After hearing that I was successful “for a foster kid”, I set out into the world, determined to be successful. Period.
Most people think of foreshadowing as a narrative device used in a book or movie, but if I look back on my life, I can see how specific moments were foreshadowing a pattern that would form.
On the day of my birth, there I was, halfway between safety and the rest of my life. The nurse, just moments before, had given up and left due to frustration. My birth mother was left to deliver the rest of me to the world on her own.
People gave up on me before I even took my first breath. I was born into chaos, and it seemed to follow me wherever I went.
I lived right across from the Indian Ocean – one of my greatest teachers. It taught me to enjoy the small moments of happiness and light that life gives us before the next wave hits and to always quickly get back up after a wave knocks us down, or else, drown.
The day another wave crashed down over me came around again soon enough: on the day of my third birthday. As I was playing in the driveway, my birth mother told me she would make me a cake for my birthday, so she had to leave.
Two years after my mother left and a year after my sister disappeared, I was taken from my school playground and given a new identity. I was flown to the United States without ever saying goodbye to my father.
When I showed up in Atlanta, Georgia, at age five, we were stopped by border patrol. My uncle and the woman he was with (my fake parents) were sent to jail and I was sent to an orphanage. That was the first time I woke up in a new bed in a new place with new strangers around me.
Eventually, I was reunited with my birth mother and my sister, but this time, my birth mom was married to a different man than my father. The relief I felt to be surrounded by someone familiar soon ended when my home became unsafe emotionally and physically.
At age seven, I was put into the foster care system. First, I was in care with my sister, then we were reunited with my birth mom and taken away from her again. After that, my sister and I were separated but eventually adopted by the same family. Eight years later, I was adopted at the age of fifteen.
It's hard to see how much resiliency and wisdom a wound will give you when it’s still fresh and hasn’t healed. Today, I can see how my upbringing – from being in an orphanage to going back and forth between foster care and adoption – shaped me into the woman I am today. Instead of viewing my upbringing as a vulnerability I diverted it into success, with many lessons learned along the way.
Growing up in Vermont, I stood out in every way. I was almost always the only person of color in every room I walked into, and I learned to stand out past my skin color because I was never going to blend in.
I learned to read people within minutes of meeting them. Now, I use it to build relationships with executives and change-makers.
At sixteen, I saw the true outcome of being resilient, of being more than just my story or what happened to me. That was when my ambition started and I turned my love of fashion into a management marketing role.
My ability to think of problems before they arose was a way to survive in the numerous schools I went to. I turned that into planning weddings.
In foster care, I had to learn to sell myself to new parents, siblings, and new classmates. I used this to sell high-end beauty/wellness products when I was nineteen and was managing a five-star resort spa and overseeing a team of 30 people.
Then, I tapped into my intuitive knack for storytelling, project management, and client success to land my current director role at a marketing agency.
Finally, I took my passion for helping other foster care children into a platform and created a podcast called Belonging Starts Here where I share other foster care alum success stories.
A candidate can check off all the boxes for standard requirements in any role, but none of it matters if they are not resilient. If they don't know how to adapt and evolve or bounce back within the ebbs and flows of a business. Being able to adapt allowed me to build relationships with high-level executives in multi-industries to upsell contracts for 2x the primary SOW, never lose a client due to performance and bring ideas to market. I have managed projects, written and presented pitch decks, and created and successfully executed marketing programs for hospitality, wellness, fashion, beauty, relationship science, software, and numerous other industries.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same environment of success as many of my peers. I didn’t have the same four walls; I had to adapt to multiple different walls and families. I didn’t have parental support, but I learned to self-correct and gain self-awareness for myself, which led me to be the listen-first-speak later leader I am today.
I encourage you to dive deep into your strengths and think about the lessons that these are based on. When you do that, you will uncover your deficiencies. Then you can accept them and give yourself an opportunity to make them your north star. Pull back the bandaid and use your adversities to become your best self rather than hide them away. You could be covering up your full potential.
Next time you hire, ask someone to tell you stories where they showed resilience, and then give them the opportunity to show you just how resilient they are.
“The best decision I ever made was the day I decided to create a life I was told I couldn’t – not out of spite, but out of gratitude for my resilience, the opportunities I’ve created for myself, and for the people who have helped me along the way.” - Alex Kratz, on Belonging Starts Here