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20 Women Who Have Inspired Us to Reach Our Potential

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re reflecting on the women who have inspired and empowered us to reach our potential and thrive in our personal and professional lives. We asked our Thrive community to share with us the stories of women who have inspired them and uplifted them. Which of these role models inspires you?

Our career mentors

“My inspiration is a former leader of mine, Miss Kellie Sirna, the co-founder of Studio 11 Design. Miss Sirna hired me out of college, where I was armed only with a BFA in illustration, to be the PR & Marketing Coordinator for the firm. The rest is history!  She taught me so much, and I will always be grateful for that experience. If anyone needs a boutique hotel designed, that is where they should look.”

—Natalie Constable, brand strategist, Tulsa, OK

Our sisters

“The woman who inspires me daily is my sister Tina. Even though we live 1000 miles apart, I talk to her almost every day and I look forward to our phone calls. I’m the so-called ‘spiritual one’ but she drops words of wisdom daily. She keeps me grounded when I feel off. She reminds me of my worth when I wallow in self-pity. She helps me see the big picture when I’m stressed. She cheers me on in all my escapades, and best of all, she’s the funniest and wittiest person I know. When we talk on the phone or get together, it’s always a party. No matter how down I feel, talking to Tina always cheers me up.”

—Camille Sacco, banker and meditation instructor, Winter Park, FL

Our grandmothers

“My late grandmother inspired me and still inspires me everyday to realize my full potential. She was a World War II survivor and also a single mother after her husband passed.  Despite dealing with very trying circumstances in her life, she was full of fun, was the life of the party and truly believed in living life to the fullest.  I remember her saying to me, ‘Candice, live into your potential always and live into possibility as that’s when great things happen.’  I have taken this advice on board in both my personal and professional life and it is something that I love to share.”

—Candice Tomlinson, coach and hypnotherapist, Sydney, Australia

Our daughters

“I’m inspired by my teen daughter. She is an empathetic, kind girl who dances and paints and bakes and gets up every day with a smile and a can-do attitude. On this day and every day, may we celebrate the women who are change-makers and game-changers.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Our childhood teachers

“My English teacher Ms. Vanessa was a teacher par-excellence. She taught us with fervor and tried to bring about the best in us. She would encourage me both in writing and speaking English. Her impeccable English drew me towards the language and I was on cloud nine when she congratulated me for getting high marks in her subject. She called me a wordsmith as I would consult the dictionary and use good English words while writing my essays. She had faith in me and knew I would make it big in life. As I got older, I started writing for websites, books , magazines and dailies. Along with that I have managed to get published in two anthologies, have won two open mic competitions and have started moderating chat shows in English. I had lost touch with my teacher but it was sheer serendipity that talking to one of my schoolmates helped me connect with her again. She has been a friend, philosopher and guide who has shown me the way today.”

—Dr. Preeti Talwar, freelance writer, Chandigarh, India

Our friends

“I’m continuously awed and inspired by my dear friend Jolie Altman. She’s a maker and creator, in addition to being a mom to three grown boys and wife. As an artist, Jolie brings beauty to ordinary things making them extraordinary. And by being present with you she fills you with goodness. Jolie listened to me in a way that mattered. When I was working on my book about grief and loss, I felt it was risky to talk about such things. And Jolie was one of the few people who gave me the gift of confidence to become who I am as an author and writer.”

—Kristin A. Meekhof, author, Royal Oak, MI

Our wives

“My wife inspires me. No one has been through so much and excelled so far. After struggling with Epilepsy since childhood, she took a tragedy, overcame her obstacles, and then dedicated her life to helping others to overcome their fears and challenging obstacles.”

—Dr. Michael Chillemi, DC

Our moms

“My mother always made me know that I was special. My siblings all attended the high school for Black students and had kids right out of high school. Mom signed me up for the entrance exam at the Arts and Music high school. I had no real talent but, I was an ‘A’ student. During high school she arranged for me to take etiquette classes with my Black PE teacher on Saturdays. I have since taught etiquette classes to Black high school students in my city. She insisted that I attend Sunday School, Choir rehearsal, and church. Upon graduation, she talked with my high school Counselor and got me admitted to Fisk University via telephone. I am the only person in my family to pursue and achieve several degrees. While she raised her family, she took every opportunity to encourage me to excel. Today, because of her inspiration, I am an attorney, have served as a Vice Chancellor at a college, had a catering business for thirty years, serve on multiple non-profit boards, and am a published author and spiritual writer. I miss her but, her spirit and inspiration remain with me.”

—Gerry J. Tucker, author and spiritual writer, Austin, TX

Our teammates

“I admire and am inspired by my colleague Angela Hwang, Pfizer’s Chief Commercial Officer and President, Global Biopharmaceuticals Business. She carries heavy responsibilities with grace. She is both hard-charging and joyful. She cares about the bottom line and the patients we serve. I learn a lot from working with her.”

—Sally Susman, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Pfizer, New York, NY

Our favorite thought leaders

“I have never actually met the mentors that have impacted and inspired me most positively. Brene Brown, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Michelle Obama’s life stories, wisdom, thoughts, writings, research and values are always in my heart and mind. I listen to their words, in their own voices when I can, to keep me motivated as I pursue my speaking, writing, and coaching career seeking to inspire the next generation of girls to create lives they love.”

