We are teaming up with OKREAL for our interview series, “Pay it Forward.” We spoke with women who we collectively admire to hear what mentorship means to them, the advice that has been most meaningful and the importance of uplifting the women around you. OKREAL is a platform that curates wisdom shared by a range of smart, leading women role models.

Fifth in our series is Savannah James, entrepreneur, interior designer, businesswoman and philanthropist. We spoke with James about learning from kids, the domino effect of positive energy and the importance of taking a step back.

Check back next week for our sixth interview in this series. We’ll be talking to comedian Jenny Yang.

Do you have a female mentor or leader you respect? Who is she?

There are a lot of strong women leaders today that our youth can look up to. For me, my mother and the strong group of women in my family have taught me a lot of the qualities I have that make me the woman I am today.

I believe having strong mentors and positive influences you can turn to is so important, especially for young women, which is the reason I started my Women of Our Future mentorship program in my hometown. We want to let young women know they aren’t alone in the many challenges and obstacles they’re facing during those pivotal high school years.

What qualities make a good mentor or leader?

To me, a good mentor and a good leader has strength, confidence, perseverance and passion for whatever he or she believes in.

Mentors come in all different forms, and are not always people who we expect. What is your experience with this?

My experience with a mentor coming in a form that people don’t expect is looking at children or strangers and finding qualities in them that have an effect on you in a way that makes you a better person. They may not even know the impact they’re having on you, but I think we can learn a lot from our kids and people we don’t know if we take the time to listen and really understand where they are coming from.

What is something a woman mentor or leader did for you, that you now try and do for other women?

Something a woman mentor did for me that I try to exemplify for other women is to just be a positive influence and encourage them in any way I can to help them through their journey.

How did that experience (of what your mentor did for you) change your career/life?

Having that positivity and being constantly encouraged changed my life. It really showed me the domino effect of positive energy and it’s also what led me to establish my mentorship program. I felt firsthand the effect that encouragement and uplifting words can have on a person at a time when they need it most. It’s been incredible to see the impact Women of Our Future is having on young women in Akron.

What’s one piece of advice that you struggle to put into practice (even though you know you should)

I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years, a lot of which I’ve found to be valuable and applicable to my life. I think personal growth is very important, and there are always things you can do or make a conscious effort to improve so you can be your best self.

Where and when do you do your best work?

I do my best work when my passion in a particular subject is sparked. In my experience, when you find something you’re passionate about, that’s when the ideas, creativity and inspiration come more effortlessly. And I always seem to get my best ideas at night when I have some time for myself to reflect on the day and things coming ahead.

Have you had a recent “Aha!” moment or breakthrough?

My most recent “Aha!” moment came when I realized that as a mother, it’s ok to take time and grow as an individual and be a better person, not only for myself, but for my children as well. There is often an expectation that as parents, we have all the answers, but it’s ok that we are still learning and growing as we go.

What is once piece of advice that someone can put into action today?

One simple piece of advice I would share is to remember to relax and sometimes take a step back. Over time I’ve learned that you can’t control every aspect of every situation, and the more you relax and let things fall into place, the easier things become.

What is one thing you want women to keep in mind as they go through life?

One thing I share with the young ladies in my mentorship program that I believe all women should keep in mind as they go through life is that they are strong, intelligent, beautiful and worthy people that can do anything and everything they put their minds to.

Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams on what drove her to break barriers

PAY IT FORWARD | In collaboration with OKREAL, we talk about supporting other women through their career

We are teaming up with OKREAL for our interview series, “Pay it Forward.” We spoke with women who we collectively admire to hear what mentorship means to them, the advice that has been most meaningful and the importance of uplifting the women around you. OKREAL is a platform that curates wisdom shared by a range of smart, leading women role models.

Ninth in our series is Nicola Adams, the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title. We spoke with Adams about breaking barriers, making sacrifices and how she got through the hardest time of her life.

Check back in next week for our tenth interview in this series. We’ll be speaking with illustrator Malika Favre.

Do you have a female mentor or leader you respect? Who is she?

I guess my mentor would be my mum. She’s definitely the person who has had the greatest influence on me and is the person I turn to for advice.

What qualities make a good mentor or leader?

Honesty is key for me — and you have to be willing to listen to them, even if you might not like hearing what they have to say.

Mentors come in all different forms, and are not always people who we expect. What is your experience with this?

What has surprised me is when you learn things you weren’t expecting to from someone. For example, I’m learning so much from my new team since turning professional, but not just in boxing terms. I’m learning a lot about life from Victor Conte and Virgil Hunter, they have so much life experience and knowledge, and not just in sport. It just shows that you should always be open-minded about where you might get advice from.

What is something a woman mentor or leader did for you, that you now try and do for other women?

I was very lucky that my mum showed me how strong you can be. She sacrificed so much for me and my brother. Not just working two jobs, but also making sure I could train, taking me to competitions, supporting me in every way she could. There was no funding for women’s boxing back when I started. I think she gave me the strength and determination that have helped me break down the barriers in my sport. While there is still a long way to go, there’s now a pathway future female boxers can take and hopefully they can take inspiration from my journey.

How did that experience (of what your mentor did for you) change your career/life?

One of the hardest periods for me was when I was injured. I broke my back falling down my stairs. I was stuck in bed for three months unable to do anything, I couldn’t even go out. I found this period so hard as I was worried that I might never box again, I might not fulfill my dream of competing in an Olympics. However, my mum was key to helping me get through this period. This time showed me I was much tougher mentally than I realized.

What’s one piece of advice that you struggle to put into practice (even though you know you should).

I have a pretty strict diet that my team help me set that I need to follow when I’m training. The problem is I have a sweet tooth, I love cupcakes and cookies. However, I really notice the difference in the gym when I haven’t been sticking to the plan — and so do my coaches.

Where and when do you do your best work?

In the boxing ring. However, the reason I’m able to do my best work here is due to all the hard work I’ve put in before this time. I set my goals and focus entirely on these. I know I have to make sacrifices to achieve these goals, but it’s all worth it when I get into the ring knowing that I’ve done everything possible to prepare by myself to face my opponent.

Have you had a recent “Aha!” moment or breakthrough?

The moment that really changed things for me was in 2009 when women’s boxing finally became an Olympic sport.

What is once piece of advice that someone can put into action today?

I think setting yourself goals is key — and then making sure you do everything you can to achieve those goals.

What is one thing you want women to keep in mind as they go through life?

Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.

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