Daughter of one
First impressions are such liars!
To my left, she sat slightly shifted, looking out. Occasionally sipping from a cold drink, her virtual team meeting on her screen was engaging. This woman was so loud that I had no choice but to listen in. Obnoxious, I thought! The volume of her towering voice owned the store. Fifteen minutes later, all my attempts to concentrate failed. My ears pleaded with me for cover. My mind admired her excitement, conviction, and passion. My feet carried me to another table a few meters away. AirPods in-ears, my favorite Zaz playlist jazzed away.
Later, a soft hand on my shoulder with a Julia Roberts smile: “Was I loud back there? I am so sorry.” I took her open apology as an invitation to tell it to her straight. “Yes. You were (with a teasing pause and a smile). A few decibels lower would have been manageable to all.”
We chatted for a few minutes that day. Even though I don’t remember the conversation, it felt genuine.
I saw her again. She is an intriguing person — highly analytical, atomic energy, nuclear passion, loyal, and loves to the extreme. Jessica has been spending the good part of her 37 years winning herself over.
She’s turning 38 this week. Jess; Happy birthday, as promised.
She puts meaning to her work.
Her professional life spanned 15 years in teaching, management consulting, systems design, process mapping, operations, strategy, corporate governance, and healthcare management.
She started teaching college students at 23. She’s built the best of relations with her students, and she’s seen them through good and challenging times. Her passion for mentoring youth lives on. She loves to work at the intersection of people and systems: analyzing processes and matching the right people to the right places. Today, she capitalizes on her experience to support the non-profit she’s joined. Jessica’s happy. She engages with international partners, collaborates with incredible colleagues, uses her skillset, supports vulnerable people, and contributes to social impact in the country that she loves. Most importantly, she listens to the inner voice telling her: ‘You’re in the right place at the right time.’
“My presence is recognized, and it’s beautiful.”
Jessica interviewed for that job on July 4, 2020, when she was scheduled to deliver her first baby. The next day she got the call offering her the position. She broke into tears. Sienna made her first sound. Celebrating her mama’s accomplishment, maybe?
Jessica insisted on assuming her responsibilities immediately. Five days later, she was conducting onscreen meetings.
She was a ball of fire when I first saw her behind the round table at Starbucks. I wonder how it changed with a baby around.
I later found out that the baby was not only around. Mama was able to nurse her while in meetings. Trick? Make sure you turn your screen on first, check that the camera does not go lower than the cleavage, and act as if nothing else is happening.
Balance in her life
Despite the fire in her belly, Jessica enjoys inner peace. Finding serenity while being by yourself brings happiness. Exercising, meditating, and doing what you love, help you reach an inner peace that you can leverage to support others circling your life. Without a pause, she told me about one of her tricks to get to clarity. “Start with the things you don’t like,” she said. Chances are that you will not like them again. And that would resolve half the challenge.
“I learned that people need people. We’re not made to live alone. But we should still find peace when we are alone.”
Her inner peace comes through balance. With a baby, it’s more complicated. “It’s quite a challenge to be able to be a great mom, a great professional, and a great wife.” It’s a demand problem. Children demand time from the mom, and there are only 24 hours a day. Yet, it’s still beautiful.
Oh! You’re Assaad’s daughter?
She signs JAS — “A” for “Assaad,” her father’s name. He’s her backbone — strong, soft, resilient, determined, and the source of her strength and inspiration. Assaad is her hero.
She shows me her phone. Papa is listed as “Hero dad.” Mom is “Lady mom.”
She thinks ‘like a man.’ She learned from him not to settle and to stay humble. A principled and fair man who fought during the war. A leader who is respected by his comrades and foes alike. He inspired, served, battled for, and saved people. He kept his outside stories to himself. She would find out years later about her father from others. “Oh! You’re Assaad’s daughter?” people would say to her, with fondness and admiration.
Growing up, he treated Jessica and her brother the same. Curfew at 1 am applied to both. He’d let her go out as long as her older brother was with her — the sweet and humane older friend who became a surgeon. The younger sister was too young back then. The years that followed matured the two girls to support and complement each other’s gifts in more than one way.
Her mom, the unsung hero, supported and kept the family together, especially when her dad was struggling to find work post-war. She is as much of a fighter as her husband, with a lady-like twist. She did her best to shelter her children from outside turmoil, be it schooling, nutrition, or family time. Mom inspired Jessica to become a better professional, seek a career, and be a good mother.
Mom and dad taught Jessica to be fair, friendly, and firm.
And the Divine support.
“I’m not cocky. It’s that… I know that when I was born my stars were aligned and I have a mission and a calling.”
She got emotional talking about her inner voice, her journey’s guiding light. She imagines God with his godly wand over her head. He tells her that she has a big reservoir of goodwill to dispense from. He tells her that she’ll carry a lot, and He assures her that she can do it. Her voice helped her avoid significant detrimental events, and it helped her choose her husband. When she sleeps, magic godly sprinkles energize her before every sunrise. Even at 37, the wand reminds her of her calling and her purpose-driven life. She feels responsible. She does not want to let Him down.
“I think there’s something in me that draws people to talk to me. God gave me a gift and I need to do something about it.”
Surfing to wedding
“I think God put my husband in my way.”
She had broken up with someone and wanted me-time. So one day, she chose to go to the Batroun beach, but not her usual hangout — a place she’s never been. Book in hand, sunbathing, she sees a tall bald dude teaching surfing down by the water.
She asked the lady lounging beside her if she could watch her stuff because she wanted to talk to that man as she pointed to him. The neighbor got all excited about the scene soon to unravel. Uncharacteristic of Jessica, she walked towards the water. American, she thought.
“Can you teach me how to surf? It looks like you’re ordering people around and know what you’re doing.” His Oakleys tilted down: “Oh! Really?” He paused and took his shades off. His eyes grabbed her: “Book a surf, and I’ll give you 15 minutes for free.” She snapped back: “How stingy! I’ll learn fast anyway.” The 15 minutes ended up being an hour and a half.
In the meantime, the woman watching over Jessica’s stuff was trying to figure out how the story was developing. She took a picture of them.
Back at shore, “Can I have your number?” he asked. “You know what? You can have it. But I don’t know if I’m going to answer you back.” She played hard to get with him for three months as she was not ready for another adventure. She wanted to stay free with no attachment to anyone — work, travel, and live life with no complications. No for marriage, either.
Now, they travel together. Married with a beautiful year and half little girl. Sienna. Fabien got Jessica’s heart when she drowned in his eyes. She locked him when their knees touched on that one surfboard. Today, Sienna gets her occasional water trip on a surfboard. God delivered Fabien to her. She said yes. He’s her friend, confidant, lover, husband, and the father of her daughter. She’s with him. Period.
Jessica’s life hacks
- Dream big. Execute in baby steps. Self-confidence will build in the process.
- 18-year-old girls should not do plastic surgery. Just because. Wrinkles and scars carry stories that make you unique and beautiful. Be true to yourself.
- When you’re 30+ and feel that you need to tweak your looks, go ahead. It will be part of your story.
- Your likes and dislikes will change. Your values, however, will not. Identify them.
- Write. It helps you clear your thoughts. In the process, you get to become a better writer. Never hurts.
- Find ways to recharge: sleep, listen to music, watch Netflix, do your nails, color your hair, have a massage, a glass of wine, whisky, or whatever tickles your fancy.
- The sea is a source of its own. If you can get to it, do. It soothes the soul.
Curtain roll: Jessica and Fabien are sipping wine and nibbling on cheese. Sienna is sound asleep while her parent’s conversation echoes at home.