Need to fuel up on inspiration? #ImpactWomen contemplate their heroes.

By Naomi Pyburn for Ogunte

I’m a big fan of the meditation app, Headspace . I try to use it daily to take some time out and become more aware of my thoughts, maybe combat some anxiety along the way. 

Some days my mind is restless, and I just can’t seem to hold my focus on the breath. Some days I’m surprised by how easy it is to still my thoughts and enjoy the peaceful, expansive moment. 

But one part of the guided meditation that I never struggle with is when Andy (aka the smooth, soothing voice of Headspace) prompts me to call to mind the faces of the people in my life who will benefit from me having a more peaceful mind. 

It sounds so small, but I love it. On a day when I’m not so enthused, the simple act of imagining their faces for a few seconds revives my motivation. I flick through the mini-slideshow of familiar faces: Mum, Dad, partner, close friends, colleagues. As if from a distance, I watch my resolve gather strength, in a sort of mental gritting of the teeth. My determination is new and steely: I must make the most of this session. 

I mention this because the Impact Women I speak to seem to derive a similar effect from contemplating their heroes. There is surely no quicker way to fire someone up than by asking them about their sources of inspiration, the personal relationships which give them the ability to show up and work hard. Expect a rush of fresh energy and excitement to share the names and tell you exactly what it is about them that makes them so great.

It got me thinking that this is not at all a trivial question. Inspiration and motivation are vital parts of our work lives, especially on the tough, rocky path of being a social entrepreneur. It may well feel like all the odds are stacked against you, maybe even that there are those who want to see you fail. It is easy to see how tempting it might be to give up the whole thing.

In a previous post. I stressed that the ‘why’ must be at the centre. It occurs to me that the ‘who’ must also remain absolutely clear in the mind.

As Karen Mattison, co-founder of Timewise, said: ‘In reality, people are interested in people.’ 

In the context, Karen was talking about drawing upon personal stories to engage stakeholders, but I think this applies to all of us. We all need a bank of faces and stories to fuel our fire. 

Luckily for us, like fire, inspiration is catching. Some of the stories in our Impact Women interviews have particularly touched me, and I now carry them in my own arsenal of motivation. 

Strong foundations

Essma ben Hamida, who founded enda inter-arabe: ‘My mother was a model for me - she was the engine of all this. Her life, her struggle, her efforts to empower us pushed me to do what I’m doing today.

My grandfather taught me to help the poor, not by charity, but by working together to make a better life.’

Kresse Wesling, Elvis & Kresse: I had grandparents who wasted nothing and gave everything. My childhood was a gift, a debt I feel both obliged and honoured to repay.’

Katie Taylor, ceo at Khethworks: “My mother. She’s so tough and strong and caring and generous, all in the same moment. For me, she epitomises the fact that women aren’t any one thing. Women aren’t just feminine or more masculine, soft or hard – she’s everything.” 

“She’s such a hard worker, and she’s motivated by results and by helping others, not by getting any sort of recognition. She’s so full of love and she shows it through her actions. It’s so impressive and inspiring.”

“I have some amazing best friends who are fierce female warriors. They all have their own wittiness and compassionate side. They’ve all been through their own struggles, which they’ve faced and conquered with grace.”

“They’ve taught me about loyalty and love, and that the combination of these can get you through anything. I’m very lucky with my friends and family. They really do inspire me.”

The Trailblazers

These, we admire for their audaciousness. Heroes might dazzle us with their achievements, but can also help us recognise particular characteristics we want to cultivate in ourselves.

Jenny Costa, founder Rubies in the Rubble: ‘Ertharin Cousin is a big hero of mine. She’s worked as the US Ambassador to the UN for Food and Agriculture and as the Executive Director of the World Food Programme. She’s an incredibly hard-working and passionate woman, with masses of time for everybody, who puts together strategies for all sorts of areas, dealing with supply chains across Africa so they can become more sustainable.’

Megan Miller, Bitty Foods: “I’m inspired by women I meet who are achieving a really good work-life balance. When they’re really ambitious in advancing their careers and work with fascinating ideas, and have a family. I’m at the stage of my life where I have a young family, I have a two-year-old at home and I’m 7 months pregnant with my second.

