Many of you may not know this, but far before it was fashionable for people to call themselves “entrepreneurs”, my mother was one. For most of my childhood, I remember her getting in the car early in the morning and driving 60 miles to the business she ran in Baldwin, Michigan.
As a child, I just knew my mom was “the boss”. Now, it almost shocks me. I live and breathe an industry where a female “boss” is (absurdly) an anomaly, and where people without college degrees brag about their brilliance. We look up to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who had the opportunity to drop out of Harvard to build two of the most important companies of the modern age.
But for some people, it was very different.
To be honest, I’ve never dug into the details of my mom’s schooling. Growing up, she called me “super brain” because of my (somewhat peculiar) tendency to consume information found in the books on my dad’s bedside table. I read Guns, Germs, and Steel when I was 10, because my dad left it laying about (looking back, this explains a whole lot about why my peers found me confusing at best and insufferable at worst).
But one thing she always emphasized was that she struggled in school (“I worked hard to get Bs,” she said.). She also couldn’t afford college. “It wasn’t important for girls,” she said. Looking back, I realized that her brothers were allowed to further their education while she was left to forge her own path.
From the scraps I’ve picked up over her absurdly modest retelling, she worked as a telemarketer (for two days before quitting), and worked enough to take a couple of business and accounting courses at a community college. She has still never finished a degree.
And yet, she has managed to build one of the most successful businesses I’ve ever seen someone bootstrap, and done it while caring for her family, adopting a daughter, and caring for her aging parents.
She began her business as a small grocery store in rural Michigan. That eventually turned into a company focused on selling recreational vehicles, which she sold. After that, she built a business fabricating wood-burning stoves, until the insurance got too high and they refocused on general metal fabrication with a speciality in conveyor belts (now, we call that a “pivot”).
She eventually sold that business to a loyal employee for an excellent return.
Today, she spent quite a few hours texting me about the U.S. presidential debate. She expressed her frustration with the lack of preparation and class of Trump, and how impressed she was with Hillary’s performance. While I’d love to think she was just trying to make me feel better about the horror show that was this election, as we were furiously writing notes back and forth, I realized something.
There are a hundred reasons why I want Hillary Clinton to be elected, but one of the most important is a testament to all of my mother’s tireless hard work.
She fought against all odds to be a dominant, smart, strategic business leader (my father, general counsel for an energy company, once said the only person he was intimidated to negotiate against was her), and a kind, thoughtful human being who has made the people and communities around her better for her presence.
I want Hillary to win first and foremost because she is quite literally one of the most qualified candidates to ever aspire to the presidency. But I also want her to win for other reasons. I truly believe that women like my mother — women who have helped build this country into the amazing place it is — deserve to see the final glass ceiling shattered. They deserve to see all of the hard work they have done with little encouragement and significant underestimation, and with constant and sometimes debilitating roadblocks put in the way of their brilliance pay off. They deserve to see a small part of themselves reflected in the authority and impact of the most powerful office in the world.
Today and every day, my mom is my hero. She is the ultimate feminist by accident, someone I can’t help but aspire to emulate. Some days, I think I work so hard so that in the future astonishingly talented women like her won’t have to fight so hard to be given a chance. I can’t solve everything at once, but I can contribute to a pretty damn big step forward this year.
When I’m voting, I’ll be thinking of my personal hero this year.
Oh, and while I’m thinking of my hero, I’ll be casting a vote that says #imwithher.
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