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Meet Trailblazer Kayla Zakhour

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kayla Zakhour.

Kayla, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am an enigma of cultures, experiences, and expectations. My paternal side is Lebanese but practiced Catholicism. My mother’s side is South African and her family is a medley of contrasting customs. I embody diversity but have been raised with the spirit of acceptance. Our differences defy prejudice and bias is not tolerated. I am Lebanese, I am South African, I am a mixture of rebel and revolution. These qualities and attributes have made me a global citizen. My respect for humanity is derived from my experiences traveling to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. I witnessed cities dilapidated by war, heard the cries of the underprivileged and these experiences have resulted in an appreciation for different ways of life. My goal is to initiate an environment of acceptance, focus on shared humanity and build bridges, as opposed to divides. My broad-minded and culturally sensitive character has been honed by my background. Exposure to diversity breeds tolerance and acceptance, but my worldly manner has been ingrained since birth. I am proud to be a product of such diverse cultures that converge as one. I have traveled the world, visited four continents and experienced how different regions are globally connected. My parents stressed the similarities of cultures and how we are bound together by the thread of humanity.

My life has felt like anything, but ordinary. I have had the most incredible foundation to my life and it has curated who I am today. Although, I am truly blessed – I am familiar with adversity. December 22nd of 2018 was the worst day of my life – My dad passed away unexpectedly and none of us were prepared for the finality or the uncertainty that is now our lives. I lost my father, my strength, my confidant, my supporter, my provider, but above all, my HERO. There are no words to describe this type of heartbreak, losing my father has been utterly unimaginable at his of 56. These past three months have been the hardest times of my life, especially with how close-knit my family is. Adjusting to life without my father leaves the biggest void. My father leaves behind, my amazing mother Charisse, my sister Chloe aged 21, myself aged 19, my sister Amber aged 16, and my brother Noah aged 9. We are lost emotionally and financially without my father. He was the main source of income for my family of six. My sister set up a gogetfunding campaign to help my family with funeral costs, rent, furthering our education and day to day living expenses. Responsibility has fallen on each and every one of my siblings and I. I feel I have grown up faster than I would have liked, but I’ve learned that maturity comes from what life throws at you. I am still learning how to move forward and heal as a daughter. At 19 years old, I have had it all and I have lost it all. My strength is a testament to who I am.

I am a second-year student currently studying Business Marketing at Saddleback College. While being a full-time student, I work part-time. I began my collegiate journey at The University of San Francisco. I returned home following my first year because I wanted to be close to my father who was ill at the time and also be present to help and support my family. It was not a difficult decision to make, because my family is extremely close and San Francisco was not the right fit for me. I am so grateful I returned home because of the time I spent with my father turned out to be the ultimate gift. My plans for the future include transferring to a 4-year university in the Fall of 2019.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it has not been a smooth road. Moving away from home, transferring colleges, and finding my path has been more difficult than anticipated, but I know it will be worth the reward. Losing my father has been the biggest struggle to date. My family and I have been familiar with adversity previously, but experiencing the loss of my father has been detrimental. I am still learning how to move forward and take on this new “normal.”

Advice for young women who are just starting their journey: Do not take “no” for an answer, but also never say “no” to an opportunity. Everyone’s journey will move at different paces. You may not get what you want when you want it, but just trust the process and ALWAYS trust your gut. Looking back, trusting my gut has made influential changes in my life. At first, I was upset with myself because I felt that I did not fit in San Francisco. I trusted my gut to return home even though I was weary if that was the right decision for me. Later, I realized that it was the biggest blessing. I could not be more proud of myself for trusting my instincts. Some things fall out of place so that bigger and better things can fall into place. Life will test you. I’ve learned that it’s ok to not understand because everything has a higher purpose.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I work for AAA Appraisal Management Company. An appraisal management company operates in the mortgage industry. My title is Marketing and Vendor Management Assistant. A breakdown of what this title consists of includes controlling all of the social media platforms from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and corresponding with appraisers via email or phone. The marketing aspect has been fun for me. It is a taste of the career I am interested in. When it comes to vendor management, I make sure our appraisers are certified to work with our company and applicable to our clients. This is my first “real” job so to say and it has been an amazing experience, to say the least. My co-workers all share the same culture as me and they create a familial environment for me to learn in. I have the two most incredible bosses that have allowed me to grow in my abilities and given me the opportunity to prove myself.

I feel as though my worldly perspective is what sets me apart from others. My culture is such a big part of who I am. I bring open-mindedness, benevolence, and inherent inclusiveness. I have an appreciation for people from all walks of life.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
Women can do whatever they set their mind to, but I also believe that women are born empathetic and have an unrecognized mental and emotional strength. These qualities are ingrained and will aid women in whatever path they choose to follow. People say women are more vulnerable, but vulnerability exudes strength. To be vulnerable means you allow yourself to take risks, give more of yourself, and follow your heart. The right people will appreciate this quality. My family has lost three amazing male leaders, which leaves behind a majority of women. We are the last ones standing, but with grace and strength. My grandmother is 90 years old and has outlived her youngest son (my father).

The most important piece of advice I could give to young women just starting their career would be to know your place. Don’t wait for things to come to you. Be a go-getter. Education is the one thing that no one cannot take away from you. Education is the ticket to success. Also, be yourself – unapologetically. Your character is telling to who you will become. Be honest with yourself and trust yourself. The world is ours.

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