Passion Forward: A Tribute To My Friend Gloria Borges

Editor's Note: Ms. JD was saddened to learn about the passing of a friend, colleague, and someone we all looked up to, Gloria Borges. Many of Ms. JD's community first met Gloria when she keynoted our 2011 Annual Conference in Los Angeles. While in the midst of battling stage 4 colon cancer, Gloria gave us a road map for success in the profession she loved so much. This week, we will honor her with a few tribute posts. To learn more about Gloria or the incredible foundation she founded, the WunderGlo Foundation, click here.

“I’m not afraid of death.” This was Gloria Borges’ response to her 2010 diagnosis with Stage IV colon cancer. “The cancer is very aggressive,” they told her. I’m very aggressive,” she responded. Life gave her a death sentence, and she said no. She turned a life expectancy of months into years. She turned sickness into opportunity. She inspired hope in fellow cancer warriors. She set an example for all of us to live our lives more fully. She channeled her illness into a calling to find a cure for the disease that dared to cross her. Yesterday, she left this life on her own terms.

Here is what every woman lawyer should learn from Gloria:

Own your aspirations and dream big. What did Gloria plan to be? Mayor of Los Angeles. She would tell you her future plans without batting an eye, and it was your problem if you were taken aback by her candid response or her big dreams. Gloria knew that she was the author of her own potential. Life may limit us, but we should never limit ourselves.

Don’t fall prey to insecurities created by the world telling you how you should feel about yourself. Gloria was not plagued by the petty insecurities that keep so many of us from owning our physical presence in the world. There is a projected standard of beauty, and its (impossible) attainment distracts and paralyzes countless women. Gloria always lived by her own standard. Never shy, never ashamed, never looking to others for approval, she rocked a bikini with a scar from sternum to pelvis and a huge grin on her face. Gloria gave no one the power to define her beauty or to shake her confidence in herself.

Don’t waste time on self-pity. Gloria never asked, “Why me?” There was simply no time. In the years I knew Gloria, I never heard her complain about anything. Even when things did not go her way, she simply moved from one goal to the next, shifting her aspirations so that her eyes were always on the sky, looking ahead and not behind. Don’t let your disappointments shackle you.

Find what you love, and do it. Gloria truly loved being a lawyer. She carefully chose her firm (O’Melveny & Myers) and raved about it. She was a rabid fan of Duke basketball, horror movies, concerts, and her family and friends. Her life was full of these things. Up until the end, every time I spoke with Gloria, she was full of positive anecdotes about things she had seen and people she had spent time with. Cultivate your life to fill it with moments that matter.

Don’t be afraid of challenges. From 1L finals to giving the keynote at Ms. JD’s 2011 conference to surgeries and more than 60 chemo treatments, I never saw Gloria exhibit any sign of fear or stress. She saw every obstacle as an opportunity. Like an edgy Pollyanna, she managed to find the silver lining in even the most unpleasant of experiences, like her “Chemo Edition” of the Harlem Shake. Find your own inner Pollyanna when life gets tough.

Revel in every day. Gloria, more than any person I have ever known, reveled in her life. She drank it up, she soaked it in through her pores, she delighted in every experience and challenge. Her ability to find humor and joy anywhere brought out the best in everyone around her. Remember that a zest for life is contagious.

All of our days are numbered. Few of us live as fully or as fearlessly on our own terms as Gloria did. What will you do with your time?

Gloria Borges: Friend. Warrior. Truly exemplar Ms. JD.

Elizabeth Pederson is the Founder of Ms. JD. She graduated with Gloria Borges from Stanford Law School.

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