My mom took on factory work to help put me through college. A single mother who was working in retail at the time, she could barely afford our two-bedroom apartment, let alone save enough to contribute to my education. She worked third shift, sometimes seven days a week, wore steel-toe shoes and came home with cuts all over her hands – but she rarely complained.
She hadn't always been this brave. She was a timid kid, a nervous teenager and a mousy housewife who rarely defended herself, something she confessed to bitterly regretting later on. She was a person who found her nerve late in life, but her transformation was beautiful to watch. It was toward the end of her life, and at 19, I was at the beginning of mine.
After leaving school a few years later, I was offered an unpaid internship at a magazine in New York City. Financially, it seemed impossible, or at least that was the excuse leading the list of reasons that I should pass. Truthfully, it was the idea of failing that had me rethinking an opportunity I dreamed of for years. In the face of possibly discovering that I lacked what-it-takes-grade talent, I nearly surrendered. Thankfully, my mom intervened. In the past, her advice had been about avoiding confrontation, about how best to "keep your head down" and "stay out of it." We were neutral people. But this time, she spoke clearly: She hadn't worked nights for sometimes 60 hours a week for me to balk at an opportunity that seemed hard. This enduring advice helped me find my backbone, make a wish over my tiny savings account and hop a train for a 17-hour ride from Indiana to Penn Station.
I wish I could say that things went smoothly once I arrived, but I can't. I lived in a hostel in a seedy part of Brooklyn where I shared a room with three other people. I cried over money more than I'd like to admit. I ate on less than $40 a week and couldn't stomach the taste of peanut butter for at least two years after I'd finally gotten my first job. Those first few months were a series of small victories over my lifelong habit to choose the safest, least intimidating path. Fear is the hurdle that appears before we take our biggest steps forward, and maybe the greatest thing my mom ever did for me was to help jump over mine.
My mom passed away about a year after I moved to New York, but not before I got to call her to say that I was the newest employee at TIME magazine.