incredible women

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!






Barbara Rittinger Rigo

Barb Rigo


Barbara Rittinger Rigo focuses her practice on representing management in a wide range of labor and employment matters, including:

  • Trials for race, gender, age, disability and national origin discrimination claims
  • Arbitration
  • Mediation
  • Family and Medical Leave Act litigation
  • Wage and hour class actions
  • Trade secret law

She defends clients in all types of industries, including transportation, hospitality and pharmaceutical, in state and federal courts, as well as before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and state and federal departments of labor. 
Barbara focuses a large part of her practice on counseling employers on day-to-day compliance with local, state and federal statutes, such as:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Title VII
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
  • Wage payment collection laws
  • Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)

She is a frequent speaker on those and other topics. She also drafts and reviews employer policies and employment and severance agreements for clients spanning numerous industries.

Barbara is a member of the Discrimination Commission for the Township of Haverford. She is also a member of Littler Mendelson’s Diversity Advisory Committee. Prior to joining Littler, she was an associate at two large firms in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In law school, she was a senior editor of the Dickinson Law Review.

Q:  What path led to your career as an Employment and Labor Attorney?  What qualities make someone excel in your field?

BR: I always wanted to be a lawyer, probably because my dad is a lawyer. A lot of people fall into law because they don’t know what else to do, but becoming a lawyer was always my goal. I became involved with employment and labor law, because I was into Constitutional law, but it’s really because I have the most interesting cases. Every day, my work is like the Jerry Springer show. I love the interesting human stories and freak shows. I love people claiming that something crazy happened and then deconstructing their story to find out what actually happened.

I think for labor and employment, unlike a corporate lawyer, practicality is a key trait. Being able to listen and figure out what is important. A lot of times the things that people focus on aren’t really important to their lawsuit, so I help them understand what is important and come to a resolution they can live with. To be successful as a lawyer, being responsive is also incredibly important. I hope that my clients feel like they can talk to me and that I’m quick to respond. I also like to prove my point. It’s an annoying trait in a kid (as my mom tells me and as I deal with every day with my kids) but it’s a good trait in a lawyer. I don’t think my nature would be suited to a less adversarial profession.

Q: How do you juggle the demands on your time?  What brings you balance?

BR: I’m really lucky that I work with people who respect my need for balance, and I have throughout my career. My husband, Steve, travels a lot. My colleagues were really supportive and respected my ability do this job in a flexible way, even if it wasn’t the way everyone else does it. But what goes along with that is that you have to be prepared for people to think you’re less dedicated and not let it bother you. I really like my work; I love doing what I do. I’m really lucky to have had mentors that supported me and gave me the flexibility to keep doing this job. And when the job was less flexible than I wanted because of a trial or other work obligations, I’m lucky to have a husband, parents, family and babysitters (who are like family) who helped pick up the slack when I needed it. Otherwise it never would have worked.

Smart phones also changed my life so that I can have the balance to work from anywhere, including being on top of work when I’m with my kids or volunteering at their school. I try to be home for dinner every night. Even if I have more work to do, I do it after the kids are in bed. I always wanted to be part of my kids’ education, volunteering, taking the kids to school. My regular schedule was that I took my kids to school so I could connect to them and that world and then go to work. I want their teachers to know who I am. I’m lucky to have a job where I can come in a little late.

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

BR: Relax.

Part of our development at work includes personality tests. They really are dead on. Through this test they had us take at work I could see that I hit the roof quickly with stress, but I come down quickly too. Over time I’ve learned how to not hit the roof as much. I probably wasted a lot of time being frustrated. I’ve learned that it’s important not to take things so personally.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done?

BR: My kids. There’s nothing else that matters to me as much as them and their accomplishments. They’re not perfect, so working through their problems is rewarding too.

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

BR: I have that Irish-Catholic guilt that says that things can always be worse, and I am so blessed. I feel so lucky. Certainly sometimes life gives you problems and pain and I look at it like pain makes you stronger, because you have to push through it. No one ever solved a problem by staying in bed. I like to push through problems to try to solve them, and if I can’t, I try to look at the positive and how blessed I am to have what I have. I do complain and I’m sarcastic, but I still have to push thru it- and I always try to.

Q: How does being Irish-Catholic shape your view of the world?

BR: I think it’s just about community- whatever community or communities you choose. For me, in part, it’s my religion. Whatever your religion, I hope it impacts you to strive to be a better person and to do the right thing. I’m not always perfect, but it gives me some kind moral compass. Every religion gives you that, so it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you have something that guides you to do the right thing or be a better person.

