The past 10 years of my life have been filled with so many full circle moments and coincidences that I often wonder if someone is playing some magical cosmic joke on me. Take yesterday, for instance. I was asked to speak and share my story at the Women’s Fund’s annual “A Conversation With” event. The Women’s Fund is an organization conducting research and spreading awareness about the issues that women face on their climb toward economic self-sufficiency. Issues like childcare barriers, finding and keeping employment, making a living wage, and training and education. And I’m one of the women who has faced (and is still in some ways facing) those issues. I was asked to briefly talk about my more than 20-year climb to economic self-sufficiency as someone who went from being a teenaged single-mother and high school dropout to completing a graduate degree and working as a Social Justice Advocate. So as I stepped on the stage and positioned myself behind the microphone, I felt fully encapsulated within my circle.
To understand the gravity of that moment, I have to first rewind to two years prior when I attended my first Women’s Fund event. I was working in the marketing department of a local company on the public relations team. Part of my job was to get our name out in the cities where we had satellite offices. So I’d call newspaper and television stations to tell them about the company and let them know that we were around. This sort of worked out when we had actual news to share i.e. we were opening a new satellite office and bringing jobs to the region. But it got awkward when there wasn’t really anything newsworthy to tell them. And that was most days. But I had to call because it was a part of a quota I had to maintain. There were days when I’d make call after call trying to reach reporters, leaving messages and essentially telling them I was calling to touch base. I’m pretty sure I became a nuisance. But I did this because it was a part of my job and I had to do it. When things happened in the news that we could piggyback off of, I had to contact even more media outlets. When Robin Williams died, I was told to have employees in various satellite offices stand on their desks, take a picture, and then send the images to me. I then had to send those images to various news outlets saying we were paying homage to Williams in the form of a Dead Poets Society tribute. Talk about uncomfortable. Not only did that have nothing to do with our work, it just felt like a sleazy way of gaining publicity. But when you’re a single mom with no other source of income or support, you do what you have to do to keep your job. Those hours of sending photos of millennials standing on top of their desks—folks who could’ve probably cared less about that scene in the movie, much less Robin Williams—were a low point of my time there.
Thankfully it wasn’t all terrible. I made some lasting friendships while I was there and there were redeeming aspects that helped make that time more bearable. Because the company was a male-dominated one, there was a women’s group to help showcase and affirm that the company also cared about its women cohort. Any woman in the company was welcomed to join and attend the group planned activities like dinner outings, wine tastings, professional development events or concerts. Typically, I’d only participate if there were an activity during work hours. And the one and only time I joined in on an after-hours event– it changed my life. The woman who ran the group sent out an email telling members she had a limited amount of tickets to an event featuring journalist and human rights activist Lisa Ling. Since I studied journalism in undergrad and I used to watch The View during the show’s early days—I was a huge Ling fan. I immediately replied and was just as immediately told that the tickets had already been claimed.
Weeks later, I receive an email about an hour or so before it was time for me to leave work and pick up my daughter from school saying that someone could no longer go to the Ling event and had given their ticket back. I was asked if I still wanted to go. Heck yeah I wanted to go! With just a few hours to make it happen, I scramble to secure a sitter and since there was not enough time for me to pick up my daughter, go home, get her to where she’s going, and then make it to the event on time—one thing I forgot to mention about this job is that I had to drive 300 miles a week to make it work. I lived in one part of town, my daughter’s school was in another part of the city and my job was another 30 miles still— and so I go, as I am, to the event. Donned in my 9-5 garb and not really knowing anyone else who was going, what to expect, or even who was putting on the event.
I’m thinking about all of this as I am standing on the stage at the very event I attended two years prior. In that moment before I speak, I think back to that first event and how my heart exploded when I heard the Executive Director talking about the research the Women’s Fund is doing so that the public is aware of the many obstacles women—and particularly single mothers—face on their climb to economic self-suffiency. And remembering how I couldn’t believe that there was an organization fighting for me.
As I look out into the audience I say, “I don’t think it would be a stretch to assume that many of you who are here today have heard the term Full Circle Moment. Well, you are witnessing one right now as I am currently standing in the middle of that circle.”
Even as I was standing there, I had no idea just how full that moment really was.