My mother has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since age 13, and has been on heavy treatments since her diagnosis. Because she was diagnosed at a very young age, she always felt different and isolated from her peers, and over time, this has contributed to a low level of self-esteem and social loneliness for her.
When I was 8 years old, I remember after one of our regular family dinners, I realized my mother was exhausted. At this precise moment, I understood my mother was, in a sense, more vulnerable than other mothers, and I needed to protect her. Ever since then, I took care of her by doing things in our daily life such as cleaning, cooking, and helping remind her of her medical appointments and daily life events she would forget and miss otherwise.
At the age of 16, I needed to make a decision. I had to choose between short studies that would quickly lead me to a job and allow me to stay close to home, or aim for longer and more prestigious studies aiming for top universities in the country. As I was a good student, I took the latter option. I began thinking about my own future and also about the fact that parents always wish see their children succeed rather than sacrifice their time for their parents. I was conscious that my studies would be very time consuming and that I wouldn’t have time to take care of my mother anymore, but I still decided to go for it.
I remember the first weeks of class were tough. I stayed on campus during the week and would come back home every Saturday afternoon. As weeks passed, I was seeing the impact of my absence in my mother’s tired eyes. She was more hesitant in walking, and it seemed that her body had weakened. I felt helpless during this time. To counter this feeling, I put myself in a bubble that helped me focus on my studies and maintain a distance from my mom. It was hard, but necessary.
After 2 years, I choose to join a School of Biomedical Engineering. I really loved it and remember that I was amazed to discover all types of medical devices, from the scalpel to the MRI, all these tools that were designed to help people and enhance patient’s treatments.
As I was getting closer to graduation day, I developed a strong need for traveling. I was keen on going abroad to discover something different. I worked hard and made decisions that lead me to start my career in San Francisco.
I worked for a small company, training doctors and nurses on how to use cutting-edge cameras developed with the latest imaging technologies. Then, I moved to London where I joined a promising British startup as a customer specialist and was still in a customer-facing position. The company product and people were great; however, after a couple months I realized it was not really what I wanted to do. At that point in my life, I felt like something was missing.
By the power of networking and being good with people, I managed to find an amazing opportunity with another startup, French this time. There were developing a smart toy to help children with autism, and their project really inspired me. Again, this experience took me further than ever before. I loved it, but still something was missing. I realized I was just following someone else’s idea and vision, and that these ideas sometimes didn’t come from my own profound belief.
Were all these sacrifices just leading me to do something I didn’t feel confident about? I couldn’t help but think of my mother. With all the barriers my mother had to face, she didn’t have the chance to even envision doing what I was doing. She couldn’t work, and today she doesn’t have colleagues to interact with or emails to check. She doesn’t ‘follow’ companies on Linkedin, and rarely goes out of the home. It is a shame, because she is talented, hard working, and would have been the best colleague.
I realized the answer was just under my nose. I wanted to help our society be more inclusive by helping people with disabilities have better access to employment and everything that comes along with it, such as the opportunity to collaborate with peers, and even the sometimes stressful 1:1 meetings.
I now wake up every morning with that ambition, knowing that I will succeed one way or the other, because I am passionate about and strongly believe in what I do. This is now my life’s dedication.