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

BR: One thing that I think about a lot is that if I had the chance to do it all over again would I do the same thing? I’m sure I would. Staying at work wasn’t the easiest choice after having kids, but I’m grateful that I made that choice and grateful for the people who helped me make it. A lot of people look back on their careers and lives and wish they had done things differently, but I think I’d do the same things again. I’d maybe just try to have had more fun doing it. And yelled less….

LN Lurie

LN Lurie_iw

LN Lurie is an extremely interesting dynamo. She’s an audio engineer whose expertise is in gaming. According to LinkedIn, LN specializes in “picking a direction, putting out fires, and replacing [herself] with efficient pipelines.” Through our interview, I also saw a passionate leader, who is great at telling stories through podcasts and using sound as a medium to communicate. LN is a global volunteer and her work includes disaster relief in the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan. Some of her past roles include “Queen of all things Audible” and “Super Audio Girl.” (Is it clear yet why I think LN is awesome?) Currently, LN is wanderlusting across Africa while the rest of us drool over her pictures.

Q:  How does telling the stories of others make you consider yourself and your story?

LL: I believe that when you re-tell a story, it becomes yours. Not the actions or experiences, but the story is yours. The takeaway is yours. With that said—I believe that ANYTHING I hear, I’m an audio person, after all, I try to relate that story to my life.

An example is hearing my grandmother talk about her life. She’s 90. She grew up during the depression where having a bit of string to tie up her hair was coveted. Hearing stories like hers, if anything, make me grateful for the things that we DO have in this world. When I retell this, I hope you become grateful or mindful as well.

Q: What role has music played in your life? Are there artists that you turn to time and time again?

LL: This is my favorite question. I was a music major—I’ve played the violin since age three and bassoon since seventh grade. I’ve played countless instruments because I originally wanted to become a band instructor. “What’s a bassoon?” you ask…don’t feel bad. My professors at Berklee, a Jazz school in Boston, didn’t know either. They actually called it a “wooden saxophone”.

But yes, music is incredibly important to my life. Because of school, I analyze music instead of simply listening to it. First I hear the melody, then the counter melody, the rhythm, the bass line, how everything works together, the chord progressions…and finally by the seventh or eight time I listen to a song, that’s when I’ll hear the words.

My mom was a piano pedagogy major. She didn’t allow me to listen to anything “unless they were dead.” She thought current music wasn’t really music. So I grew up listening to Beatles, Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven. When Kurt Cobain died, I was ecstatic! I ran home and said, “MOM!? CAN I LISTEN TO NIRVANA NOW?!” and she just looked at me and said “No. He’s not dead enough.”

A story I really wanted to share with you is about how music makes this weird thing happen in my brain, and probably everyone, where all of a sudden you hear a piece of music and you remember where you were when you first heard it, or how that piece has personal meaning for you.

I remember listening to Metallica’s One during a YMCA lock-up after a school dance. My High School Sweetheart Greg and I had just finished running up and down stairs, hyped up on Mountain Dew, and that song came on. We both stopped as if we were shot and drop down on the floor, mesmerized by the song, staring at the ceiling, trying to control our breath as we hold our planks. I get taken over by this almost trance-like guitar solo in the beginning. The music transports me to July 1999 and we are sitting on a wall listening to Metallica live. It’s pitch black except for a few joints and cigarettes. The guitar solo starts, I stare at the crowd, and it starts to rain. In real life, I snap out of my haze, realizing that I’ve been holding a plank for three minutes at the YMCA and I start to do Box Jumps.

It’s amazing how music can transport you and tells stories.

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

LL: I would tell myself to think bigger. I could always think bigger. Also to think more simply….and don’t listen so much to my mother!

Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done?

LL: Teaching my 90-yearr-old grandma how to use an iPad.

Seriously. Do you know how difficult that is?! I mean—I’ve worked in corporate America. I’ve dealt with sexual harassment. I’ve traveled solo around the world, I’ve moved to new countries, I’ve been poorly kidnapped in Ecuador, I’ve had my bag and all my belongings stolen in Panama, I finished a marathon, I’ve survived the world’s worst typhoon in history in the Philippines, I’ve been a first-responder on many incidents, I’ve been published countless times in video games. I’ve played Bassoon Porn Music! But my greatest achievement is teaching my 90-year-old grandma how to use an iPad.

How I measured my success was by writing her a message on Facebook. She “liked” it! That was it. That was the best day of my life!

