Interviews with Incredible Women

Joyce Edmiston

Joyce Edminson_iw

Joyce Edmiston was formerly a Sign Language teacher at a private school in Harrisburg, PA as a Signing Time Academy Instructor. She served on the Pennsylvania Telecommunications Relay Service Advisory Board as well as the Pennsylvania Advisory Board for Hearing Loss Association of America until last autumn when she and her family moved to the Southern Oregon Coast. Crocheting, reading and beach combing are a few of Joyce’s hobbies. Joyce was a hearing impaired child who eventually became deafened later in life.

Q:  Can you tell me about your personal journey of hearing loss? You are certified to teach sign language to children? What have you learned through this journey?

JE: We suspect I began losing my hearing as a young child when I had either the measles or mumps. High fevers from illnesses can cause hearing loss. I had an ENT doctor once tell me that we could look into what exactly was the cause, but it would cost a lot of money. He said the diagnoses until then is “Chronic Ear Disease”, which simply means they don’t really know. With many of the illnesses over my lifetime, ear infections and hearing loss followed. At this stage of my life, I suspect it is part of the aging process. Many baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss, and as we live longer, the chances of hearing loss become greater with every decade of life.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to grow up to be an English teacher. I loved words and reading.

School was very difficult because I did not have hearing aids, nor were there Sign Language classes available. I did not understand how others could hear better than I, and I did not understand my hearing loss  enough to be able to  advocate for myself. I did not even know that there was Sign Language until much later.

In elementary school, I was put into special education classes in fifth grade because I could not follow directions. It’s difficult to follow instructions if you can’t hear what’s being said. In math, for example, the teachers would write on the blackboard and give directions as to how to solve the equations, etc. with their backs turned toward the class. It was not until I was a little older that I came to realize that I was a lip reader and needed to see faces in order to follow the gist of what is being said.

In Junior High, I took French classes all three years. The teacher was very kind and would make time for me each week with the new vocabulary to be sure I was not only pronouncing the words correctly, but to also be sure I was able to read them on her lips. When I got to High School, entering my fourth year of French, the instructor did not understand this, and I had difficulty trying to explain if I could see what was being said and how it was being said, I would do very well. She hooked us up to headsets in cubicles where we had to listen and repeat what the voice on the tape was saying. After a couple of weeks, she said that though I could  comprehend what I read and express myself excellently with writing in French, I was failing because I was not pronouncing the words or understanding the spoken words on the tapes. She said I was failing and recommended I take a different class. I wish I had known how to speak up and advocate for myself with this teacher because I ended up living in a small village in Germany where some of the people spoke French. I also got to go on tour to Paris.

When I was expecting my daughter, the man I was married to at the time made an appointment for me with an audiologist in Nurnberg.  He was afraid I would not hear the baby. Taking his concern seriously, I went to see the doctor. Within 2 weeks of that appointment, I had my first pair of hearing aids at age 24. When I left his office wearing them, I heard birds chirping for the first time in many, many years. When sounds slowly fade with hearing loss, you don’t realize what you are missing.

Several years after we returned to the States and after I was divorced from my daughter’s father, I learned the local college had Sign Language classes available. I took my first class and I loved it! I signed up again several years later and one of the assistants in the class was a deaf gentleman. We soon began dating. Sign Language came very natural and easily to me, and I became incredibly fluent in no time at all.

During the course of my college education, I lost more hearing and it was too difficult to function in large classrooms. My dream of becoming an English teacher died . Children’s voices were too difficult for me to understand what they were saying, even with the help of hearing aids.   I changed my degree toward an Associates in Applied Sciences and took classes to become a counselor. During a later term, I became very ill and lost more hearing. I dropped out of college again, and did not return because while note takers were helpful, the notes don’t help if I can’t read the lips of the instructors or students in the class. Not all people are easy to read, and I have a vision impairment that sometimes makes it difficult if I’m not right in front of the person to see the micro expressions clearly.

When my son came along 10 years ago, I signed to him all the time. I checked out Signing Time videos from our local library and we watched them together every day. He began signing back to me when he was 8 months old.

When he started Kindergarten, his teacher asked me if I would be interested in coming in and teaching a few signs to the class. At first I was hesitant, but my Fabulous Husband encouraged me to say, “Yes.” He contacted the people at Signing Time to purchase the videos for me and learned that I could be a certified Signing Time Instructor. He encouraged me to become a Signing Time Academy Instructor.

