Strong women are sometimes a contradiction of terms- sensitive, ladylike and warm on the one hand, but unapologetically strong on the other.
Women can be sweet, nurturing and kind in their families, but also are a source of brave leadership when times get tough. I know one woman that was unapologetically strong, who years later still impacts my life and actions, and I’ve teamed up with Degree to tell you what her legacy of strength has meant for me.
Growing up, my life was the culmination of kind mentorship that kept me out of trouble and my eyes higher on the horizon than I would have been raised to recognize. As a young lass, I was in a non-profit service organization that guided young women through service and sisterhood to lives of greater purpose. There were many men and women who served as mentors & family for me- ensuring I that my heart was open to learn and give, and essentially, further ensure that I had the support to see it through. One of the people who made the greatest impact on my life now as a woman, was Vickie Diem.
Vickie Diem had the leadership and strength of a wisened woman but the playful side of a young soul. When it came to forging the character of the young women she worked with, she was stern in her insistence on quality and reputation, but still rewarded each of us with kind words, support and a childlike love of all things Disney. Most of all, her strength radiated in the ways she loved each of us, no matter where we were on the path to maturity, she had the highest standards for each of us, but a sense of understanding and forgiveness if we couldn’t hit the mark.
One of the most lasting impressions I’ll have of her was her attitude of humility, warmth & strength even when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. The diagnosis was severe but hopeful, and while I’m sure she was terrified, she seemed braver than all of us. Despite treatments and all the horrible, long days that come with cancer treatment, she still remained upbeat and supportive- attending events in a wheelchair with a big smile on her face.
True strength is focusing on the positive even when all seems bleak. To combat self-pity with hope & thankfulness.
I will remember the interaction with her that forever changed my life- we were at a Masonic event together, and through it all, though her appearance had changed, her disposition had not. At the time, she had been taking treatments for several months and was only able to get around in a wheelchair. She’d lost all of her hair and plenty of weight, but through the fatigue, it just highlighted her smiling disposition even more. I asked her how she was- expecting a reaction that would have been completely understandable for a woman battling cancer and in her usual way she said, “I’m great!” and radiated gratitude.
This woman was brave, this woman was strong. As a 20-something, having little experience with the real life daily impact of living with cancer, I was scared. I saw her and feared for her, but she was brave. Of course, she probably did feel fear, but fear didn’t seem to get in the way of expressing love and gratitude to everyone she met.
I learned a valuable lesson that day- if a woman whose life has been radically changed by cancer could express love, connectedness, faith and gratitude despite horrible circumstances, so could I. There is a true strength, an authentic bravery in expressing love. When faced with fear, self-pity or pain, conjure up the true strength to radiate love.
Love, I’ve learned, is bravery. Never apologize for being strong & always be humble.
Choosing love and gratitude is not a denial of the truth, it’s a celebration & recognition of the truth. That is something I will always remember. Now, years later, even after mourning the loss of the amazing woman I feel blessed to have called a mentor and friend, I try and live her legacy. There are days where I’m feeling down, exhausted and overwhelmed- but love is brave. If a woman battling cancer could say she’s great instead of throwing a (rightful) pity party and simply thank God for another day on Earth, so can I…surely, nothing I experience could come close to that.
Now, as I prepare for my first two half marathons and build a career, I combat fear with love and gratitude in her example. Life is full of setbacks, unknowns and bad days- but an anchor we have in it all is the unique strength a woman has to guide herself through unapologetic integrity and love. You can be strong in your own way- obstacles happen, setbacks happen. Anchor yourself in the strength of love and hope and you’ve discovered the secret overcoming life’s biggest challenges.
Some days, it’s hard to be strong. I can’t always hit my half marathon training goals or I feel like giving up.
Years later, when I hit obstacles in my running or in my career- I’m anchored in her example.
You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control your reaction- that’s true strength.
Degree is launching their Unapologetically Strong Campaign on the Degree Facebook Fan Page. They want to hear about how you are unapologetically strong and the goals you have to match!
Want to run a half marathon? Go on the adventure of a lifetime? Give back to your community? Erin Andrews and Degreeare teaming up to celebrate boundary-pushing women everywhere.
Tell us how you would use $5,000 to achieve your Unapologetically Strong goal. One lucky winner will have their journey documented on Facebook and sponsored by Degree.