‘One of my previous bosses, a mentor of mine, was a senior executive at a big multi-national company, and she has four children. She was very skilled at balancing her work life and her home life. She would sit in meetings, asking the tough questions and analysing numbers on a spreadsheet or in a presentation, while holding her newborn. And then, she would turn to her child and be able to give them her full attention. It was that ability to switch so effectively that I found so impressive and inspiring.”

Hyasintha Ntuyeko, Kasole Secrets: Dr. Minou Fuglesang - the executive director of Femina Hip. I am inspired by her way of mentoring people, and by the great work of her organization for adolescents in Tanzania.’

Ruth Anslow, hiSbe, the ethical supermarket: I most admire the founding entrepreneurs who combine unabashed ambition, business activism, and heart. Therefore, I’ll say Anita Roddick (Body Shop), Benita Matofska (The People Who Share) and Sophia Grinvalds (Afripads).

Jane Davis , The Reader: Cath Powell MBE developed an old recreation ground in Lytham St Anne’s into the most amazing community park (Park View for You). I visited her to see her work as we were moving into Calderstones – it was a total inspiration. I loved it, and loved the passion and energy Cath had displayed (over more than a decade) to make it happen.

Fellow Rumblers

Often, immediate inspiration and support comes from the people who are rumbling with a similar problem to us. They seem to be the ones who best understand what we are going through, because they are in the same fight, and we can find solidarity there.

Sasha Kramer, SOIL: ‘Isabel [Medem] inspires me because she’s walking a very similar road to mine. It’s so rare to find women who are dedicated to this sector long-term, and who are actually grappling with the very same issues I am. As a personal and professional support, Isabel is invaluable.’

Katie Taylor: ‘Rebecca Hui is really terrific. She is the CEO of Roots Studio and a Tata fellow. We first met here in Pune through a friend, and she is one of those incredibly open, empathetic people. 

‘It’s nice to have other female entrepreneur friends to share problems and advice with. They can be helpful as a sounding board for new ideas, or to just listen and say ‘Same here’.’

Wild cards

Sometimes wells of inspiration can be found in unexpected places, like historical figures, and in the words of great thinkers and writers. These can deeply influence our thinking and ground our motivation.

Poonam Bir Kasturi, Daily Dump: “The mathematician Eugenia Cheng inspires me - I think of her as a social entrepreneur.” 

Essma ben Hamida: ‘I am inspired by women throughout history. My grandfather used to read us lessons from the Quran, and the example set by the prophet’s wives – Khadija, Aisha. In our civilisation, we have great women. People don’t see that when they look at Islam so much. Though I am not a great believer today, I took in the beautiful values of the religion and now I use them in my work.

‘Going back further… to Carthage – a city founded by a woman, Dido! Today, I tell my clients and colleagues that we succeed as a microfinance institution because we help Tunisian women rediscover their talents. These women are the daughters of Dido: something in our blood is entrepreneurial. The Phoenicians were the best traders of their time, and we carry that history. Unfortunately, after that time, oppressive rules confined women to the home.

‘For me, this is the beauty of what we are doing. Tunisian women were dormant entrepreneurs: what they needed was the spark to come back to life.’

Katie Taylor treasures this quote when she is pushing herself to think creatively about new problems:

‘There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.’ - Gilbert K. Chesterton

Brené Brown, author and social researcher, speaks of her crystalising moment when she read this speech by Theodore Roosevelt. His words helped her make connections in her theories about vulnerability, shame and wholehearted living.

To be honest, it’s a pretty amazing speech and very much worth a read:

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. 

‘The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; 

‘Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

Wrapping up

Incidentally, Brené is one of my personal heroes. In our culture, investing time into understanding our emotions can be seen as indulgent or unimportant – it’s a topic often confined to very specific situations or places, or simply dismissed off-hand. 

Brené’s research offers validation that my fascinations, primarily people, relationships, and emotions, are worthy of attention and interest. 

Inspiration is a powerful force, and essential in every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, it’s hard to get up and carry on. This is why it is imperative that we share the examples of those that bring us life and unlock reserves of energy we didn’t know we possessed. 

Circling back to meditation, try calling to mind the faces of those who benefit from your efforts. Not just the obvious beneficiaries, but also our friends and families who will gain from your sense of fulfillment and happiness. 

And remember, too, those people you will never meet but who you will in turn inspire with a life of purpose and emboldened action.

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