We are all born as pure potential into family stories already in the making. The circumstances of our birth - parents, gender, race, culture, education and socio-economic standing – tend to inform our aspirations and how we move in the world. Yet, the most auspicious conditions do not guarantee success nor do the most challenging portend failure. In fact, oftentimes, the opposite is true. That’s because three overarching truths operate in our lives at all times. These are:
Once we learn to navigate change and harness our unique talents, we can perform the magical alchemy of becoming, where we transform into better versions of ourselves. We owe much to those who came before and left roadmaps to hasten our progress. For it’s in sharing our stories and blessings that our lives become truly meaningful. In this spirit, I join women storytellers everywhere in passing on some insights that guided two bewildered immigrant little girls (sister Patty, almost 8 and me, almost 10) to richly rewarding lives, way beyond what might have been predicted.
THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE
Imagine that everything familiar to you disappears in the blink of an eye: your home, family, school, neighborhood, clothing, books, toys, all of it… never to be seen again. The trip your parents planned in secret landed in Miami completely unmooring you from what you knew as reality; part of a massive Cuban exodus that would change millions of lives forever.
My sister and I recognized our most pressing problem immediately: we had become functionally illiterate on arrival. Radio and television were incomprehensible; as were the newspapers, billboards, street signs, and all else we had understood only a couple of hours earlier. It was bewildering to be in the middle of a new, strange world of activity and understand nothing of it. Learning English fast was our obvious priority.
My sister and I immediately got busy homeschooling ourselves. We made language study tools out of puzzles, books and television and pestered any bilinguals we came across. This early experience would spark a lifetime love for self-directed learning. It was also a confidence booster, as our parents soon came to rely on their two pint-sized translators. I earned my first quarter on U.S. soil for translating at the refugee center. I was 10 years old. As latchkey children, my sister promptly became a whiz in the kitchen relieving me of a good part of my earnings for services rendered, especially eggs, Jell-O and soup. We were both in business.
Our takeaway from this period is best described by Eckhart Tolle:
“Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something better to emerge.”
HUMAN POTENTIAL IS UNLIMITED
If the tiny acorn is potentially the majestic oak, imagine how unlimited human potential must be. We humans are hard-wired to adapt, survive and thrive or else there wouldn’t be so many of us. My sister and I didn’t know it then, but the obstacles ahead would make us stronger, bring out the best in us, and surface abilities we would never have guessed we had. This is the case for everyone.
In all fairness, my sister and I did get some valuable assists from our parents: food, shelter, clothing and nurturing family time including many fun gatherings with relatives. But they gave us three intangibles that made all the difference in the world: a love of books coupled with weekly visits to the public library, a pledge to earn everything ourselves in an honest manner, and an unwavering belief that there was no limit to what we could achieve in this country if we put our minds to it. Accepting this “no-limits” mindset was the most important factor of all. We still hold this belief and pass it forward at every opportunity (like this one).
ONLY WE CAN BRING OUR POTENTIAL INTO REALITY
All the potential in the world is useless unless it’s cultivated and tended. We’ve also seen scant assets turned into fortunes with dedication and dogged determination. Only we can decide how much effort we are willing to deploy.
I need to fast-forward here as I have run out of space. But I won’t leave you hanging. I’ll share a few more important life lessons and tell you how our Fairytale of Two Sisters has developed to this day.
1.Stay alert. Seize every good opportunity.
2. Take calculated risks. Don’t be afraid to be the first at something.
3. Consider that miracles and synchronicities are real.
4. Gratitude is transformative.
Patty wanted it all: husband, family, children, grandchildren, an MBA, world travel, a welcoming home, a killer career (President of Bank Presidents) and a peaceful retirement. She got every single one of those.
Ana-Maria (me) wanted: husband, family, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and/or nephews, world travel, my own profitable company, glitz and glamour, TV and radio show, decent pocket money and a couple of other little luxuries. I, too, got them all.
Make your list and keep on keeping on. You will amaze yourself to how far you can go, even against all odds. If you have any doubts look to the Williams sisters, Kamala Harris or Sara Blakely. It is also empowering to look at yourself in the mirror and say “Yes, I can. And Yes, I will”.
Written by: Ana-Maria Fernandez Haar