Don’t follow what’s “normal”

Mathilde with her family.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Adobe employee Mathilde Henry (pictured in middle of photo) talks about defying cultural expectations for women and blazing her own path.

“Have you achieved enough now?” That’s what Mathilde Henry’s mother asked after Mathilde joined Adobe last year as the director of professional services.

Mathilde has always had big plans for her life. From an early age, she had ambitions to leave the small farming village where she grew up and do “something entirely different.” The “normal” thing for girls and women to do, however, was to focus on the home while supporting men’s work and dreams—an attitude that is still present even now, including with her family.

During Adobe for All Week, Adobe’s annual internal D&I event, Mathilde recounted how she instead has chased her passions, established a successful career and started a family of her own. Her answer to whether she’s achieved enough? “No, I don’t want to stop here. It’s not the end of my journey.”

We talked to Mathilde about pushing back against those expectations to find her own way and what it was like to share her story.

Why did you think it was important to share your story broadly?

I really felt like it could inspire and benefit people. To be honest, it was also just for myself, to grow and bring closure to my journey to becoming who I am today. Despite everything I’ve experienced and what others might think of me, this is who I am and this is where I am.

What emotions did you experience as you prepared to tell your story?

I felt exactly what I felt when I was younger. My family, friends and neighbors—what will they think? It was difficult not to feel a little like I’m a traitor. My life wasn’t that bad, and my parents are very nice people, so why am I doing this? They will think I’m criticizing them, but what I’m saying is that this is the right life for me.

When did you start to realize you were different from the people around you?

I would say almost from the beginning. I liked reading, writing, studying, and watching movies, and I was really demanding of myself and ambitious. That wasn’t expected for girls. I remember my mom wanting me to settle down and marry a young farmer when I was around 18, and at the time, I thought, “Never, never, never, never.” When I finally went to university in the city and could go out the movies and have access to any kind of books and art I could ever want, it confirmed that this is the life I wanted.

Were your parents upset that you left and went to university?

Oh no, they were not the kind of parents to stop me from studying. They just didn’t understand, and they never encouraged it. Even now, they say, “I don’t understand your job. I don’t understand what you’re doing here.” While they never tried to stop me, I wish they would recognize that they don’t have to understand my job to know that I’m successful and they can be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Did your sister take a similar path to yours?

My sister is very supportive of me and the path I took. She chose to stay in the countryside, married a farmer, and assumes traditional farming gender roles at home. She is modern in that she has a job, but she also does all the work within the home, so she has a foot in each world.

What kind of response did you receive from people who listened to your story?

I received so much feedback! I heard from people who liked my story or related to it. I even heard from someone who reached out after and asked if I would consider being a coach. So now I’ve been working as a mentor, and it’s something that I really love.

Do you have advice for women who might be in a situation similar to yours?

Don’t listen to your fear. The more I’ve grown as a person, the more I’ve realized that what limits us is fear. You’ll always be scared about things, but when you jump in, you’ll see that you can make it. If you don’t take that leap, you’ll never know.

What about advice for other potential storytellers?

Everyone has a story. I think like many people I initially minimized my own story, thinking it wasn’t important. But my husband always says to me, “Look at what you have achieved. Look at where you started and where you are now.” And when telling this story, I can see how far I have come. So go out and tell your story, then take a step back and acknowledge, “Wow, I really have come a long way.”