I Am Who I Am Today Because Of These People

I recently received the tremendous honor of "Millennial on the Move" for Hampton Roads from CoVa BIZ Magazine. As I heard my name called and walked to receive the award, I couldn't help but see visions of everyone who has helped me. I wanted to scoop them all up, hug them endlessly and say "thank you" until I had not a single breath left, but not all of them were present, and some of them have passed away. So, I wanted to write this thank you letter to everyone who helped me - who stood beside me, who held my hand, who listened to me cry - to get me to this very spot in life.

Dear Grandma & Granddaddy,

From the day I took my first breath, you have shown me limitless love, but you also taught me valuable lessons. You taught me to do what I say I'll do. You taught me how to stand tall and how to walk through life with a solid foundation of strong values. You instilled within me a caring for my community, and taught me - by example - how to guide, develop, listen to, and help others. You taught me to be open and available to the needs in my community, and you taught me how to not fear public speaking, important meetings, and making difficult decisions. You taught me strength but also softness. You taught me eloquence and the importance of opportunities for people.

Dear Mama,

You are my best friend, my true north, my business guru and so much more. You taught me to always be prepared, to think ahead, to pace myself and to focus on what is important. I remember being a little girl and having to walk out on stage for a dance performance that was intimidating me. You'd pull me close and say, "You can do it. I know you can." But even beyond that, you'd provide me with a clear plan. You'd say, "Just go in there and..." all of your valuable wisdom pumped me up and then guided me. Still today, when I'm about to walk in and do something that intimidates me, I hear your voice: "You can do it. I know you can. Just go in there and..."

You have watched me succeed and fail. You have seen the best qualities of my personality and the absolute worst, but you always pick up your phone or answer your e-mail. Your consistent love and guidance has shaped me. Period. It has created every shape of me, and for that I am endlessly thankful.

Dear Dad,

Watching you work hard all of your life showed me how to work hard. Watching you help others on their own personal projects, or helping people get their cars stuck from piles of snow, taught me to never just walk by or away from someone in need. Your tenacity, your humor, your capacity to care are tools that I keep in my own toolbox as I approach the world each day.

Dear Aunts, Uncles, Cousins (all of you people!),

Since the first time I asked you to purchase a tin of popcorn, or doughnuts, or candles, or whatever fundraiser I was trying to push, you have been there to support me. You listen to my dreams, you sit and talk through plans with me, you hug me, and you support me digitally while we're all living lives in different cities. Your presence is a deeply imbedded part of who I am and the work that I do.

Dear Boyfriend,

You listen to my good days and my bad days. You hear my stresses and carry them without hesitation. Your strengths are different from my own, and you're always willing to lend your strengths to me when I need them. You help facilitate my dreams, and then stand right beside me to watch them come true. You are so special to me.

Dear First Dance Teacher,

I was just a small child when I came to you. I knew nothing of dance or anatomy or choreography. I just wanted to run around, wild and free. Still today, I am running around wild and free because you taught me how to do that gracefully. Your passion, your inquisitiveness for the world around you was contagious and reached every cell within me. Your passion for teaching - and teaching well - left an impression on me, but mostly, you taught me to move happily. I remember this each day; I promise to keep moving happily; to maintain my own inspiration to be able to inspire others. Thank you for passing your passion along to me. I was able to develop my own because I saw how powerful life can be with it.

Dear Girlfriends,

You listen to my chaos over cups of coffee and glasses of wine! You laugh at my stories; you let me cry; you keep me focused; you tell me when an idea won't work; you stand behind me full force when I move forward on an idea (even if you don't know it'll work). You all are so inspiring to me individually, and your lives inspire me to keep going with my goals. Thank you for always being a text message, call or click away.

Dear Students,

I learn from you every day. Even if you're a 4-year-old ballerina just starting your journey, or a 19-year-old college student, or a 99-year-old student wanting to learn ballet: I learn from you. You have taught me how to be a better communicator, stronger person, and more open heart. Learning is such a precious thing, and I'm so honored to be on that journey with you all every day.

Dear Facebook & Instagram Friends,

I may or may not be close to you, but your encouragement makes me smile. I feel your presence and support, and it's special to me. I also thank you for serving as a source of inspiration and motivation for me. Your posts make me think new thoughts, and I enjoy your role in my life.

Dear Past Jobs & Schools,

Thank you for the requirements you set on me. You taught me how to be a professional. You taught me to respect deadlines, to think outside of the box, to be innovative in my problem solving. You taught me how to take pride in my work, prepare adequately, and leave no detail behind. You pushed me to be better and then pushed me a little further than I felt ready for; I am thankful for that. You helped me set goals and then guided me to accomplish them.

Dear Mentors,

I observe you and learn by your example. Thank you for your guidance, your "tips for success," your e-mails with bullet points of suggestions. All of this helps me, collects my thoughts, and clarifies my visions.

I could continue this list on and on, and why? Because I am a collection of all of these people. I am the product of their time, energy and effort. These people are the puzzle pieces that make up my life, my work, my passions and my goals. They are with me every step of the way - even if they aren't physically with me. They have left marks on my life that I will never forget (and I hope I'll never forget).

I love each and every one of you and the role you've played in my life. I cannot thank you enough.

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