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

LL: I sliced open my thumb with a machete in Guatemala. Where there is no clean running water and I had to wash out my hand with rum. Is that the type of pain you’re talking about?…I’m sure it’s not.

My other pain is my biggest challenge right now. I’m about to embark on a journey to Africa with $5,000, which seems like a lot and maybe it is, but I’m going to pretty touristy places. I like some amenities, so my biggest challenges is that I’m still unemployed, basically, but my finances are in a scary, unknown situation. On this trip, I’ve planned three weeks so far, but that’s all time with family. I used to be someone with a 10-year goal and 10-year plan, but I’ve found that I miss out by planning so much. I backpacked through Europe and found that I only had two good stories from those three weeks because I planned so much. I started planning less when I went around the world and I started finding better stories. For Africa, I’m not planning at all, which is a huge challenge because I’m such a planner and a control freak. So not having any finances and being a control freak, I have no idea how I’m going to do this. And I don’t know what will happen when I come back. All those things are pretty scary.

Dede Henley

Dede Henley

Photo credit: Ingrid Pape-Sheldon Photography,

Dede Henley has been in the field of leadership development since 1982. She brings breadth and depth as a designer, consultant, and executive coach at Henley Leadership. She is dedicated to calling forth the highest and best from her clients, their leadership teams, and their employees. Dede provides coaching that enables her clients to translate their vision into action, align personal and organizational values, increase employee loyalty and commitment, manage change, support emerging leaders, and create organizations that thrive. As a course designer, she has assisted in the creation of three internal corporate universities. She designs unique experiences for leaders to open their minds and hearts, enabling them to step into lasting and profound change.

Dede has authored numerous published articles on coaching and leadership development and has spoken on leadership internationally. Her book, The Secret of Sovereignty, earned her the honor of being named one of 100 Top Thought Leaders by Warren Bennis and Leadership Excellence in 2007 and 2008. Dede holds a Masters degree in Organization Development from Pepperdine University and has served as adjunct faculty member at Pepperdine. She is the mother of three and second-mom to three more. Dede and her husband live in Seattle.

Dede has been a champion for having more women in positions of leadership for the past 20 or so years.  In her words, “I care very much that intuition, creativity, compassion and collaboration are a big part of the workplace of the future.”

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

DH: Well, it was my beloved nephew, so he may be biased!  I know I have come through many adversities with my optimism still intact.  I have been willing to grow and learn as a leader, a woman, a mom, and a friend all of my life.  I have cultivated a 10 year business partnership with a woman named Carol Zizzo.  She and I are close friends and our partnership has helped me to grow up in many ways.  She has taught me about loyalty and staying, even when I didn’t want to.

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

DH: I would say not to fret so much – it will all turn out. You will find someone who loves you dearly and will take very good care of you.  You will do work that you love.  You will live in a house you love in a city you love.   Don’t waste a bunch of time trying to have a clean house so that your mother will approve.  Love your beautiful body – it is strong and will serve you for years to come.  Stop worrying about those extra five pounds and your belly.  Live life one day at a time and enjoy the ride.  Travel less for work so you can spend more time with your children, especially Carly, who won’t be with you after she turns 20.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done?

DH: Cultivate a remarkable relationship with my now adult children.  They are my favorite people to be with. I am also proud of the work I’ve done.  The way I’ve contributed to people’s lives being better, richer, fuller.

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

DH: My 20 year old daughter took her own life.  There is no greater pain for a mother than the death of a child, and a suicide is devastating.  Her death shattered me.  I have found my way back now to life and have put together my heart and mind in a way that has made me a better, more real person.  I am somewhat fearless as the worst that could happen, already has.  This serves me in a thousand ways.

Maimah Karmo

Maimah Karmo

Maimah Karmo is a remarkable woman. Eight years ago, her life was torn apart by a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer. She had a beautiful three-year old daughter and her entire life in front of her — or so she thought. With the words, “You have breast cancer” everything Maimah knew ceased to exist as the same. The world held a different reality.

Maimah says, “I had to learn fast. I had to adapt. I had to figure it all out — I had everything to lose, including my life. While undergoing my second round of chemotherapy I made a promise to God one night to give him my life in service. The next morning my entire life was different and Tigerlily Foundation was born. Although I was still sick, I felt stronger and bolder than I ever had. Most of all, I felt a fearlessness about life I’d never known.”

