This week I was introduced to someone I wish I had had the chance to meet. Instead I learned about her through her obituary.
Her name is Leila Janah, a social entrepreneur whose mission during her very short life was to change the lives of those often forgotten, often ignored, often unseen. I still have her Instagram feed up on my browser. Looking back at me are photos of a beautiful woman who radiated goodness and kindness. At just 37 she had already accomplished so much, from creating her own degree at Harvard to running three organisations, and even authoring a book.
Janah's main focus was building people up, lifting them out of poverty by providing jobs with a living wage, jobs that were needed in a changing economy, jobs that made them needed, saying once, "I get a bit manic with all the opportunity in front of us and the responsibility that comes with it. It's a constant feeling of: "if we don't, who will?""
There are many people doing wonderful things in the world today, many who have altruistic ideals and are working hard to push those ideals into reality. Yet what has kept me thinking about Leila is the way she seemingly maintained her heart and soul in a competitive world that demands our attention be placed on profit margins and ROIs.
To me, Leila thought differently. At least that's the way she come across. I have been reading her blog posts and articles written about her and the more I read, the more I feel she was a kindred spirit. She was someone with whom I shared a love of moral philosophy, believing in the value and importance of emotional wellness and intelligence, and recognising that every one of us on this planet has something to offer the world if we just take the time to look and listen.
Leila would have been someone who I felt would have understood where I was coming from intellectually, and someone who I felt would have been on the same emotional path even though she was almost a decade younger than me. It would have been an privilege to have had her as part of my tribe or I a part of hers.
Sadly, Leila died on January 24th from complications from a rare form of cancer. In a beautiful blog post that encapsulates her life philosophy she wrote about growing and tending to one's own emotional garden saying, "If you don't stack up to your own values, well -- guess what? Everything prior to this moment is over, and everything after this moment is yet unwritten in your life's great story, and you are the sole author and arbiter of what takes place in your garden. There are no excuses; there can be no bitterness towards an unjust world, because in your garden, there is only beauty and light and good, fertilized by the decisions you choose to make."
It is people like Leila and the tragedy of a life cut short that make me keep writing, sharing my thoughts on how we live, finding stories that matter to us because how we live, what we do, is important. For me, I deeply believe in living life holistically and exploring how we do that with modern day demands.
It is a realisation that life isn't about the number of zeros in our bank account. Trust me, I know the importance of money, after all, we don't live in a bartering society. But how much we need is determined by what we place value on in our life. Once we determine what is important to us, what is really important, and not based on our ego, then we can make decisions that reflect the kind of life we want to live.
Theodore Roosevelt once said "human nature is the most important thing to understand if you're a leader." That was Leila Janah's gift, amongst others. In one of her last Instagram posts she wrote, "...We never know who among us secretly carries a burden heavier than we can imagine. We never know what pain has shaped another’s experience. And so the only option is compassion and non-judgment...My biggest lesson is awe: I’m awe-struck by the complexity of human biology, and equally by the almost mystical power of human connection and love flowing my way."
While I only got to know of Leila after she was gone, her story and her picture are seared onto my soul. I am in awe of her. She was someone who found her purpose and lived her life always learning, questioning, being, and giving.