I grew up on a ranch in the sandhills of western Nebraska. I was a real cowgirl/tomboy type who rode horses to school and preferred playing in trees to playing indoors. Looking back, I realize how lucky and unique my childhood was; I was literally in the middle of nowhere and could explore the hills and be surrounded by mostly boys and strong women. I got to miss out on many of the societal stereotypes that are placed on my gender.
When I was seven, my mom died suddenly from an aneurysm and at 11, my dad died from a stroke. Since then I've been left with the stories and memories of my parents from family and friends. While I am grateful for this — always — and love hearing the stories, it has made me wonder, "How can I lean in even more than my parents managed to in their way-too-short lives?" Mom was a leader—the first woman in any activity she pursued (quite an accomplishment in the cattle industry), gregarious, quick, brave... pretty much perfect. Meanwhile dad was a creator—he managed to create a new, highly successful cattle breed, ran a profitable cattle ranch at a time when no one else was; he was also hilarious, clever and loved playing tricks on friends.
Charting my own path required space and determination. I moved across the state to live with family friends, affectionately called my guardians, and attended a school that was bigger than the town I had previously lived in. Throughout junior high and high school, I had friends and guidance counselors suggest that, given my "situation," why wasn't I getting into trouble? Or in jail?
Instead of doing what they expected of me, I leaned in.
If I’ve learned anything, life is too short to not do things you’re interested in. I’ve accomplished some fun things—from interning at the US Embassy in Moscow to getting my MBA to working in New Media on the 2008 Obama campaign to starting the technology and web team for a brand new federal agency: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now I work at an initiative called A World at School and we work to ensure that the 61 million kids who currently don't receive any primary education are given access to learning. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But the journey hasn’t been easy—quite the opposite really. I question myself or get hung up by self-doubt. I dealt with a manipulative boss for months on end. I wouldn’t have gotten through all of this without my guardians, husband, good friends and mentors who urged me to move forward (really, what’s the worst that can happen?) and believe in myself. They have created a wonderful net to support me in my parents’ absence.
I still have a ton of leaning in — and on — to do. I'm grateful for the support I've had from friends, family, professors, and mentors throughout the years. And I hope to give back by helping other women and girls lean in.