Tell us a bit about yourself: if you were narrating your story, what would it sound like?
My story is that I come from a very poor background, and my ultimate goal was to do the whole Norman Rockwell thing: something that involved family and closeness and support. A really unrealistic thing – a fairly tale, probably – but the complete opposite of what I grew up with. We didn’t sit around the dinner table; we didn’t have family all together for Thanksgiving.
I grew up in a situation where we never had any heat; we never had any hot water. There were six kids sitting on a sofa under a blanket all huddled up trying to keep warm. There were icicles coming out of the lighting fixtures. There were rats the size of cats. My mother was being abused by her husband.
I’m 1000% different from that, and I worked very hard to get out of that situation and do something for myself.
I work really hard. I gave up a lot in order to be able to have a better life: I don’t have a husband, I don’t have any kids. I don’t miss the kids and I don’t miss the husband, but I do miss having a partner. It would take a very special man. I’m a very strong type of person – I don’t take any nonsense. And I don’t think I have to! I don’t want to be anyone’s wife. I want to be someone’s lover. How about that?
My mother kept saying to me, “You gotta go to school , you gotta graduate. Do you want to be on welfare and have kids on each hip?” So I just worked really hard.
I did everything: I worked in sales, I worked as a secretary. And I ended up working for someone who believed in me and supported me and encouraged me. I started out as his secretary. And then I moved up from there: I managed construction, then interior design, and then I did the sales and marketing. So I have a really versatile background and it has all been positive. I ended up with better than a degree.
I do have moments when I fall back, when I feel like I’m a failure for one reason or another. But I’m pretty proud of myself. I think I did good. I faced obstacles that a lot of people would never even think of trying to work past. Your life is what you make of it.
What were the hardest decisions you had to make in the past? How did those decisions turn out?
I had to give up a life. Period. What a woman typically thinks of as a life: the kids, the family. I never went to college… I have a degree in life! I gave that up because I was hell-bent on getting out of my house. I didn’t want to deal with the abuse and the poverty. It was a tough decision because my entire family calls me a sell out. They think that I forgot who I am and where I come from because I don’t have a Bronx accent or a Puerto Rican accent. I don’t have any regrets about it. The only thing I miss is a partner.
Are there things that you spent years stressing out about that turned out to not really be that big of a deal?
No. I can honestly say no. Well… I think sometimes the world is so focused on people having degrees, that is the one thing I wish I had. It’s not that I don’t think I’m smart, it’s just that there are people who look down on you because you don’t have one. I feel like if I had it I wouldn’t have to defend it all the time.
What do you wish you had spent more time doing over the years?
A lot of people see me and they think, “Wow, she’s really confident, nothing bothers her.”
I would like to spend some time convincing myself of that. Everyone sees me that way, but I don’t see me that way. I sometimes let my insecurities – deep down – take over. And I wish that I could have spent more time over the years conquering them.
What would you say your highlights have been?
My highlights have been the life that I created for myself: a house in the Hamptons and my apartment in the city, and that I’ve traveled – none of the people I grew up with have ever been able to travel – and the people I met along the way. But I’m still a work in progress. I’m still a project. If you think you’re done, you’re kidding yourself.
And the low points?
There are times when I start something and I don’t finish it, and it sends me into a whole spiraling thing. “Why can’t I finish this, what is wrong with me?”
That’s a major issue for me. I always feel like I’ve never done enough. Or I take things to 90% and then if they’re not turning out exactly the way I want, it really throws me. It’s BAD. That one little thing gets in there, and it’s like Jenga: you pull one piece out and the whole thing just crumbles. You need to be really careful about which pieces you pull out. Take that bad piece out slowly, put it to the side, and be careful that it doesn’t affect the good pieces.
What do you think has changed the most for women over your lifetime?
I think women have really found their voice. And the biggest thing that has changed is that they’re not letting men stifle them. Women are telling people who they are. And if a man tries to quiet them, they’re saying: “No. I may not get what I want, but I’m going to be heard. Regardless of the outcome, I’m going to say what I’m going to say.”
When I was growing up, no one listened to you. No one was interested in what you had to say. Now, we’re so loud that we’ve made it difficult for anyone to shut us up. People have to listen and they have to act on what we say. We may not be there, not 100%, but it’s better than where we were.
What would you like to see continue to change and improve for women?
Equality sounds boring, but I think that women should continue showing their strength. Not letting anyone knock them down or judge them or make them question themselves. We should continue to move forward and trust ourselves: our voice, our opinions, our feelings. Without us, ain’t nobody. Men have a tendency to forget that; without us, they got nothing.
What words of wisdom do you have?
Trust yourself. Trust yourself and believe in yourself. And that’s not easy, because there’s always someone fighting you. You may not be right 100% of the time, but that’s not the point. The point is that you trust yourself.
Always be good to other people and to yourself. People only do to you what you let them. If they’re treating you poorly, don’t let them get away with it.
Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years? What does "retirement" look like to you?
I don’t know what that is, 'retirement.' I think I would be bored! Ideally, I’d like to just be with someone and enjoy life. Everyone’s here on borrowed time. I’m at a place where I’d just like to be very happy and comfortable and, hopefully, find a partner to share this all with. Because life is good: it’s finally chilly out, and I’m sitting at my fireplace with a glass of wine. The holidays are coming up. It’s my favorite time of year.
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Letting go of people’s expectations of me. I know that’s a general thing to say. But I feel like this year, has been transformative for me. I’m Palestinian-American and a Muslim-American, but I don’t look like what people’s stereotype of those.