The Impact of Being Yourself
I reached out to an old mentor for a homework assignment and got more than I expected
Every Monday I meet with a group of women from CoveyClub for something called Positive Mornings. Recently the conversation was about creating impact in our lives. Many people tie it up with who they are and what they want to achieve. The lesson was that we don’t need to try to have impact, we can succeed simply by being ourselves.
It was so liberating to hear this out loud. Over the past year I’ve thought quite a lot about my work and my “why,” which has always included having a positive impact. After all, I do what I do because I love it and I know how much I’ve grown. I’d love to inspire people with my story and my gifts. In health and wellness, it’s being one’s strongest self in body and mind and also preventing illness. In photography and storytelling, it’s creating connection, understanding, and tolerance to cultivate both joy and nonaggression. Although my thoughts about connection have shifted with the pandemic to include supporting mental wellness and well-being.
Learning to be more of myself
I can see now how this impact-thinking sometimes influences my marketing and communications, and my messaging may come off a bit “corporate” versus what I write from my inner voice. I didn’t realize this before and I’m glad to have the line drawn. Without trying to have impact, I need only to trust that it’s happening just by being me. People already notice and respond to who I am and what I stand for.
Our coach Wendy asked us to think about women who’ve impacted our lives and how we want to be remembered in 50 years. I immediately thought of Maiya Furgason, who I’ve known for 30+ years. My mother, both grandmothers, and my aunt have certainly had different and meaningful influences, but Maiya stands out for other reasons that complement what I got from family.
Maiya and I met at NYU in 1994 when she was my professor for an international affairs course. The program was presented in real time, as opposed to theory-based, and Maiya taught from her expertise and experience in the real world. This woman worked and traveled around the world — A LOT — and her deep knowledge and comprehension of people, circumstances, and life was apparent. I was in awe of her. We traveled to Switzerland for a study abroad trip at the United Nations in Geneva, including meeting a representative from the United Nations in New York — Mitch Werner. Bonds were formed and we all kept in touch.
I’d never met someone like Maiya, and I was attracted to her from the start. She was tough enough to work in a high-powered, man’s business world of banking and finance, in New York City nonetheless, and she was always a woman. She wasn’t hard like the men but she could keep them in their place and hold her own. I noticed she always wore skirts and styled her outfits with unique fabrics, pretty scarves, and distinctive jewelry, all obtained from the array of places she’d traveled.
Over time we became friends and met up for drinks, meals, and events, sometimes including colleagues and friends and expanding the circle. We’d catch up on her world travels and various exploits as well as my studies and budding career. Maiya was a bit older than me, probably closer to my mother’s age, but it never mattered and it was never discussed. We fell easily into a rhythm, as if we’d known each other forever. In fact, people commented on our relationship and how well we got along.
Meeting my mentor
In 1997 I traveled to China, again with an NYU study abroad program. Maiya and I met in Hong Kong right when Beijing took the city back from British rule and into Chinese control. We experienced history together while overlooking Kowloon Bay from high atop an office tower and wandering the anxious streets, in the midst of both celebrations and protests.
Maiya loves smart business, international affairs, people, places, culture, art, music, theater, books, and obviously travel. She’s one of the smartest and most down-to-earth people I know and she’s always game for a good conversation. Her influence collided with my natural curiosity and adventurous spirit and she showed me what life looks like when you’re open to things and engaged in the world.
She’s always believed in me and supported whatever new job, venture, or travel opportunity I pursued. She’s written numerous recommendation letters, attended gallery openings of my photographs, and sat with me to strategize business proposals. We never had a mentor/mentee relationship, but she taught me a lot about business through her own approach, her outlook on life, and her mindset in navigating all sorts of situations and people.
Maiya never tried to impress me; she could care less about that. Her impact came from being who she was (and is) and her character resonated with me on every level.
Reconnecting during the pandemic
Our Positive Mornings “homework” was to tell someone how they impacted us. I reached out to Maiya and we set up a Zoom call for the following day. We were both excited to “see” each other after being away during the pandemic, and we chatted about everything. At one point she said something about people coming into your life for one reason or another and it was a perfect segue. I smiled and said, “I have to tell you something, and I’m sorry I didn’t say it a long time ago.”
I got about two sentences in before I started crying. I kept going and told her everything I felt and how she impacted me over the years. Soon we were crying together and laughing at the same time. She thanked me for telling her and it felt so good.
She said it was always easy with us and that I felt like an old soul, as if we’d met in a previous life. She likes the fact that I’m curious and open to trying things. I think she relates to this piece of herself in me. We chatted a bit more and recalled some travel experiences and acquaintances. We even talked about meeting up this summer for a Croatian/Balkan adventure, which would be amazing. I’m so glad this conversation happened.
And as for the second part of the Positive Mornings exercise… I want to be remembered 50 years from now as someone who showed up in life and was my authentic self.