While I had only agreed to come teach the one class just one time, the children loved it and the teacher asked me to come back. The First Grade class saw the Kindergaren class learning Signs, and they wanted to learn, too. She asked if I would come teach her class as well. I began teaching classes each week, and continued to do so for a few years at the school.

It didn’t dawn on me right away that I was living my childhood dream. While I wanted to be an English teacher, I had no idea I would be teaching a variation of my dream. I was teaching an American Language – American Sign Language.

Sometimes we become so focused on the details of how we think things are supposed to be and what we want to do, we can easily miss a wonderful opportunity of doing what we love that is even better than what we visualize, simply because we don’t take time to recognize it when it happens.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

JE: Avoid people who criticize, mock and transpose their fears or assumptions onto others. Find people who are encouraging, gentle, peace loving and kind. We can too easily become like the people we spend the most time with: choose friends carefully.

Q: What do you wish people knew about the deaf community?

JE: That’s an excellent question!! Deaf people are intelligent and creative. The best communicators in the world are in the Deaf Communities. Pick up Dr. Bruno Khan’s book “Deaf Tips” and you will be amazed at the experiments and research he covers regarding the differences in communication between Deaf community and the hearing community. His research clearly shows that Deaf efficiently communicate more clearly and than hearing people.

Q: Life is beauty and pain.  Tell me about pain in your life.

JE: I don’t share much about the pain I’ve lived through, because I have so many blessings I would rather focus on. My father never accepted me and never believed that I could not hear well. He disowned me about 8 years ago. He would not let me call my mom or come visit her. When I came back from Pennsylvania to visit in 2012, one of the first things he asked me was, “Are you hearing better?”

I said, “No, I’m deaf now.”

Dad looked at my husband and asked, “How do you put up with that?”

My Fabulous Husband looked at me with pure love and compassion. He did not dignify the question with an answer, but instead reached out to me, reminding me of what he said earlier when I told him I did not want to have to see my dad again, “This time, it will be different. You have me, now.” It WAS different. My Fabulous Husband was there beside me the entire time giving me support and encouragement.

Though I had a very unkind, controlling, manipulative, contentious father, I had a remarkable mother who gave me unconditional love and a love for words. If I had to go through it all again just to have the mother I did, I would. She was amazing.

Q: What are your recent accomplishments in the past year that you are most pleased with?

JE: In January, a book was published by Michelle Jay in which I contributed a chapter about the controversial topic of “Deaf Discrimination Against Deaf”  in “Don’t Just Sign – Communicate! A Student’s Guide to the Deaf Experience”.

Last spring and summer, with the help and encouragement from my friend, Nancy Kingsley, we brought live captioning for the Deaf and Hard of hearing at both the Beth  Moore conference and the Joyce Meyer conference at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania for the first time. People with hearing loss who need captions to see what is being said may now contact Hershey Entertainment for any event and request captioning. It is listed under “captioning services”.

Last summer, I was nominated by Speak up Librarian Sara Wegley for Oticon’s Focus on People in the category of  Advocacy for my blog. People from around the world took time to vote, and I won! I have a fabulous new set of state of the art hearing aids and all the accessories to go with them. It is has been life changing! I am extremely grateful to Sarah for nominating me, to everyone who  voted for me  and to Oticon for their generous gifts of the hearing aids. Oticon also gave a $1,000.00 check to the charity of my choice which was the Lancaster chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America.

My life has been filled these past few years with inspiring people I am blessed to call friends. Having encouraging and understanding friends and family makes all the difference. I would not be where I am today without them.

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Raji Kelley Simpson

Raji Kelley Simpson_iwRaji Kelley Simpson is a storyteller, self portrait artist and teacher, and dancer. She has a book (or two) in the works and she recently launched Selfie Love~Self Portrait Workshops as a character development program for middle schools. She just celebrated 20 years with the love of her life (and co-facilitator of Selfie Love) Jeffrey Simpson, and they were recently recognized internationally for some collaborative self portraits. The next round of Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshop beginning soon and if you’re interested in joining you can find more information at (www.selfielove.com).

Q: Can you tell me what led you to start Selfie Love (http://selfielove.com)? What has surprised you about the way that people portray/want to portray themselves?

RKS: Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshops and Selfielove.com began as all of my endeavors do; out of the desire to show up fully to me, my expression, and life & and in turn share that experience with others.

On the surface, my work is about self-portraits and photography, but ultimately all of my work is about guiding others to radical self love, creative expression, and the freedom to be themselves.

