Project: Young Women’s Stories–Fostering Leadership
Making the Impossible Possible
Corina Ajder, Chișinău, Republic of Moldova
A mentor once encouraged me to have big dreams, ones so big that I’d be afraid to say them out loud for fear of other people laughing at them. For a long time, I believed that I wasn’t a person who could afford to have those dreams.
I am from Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. I was able to attend a private school for seven years because my parents cared about my education and were able to get me a needs-based scholarship, but without it, my middle-class family never could have afforded the tuition. By contrast, most of my classmates were extremely wealthy. They went on trips, shopped in other countries, and had chauffeurs. Watching them, I saw firsthand that a person’s economic background can play a crucial role in the opportunities they have. Economically frustrated, I developed a lot of anger through this experience, but it also shaped my concern for human rights and socio-economic poverty. I wanted to use my anger as fuel to fight for others who are not heard.
In October 2017, I saw an opening for a fellowship with one of the biggest international human rights organizations. It seemed ideally suited to me; in the fellowship, I would be drawing on my strengths rather than trying to fit myself into the job description. There was just one problem: there were usually over 1,000 applicants each year for only one spot.
I immediately felt discouraged. I believed opportunities like the fellowship didn’t happen for people like me, people without wealth or status. I couldn’t help but think, “Why should I even try?” I had to dig deep to find the courage to apply. With great effort and encouragement from my partner, I finished and submitted it, despite my doubts. All that was left to do was to try to believe that winning the fellowship was possible. I have to say, it was extremely difficult.
Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. Not only did my partner endure health challenges, but my father — my biggest supporter — died unexpectedly. Sometimes it takes your life falling apart to make you a better person. Despite the huge blow, my father’s death allowed me to experience a deep appreciation for my life. The legacy he gave me was that we are all here because we have a mission. For me, that mission was to go beyond my qualifications to promote human rights through my actions by empathizing with others and being a compassionate person.
I realized that I was holding onto grudges, which was making me unhappy and diminishing the joy in my life. I resolved to heal the conflicts in my life and replace them with a desire to connect. I was determined to change any unconscious tendencies that stood between me and the fellowship, my dream opportunity. My Buddhist practice was (and continues to be) a big part of my life. It helped me become a person of deep compassion, which is the basis of human rights work.
Not long after applying for the fellowship and resolving to promote human rights in my own actions, I received a letter inviting me to an in-person interview in New York. I had made it as one of the five finalists, and they wanted to meet me personally. I had never dreamed I would make it so far.
Soon, it was time to fly to New York for my interview. After a trip filled with many delays, cancellations, and seemingly insurmountable challenges, I finally arrived in New York, exhausted but thankful that I had made it in time for the interview the following morning.
After the interview, I felt that I had already won, regardless of my interviewers’ decision. I had had the spirit to never give up when faced with the most discouraging obstacles, and that would have been enough for me. But the following morning, I learned that out of 1,300 applicants, I was chosen for the fellowship!
I started my fellowship in September 2018. I’ve still suffered from imposter syndrome, but I have approached it as a chance to show others that I can do my work well despite self-doubt. My deep wish is that my experience of achieving my “impossible” dream will encourage other capable young people to dare to take the first step toward their own dreams. After all of the ups and downs of my life, I’ve realized that touching people’s lives and fostering true connection, regardless of recognition, will always be more impressive than power or prestige.