My daughter turns two on March 21st.
I needed to write that out for myself because it doesn’t feel real. I’ll never forget the day she was born, the mid-wife coaching me while my husband counted the time between contractions. All I could think was that I’d finally get to meet my daughter in person. I’d been speaking to her for the last nine months, and now I’d finally get to touch her, kiss her and hold her tight.
She’s growing up faster than I can prepare for, and I have so much I want to tell her. I’ve spent a good portion of her first two years thinking about what kind of young woman I want to raise. On this occasion—and every day of her life—the most important gift I can give her is the wisdom I’ve gained from my own experience, and from the powerful women I’ve met, and who are still present in my life. These are the lessons I hope she’ll fall back on, whether she’s eight or 80.
When I got accepted to Trent University, I was living with my family in Palestine. With that admissions letter, my life changed forever.
Packed and ready to go, I got word that making it to the airport in Tel Aviv would be impossible. Border closings were a part of my life growing up in Gaza. They’d happen with little warning or reason, and no indication of how long they’d last. The university administration said I was going to miss the semester, and I faced the prospect of having to start again the next year.
But I wasn’t willing to accept that.
I worked with the International Program to make up for the missed time, coordinated visa logistics with the school and booked a new flight. When the border finally opened two weeks later, I was ready.
I landed at Pearson International Airport in Toronto in the middle of the night and it was another few hours before I arrived at my dormitory in Peterborough, Ont. There was no one to show me around or figure out the meal plan. It was the weekend, and my travel plans were booked so abruptly. I missed orientation, lectures, seminars and tutorials. None of that mattered.
I’ve seen too many women in the workforce lose all confidence in the face of a challenge. Setbacks mean you have to work harder. It takes guts and courage—but those are prerequisites if you are to reach your dream and help others to reach their goals.
Let your passion drive you
Malala Yousafzai faced incredible obstacles as an activist for girls’ education. Born in Pakistan in 1997, she lived under a Taliban rule that forbade her and other girls from attending school. When she was harassed and threatened, she didn’t stop fighting for equal rights. And when she was shot in the head at age 15 by a Taliban gunman, she refused to be silenced; instead, she told the United Nations, “I raise up my voice, not so that I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
Malala drew strength from her passion for equality, and that lesson has always stayed with me. Knowing what drives you will help you in the bad times and guide you in the good.
Be your own advocate
I started at WE as an intern doing data entry. In my 15 years here, I’ve carved my own path, largely because I pushed to create roles that didn’t exist before.
It was the work in war torn and developing countries that first drew me to WE. So I learned from everyone I encountered, grew as a person and an employee, refused to accept no as an answer—and as a result, I found myself bringing WE programs to girls in the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, empowering them with opportunity and education.
Now, I manage a truly incredible team and take pleasure in mentoring young women, helping them grow into strong leaders. But that’s only possible when they recognize their own value and learn to advocate for themselves.
Be confident: you are not an imposter. You are capable and you should fight for the job that suits your strengths and fuel your passion.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai speaks to a crowd of youth volunteers at WE Day UK 2014