I took my first self portrait the day I was diagnosed with disease.  A lifelong conversation between my thyroid and I manifested physically in the form of disease and self portraiting became my most potent medicine.  Self love to quell self attacking autoimmune aspect of disease & creative expression to celebrate all aspects of voice.

For twenty years, I had been ‘doing my work’ as a seeker, yogi, lightworker, miracle maker. My first response to physical health crisis was to FIX IT. Oh, I had all the tools, mantras, postures, and miraculous juju to cure myself of this disease.

When I began to explore with self-portraits, I was delightfully shocked that I was receiving instant, powerful, insightful information about myself and situation; in a totally new way. It was like stepping into ‘witness’ mode, in order to see myself, literally!, and then from there; create desired expression and explore possibilities for myself from there.

Guiding others in the process of self portraiture with others is what makes this process alive for me. It’s like chocolate, it’s way more fun to share it with others. What surprises me most about the way people portray themselves is their capacity and willingness to want to dive in so deep, so fast, and show so much of themselves. There is so little held back in our virtual self-portrait workshops. Their desire and courage to be so real with themselves and share that with the group is astounding. It has a ripple effect that fuels us all to go to our edges. I have become acutely aware of the basic need that we as humans have to be seen, heard, and share our stories.

Q: How has being an artist changed the way you look at the world?

RKS: As a lifelong gymnast, dancer, and storyteller; my art has always been process art, it’s a fleeting expression of a moment and then it’s done. My self portrait work is also completely process oriented; as satisfying as it is to create visual tangible pieces of art and have that proof in form; for me, it’s all about the underlying expression and capturing a feeling or a moment.

And…I have finally declared myself an artist!

This has shifted the way I look at the world and furthermore how I am in the world, because I’ve made it a conscious choice to be guided by how I want my art and life to feel (full of self love and creative expression). I’ve opened to the truth that my life and my expression are the art. Stepping into this has relieved a lot pressure and past notions regarding things I need to ‘do’ in my life. I am also noticing and finding great joy in making art out of all of life’s little moments. This has led to an even greater level of presence in my life versus constantly looking for the big AHA moments.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

RKS: Oh, without skipping a beat, I would tell myself to have fun, that it’s okay if it’s easy, drop the perfection mentality, to stop following someone else’s map, that I am perfectly too much, that I don’t have to do a fucking thing in order to be living my potential.

Pardon the f bomb, I’m a little passionate about that subject.

Q: Tell me about one incredible moment in your life. What did you learn in that instant?

RKS: There was definitely an instant. October 31, 2003. My newborn son, Finn woke up from a 6 day coma post birth. In that moment, I had the experience of truly knowing the absolute preciousness and privilege it is to be alive. I mean, really alive. Sure, I always ‘knew‘ that, but to have an actual experience of it is a whole new level of understanding.

I go through the natural cycle of forgetting and it is amazing to have those now almost 11-year-old brown eyes live to constantly remind me. Thank you, Finn!

Q: Life is beauty and pain. Tell me about pain in your life.

RKS: I’m an eternal optimist and at this stage of life, I love to find the beauty within the pain.

Growing up as a gymnast and dancer, I learned as a young child to use those as my outlets to transform pain into art.

In later years, my relationship with pain became more about learning to embrace it and learn to hear its messages before transforming it/making it ‘go away’. I love to acknowledge the presence of pain and ask questions like, ‘why are you here, what is your message for me?’ before trying to ‘get out of’ the pain. Disease has been my biggest teacher in the last few years and I’m thrilled to come to a place where giving pain some voice has led me to a place of ease within it all. (and I’m feeling great!).

What Makes Incredible Women Incredible?

Introduction

Interviews with Incredible Women (www.iwiwproject.com) is a series of thoughtful interviews with women who inspire me and the women who inspire them. I became interested in talking with incredible women after hearing some of the really cool stories about the lives of women I know, like the woman who owns an art studio or my friend, the geophysicist. At first, I just wanted to throw a giant party and invite all of these cool women, but I realized that they wouldn’t be able to hear each others stories unless it was written out. I had the skills to start the blog, so I did. After conducting and publishing 64+ interviews, I became curious about the themes that thread through the lives of “incredible women.” The research question was, “What makes incredible women incredible?”

I had some ideas about the themes that might emerge through a review of the data gathered through the Incredible Women interviews, but Brene Brown’s work made me wonder about the techniques of qualitative research. It was my good fortune that Dr. Heather Stuckey, from Penn State University, is a qualitative researcher who was willing to work with me to code and analyze the interviews, unearthing the themes that women mention as being intrinsic to an incredible life.

