with great precision. By the time I was a teenager, we were reasonably well off and my siblings and I were well-educated too.
It was such a great achievement especially given the circumstances.
Yet my mum still suffered from an underlying frustration about her own stifled potential. A life of domesticity just couldn't fulfil her ambitions. She gradually lost all her confidence, she had no role model and no one 'helping her up'.
She was a victim of her time.
How do you develop your potential?
As I grew up my mother was a great role model: I learnt both how I wanted and didn’t want my life to be.
When she became ill and died, aged 52, she left much more than a huge gap in my life. She left me with the awareness that every person has potential. And that you cannot let that potential go to waste.
It still saddens me that she never lived to see everything I learnt from her. I am happy knowing that I’ve fulfilled my potential. And I’m grateful that I can do what I love every day — ‘helping up’ other women.
Women of my generation have had it so much easier, thanks to the bravery of all those before us who fought for women’s emancipation.
Life is simply too short to stay within the confines of your boundaries. You never know, it could become your biggest regret one day.
The magic happens when you push against your limitations — whether they are within you or happen to be external.
I know that stepping completely out of your comfort zone will always be hard. But there is an easier way. Just think of it differently — as gently stretching the edges, a little at a time.
And that will always be worth it, trust me.
What lessons have you learnt from your mother (or another woman who inspires you)?
And what learning are you leaving for your own daughters and granddaughters?