“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” –Danny Kaye
When you hear that someone is “living her best life” or making the most of every day, it conjures up an image of someone so upbeat and positive many would think that she couldn’t be real. We all have that friend – the one who cheers everyone on while achieving phenomenal personal success, too. Those people are like unicorns, magical and beautiful and totally unbelievable. Well, my friends, the unicorn is real. Mary Abbajay is like no one you’ve met before: she’s talented, whip smart, successful, and eternally optimistic.
Mary’s background is fascinating and inspiring. Born to a Lebanese father and an American mother, Mary was raised in Toledo, Ohio, along with her 3 siblings. Her father owned a nightclub and her mother stayed home; but when Mary reached the 4th grade, her mother resumed her career as a nurse. Mary was an incredibly independent child, a quality that helped her thrive when her mom went back to work, and her parents fostered that sense of self by giving her a bank account and paid chores when she was 6 years old. They recognized her tireless work ethic and trusted her completely from a young age to manage her homework and housework. In those days, kids would leave the house in the morning and not return until the streetlights went on, stopping in occasionally for lunch or snacks. Mary recalls going home for lunch to eat salami sandwiches and drink Pepsi and listen to Paul Harvey on the radio. All in all her story was, to this point in her youth, a fairly average one.
Life took a challenging turn when, as a teenager, Mary developed Bell’s palsy. You can guess from everything written about her thus far that, while this condition is serious and life-altering, Mary was determined to remain self-sufficient. She began physical therapy and spent a year learning how to take care of herself while she stayed in school, studying, playing basketball and volleyball, and earning a scholarship to Kenyon College in Ohio. Kenyon was not her first choice, but the scholarship was enough to convince her to go. Her reluctant decision to be close to home proved an auspicious one when, during college, her brother died suddenly from undiagnosed sleep apnea and her mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer (she, incredibly, fought to live long enough to see her daughter graduate). Surviving those losses without losing her own way encouraged Mary to see life as a series of opportunities not to be brushed aside or taken for granted. She’d inherited her mother’s indelible spirit, which fortified her against the fear of “what if” and turned her into someone whose greater fear is “what if I don’t”.
Mary’s life is a reflection of her independence and her willingness to face challenges head-on. Her entire philosophy is about reinventing yourself and never being afraid to follow your passions. She had 4 jobs in 4 different industries and started her own business before the age of 30. She is constantly redefining her professional identity and forging new paths. She is the president and founder of Careerstone Group, LLC, an organizational and leadership development firm in the Washington, DC area. She is passionate about helping clients create dynamic and productive workplaces that foster professional and personal excellence and growth. She has taught at George Mason University, Montgomery College and Georgetown University, co-owned 2 nightclubs in Washington, DC, and served as a mentor to members of various leadership groups. She has served on numerous boards and is a past Chairman of the Board for Leadership Greater Washington. Mary is the author of the best-selling book Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss. Mary is a frequent expert contributor for television, radio and print publications where she provides practical leadership and career advice. In addition to her role as a Forbes.com contributor, her work and advice have appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, Money, Southwest Airlines Magazine, Monster, and the BBC.
She is the living example of the coach and mentor everyone should have in their corner, not only for personal support but also to learn how to be the best leader for your team/employees/company. It may sound cliché to compare her to Steve Jobs since everyone wants to be viewed in that professional light, but she really does share some of his better qualities. Aside from the fact that they’re both half-Lebanese, Mary looks ahead, doesn’t quit, and abides by an ethos that echoes his famous comment: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right”.
To learn more about Mary, her new book, and her work, please visit www.careerstonegroup.com.