Women’s Studies, The Basics sets a good background for the complexities of the life women. But it’s The Evening Times of Glasgow where we find everyday women characterized as incredible. In the article “Six of the Best Who Inspired Our Voters,” The Evening Times talks about a woman with cancer who overcame long odds, women who wrestled with the death of their children, women who are passionate and compassionate about their work. It’s so interesting to see how the themes that I discovered throughout this research are relevant when you hear unrelated stories from other ordinary but incredible women.

One other inspiration for this project came from Composing A Life by Mary Catharine Bateson. Grove Press writes that this book is a “treatise on the improvisational lives of five extraordinary women. Using their personal stories as her framework, Dr. Bateson delves into the creative potential of the complex lives we live today, where ambitions are constantly refocused on new goals and possibilities. With balanced sympathy and a candid approach to what makes these women inspiring, examples of the newly fluid movement of adaptation–their relationships with spouses, children, and friends, their ever-evolving work, and their gender–Bateson shows us that life itself is a creative process.” (Bateson). For me, this inspired me to ask women about the creativity in their lives and work.

Methods

The interview data reported in this project were gathered over most of 2014. The plan is to continue collecting interviews to expand upon the stories of incredible women.

The Participants

The women held occupations that ranged from stay at home moms to Apache helicopter pilots, from attorneys to geophysicists. In line with snowball sampling, each participant was given an opportunity to recommend other incredible women. In general the participants were not limited to any particular demographic although, most of the participants were well-educated, predominantly white American women . The list of participants grow organically, without focusing on creating a representative sample.

The Interviews

Questions were tailored for each participant, based on the information that was available about them. The participants were identified using social media profiles including Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as personal websites to research participants prior to sending them an initial list of five or six questions. Topics centered around participants’ interests/passions, how they maintain balance, the role of pain in their life, and the lessons learned over a lifetime (what advice would you give a younger version of yourself, for example).

As the project progressed, the questions evolved to be more open ended. Instead of asking different questions for every participant, the questions were standardized and often included the following:

  • Q:  You’ve been identified by someone as being incredible.  What do people see in you that is incredible?
  • Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
  • Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done?
  • Q: Life is beauty and pain.  Tell me about pain in your life.
  • Q:  What question did I miss?  What else should I know about you?
  • Q: Finally, can you recommend another incredible woman for me to interview?  Can you facilitate an introduction?

Interview questions were provided to participants via email with some introductory text about Interviews with Incredible Women and links to interviews that had already been published online. It was clear from the email that the interview would be published online and, at that point, some women declined to participate. There was no promise of privacy, since interviews are published under participant’s real names with easily identifiable data.

Some participants preferred to be interviewed orally and in these cases I recorded the interview, transcribed it, and sent it back to them for their approval. This builds credibility through member checking (reference). Most participants wrote their own responses, which I read and lightly edited for clarity, spelling, and grammar, again providing them a version to review prior to publishing.

The social media analytics on most of the interviews showed that the interviewed reached an audience from a few hundred to a few thousand, at least on Facebook. The response that I got from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Many women had never thought of themselves as incredible and expressed that the process of thoughtfully answering the questions was insightful.

 

The Analysis

We developed an initial code book with recognizable themes from about 20% of the interviews and then used NVivo software to assist in coding. Saturation was reached when no new data was emerging, such as there were no new codes being added to the codebook. Initial codes included:

  • Approach to life (gratitude, learning and openness, passion, mindfulness)
  • Collaboration/Group Work (creative solutions)
  • Internal locus of control (trust your instincts)
  • Outward focused (work that benefits others)
  • Overcoming challenges (hard work, creativity
  • Self care (travel)

After an initial round of coding, we cleaned our codes to eliminate unnecessary ones and to merge codes that demonstrated the main themes.

Please note, we used the edited, published interviews as the source data, which may provide a limitation to our study. Although it would have been standard to use original transcripts of the interviews for the analysis, especially in cases where deeper, more revealing details had been removed, the summarized text were available. The study is also limited in generalizability based on the composition of white women who were mostly well educated.

 

Findings

We found several themes that women repeatedly mentioned in Interviews with Incredible Women. These themes included:

  • Incredible women are valued and supported by their family or their loved ones and they in turn value and support themselves.
  • This self care gives them resources to focus outward, working to benefit others.
  • These women respond to life with gratitude, mindfulness, learning/openness, and passion.