Since starting Tigerlily, Maimah has dedicated her life to helping young women around the world. She is a motivational speaker and has appeared in various media outlets, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Essence, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Redbook Women and Cancer, Cure Magazine and more. She has also been featured on Fox 5, ABC 7, CBS, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America and numerous national radio stations. In 2009, Maimah was awarded a L’Oreal Paris’ Women of Worth award, among others. Maimah is an active member of other advocacy organizations. In May 2011, she was named one of Running Start’s “Women to Watch”.

Most dear to Maimah’s heart is being the mother of a beautiful 11-year-old girl, whom she adores.

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

MK: I’m the worst person to ask that question, as I’m my own worst publicist. I will say that I love very deeply and give love freely. I’m open and honest; I’m vulnerable and strong. I think what people see in me is a reflection of themselves.

Q: You said that breast cancer forced you to be authentic. What does living an authentic life mean to you now? What do you hope to teach your daughter about how to live her life? What does she teach you?

MK: My daughter reflects me back to myself. As we get older, we tend to look at ourselves in terms of expectations and we are judgmental of ourselves. But my daughter looks at me with so much honesty. My friends and I were working on a vision board together, I spent hours creating it, and I said, “Noelle, come see what I did.” And she said, “I don’t get it, you already are those things that you want to be.” She reminds me to be less judgmental of myself, accept myself where I am, and to more authentic, because it is okay to be me.

Being authentic means being who you are, where you are, when you’re there. I’ve been blessed by authentic girlfriends. We are able to be our girl selves and our woman selves together – vulnerable and strong, goofy and serious, all with no judgment. It’s amazing to have friends who celebrate all of the things that you are. You’re not afraid to show up because you have people who support you in your growth.

I didn’t have a lot of girlfriends growing up, I always wanted a sister. But now I have friends and their unconditional love and support allows me to be who I am. One great thing about authentic friends is that they see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. They see your greatness and potential and it helps you to peel off layers. When you peel off all the layers everyone is pure love, everyone wants to be accepted — where they are, when they’re there, wherever they are.

Q: The Tigerlily Foundation is built to inspire, educate, and advocate for women with breast cancer. Like a tiger lily, women are always changing — blossoming or dormant, growing and evolving.  How has The Tigerlily Foundation evolved for you?  How has your life changed in unimagined ways?

MK: It’s been an amazing and incredible journey. I came to this country as a refugee when I was fifteen years old. I took a fifteen hour flight alone, built up my life, and then was diagnosed with breast cancer. My life fell apart. I’ve always been searching for who I am and what I’m supposed to be and, just when I felt like my life was together again, I got diagnosed and it all fell apart.

Oftentimes we want things and when we get them we find that we are trapped by maintaining those things. It’s like finally getting what you want, then you find you’re not happy. I had come to the United States with nothing, so for most of my life, I had worked to create stability and acquire things. When I did finally get “there”, I found that there was still something missing. So after being diagnosed I started to find ways to serve people. Breast cancer gave me a different perspective. I needed to be someone who asked questions, who stood up for others. My diagnosis was crazy, unexpected, and life changing. I couldn’t continue with my career because I felt a burning desire to work with women under 40 who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

I began the Tigerlily Foundation as a blog and offered one program where I sent bags to women who were diagnosed and undergoing treatment. I began getting calls from hospitals and organizations, and from there started speaking and adding programs, which grew into a 501c(3). Everything grew really fast. I wasn’t expecting it to grow at the rate that it did. Sometimes, I feel as if I became an accidental leader!

I saw myself as someone who would make a difference, but I never set out to be leading. In my heart of hearts, I am a homebody, quite shy and prefer to remain behind the scenes. One of the reason that Tiger Lily has grown so fast is because I’m able to be humble – I am a servant leader at the core. When I found myself on Oprah less than two years after beginning Tigerlily Foundation, it was amazing. She asked me if I had written a book – and it was painful to say “no”. However, I finally did write one. It is called “Fearless: Awakening to My Life’s Purpose Through Breast Cancer.”

Sometimes I look back because the last eight years have been a roller coaster, but it’s been fun. I’ve survived three wars, been held at gunpoint, struck by lightning, and had breast cancer and survived, so now, I just “live”. I don’t hold back. I express how I feel — I’m open and honest. There’s no way to pigeonhole me. I don’t fit into any mold.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I consider this is my afterlife. I see everything with a fresh set of eyes and I jump into life. I made a decision to not tone things down and to just to show up as I am. When I live this way, it encourages others to live openly and boldly as well.

