How A Housewife Achieved A Highly Successful Professional Career
I'm one of those people who is extremely lucky because the most amazing, most inspiring person I know personally is in my family. It's my mom. Dedicated, purposeful, determined, hardworking, selfless, generous, brave, visionary, and inspiring. These are all words that describe her. She's had a huge impact on the lives of many, starting with her three children. But also extending to literally millions of people through her work as a university professor, educator and consultant addressing public health issues related to family planning, prenatal care, AIDS awareness, anti-smoking, waste recycling and tobacco crop substitution. Among those who have benefited the most from her work are those from poorer inner city areas in the United States and rural areas in China.
What makes her so amazing to me is that her life didn't start out looking like it would turn out like this. At all! Directionless, lost, overlooked, underestimated, ignored, isolated, and without potential would accurately describe her reality as a teenager and young woman.
If you follow me, you may have heard me share some things about her before. Besides being my main source for inspiration when facing tough challenges in life, she's also my favorite person to talk about. In a family of scholars and achievers, she was the dumb, but pretty one. While her brothers and sisters went to Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell, she went to Salva Regina, a small, 3rd tier, all girls, Catholic university taught by nuns. Most graduates didn't pursue serious careers. The school mainly prepared them to attract suitable husbands. On top of this, she was a “C” student!
So get married, have kids, and be a good housewife was her destiny. Nobody thought she was capable of anything more. So she married my dad. They had the type of marriage that looked good on paper, but was not a good match in reality. Without going into details, it was not a happy time for her.
So here's my mom, with three kids, ages five, three, and one year old, in an unhappy marriage. Every day feeling hopeless and desperate. With no future or possibility for her life to be more than what it was. Eventually, she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for a week. She describes that week as the lowest point in her life. But also the turning point.
She made a bold decision to go back to school. People were shocked. Nobody said, “What an awesome idea!” Not even her family. She was about 28 at the time. As a full-time mom and full-time student competing with other Masters students five years younger and without three kids to look after, she was in over her head. But that didn't stop her. With every bit of energy and inspiration she could manage, she worked her ass off.
After a year, she was still just barely passing her courses. But a professor saw something in her. A fire. A light. A huge heart. And he encouraged her to apply for the doctoral program. He told her that he had never seen anyone with as much potential as her. It was the first time in her life she had ever heard such words.
So she applied, and was accepted. The doctoral program was twice as demanding and competitive. But my mom now had something that she had never had before. She had hope. And that hope helped give her a vision to dedicate her life to helping many poor and unfortunate people in this worldwho are also overlooked and under recognized. And from then on, anyone who underestimated my mom ended up being impressed or overtaken by her.
Okay, I'm her son. So you may think that I'm overly partial to how amazing my mom is. But over the years, I've met many, many people who have been her colleague, collaborator, or student. Every one of them that I meet goes on excitedly about how inspiring, energetic, and dedicated she is. They talk about her leadership and ability to make things happen that most others can't.
My mom has had a 20+ year relationship with Kunming, working with the universities and rural villages there. She could have easily chosen Shanghai and Beijing instead to dedicate her time and effort, and was highly sought to work on projects in those places. But she purposely chose Kunming, because “that's where people need the most help.”
My mom's been retired for several years, but still works on selected projects that matter to her. During her last trip there last year, I went to spend a few days with her. It was the weekend, but university and Masters students were flowing into her apartment, one after another. Mind you, my mom is 84 years old now. These students weren't coming by just to make an old lady feel good. They were coming by to seek her advice and guidance. They came to be mentored. To listen to her share her experience and insights on how to write proposals and run projects to turn big ideas into reality. This is something my mom has done better than many others her entire career.
I could go on and on about my mom, but I'll just mention three more things. The first is that I remember asking her once how she managed to do what she does. This is what she told me.
“I'm not the smartest person in the room. That's for sure. But I'm creative, and I believe in my ideas. And when it comes to doing things, I find a way. If it's not within my capabilities, then I find someone who has them, get them involved, and give them the credit. And then, I just outwork everyone else.”
第二点是，人们总是问我:“在我公司王李亚洲资源中‘李’指的是什么?” ，“李”就是我妈妈的姓，Virginia Li。
The second is that people always ask me, “Who's the “Li” in Wang & Li Asia Resources?” That's my company's name. Well, the “Li” is a direct reference to my mom, Virginia Li.
The last is that people are always telling me how energetic, passionate, and hardworking I am. But I always tell them that I'm only half of what my mom is in all those areas. Just a poor imitation. And when people say these similar things to my mom, she tells them that she's just half of what her mom is, my grandma Li. She's the other person that the “Li” in my company name refers to. She's quite amazing too. But I'll save her story for another article!
Who is the most amazing or inspiring person you know, and what is he or she like？