 

Theme: Incredible women are valued and supported by their family or their loved ones and they in turn value and support themselves.

Family/ Loved One Support

Participants reported that the support of their family and loved ones was essential to their success. These participants tended to have a support network of people that includes friends, family, and colleagues. For example, Anna Crider Sharp said, “my family and loved ones have supported me throughout my life both professionally and personally. I would be nowhere without them.”

This theme closely ties to Approach to Life – Participants expressed gratitude for the support of others: “my colleagues were really supportive and respected my ability to do this job in a flexible way, even if it wasn’t the way everyone else does it.” Although gratitude isn’t overtly expressed, the tenor throughout the interviews was that these women deeply appreciated the opportunities and support that came through the people they love.

 

Theme: This self care gives them resources to focus outward, working to benefit others.

Self Care

Many participants discussed self care in their response to “what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?” One participant put it pretty clearly in her response: “Do not forget to take care of yourself.” But others talked about being an introvert and needing time to “decompress and relax.” Taking care of yourself is “the real secret of getting things done; you have to nourish yourself to take care of others.”

Self care, according to these interviews, includes yoga, rest, meditation, backpacking, exercise, caring for animals, climbing, hiking. It’s worth noting that many of these activities are solo ventures. These women express a need for spending time with themselves, to refresh their spirits.

Outwardly Focused

Although incredible women take time for themselves, they are also focused on work that benefits others. They are deeply passionate about empowering others – whether it’s first-graders or inspiring those around them. For example, a theater professor wrote that she’s “in theater because we all need to take all these tools from theater so that women can step into authorship. Somebody needs to write the story. If we can use theater to get women to step into that authorship role, those qualities will carry over into life and leadership.”

Participants volunteer, teach, work in orphanages, prisons, with prostitutes, as shamans, as environmental activists. Participants champion causes like infertility and mental illness, giving a compassionate face for people who struggle. And they express wonder and gratitude at these roles: “I still love every one of my students, flaws and all…I often learn more from my kids than they learn from me.”

One of the women was the co-founder of Haiti Babi, a non-profit that teaches Haitian women to knit and crochet baby blankets for an online webshop here in the States. Haiti Babi pays fair wages and gives the women a means to support their family, a win-win in social entrepreneurship. She said, ”The most inspiring part of working on Haiti Babi is watching the women and their children’s lives change. We have watched as their lives have transformed. We have witnessed their personalities begin to shine in a way that simply can’t come through when [they’re] living in extreme poverty.”

Finally, when asked what her message would be to the world, Amanda Oliver responded, that people “have value, self-worth. People don’t realize their worth, what they bring to the table. Everybody has something unique and special that they bring. That’s part of the point of people-who-matter. Yes, YOU have purpose and value.” Incredible women deeply believe in the value and worth of both themselves and others and are passionate about helping others see their value.

 

Theme: These women respond to life with gratitude, mindfulness, learning/openness, and passion.

 Approach to Life

How do incredible women approach their life? They do it mindfully, with a ton of gratitude and a willingness to learn. Incredible women approach their life with passion, figuring out creative ways to do that they love. Mindfulness, gratitude, passion, curiosity are all facets of an incredible life. To understand your passions, you have to be curious and mindful. Curiosity and mindfulness lead to gratitude.

One participant said that “I want my life to be daring, ambitious, and impactful. There’s a sweet spot of inspiration when I feel a little bit afraid of where I am headed. If I feel entirely comfortable, I’m not in the right spot.” Being passionate doesn’t always mean being comfortable. Sometimes it involves overcoming huge challenges or getting comfortable with pain, being so mindful that you even come to be grateful for the uncomfortable moments.

Because of this mindful approach, participants are always learning; “I was constantly learning about myself – My abilities, my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses.” Another participant mentioned, “I have always been wiling to grow and learn as a leader, a woman, a mom, and a friend.” And from Judy Dillon, “education is the key for advancement and a successful future.” Learning is one of the key approaches that incredible women have towards their life and those around them.

What do incredible women mean by mindfulness? The traditional definition from John Kabat-Zinn is that mindfulness is “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance.” (reference). To sum it up in three words, one of the participants said, “LOVE. ACCEPTANCE. DISCIPLINE.” Participants often talked about enjoying the small things, because “nothing lasts, which makes it precious each and every moment. And that life is impermanence and change, and we must learn to accept the incredible gift of time and not waste it in pettiness and fear. Live with your heart set on love.”

What is more incredible than living with your heart set on love?

