It took her years to figure it out.
Her life was consumed by anxiety and relationship issues.
As many of us know, our personal experiences often dictate the actions we take in life.
For Lesli Johnson, it was no different.
She was adopted at a time when parents were advised to tell as few people as possible about their adoptions.
But, this way of doing things raised more questions than answers.
One question raised after she saw several therapists in college, was why none of them were able to help her. It may have had something to do with the fact that none of them ever asked her if she had been adopted, therefore never had a chance to deduce that separation trauma played a primary role in Lesli’s anxiety.
She said, “’Were you adopted?’ should be asked on all medical forms.”
It’s a question that appears simple on the outside, but remains truly complex and in dire need of attention when more closely examined.
It’s a question that helped determine her mission in life: To help other adoptees and foster youth process their trauma.
I asked, “Do you have any advice for others who are going through similar issues?”
She said, “First, recognize that it may be related to your early trauma. Then, seek help, whether it’s therapeutic help, educating yourself about the nervous system or sharing your story with someone.”
Leslie has had an incredible impact on adopted teens, as well as adoptive parents through her therapeutic work as well as her work in support groups such as AdoptCONNECT and Teen AdoptCONNECT. Both groups give participants the opportunity to relate to one another and realize that they are far from alone in any adoption-related struggle.
On healing: Acknowledge that it may be due to separation and transitions
On adoption: “Were you adopted?” A question that should be asked on all medical forms
On community: Unite yourself with people who have shared the same experiences
“You never know.”
A lesson Samantha learned early on from her family and work.
Adopted from South Korea and raised in New Jersey, she never knew what might be the connecting thread between her twin sister and herself.
I asked, “What was it like being raised in New Jersey? What was your relationship with your adoptive family?”
She said, “No one ever really looked like me or looked like they could be my family...”
“...Little did I know my identical twin sister would show up one day.”
A youtube video that Samantha starred in ended up being the connecting piece of the puzzle between the two sisters, as well as an instigator of their reunion.
They connected online after her sister saw Samantha’s Youtube video, which quickly led to them meeting in person.
I asked, “What was it like meeting your sister for the first time?”
She said, “You finally see each other in the same room and you really have to learn how to be together… I’ve never felt more in the moment my whole life.”
Samantha tells us how meeting her sister online, as life-changing as it was, was entirely different from meeting her in person.
A meeting, which created multiple new opportunities in Samantha’s life.
First, it was the documentary, Twinsters, in which the two documented their reunion with the purpose of sharing their perspective on adoption and reunions.
Then, it was the start of her non-profit, Kindred Adoption.
I asked, “Do you have any advice for aspiring film producers and actors?”
She said, “You have to represent what you believe in.”
Focus your efforts on contributing to meaningful societal conversations.
On the entertainment industry: You never know what an opportunity will lead to
On chasing dreams: “If you love it, you will keep trying”
On passion: Be able to say, “I wouldn’t be as happy doing anything else in the world.”
On failing: Allow yourself to fail! We all do it.
On acting: “It’s important to represent what you believe in, to take roles that are meaningful.”
On mentorship:“A great mentor doesn’t have all the answers, but can help you find your own.”
It was painful.
18 years had passed before he saw her again.
He said, “We got in our family car. Drove to downtown Louisville, KY. Walked into a building we’ve never been to before.”
Reese Hoffa, along with his brother were playing in one room, while Diana was filling out paperwork in the other.
Everything seemed normal until him and his brother were separated.
Confused, he turned to his mother only to see her leave the place.
“Orphan,” a term that became a part of Reese’s identity.
His time at the orphanage included both sides of the spectrum. There were days when he was fed and cared for, and there were days when he was physically abused.
St. Thomas - St. Vincent orphanage, a place that taught Reese the unspoken lessons in life.
St. Thomas - St. Vincent orphanage, a place that’s with him everywhere he goes, including the Olympics.
In third grade, he threw his first shot.
In high school, he became a state champion.
In 2012, Reese won his first Olympic Games bronze medal.
A man who found ways to turn his dream into a reality.
A man who has finished in the top five at the USA Outdoor Championships for nine consecutive years.
I asked, “Do you have any advice for those who are thinking about going after their dreams?”
He said, “If you go after your dreams, you must believe in yourself and don't put ‘impossible’ on a pedestal.”