—Erin Tarr, confidence coach, Champaign, IL

Our coaches

“My first business coach who I hired almost nine years ago when I launched my coaching practice, has literally been the voice in my head ever since. After almost two decades in corporate, and a long gig as a SAHM, I made the bold choice in midlife to reinvent myself as a founder in the coaching space. My business coach saw things in me as I was starting out, that I could not even begin to see in myself. She became my belief system before I even knew that I needed one! To this day, my time with her is a standout not only as a role model whose steps I was literally following in, but as a woman who leads herself, and then leads others from that vantage point.”

—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, NYC/ NJ

Our first bosses

“Mary Jane Pioli was my boss at the first PR agency I worked for at age 28. She epitomized the “friend boss,” someone who mentors and coaches you to be your professional best. It is someone who is firm and fearless but equally compassionate and caring. When she left the agency to work for Accenture, she recruited me to join her even though I had just given birth to my first child. This was a huge boost to the confidence of a young career woman who had migrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the mid-80s. I stayed at Accenture for 11 years while Mary Jane went on to be the PR director at a law firm. We stayed in touch and I continued to learn from her about balancing work and life, maneuvering corporate politics, and navigating cultural differences.”

—Marcia G. Rhodes, PR agency executive, Scottsdale, AZ

Our stepmothers

“My stepmother, Margaret Gamburd, was an inspiration, role model and influencer throughout my career and personal life. Born in 1912, this innovative, progressive, independent woman became one of the top women corporate officers long before women were accepted in the C-Suite.  As Secretary of the corporation of the general contractors that built Disneyland and Disney World, Margaret was wearing a hard hat and in the trenches and construction yard long before women (let alone men) even considered that possible. She brought herself up by her bootstraps after her first husband had a stroke in church and died. She had two children to raise. Margaret would tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be. I hope to be able to influence my stepdaughters in the same way. Margaret died at the age of 90. She was vibrant and active up until the day she died.”

—Chere Estrin CEO at Estrin Legal Staffing, CA

Our professors

“One of my teachers, Ms. Durrani, is my inspiration. She shows dedication and commitment to her work and her personal values. She inspired a girl like to to fly high and provided me with the courage to break down obstacles along the way.  There is a lot to mention about the events that hold my most fond memories, but I just want to assemble my crux with the conclusion that she is an amazing person.”

—Nayyab Hamid

Our family members

“My mother Janice has been the foundation for all of my successes in life. Through thick and thin, dark days and brighter ones, she has always been there to champion me to the finish line. Unbiased, transparent and packed with love. She continues to be a source of possibility.”

—Joshua Miller, master certified executive coach, Austin, TX

Our favorite activists

“Vegan, activist, female founder, and CEO of the biomaterials company Uncaged Innovations, Stephanie Downs, inspired me to start living a sustainable and vegan lifestyle.  Stephanie is helping to create a more just and sustainable world by promoting using plant-based materials instead of animal products. Her example shows that it is possible to make a difference in the world, even as an individual, by living according to one’s values and beliefs. Stephanie is a role model for those seeking a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle. Her work is a powerful example of how we can all positively impact the world around us.”

—Kristin Marquet, business owner, New York, NY

Our fellow moms

“I would like to nominate my friend and fellow therapist, author, and mom, Erica Curtis, LMFT, ATR-BC. Erica and I met at a park about 12 years ago when our oldest kids were babies. At the time, I was feeling so exhausted as a new mom, and Erica had all this positive energy and was really a breath of fresh air. When I found out we both were therapists and writers, in addition to having kids the very same age, we instantly clicked! 13 years later, we are still good friends and now we even host a podcast together about staying positive and motivated! It’s so rare to meet a person who is also such an optimistic force of good in the world.”

—Risa Williams, LMFT, therapist and book author, CA

Our partners

“Taz Thornton is a woman who inspires and encourages me every day to push through my limiting beliefs and self-doubt to be the best version of me. I must confess that as well as being an award-winning and awesome extreme empowerment coach, speaker, speaker trainer and author, Taz is my wife. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and couldn’t walk for three months, she supported me as I made major lifestyle changes. She connected me to a nutritionist. I moved to a plant based diet and she did the same, learning how to cook us tasty, healthy, meat free meals. Within weeks I was walking again. When I had a relapse, she encouraged me to ditch the work that caused me stress and instead take on work that made my heart sing. Now I coach and mentor people from all walks of life, helping them tell their story and/ or write a book. This would not have been possible without Taz’s unwavering love and care.”

—Asha Clearwater, Content Coach and Book Mentor, Lincolnshire, UK

Our work connections

“Early in my career, I was looking for a very specific female mentor who was trusted and relied on but who could also balance that success with raising school-aged children. I was never able to find her, so I became her. After spending 15+ years becoming a version of that woman, I am now meeting the exact woman I was looking for. Giving myself permission to become what I was seeking, and showing up for others as a mentor, has further solidified my own confidence and helped me to build some of the strongest bonds with other strong female leaders.”

—Tami Nealy, corporate communications, Phoenix, AZ

Our biggest supporters

“Risa Williams, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is both an inspiration and burnout buffer for me! Her creative spirit, willingness to take professional risks, and ability to laugh through the trials and tribulations of being a working mom keep me smiling, pushing myself, and letting myself off the hook in equal measures. We met by happenstance at a park almost thirteen years ago as new moms, therapists, and creatives. Get-togethers centered around kids’ playdates, but the true gift of our friendship was mutual support from another highly motivated, positive woman newly navigating the motherhood-professional balance. Since then, we have supported each other in writing multiple books, starting therapy businesses, and raising kids into teens.”

—Erica Curtis LMFT, ATR-BC, therapist and author, San Juan Capistrano, CA

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