Originally published in Forbes.com
This Trailblazers series takes a look at the pivotal milestones that make up the life trails of inspiring women from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. We all know what social media profiles display about the end results women have achieved. This series is intended to take a deeper, more authentic look at the journeys they have taken to get there.
Judith Martinez is the Founder and CEO of InHerShoes, a social impact-driven organization committed to catalyzing courage for young girls and women around the world. As a first-generation college student, she is passionate about redefining traditional standards of what it looks like to be a successful woman, particularly in the worlds of entrepreneurship, media, and social impact. She is the co-author of Students Lead Now, a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, and a United State of Women Ambassador.
After learning more about the trail that Judith has blazed, I got the chance to ask her some questions.
Rebekah Bastian: You talked about the tension between the decisions you wanted to make for yourself and your family’s expectations for you. How much do you think external expectations can and should play a role in the trails we ultimately follow?
Judith Martinez: External expectations play a large part in what many of us do or don’t do. On my trail, the external pressures I faced with my family were this ideal of success I felt I needed to follow in order to finally be seen as “enough” by the world. I ultimately realized the life I was chasing was never the one I truly wanted. External pressures were constrictive and completely painted how I viewed the world and what was possible for my role in it.
“I ultimately realized the life I was chasing was never the one I truly wanted.”
Expectations can push us to be our best selves, and also push us to breaking points. They can motivate us to step into greatness, or place a cap on potential. What is critical is learning to identify for yourself which expectations do not serve you or your purpose, and which expectations become the trails you ultimately choose to live out.
Bastian: InHerShoes aims to help girls and women be more courageous. What made you choose courage as the attribute you wanted to foster in girls and women, and why do you focus on being 1% more courageous?
Martinez: I believe for a lot of entrepreneurs, we wind up creating what we wish we had. I knew I wanted to foster courage when I began to notice how much I lacked it for myself looking back at moments of my life. I was tired of seeing how much fear was playing a leading role in my life. Seeing how easily we can take courage for granted, I knew I wanted to commit myself to catalyzing it.
At InHerShoes, we focus on being 1% more courageous because we see courage as a daily skillset to practice in life. Courage in the seemingly small, daily moments – like choosing to raise your hand in class or asking for that raise – is just as impactful, if not more so as the big, flashy moments. Courage is like a muscle: for it to grow, you must put in the work and practice. You might feel uncomfortable in situations you haven’t encountered before, but practicing courage allows you to build back up, take action in the face of fear and keep moving onward.
“I made a conscious, courageous choice to make the difference I had been told I was not qualified to make, and I began pushing my comfort zones further and further out to meet what I was afraid of.”
Bastian: How did you find your own courage to become an entrepreneur when you had previously been told you didn’t belong in that space?
Martinez: Sometimes the fear does not go away, so you have to do the thing anyway. That was me when I chose to create InHerShoes despite what I had been told. Much of what has led to InHerShoes being where we are today came from learning how to leverage a lack of knowing into an asset. I stopped approaching things as if I had to know everything, and instead began to shift my mindset to being curious. What could I learn? Who could I help? What could I contribute? I noticed once I began to shift the kinds of questions I was asking myself, finding the courage to find the answers became easier and easier over time. I made a conscious, courageous choice to make the difference I had been told I was not qualified to make, and I began pushing my comfort zones further and further out to meet what I was afraid of. Over time I realized a funny thing happens when you face your fears – they begin to disappear.
Bastian: You shared how you went through a phase where your mental and physical well-being suffered after a hard breakup. This happened while you were also running InHerShoes – how did you keep your organization afloat while pulling your life back together? What advice do you have for womxn who may be going through something similar?
Martinez: How we show up in one area of life is how we show up in others. When I went through one of the most challenging periods of my life — an unexpected breakup, a loved one passing away, and a major grant falling through – I felt I had hit rock bottom in so many ways. Like many founders, I poured everything into what I was building, including my relationships. The most important relationship I was not pouring into was the one with myself.
I took three months to focus on myself, my health, and who I wanted to be moving forward. I told my team all things were on pause until further notice and I mustered up the courage to ask for help. Taking time to step back and heal was one of the most courageous things I have done as a founder. If it were not for my community, I am clear I and InHerShoes would not have made it through and be where we are today.
For any womxn looking to jump into an entrepreneurial journey and who may be going through something similar, I would say it is important to understand that it is going to take a lot of people and moments to get you “there”. It can take rejection, redirection, and sometimes rock bottom. It can take loss, battles, and resiliency. You are climbing a mountain with no top and you have to work for your growth. However with community, compassion for yourself, and courage, it is a journey that is not only possible, but rewarding.
“I feel a personal responsibility to keep learning, keep asking the uncomfortable questions, and to share those learnings, experiences, and resources with others.”
Bastian: Between a global pandemic, a historic racial justice movement and a crucial upcoming election, these are uncertain and scary times for many. How are you fostering courage for yourself and others?
Martinez: I believe now more than ever the world is demanding for courageous leadership, courageous action, and courageous change. Fostering courage for myself means continuing to push myself to grow both in my leadership and doing the internal work of looking at my privilege as a first generation Filipina American. As a leader and founder of an organization committed to catalyzing courage for girls and women, I feel a personal responsibility to keep learning, keep asking the uncomfortable questions, and to share those learnings, experiences, and resources with others. One way I am eager to continue that work is through my new role as a United State of Women Ambassador representing California to catalyze courage for gender equity in the polls come November and beyond.
As an organization, InHerShoes is in the midst of our online webinar series of courageous conversations, Catalyze Allyship. Looking at allyship through different angles, we are creating safe spaces and intentional discourse featuring catalysts on the frontlines of allyship work. We believe these conversations are crucial to ensure these pivotal moments we have experienced as a country live on in a movement for meaningful, lasting change.
Tap into your courage and connect with Judith to start a conversation, ask her a question and/or appreciate her journey.