On living in the orphanage: Don’t be afraid
On adoption: You should be given a choice to say, “No”
On language: Only say it, if you mean it
On finding birth family: Do it while you can
On success: Stay hungry
She couldn’t handle it.
At 12 years old, she became addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Later on, her stepbrother sexually abused her.
Her comfort zone quickly turned into a nightmare.
Hopeless. Not knowing who to ask for help. She turned to the person that knew her best: herself.
The recovery process began.
Anything or anyone who could offer advice was a fair game.
It was refreshing.
She questioned her existence. Reasons for why she was put on this earth. Got in touch with a higher spirit, God.
All, ultimately leading to her larger purpose, to help other adoptees who may be experiencing similar issues.
Focusing on areas such as:
Why adoptees should reconnect with their roots
Importance of adoptee community
Accepting your past
On healing: It takes time
On community: Connect with others in-person
On future: Trust your instincts
On life: Don’t take yourself too seriously
It was hard to stay quiet.
Her body was constantly covered with bruises.
Her home was one of fear and abuse.
Her father was the man responsible for it all.
Others knew, but no one spoke up.
It left her no other option, but to speak up for herself.
During her sophomore year of high school, she was finally removed from her abusive household and placed into foster care.
“Foster kid”, a term that she could only imagine before, was now a part of her identity.
As most of us can relate, it is through hardship and adversity that we’re able to learn life’s toughest lessons.
Honoree Corder was no exception. Instead of dwelling on her grueling upbringing, she turned it to her advantage.
She has used her story to lift herself up.
She has used her story as inspiration for others to tell theirs.
As Honoree had mentioned, “Don’t be intimidated by the long process of book publishing. Start telling your story today.”
On abuse: Talk to someone about it
On future: Figure out a way to work for yourself
On success: Practice behaviors of successful people
On opportunities: Be open-minded
It was hard.
30 years of hard work. Massive credit card debt. Yet, the book was still not finished.
She said, “My mom died before she could finish her book. I am not going to die before I finish mine.”
However, things continued to get worse before they got any better.
She was fired from her job for throwing a pen at a student and saying, “Fuck” in front of the whole class.
Her marriage was falling apart.
A hard moment of reflection was bound to follow.
She gave up her apartment. Packed up everything and left.
Next stop, Martha's Vineyard, NY.
Two weeks, 336 hours, to complete her work.
But, the story was not coming out.
She said, “I was heartbroken. My one hope was that I could write a book.”
Fear took over.
She texted her best friend and explained all of the reasons why she couldn’t do it.
She felt devastated.
But, right before she was about to pack her things and leave, she received a message.
Her friend wrote back, “Use your true voice.”
It all clicked. She stopped trying to be the person her parents wanted her to be. Enough was enough.
All of a sudden, she understood how to tell her story.
93 days later, “You Don't Look Adopted” was finished.
On change: You must create pressure, community and guidance
On adoption: Every adoptee should tell his or her story
On flourishing, not survival: Take care of your body
On being “normal”: Just be yourself
It was frustrating.
It would take 100 “No’s” before getting a single “Yes.” But, there was no other way around it.
Embracing rejection was the only way. Giving up on her dream was not.
Not for a girl from Long Island, NY.
Not for a girl who wanted to be on TV since the age of 3.
Not for a girl who worked on Broadway at the age of 9.
But, as most of us know, things often get worse, before they get better.
For Jenna Ushkowitz, it was not any different.
Roles were limited due to stereotypes.
Money was tight.
Becoming an actress was a mystery.
As some things were getting worse, others were getting better.
The entertainment industry shifted. It became more diverse. This time, favoring Jenna.
Even with this new wave of excitement and opportunities, there were still challenges to overcome.
I asked, “What does it take to succeed in this business?”
She replied, “This business is about timing, luck, and talent.”
Three factors that get to determine whether you’ll make it or not.
A devastating thought for most of us to imagine.
I asked, “How do you maintain your focus with so much pressure?”
She replied, “You must keep perseverance and passion for doing what you do.”
On family: You choose the type of people you want to have in your life
On acting: It’s all about timing, luck, and talent
On challenges: Don’t get in your own way
On mentors: Surround yourself with changemakers
On purpose: Listen to yourself