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I am a tough cookie—because I had to be! People around me sometimes think that I am a bit too tough, merciless, and I lose my patience with them when I feel that HR issues take up too much time in the office. I am thinking about why I am so “tough,” direct, and industrious (I should probably think more about being healthy, working less, and taking more time off). I swear and get angry, and I am so driven that I am almost foaming like a horse. Why don’t I listen to my friends’ advice and take things easy? Why do I not value having a massage and buying an expensive bag? Why do I not want to waste my time shopping or going on vacation at a beach? The reason is that I have never done those things, and I probably never will. Money was always an issue in my family. Either we had money or we had none at all, and we always spent our money on practicable things. We pinched and scraped and experienced long periods where we could not afford even the most basic necessities. We could not afford (big) birthday celebrations, gifts, and fancy new clothes. Our home was never a fun park. We had to work hard for long hours. Sometimes my parents would slave away for 14 to 16 hours in a given day (especially in the mid-1980s, when they became self-employed). We rarely bought material things. I remember one winter where we used a toaster to warm ourselves. We were freezing. When we would run out of money, we would have syrup and egg white as our candy. My dad worked his socks off aboard ships sailing all over the world; my mother, on the other hand, would be a single parent for long periods taking care of me and my two siblings in a Danish province. We were never walked to school, or had our lunch pack prepared, or had our clothes laid out in the morning. We were not serviced, and no, we never had “enough” money. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to stand on my own two feet, earn my own money (lots of it), and not depend on anyone. I hated most of the schools I attended.

I felt utterly uninspired by the environs of small Danish towns such as Storvorde, Mou, Vojens, Rens, Padborg, Haderslev, etc. I just wanted to get a job. I felt like a horse in a stable. I wanted to get out and run free. At a very young age, I started working in restaurants, as a dishwasher, morning or evening server, cleaner, bartender, etc. Throughout my student days, I worked both at night and in the morning. As other students went out to party, I would go to work. And as I went out from work and others went home to sleep, I would go to my other job. I have never been absent from work because of some illness or personal activities, or because I wanted to do something else. I have always had incredibly high work ethics and a high pain threshold, as well as a unique ability to ignore my needs (not because I want to but because I have to). I have always needed to earn money so that I could pay my rent, books, etc. In other words, I have had no choice. I have never had a plan B, a rich uncle, or someone who could save me if things went wrong. I left home when I was 13 years old, and I have been taking care of myself and my household expenses since I was 15 or 16 years old. I have been responsible enough to get up in the morning and go to school for as long as I can remember. I have been keeping bad company. I had a boyfriend who has been to prison. And I have had criminal friends with problems of drug abuse. And yes, it is amazing that things did not go wrong for me, that I did not end up a teenage mom, or something worse. But I did not because I knew that someday things would go my way. I always avoided taking things too far. I never drank too much to the point of losing my common sense. I firmly believed that if I worked hard, harder than the others, I would be all right. However, I did not possess special qualifications or abilities (perhaps I still do not possess any?), and I did not have the best grades in school. What I can only do is work harder than most people do. I can stand up to more pressure than most people can. I was never the most beautiful or the cleverest in my class. I was mediocre in many ways. I was outspoken, I swore a lot, and I did not put up with anything (that was not exactly a quality when I was a student, and no one saw it as a possible career path). I never knew that one day I would realize that I was ahead of my time while the others were behind! I am pretty tough, and I am strong, with a hard-bitten attitude. I am still street-smart.

I have seen so much hardship in my life that now I look at it as an edge. All my hardship has made me become hard-nosed (yes, I should be softer, but I am not). I am proud of my roots, and I will always be a working-class girl. That is my mind-set, and I never pretend to be anything or anyone else. Yes, I do earn money now. And yes, I have flown on a private jet; walked on many red carpets; attended royal dinners; dined with presidents, world leaders, and movie stars; and stayed in the finest hotels all over the world. I am not easily scared. I travel alone in countries like India, United States, China, Mexico, Myanmar, etc. I do feel sad that I spent 10 tiresome years in school. I am by nature very hungry for knowledge, but nobody motivated me when I was in school. I actually love going to school (as an adult, I have attended classes in quite a few universities). There are many things from my childhood that I wish I had not seen, tried, and experienced; however, they have turned me into a tough cookie—a survivor. Now I feel more intelligent than others in many ways—not because I have a high IQ or receive good education but because I have travelled a lot and tried so many things. If I can have an exciting career, everybody can. You can bring people like me to heel with lots of resistance, pain, and exclusion; but you cannot knock me out. “We” always end up standing with a handful of opportunities because we work hard, toil and moil, and never give up. In contrast, I see many people aged 20–35, including people I receive job applications from, and it often strikes me how unambitious they are and how little the effort they are willing to put in to achieve their dreams. They think that they can get their life from a slot machine. They succumb to resistance, have no drive, need to be led by hand, and demand month-long vacations. They know what they want, but they are not willing to make the necessary investments to get it. So yes, do not expect my sympathy when you call in sick for the second time in a week! Do YOU feel a little sorry for yourself? Your background should not hold you back, and if you had a difficult childhood, you can rejoice in knowing that it is over now and that you do not have to go through it ever again. Success begins with a decision!

I am a tough cookie — because I had to be!  
I am a tough cookie — because I had to be!  

Soulaima, why are you so tough and why don't you take things easy? This is what a lot of people around her sometimes think. Soulaima has nev...