I realized that my cancer wasn’t just about my body and the awful cells that threatened to destroy it. Cancer starts to permeate our lives long before we even know it exists. It can affect our minds at youth, it permeates unhealthy relationships, it keeps us in jobs that make us miserable, it keeps us in unhealthy battles with food, weight, and body image. Life cancer can take away your peace and infiltrate your life so that you are no longer the confident, strong, fearless individual that was born into the world. So many people are afraid of cancer, as I was and to an extent still am at times, but the thing that I fear most is not living and merely existing. That is a sure and slow death.

The morning my life changed, I made a vow to live as loudly as possible. I would jump into the things that made me afraid, I would risk everything to feel, to live, and to love. Most of all, I would be fully present in life and give of myself so that others may have the incredible joy I feel every day of my life.

Q: You write that “The fearless female’s journey is not without fear it’s about leaping into the fear.” Can you tell me about a time when you leapt into fear?

MK: I would say that as Tigerlily Foundation grew, it scared me. People were seeing me as an expert or authority about breast cancer. I was so afraid of being the person that people looked as someone in such a position of authority. I had set out to help some women, and didn’t expect the outcome to be so big – and that scared me. I didn’t know that being “just me” would come with responsibility. I didn’t realize that God chose me for this and I needed to make a decision to show up and engage. Every time I show up on a stage or when people are looking at me, I feel a responsibility to fully show up, so I breathe and I show up! I get asked to speak in places that I didn’t expect, as I often am now on Capitol Hill – speaking as a breast cancer advocate. What all of this has taught me is to step into the fear, whether it’s of public speaking, or maybe saying the wrong thing in front of really smart people, or of not making the impact that I’d like to make. I focus on the present, and enjoy the moment. Being able to make a difference in the lives of others is such a humbling experience.

Besides my work, falling in love for the first time, after treatment was scary as well. When I got diagnosed, my relationship with my daughter’s father fell apart and it was so painful that when I needed someone the most they left. But it was a gift, because I learned to be so strong and I might not have found my purpose if it hadn’t happened that way. I’m so thankful for the way my life has unfolded. However, the pain of a broken heart made me keep people at arms length. I was deathly afraid of having a romantic relationship. But I met somebody who was so under the radar and before I knew it I was head over heels. It was a gift, because once I realized I was scared, I just stayed there with my fear. I meditated and worked with a reiki person. It was really powerful to choose to stay and to learn and I’ve really grown in that sense. I’m at a place where I’m ready, willing, and able to be with someone.

Q: In an interview ( you said that “The best experience for me is to live, and to give life to other people.”  How do you give life to others?

MK: You give life by living. We all do. It is the circle of life. The women that we help at Tigerlily Foundation come to the foundation because they might be scared after a breast cancer diagnosis; they might be dying or feel like they are dying. The Tiger Lily flower, in particular, the stargazer lily, our favorite, symbolizes transformation. It’s a perennial, in the fall and winter the leaves fall off, and in the spring and summer they grow. Just like the women. We work with women to help them survive and thrive and to wake up to who they are meant to be.

I often speak to women about empowerment and who they want to be in their lives. The goal is to inspire them to live their life and not to wait. I started Tigerlily when I was in treatment. I started something out of nothing and it’s grown to be something. If you are “alive” and awake, you can give life by inspiring others to survive and thrive and to be a light to others. I’ve work so hard to be present to others and to share light with others. The more we show up, the more we can help others to do so as well.

How can you be the change you wish to see in the world? You can’t just wait for someone else to do it. We have to cause something to happen!

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

MK: I would say, “You’re good.”

I’m actually painfully shy, which people don’t know about me. Growing up I always wanted to be in the corner, never in the spotlight. I used to feel like a loner, but I was OK being by myself. I fit in with all kinds of groups, but didn’t belong to any of them. My father always said to me, “You don’t have to follow the crowd. He said, “do what feels right for you and people will follow you.” He taught me to learn to be who I was and to walk confidently.

I used to worry a lot about my future, but now I realize that it’s all good; it’s OK. I just tell myself: It’s OK. You’ve already won. You’re already there. If you worry about the past and the future, you’ll never enjoy the gift of the present.

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

MK: I’d love for readers to pick up my book: Fearless. I’d love for them to donate or join us. I also recently launched a digital magazine called Bliss Magazine. It’s all about being happy and pursuing your life’s purpose. I also gave a TED Talk last year. Thanks so much for your support!

If you’d like to learn more about Maimah, you can see some of her interviews here: