I remember a time in my youth, when I was looking for a role model, someone inspirational.  I was a veracious reader, and often found myself in the library or bookstore scouring the biography section looking for interesting and motivational stories about successful women.

I’ve always had a love for the arts, and often the books I read were about women who had broken barriers creating their own definitions of success. Living life by their own rules.

I grew up in a time where the only form of communication to share stories were newspapers, magazines, television, radio and books.  I would gravitate towards stories about artists, activists, fashion designers and philanthropists.  Women who were creating a wave of change and admired for breaking barriers. 

At the time, I truly enjoyed art class because for that hour it allowed me to be “just me,” not having to worry about, or conform to, “the rules.”  I remember my art teacher had a wonderful flair for fashion and a unique style that mirrored her personality. She was very gregarious, and throughout the stories that she shared, I just knew, she had made a conscious choice to pursue a career as a teacher.  A profession that she loved and allowed her to travel, meet new people and experience different cultures. After class, each week, I found myself daydreaming about where I would go and what I would do in the future.  She was a wonderful role model for a young girl who was trying to find her way.

She was my first inspirational mentor.  

By definition, these folks are often someone whom we never meet, but their energy and personal style leaves a lasting impression.  People who live by example, creating a connection that inspires us to be the best we can be.

As a teenager, these biographies shared stories about women who overcame obstacles in their relentless pursuit of success.  My Mom would often find me in my room reading books and sketching in my notepad.

It was at this time that I came upon a story about a woman who grew up in an orphanage.  A little girl who was raised by nuns at a place in time where the path to independence was often difficult. Opportunities were usually in the area of domestic help. Those who were not born into families of wealth or position, understood their station in life and rarely moved up the social ladder.

I purchased every fashion magazine featuring her work and read every article about her life, absorbing each minute detail.  I was truly fascinated by her journey. She was quickly becoming a fashion icon, a force to be reckoned with… a true entrepreneur.  This business innovator had just made a comeback at the age of 71, living and working in Paris, France.

For me, she was another inspirational mentor.  

I never had the privilege of meeting her, but, to this day I still feel her presence and influence in my life.  So much so, that I wonder if she had any idea of how many other young girls she influenced, just by sharing her stories.

I learned a few valuable lessons from reading about this fashion icon; and to this day, I live my life by referring to each lesson: 

  1. If you want to succeed, you need to have the drive, determination and discipline to overcome the obstacles for success.
  2. Creativity and business innovation go hand in hand.
  3. Believe in your vision and collaborate with people who support your dreams.
  4. Be thankful and gracious, even when your struggling. 
  5. Create memories that you cherish and celebrate your own voice.

Who was this iconic women?  Coco Chanel

Her passion for well made, beautiful things and her determination to succeed has not only influenced my personal style but has given me the courage to step outside my comfort zone and pursue a dream or two.  

Her influence has left an impression that has stayed with me throughout my life and I am very grateful to have made a connection to her through her work. 

One of my personal highlights was visiting her atelier in Paris, France and having my picture taken on her very famous mirrored staircase in the store that still bears her name.  

As an adult, I now understand how important it is to celebrate those who contribute to our world.  I don’t think as individuals anyone starts out to be a game changer or influencer.  They are just people who believe in their own set of values, living an authentic life.  We learn from them through their stories as they live by example.

What I find truly fascinating, is that each of us live our own lives by our own set of rules that we too have learned and adapted along the way from interacting with various forces in our own corner of the world.   It is an interesting theory, how we connect without ever meeting each other and yet are inspired by another’s  journey.

I have learned throughout the years that inspirational mentors are people just like you and me who share their stories, live by example and somehow leave an impression. 

If we believe that in some way we all contribute to our communities, then I think we need to keep in mind:
We never know who may watching our journey and being inspired because inspirational mentors truly do leave a lasting impression.

Trish Tonaj is a Certifed Master Coach, Author, Mentor and Speaker offering keynotes and workshops on how to amplify your success. Trish is the founder and guest blog host for shareyourstories.online a portal in support of mentorship and the entrepreneurial spirit.  We invite you to share your story!