What is your story of strength?

When I think about my strength, my immediate thought is my family – my mom, dad, and sister. I would never be the person I am or have the possibilities I’ve had without them. My dad has always pushed me to be independent and my mom selflessly shows me everyday the definition of unconditional love. My sister makes me humbler and a better person.

I believe, the greatest and hardest thing we’ve done is move to the United States. I think about everything my family left behind only to start from zero in the pursuit of higher education and greater opportunities for my sister and I.

I think about the third time I moved, by myself this time, to the United States for graduate school. At 28 years old it was my greatest but hardest decision that I have had to make. The decision was difficult because it meant leaving behind everything I had created as a young adult in Tirana. I had a great career, wonderful friends, an entrepreneurial endeavor and access to great leisure. In paper – I was very happy and fortunate; but personally I was feeling empty and in search of higher challenges. It was hard to pause everything and to say to myself, “The world is so much bigger.” I felt that it’s actually not only about what I have in Albania, but what is going to make me happy, and not to be afraid to take that leap if it means proving to yourself that you can try and not settle.

That is what my family has given me – that independence and resilience to leave something behind and have the strength to pursue true happiness.

What’s a gender norm or expectation that you wish didn’t exist?

A gender norm, or a gender celebration that I dislike is mostly local to Albania.  Albania was (and can still be at times) a very patriarchal society- and there is a sense of pride and celebration for fathers when their wives give birth to a boy. This sort of gender difference and celebration makes me cringe – especially when it still exists to this day.

It makes me cringe because – in Albania, women are running the country! I experienced it firsthand as I was working in finance in Tirana. Unlike, other democracies where finance and similar roles are mostly male dominated – in Albania women dominate finance, accounting, tax, law offices, etc. University enrollment, after the the fall of communism, scales higher for women in Albania. Women are successful accountants, bankers, entrepreneurs and than they go home and switch into devoted wives and mothers. They are the most hardworking and relentless in their pursue to create a beautiful and happy home for their loved ones. They should be celebrated everyday.

What can MEN do to better support women?

Push their daughters to be independent and support their partners to take risks!

When I thought about this question, I thought about what my dad and Dan (my fiancé), the two most important men in my life – teach me. My dad has always instilled the notion of independence since I was a little girl; financial independence but also emotional independence and not being afraid to be by yourself. This is something that I am very grateful for given that not all fathers in Albania encourage such independence of their daughters. It is very important to take care and know yourself so that you can be agile and comfortable with change.

Dan pushes me to be less risk-averse and gives me the confidence to always ask the harder questions to constituents, which at certain times I couldn’t have thought through myself. He is my partner and my biggest love, and his support is key as we build a future together.

If men could do anything for their daughters, partners, friends, etc., is to encourage them to be independent and risk takers, just as any friend would do. We do that with our girlfriends and continuously remind them that they deserve the world. Men can also be those advocates for women.

What advice would your adult self give your younger self?

This is a very hard question because I think that mistakes are not only inevitable, but they teach us our greatest life lessons. In my 20s I have made lots of mistakes because I have been over-confident, I have over-trusted, I have over-loved! As a result, I have experienced heartbreaks but these experiences have been essential in teaching me me empathy. Maybe I would teach my younger self to channel the extra energy in self-development.   

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