A yoga teacher in Richmond wrote, “in the moment, if I really pause and just hover in the moment, I find that the bliss is right there. I know that sounds really simple and, perhaps a little cliché, but I really, really have found it to be true. Trying to get into the moment can be full of effort, but when you arrive in the moment, it is effortless, struggle-less, bliss.” Incredible women keep working towards the present moment, where they only response is one of gratitude and love. Like one participant said, “I have learned that there is no greater moment than the present, because in that moment you have it all.” Another echoed her, “I fill my heart, soul and mind with awareness by paying attention. Truly paying attention, to whomever I am with, to whatever I am doing, to what I am feeling.”

How does mindfulness lead to gratitude? “There is no guarantee of another day, let alone another moment, so that moment you find yourself should be embraced and celebrated.” When you’re settled in the present, you have the opportunity for gratitude about the extreme blessings in your life.

 

Discussion

It has been such an honor to work on Interviews With Incredible Women. I feel like I’ve learned some secrets to how to live an incredible life, like to take care of yourself so that you have an apply ample supply to give to others, like that mindfulness leads to gratitude leads to joy. I’ve seen that over and over in my own life.

I started this project from the premise that everyone is incredible, but I’m realizing that some women handle life with a grace that is really incredible. It’s been so inspiring to conduct these interviews and to hear the unique stories that each woman told, but it’s been incredibly interesting to see the themes that run through the data – and interesting to see how those trends apply to my own life.

 

References

Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing A Life. Grove Press, 2001.

SIX OF THE BEST;The incredible women whose bravery and courage inspired our voters. Evening Times of Glasgow. June 4, 2004.

Smith, B. G. (2013). Women’s studies: The basics. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Mali Phonpadith

Mali Phonpadith

Mali Phonpadith is an author, speaker, CEO/Founder of the SOAR Community Network and the Executive Producer of Tea with Mali TV. She consults with entrepreneurs and visionaries to help them S.O.A.R. (See, Own, Articulate, Release) with their unique message and mission by implementing emotional marketing and social media strategies.

Mali has over 17 years of marketing, sales, and business development experience. She also ran a financial services practice with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network for seven years where she created and implemented risk management strategies for hundreds of clients.

Mali is a well-known community champion and fundraiser for local non-profits. She is the co-founder of the Young Professional Leadership Group and the host of two podcasts, SOAR and Creative Entrepreneur Buzz.  She is a published poet and author. A Million Fireflies is Mali’s memoir about her voyage from war-torn Laos to America and she is also coauthor of Seen and Sustained: Best Practices in Communication that Increase the Visibility of Small and Diverse Businesses, a professional workbook written with Akia Garnett, Jane Lovas, and Tamecia Bradshaw.

Mali has traveled across the United States, speaking at The Library of Congress, Smithsonian, The Lao American Writer’s Summit, University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, Lao American Advancement Organization, International Rotary Clubs, SWAMFest, and many more. Advisor Today Magazine, Asian Fortune Newspaper, News Channel 8/WJLA DC, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Intentful Magazine and numerous blog talk radio programs have featured her inspiring journey.

Q: You’ve been identified by someone as being incredible.  What do people see in you that is incredible?

MP: Many close family members, friends and colleagues have told me that my gift in seeing beneath the surface and going straight to the core of people’s hearts and minds is what impresses them most. The ability to place little judgment on others and choosing to interact with compassion, even before knowing anything about another human being, are some of the attributes that I have been praised for. I have experienced multiple tragedies, healed through the grief of losing loved ones unexpectedly, and through these challenging times, I became more aware and awake to the power of my time here on Earth. My losses taught me to love Life.

I have an innate desire to learn what lights people up, what makes them feel connected to others, to life and to the Universe. I want to support them in valuing their time here on Earth too and helping them see, own, articulate, and release their unique gifts, talents and experiences to help them create a profound legacy. By supporting others to live their highest calling, however they define their purpose in life, I also get to create my legacy one person at a time.

Q: How does writing poetry change the way you think?

MP: Poetry is a natural gift that came with me. I say this because I never learned how to write poetry but it was the natural way in which I expressed my emotions as a young girl. Poetry has always been my refuge, a natural channel for me to release my feelings, both good and not so great. It allows me to pause, take deep breaths or release my sorrows. When I write poetry, I find clarity toward understanding what I am feeling and this opens up more avenues for better decision-making, helping me choose actions that move me forward more gracefully.

Q: What are some lessons from Laos that you have carried with you through your life?

