My journey has not been an easy one. I was born two and a half months premature and weighed all of 3lbs 6oz. My mother hemorrhaged all the way to the hospital and I spent significant time in an incubator before being released. Fast forward two years and I was walking on my toes, unable to put my heels down. My parents took me to a specialist who diagnosed me with Cerebral Palsy from the hips down and the surgeries began. Heel cord stretches, hip rotations, adjustments, metal inserts – all with the assertion that without them, in five years, I “might” not be able to walk. What parent wants to be responsible for that?
My mother had breast cancer and a hysterectomy before we lost her to heart failure. I was 11 years old. Between the ages of 2-16 I had over twelve surgical procedures. At one point I missed over two years of school, but ultimately came back ahead of my classmates. I graduated high school on time, went to college, graduate school and obtained an MBA/CPA. Each success has driven me to a rewarding 30+ year career in financial services.
I met my husband in 1991, married in 1994, and had my daughter in 1996. My husband was the best thing that ever happened to me; without him I would not have my daughter Peri. Unfortunately, we lost my husband four years ago; he initially survived a fall from a building, passing away nine months later from related injuries. I hadn’t planned on being a single mom. Through it all, Peri is the light that gives me the strength and drive to do anything I set my mind to. I wish my mother could see her.
I have had more than my share of hardship, and yet, I am grateful to be where I am today. All of the earlier struggles and losses brought me here, now. Without them the outcome would be different. Resiliency is not about how you bounce back from a single, even traumatic event; it is how you respond every day to the challenges that life presents. Repetitive use of this “muscle” builds strength, enables you to do more – and sometimes the impossible.
I practice being mindful (several times) each day with a one-minute gratitude meditation. I have a list of the five things I am most grateful for. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and say them. It brings me focus, reduces stress and reminds me of how lucky I am. Repetition of positive self talk is an empowering tool.
Never underestimate the human spirit.
Guiding principles I live by:
1. See yourself as you want to be seen. I am a strong capable woman. I am not Cerebral Palsy. Believe it. Be brave. Be bold. It is up to you to decide who you want to be.
2. Pick a path. If it turns out to be wrong then change it. Take ownership and responsibility for your actions and your life.
3. Be realistic. Take time to self reflect recognizing both your strengths and limitations.
4. Gratitude & Success are inseparable; my definition of success evolves over time, measured now by my relationships and shared experiences with family, friends, colleagues and those I have yet to meet. I appreciate all of them. People are my inspiration.
5. Be relentless and go after what you want no matter what. Nobody ever said life was easy. We have greater appreciation for the things that we had to struggle to achieve.
Ila Eckhoff is a Managing Director at Blackrock and has over 30 years of financial services experience. She graduated from Brandeis University in 1982. and has an MBA and CPA in accounting from Baruch College. Ila sits on the Board of Directors of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the DTCC Global Trade Repository. She is a senior member of BlackRock's Investment Operations team responsible for Industry and Counterparty Management, representing Blackrock in industry forums and on advisory committees at SIFMA, ISDA and IHS Markit. Ms. Eckhoff lives in NYC and is a movie, food, and wine enthusiast.