As 24-year-old Lizzie Velasquez walked on stage for her TEDxAustinWomen talk she told the producer, “Don’t freak out, but I’m going to throw my whole plan away and speak from my heart.” Lizzie’s talk went viral with over 10 million views.
That wasn’t the first time a video about Lizzie went viral. Born with a rare disease that prevents her from gaining weight, Lizzie is now 27 years old and has never weighed more than 64 pounds. When Lizzie was 17, she stumbled upon a YouTube video labeling her “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” It had over four million views and thousands of cruel comments: “Do everyone a favor and just kill yourself” and “Kill it with fire.”
Lizzie was crushed by that video and thought she would never be able to pick herself up. But she fought back, not by fighting fire with fire, but by finding her inner fire. Because of that video Lizzie was able to create the biggest and best platform she could have asked for. She could have become a victim of cyber-bullying, but with courage and a strong support system, she became a hero. Today Lizzie is an anti-bullying activist, motivational speaker, author, entrepreneur and the leading lady in A Brave Heart, the documentary about her life. As Whoopi Goldberg said, “True real beauty shines from within and no one shines brighter than our next guest [Lizzie].”
This is Lizzie’s Mentoring Moment, in her words:
When I walked into my seventh grade science classroom, I got the usual stares. People staring at me wasn’t uncommon. I didn’t look like your average preteen girl going into junior high. When you’re that age all you really want is to fit in. Combine physically looking different with teenage hormones, and I think you can imagine what those years were like for me. But something else happened when I walked into that classroom that day. A woman named Mrs. Shultz entered my life. She was being paid to teach me about atoms and neutrons. But this isn’t a story about doing only what you’re paid to do.
There have been people that have come into my life and I know right away that they are meant to be there for a reason. I knew Lori (it’s funny because now that I’m an adult and we have such a close relationship, I still feel like I’m doing something wrong by calling a former teacher by her first name!) was meant to be in my life a few weeks into being in her class. She made me feel as if she saw me, the true me, before she saw my physical difference. She would help me with my vision needs (I’m blind in my right eye) in a way that didn’t make me feel as if I were different than the other kids. Walking into her classroom, I always felt instant confidence to go about my day.
When the year was over, and my time as her student was coming to an end, she made sure that I knew her door was always open. She would be there if I needed anything at all. To talk, to vent, or to be a shoulder to lean on. Fast forward 14 years and her door is still open for me.
Lori had a hand in shaping me to be the woman I am today. Whether it’s meeting up to have dinner to catch up or getting a sweet encouraging text from her when I need it the most. Lori came into my life teaching me about motion and energy and ended up teaching me life lessons that I will never forget. She taught me the importance of always staying true to who I am among many other things. One lesson that has stood out to me was the reminder to trust that things will happen when the time is right. Whether it be in my personal life or for my career. I feel so blessed to have been placed into her classroom so many years ago, and also so happy to know that she is having the same impact on every student that has walked into her classroom.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the incredible support system of angels that I have around me. The people who have been by my side day in and day out. The ones who have taught me to just be Lizzie. To be proud of the skin I’m in. Lori Shultz is without a doubt one of those angels.
We all have so many different teachers in our lives. Whether they were an actual teacher in school or a mentor you’ve learned from throughout the years. The lesson in my mentoring moment is that we all need to see others for who they are, and see ourselves for who we truly are. Sometimes we need someone to turn the flashlight on for us. Other times we need to turn it on for others , and in that, you’ll find that you are also turning it on for yourself.
For more of Lizzie’s stories, grab your ear buds because she’s my guest on the Mentoring Moments podcast. Lizzie is raw, real and wonderful. Here’s a sneak peak at six more you-need-to-know lessons that I learned from Lizzie during our podcast:
Define You. Don’t let others define you. That means your boss, family members and friends. Even nice people can wrongly define you if you don’t know who you are. Figure out who you are and define yourself.
Do Crazy. Lizzie’s launching pad for speaking started when she was in high school after she discovered what she calls “the bad video.” Her assistant principal in junior high asked Lizzie to speak about bullying to the entire student body. Lizzie thought the idea was a little crazy and no one would listen to her, but she did it. That’s when Lizzie realized that not only did she love speaking, but people would listen to her and she could move people. Her life changed when she said “yes” to something that scared her.
Flex Your Inner Strength Muscle. Lizzie has a ton of inner strength, and she says, “I’m going to be finding that inner strength for the rest of my life.” Like a muscle, we need to build up our inner strength daily so when the bad things in life happen (and they will) you will find that you are stronger than you ever imagined.
Own Your Plan or Pitch It. This post started out with the story about Lizzie telling the producer of TEDxAustinWomen, “Don’t freak out, but I’m going to throw my whole plan away and speak from my heart.” The lesson isn’t about throwing away a planned speech – it’s about owning what you are doing. If it doesn’t feel right, find the better way.
Be Grateful. Lizzie is grateful for her wonderful support system: family, friends, colleagues and teachers. She counts her blessings on the good days and especially on the hard days because Lizzie knows that it’s how you deal with the hard days that helps define who you are.
Kick the Shit Out of Option B. Lizzie says, “It [the video] is something I’ll never overcome. I’ve learned to live with it and make the best out of it.” Instead of becoming a victim, she’s doing what Sheryl Sandberg talks about in her UC Berkeley 2016 commencement speech: “A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, ‘But I want Dave.’ Phil put his arm around me and said, ‘Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B’… We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?” Lizzie is a hero who is kicking the shit out of option B.