MP: My parents had to escape with us from Laos. They got in a boat and rowed across the Mekong River, seeking safety for their children. They did not know if they were going to make it to the shores of Thailand, let alone find our way to a refugee camp. Somehow they knew to take that leap of Faith. That was the defining moment in my life. I was only four years old but their decision to leave danger behind, crossing the river to the great unknown, was the most important lesson in my life. I have learned to trust and believe that when our lives are filled with challenges, there is always a better place on the other side. I always move toward optimism and hope using the only tools I have inside of me, my intuition and faith that “all things are as they should be or they would be something else”. This mantra helps me move forward during the toughest times of my life.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

MP: “Honor your unique gifts, talents and experiences. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts to lead you on the right paths in life. First, learn to tap into your instincts and hear that inner voice. Once you have practiced doing this for yourself, you will be better equipped to honor others’ gifts, believe in their brilliance and trust their instincts to lead them on their own paths in life.”

Q: Life is beauty and pain.  Tell me about pain in your life.

MP: I have had many painful moments in life. All of them have led me here to a place where I truly honor my life. As a child, I grew up in the United States basically in poverty. I felt like an outcast living in a neighborhood where no one, besides my own family, acknowledged me because there we very few Asians who lived in our neighborhood. I was ridiculed and bullied for most of my childhood.

In my mid 20’s I lost my fiancé and nephew to a drowning accident and two years later, I lost my godfather and my own father, both to cancer. Two years thereafter, I lost my best friend to suicide, then an uncle to lung cancer and in 2013, my beloved grandmother passed away. I have felt hopeless and reached the bottom of despair yet somehow crawled out of the depths of sadness. I did this by simply feeling every ounce of the pain and “walking through”. I trusted that at some point, I would arrive at a lighter place and somehow, I always did. I was forced to exercise my heart muscles, my physical stamina and my emotional bandwidth. I have been tested, I have been challenged and I have prevailed with an even greater thirst for living in each moment. All of these experiences have elevated my desire to live a profound and meaningful life while I am alive and on this earthly plane. My empathy bucket has stretched deep and wide so I am much more capable of supporting others who are moving out of pain and choosing to walk toward peace.

Q: What question did I miss?  What else should I know about you?

MP: My life’s work gets played out every day through my business. I get to help every person sent to me see, own, articulate and release their unique gifts, talents and messages into the world. I help others set themselves free of barriers, grief, and doubts through my SOAR retreats, mapping process, podcasts, publications and cable television show, Tea with Mali. I feel fortunate for all the elements came together to create my existence. Life has happened to me so I am making it a point make it count, appreciate my time here and live out my purpose!

MaliPhonpadith.com

SOARCommunityNetwork.com

TeawithMali.com

 

 

 

 

 

Vicki Fox

Vicki FoxVicki Fox is a catalyst and conduit for holistic growth. She loves to connect people and inspire them, and this drive led her to create Women of Intention, Ordinary Women Making An Extraordinary Difference in 2006. I met Vicki at one of the Women of Intention meetings where I was impressed by the heart-felt gathering of super cool ladies. I’ve made some lifelong friends from these meetings. Besides being a consummate connector, Vicki is a freelance court reporter who types a stunning 260 words per minute.

Q:  What led you to create Women of Intention?

VF: In 2005, I had moved to York to start a new life and get remarried. That December, I ended the engagement and moved back to Harrisburg. Many women had been excited and encouraged at my finding love in my early 50’s.   Returning to the area, I felt a bit of shame and some embarrassment as if I had let these women down. I knew I needed to let them all know my story and I also knew that it would be an opportunity to reinvent myself. My solution was to hold a 55th birthday party for myself, invite them all, tell my story and celebrate my new beginning. I asked them to come and celebrate with me, explaining that their presence was my present.

A love of mine is creating a safe space and building community. With that in mind, I posed two questions to the women knowing it would bring us together as a group and connect our hearts. I requested they come prepared to share an intention for their own self-care and an intention for the care of the planet.

Thirty-four women showed up! It was a Two Tissue Event! When women stood up and shared their intentions, it was incredibly moving. The next morning when I awakened, it was as if I was in a conversation with someone, and I found myself saying out loud, “Yes, you are right. Unless I hold monthly gatherings, all their intentions will die. Women of Intention: Ordinary Women Making an Extraordinary Difference.” I believe that experience was divine intervention.

Ordinary women making an extraordinary difference.

