When All the Puzzle Pieces Fit Together

Written By: Catherine Porth

Catherine Porth | Founder of Let Her Speak

I will often be the first person to admit that I never thought I’d be the founder of a non-profit, let alone one that focuses on supporting and empowering women. But as the years have passed since I hosted our first Let Her Speak event in 2018 – I’ve started to notice how all these pieces of my life were leading me exactly to where I am today. 

When I was young, I was very focused on the “check-the-box” method for living my life. I wanted to have it all figured out before I even graduated high school – and truly, I thought I did. I started researching colleges and majors when I was in 7th grade. I explored several different career paths before finally landing on international business and marketing when I entered high school. 

In fact, I was so “all in” on going into a career in business that I quit band as a freshman because it interfered with the business classes I wanted to take. That is a decision I still don’t regret – despite disappointing my flute teacher. And while going to the University of Iowa would have been the comfortable choice, I had on my life checklist that I wanted a major geographic change, which brought me to the University of South Carolina (and an eye-opening education on SEC football).

It was in my sophomore year, though, that my checklist had its first major setback. I had decided to go to USC because they had the #1 international business program in the country. But the program was also incredibly competitive and you didn’t apply for it until your sophomore year. During Spring Break that year, I remember coming back to campus early. I checked my mail and had a letter from the College of Business that I knew held my fate. 

Sitting alone in my campus apartment, I opened the letter that ultimately informed me that the very purpose of attending that school was all for nothing. I did not get accepted into the international business program and would not graduate with my intended major. To say I was devastated is an understatement. This checkbox I had put on my list of “things to accomplish in life” was never going to get checked. I had failed before I could even start my career.

After about 24 hours of feeling angry, disappointed, and frustrated with myself – I started to realize that maybe this checklist I had made was holding me back more than propelling me forward. I asked myself the hard question of why I wanted to study international business so badly. The truth was, I simply just wanted to travel – I had no interest at all in international trade, policy, or foreign relations.

“I started to realize that maybe this checklist I had made was holding me back more than propelling me forward.”

It was in those days following that letter that I started to adopt a new view on how to live my life – the puzzle piece collection. Rather than setting a map for myself at the age of 20 that would dictate where I thought I wanted to be at 40, I started looking at building my life one puzzle piece at a time – not necessarily caring whether the pieces fit together in that moment or not.

I ended up adding entrepreneurship as a second major, taking creative writing classes, joining several campus groups/clubs, studying abroad, and learning four different foreign languages. And while Catherine 17 years ago would likely never have guessed she would be the founder of anything like Let Her Speak, my view of life being about the excitement of collecting these random puzzle pieces ensured that it was something I never completely discounted as a possibility.

Now that I have had the gift of time and experience to look back – it is so blatantly obvious that every piece I collected was leading exactly to where I am now, it amazes me how blind I was to all of it. I guess that’s why the saying “hindsight is 20/20” rings so true for many of us. Since this realization, I’ve started to track the major pieces of my puzzle that have fallen into place without me realizing: 

 

A Love of Women Empowerment 

In all honesty, I really didn’t have many girl friends growing up. In fact, I had an instinctive distrust of almost any girl I met because of the bullying I experienced throughout most of my adolescence. That memory is what I focused on for a long time as a key aspect of who I was and why I say a younger me would never have imagined I’d be the leader for an organization serving women. However, when I look back closer, it wasn’t that I disliked girls or women – I disliked the toxicity that often exists within our friend groups. 

My dad is a feminist and raised me to be one as well without me recognizing it until I got older. We watched women’s sports together, listened to women-centric music, and would have conversations about how amazing and talented women are. He always reinforced that I could be anything and encouraged me to be independent, speak my mind, and stand up for myself.

 

Teaching is My Happy Place

I have loved teaching and educating for almost as long as I can remember, but I’ve never wanted to be a teacher. From working 1-on-1 with kindergarteners in high school to being a tutor in college to running corporate trainings in my early career – I always seemed to find a way to teach no matter what I was doing. But I always thought of teaching or training in a very traditional sense.

It wasn’t until I started expanding my vision for Let Her Speak that I realized how perfectly my love of teaching fit in with our mission. Not only that, but also having the freedom to create my own materials, teach in my own way, and speak on topics I had a passion for – not just how to sell an office chair which I had to do in my corporate training life.

 

Obsession with a Good Story 

From the time I was old enough to sit still and listen, my mom took me to the library every week for storytime and we’d leave with a huge stack of books. I loved listening to a good story and I also come from a family of storytellers. Granted I’ve heard my dad and uncle’s stories so many times I could recite them back, but that hasn’t stopped either of them from telling them to the rest of the family.

I never realized how much of an impact growing up in a story-centric family had on me. Personal stories are one of my favorite ways to get to know people. I could sit for hours with a stranger telling me their life story and I would rather that than having to navigate through a conversation that only stays at the surface (you know the types of conversations I’m talking about). It seems so obvious now that of course I would create an organization that focuses on celebrating others through having them share their stories, but it wasn’t a puzzle piece I put in place until just recently.

“Now that I have had the gift of time and experience to look back – it is so blatantly obvious that every piece I collected was leading exactly to where I am now.”

If you’re in a phase of life where you haven’t quite figured out how all the pieces you’ve collected fit into place – that’s okay! One of the reasons I love looking at life this way is because it gives us the freedom to be curious, try new things, and make new discoveries. There is no roadmap or checklist we feel like we have to follow. There are no milestones or timelines we feel like we need to be hitting to “keep up”. The only thing you need to do is live. 

So go out and collect those pieces one moment, one experience at a time. Listen to your instincts and your heart more than your head. And one day, without even realizing it, you’ll take a step back, and suddenly all those pieces are going to come together in the most beautiful way – and you’ll wonder how you never saw it before.

About the author » Catherine Porth

Catherine Porth is the Founder & Chief Advocate of Let Her Speak. Her mission is to improve and grow opportunities for women, one inspiring story at a time. If you are interested in learning more about or getting involved in our community, contact her at catherine@letherspeakusa.org.

Instagram: /letherspeakusa

LinkedIn: /catherineporth

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