You Inspire Me. Therefore, I Thank You.

This week, I wanted to take a break from writing the next chapter of my Social Impact and Innovation book, and pay homage to the amazing people I know, those folks who inspire me every day in every way.

You know who you are! Or maybe you don’t? Maybe I don’t say it enough, or maybe the message hasn’t come through the clouds yet. So this is an open letter to you.

Dear Everyone,

I came to fruition as a socially conscious person after attending the 5th grade with a mean, racist classmate. He was white, and he targeted a Korean girl in our class pretty much every day. What always floored me about this boy was that no amount of punishment seemed to have an impact on him. No quantity of visits to the principal, nor detentions, nor the fact of seeing this girl in tears every time. What was going on for that kid to make him feel so secure in his cruelty? What encouraged him day after day after day? Lesson #1: hatred is systemic. His parents taught him that, encouraged that. So, strange as it may sound, I want to thank that asshole kid for putting me on this path and shaping my destiny.

I’m certain we all have mechanisms that get us through the day, or through periods of our lives, like say, the horrid teenage years. For me, it was always literature. Back in the days of books, books, nothing but books, I already had a growing collection. Today, my library threatens to overrun my entire house. If not for the joy of stories- all kinds of them, from Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, and Isabel Allende to Art Spiegelman’s Maus- I might have really lost my head as I became a young woman. Lesson #2: Stories give you the ability to be better. I must thank every person out there who felt compelled to put a creative spark in the middle in order to get a wildfire going.

Every once in a while, I get “that feeling” about something. I remember so clearly looking through the course catalog for my university program when I was getting my Master’s degree, and thinking, “I must take this class.” Why would some words in a list of available academic topics make such a difference? I cannot say. Looking back over the years, that class was the catalyst. It’s as if I knew from the moment I walked into that classroom, I would meet the very people who have been the inspirations and supports and spirit guides and resources for pretty much everything that has come after. They’ve made all this daily joy possible, all this professional development, all this passion and drive. Lesson #3: When you find yourself surrounded by “the exceptional among us,” take the hint! My people, thank you for allowing me to join you on this indescribable journey.

My daughter gives me the opportunity every day to make the world I hope to see. This is the world I want her to inherit, the one where things are not perfect but the desire and the opportunity are always there to make them better. The world where she grows up and believes she is capable of pretty much anything. As she has matured into a very rambunctious and amazing toddler, we have attracted the most fabulous collaborators in this quest: other mommies and daddies who make their kids a central part of what they do, professional comrades who love to see my daughter pop in and out of video conferences (and who have recently dubbed her as The Flyways’ Chief Communications Officer), activists who are committing their lives to complete and total love for their fellows. Lesson #4: our children are going to know what it means to love themselves, as whole and valuable people. Can I just send a love note to each of you?! (Oh yeah, that’s what I’m doing.)

And so I feel such gratitude on this glorious Thursday morning… and I want to thank you all, so, so much.

Hillary Strobel is a content single mother, fierce learner and teacher, ardent lover of life, and ass-kickin’ President and CEO of a Social Enterprise, The Flyways, Inc. After a long and varied career in just about every kind of Liberal Arts field imaginable, and in every type of job position- volunteer, employee, entrepreneur, non-profit worker, and freelancer- she has decided to put her money where her mouth is and marry her two deepest passions: stories and social justice. The results have surpassed her wildest expectations.