It has been eight years. I’ve watched the original women grow and change. Women of Intention attracts an eclectic group of women. The beauty is that most of these women would never meet because of their life’s path. Yet when we convene and share deep conversation, there is a sense of camaraderie. We realize while externally we may seem different, we are all the same — desiring a safe world where we can all make a difference and prosper.

I have often described Women of Intention as not another networking group, but rather a group where we connect our souls. That being said, I encourage the women to support each other in our work in the world.

Q: Women of Intention has been flourishing for years. What are some of the things that surprise you?

I’m surprised that Women of Intention keeps on going. There are times that I want to give up. It’s a lonely process. When one sends out three or four newsletters to the over 600 women on my list and there is no requested feedback, I sometimes start to wonder Is anyone out there? Then as we get closer to an event date, women start enrolling, and I get renewed excitement.

The evening of an event always reminds me why I spend so many hours planning and executing the program. It is because magic happens when you gather women! There have been many synchronicities, friendships and collaborations borne at Women of Intention. To keep things fresh, groups need to evolve. As the women have changed and grown, the programs have reflected that. I am looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

I have watched my growth over these past eight years. In some ways, I’m a maverick, but in other ways, I’m terrified, both of failure and success. Trust is a big issue for me and I know I am not alone. I’m like “every woman” and I feel like I am a good barometer in deciding what topics to present.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

VF: When I look back on my life and see things that were a “mistake”, where life could have gone a different way and didn’t, I see at that time I had an inner knowing that the path I was choosing, mostly because of fear, was not the one for my highest good.

My advice would be: Be quiet and still, listen to that inner voice that is telling you not to do something, or the excited, passionate voice that is telling you it is time to stretch and be a “yes”. Trust all the answers are inside. Remember if you make a decision that does not feel right down the road, there is always a course correction to get you back on track.

Q: How has the path your life has taken surprised you?

VF: It’s interesting because at this part of my life I want to be in the front of the room, but for thirty-nine years I’ve been the silent person in the courtroom as a court reporter.

Court reporting has been a good profession. I’m certified at 260 words per minute. From recording hundreds of trials and deposition, I know a little bit about everything, yet not much about any one particular area. Every case is something interesting – from Three Mile Island to the Rite Aid trial – but it’s like you’re a fly on the wall and not a participant.

To develop the other side of my brain, I’m certified in reflexology and as a yoga teacher. No one in the courtroom has ever said, “Thank you, Vicki, I feel so much better.” It is nice to hear that after working on a client’s face and feet or instructing a yoga class.

It has surprised me that I am not in the front of the room more. In high school, I was very active in student government and I enjoyed making a difference. I have been a Toastmaster for five years, and I am honing my skills so that in my Third Act, I will not be silent any longer.

Q: Life is beauty and pain. Tell me about pain in your life.

VF: Currently, the pain is that my daughter lives in Chicago and my son, his wife, and my two-year-old grandson live in Minneapolis. I miss them terribly. The beauty is I am happy that they have fabulous lives and are amazing human beings, but I am saddened that our in-person contact is so restricted because of the geographic distance. God bless Skype!

Q:  What question did I miss?  What else should I know about you?

VF: I am a wonderful doer, and I am trying to carve out some time to be. To listen to my soul’s calling to see what is next for me. In April, I connected with some wonderful people out in California. I was invited to a meeting with fifty attendees, twenty-seven women and twenty-three men.  We are embarking on a movement in its early stages called The Conscious Elder Network. Our intention is to be a catalyst to transform our culture to respect the wisdom of the elders and to use that wisdom to support the dreams and visions of the younger people in our culture to create a kinder, more gentle and self-sustaining world.  I am not sure what my place will be there. I am trusting that will become more apparent as we move forward.

There has been much back and forth since this initial website and it will be growing organically.  One thing that is not visible there at the moment is the importance of intergenerational collaboration.

One new friend from The Conscious Elder Network said his definition of a conscious elder is to be comfortable with uncertainty and embrace the mysteries of life.  That is certainly a growing edge for me, and I am enjoying my new involvement with these wonderful people, many of whom appear to truly know how to live in the present and trust all is well.

So stay tuned. We hope The Conscious Elders Network will begin a movement where elders will help the youth achieve their dreams, and we, as elders, will return to our rightful place where our wisdom is respected.

Some other unknown facts about me are that I love to sing (my fantasy is to sing vampy, jazzy songs in a cocktail lounge!) and I take private ballroom dancing lessons and have participated in annual shows where my instructor has me doing lifts. Also, what everyone says about being a grandparent is true. I recommend it to everyone. Pure joy!