The Founding Story

  This is me at my high school graduation.  

This is me at my high school graduation.  

Growing up, I had no idea what personal development was.

All of my role models—family members, teachers, coaches—stressed the importance of getting good grades, getting into a good college, and getting a good job. As a result, all I cared about was doing well in school. I thought that getting straight A’s would buy me a first class ticket to my version of happiness and success, which, at the time, involved getting married to a celebrity and raking in millions as a doctor.

In the eighth grade, I started getting bullied by a few girls who I considered my best friends. Because I thought excellent grades would equal happiness and success, I was convinced it would also help me cope with the bullying. Unfortunately, it didn't. 

When high school rolled around, I hoped the situation would get better on its own—new school, new circumstances?—yet again, it didn’t. I rode the school bus with some of the girls and ended up in nearly all of the same classes as them. Escaping them became impossible.*

Just the act of leaving my house every day turned into an internal struggle. Battling constant depression, anxiety, and suicidal urges became my new normal. As my mental health worsened, my obsession with grades heightened.  But I noticed that no matter how many A's I collected, my academic success neither stopped the bullying nor improved my mental health. Getting top grades were something I always continued to strive for but over time I realized they would never solve all my problems. 

Because I was a shy and introverted person, I didn’t ask anyone for help. I was too embarrassed. I didn’t want to risk becoming a burden. My hope was to be able to find a way to handle everything by myself. Looking back now, I wish my perspective was different and that I sought out professional support. Two years ago, I started seeing a therapist once a month, and therapy continues to be a major key to my personal growth. 

Watching The Oprah Winfrey Show was the starting point of my personal development journey.

I don’t remember why I started watching the show every day. But I do remember that once I started, it turned into my favorite show. Oprah became my definition of the GOAT. Through listening to Oprah and her guests, I learned about personal development. If you’re like how I was and don’t know what personal development means—in simple terms, it’s the process of becoming more aware of who you are and bettering yourself.

During each episode, I was exposed to new perspectives, tools, and advice that transformed me into a healthier and happier person. I read many of the books that were recommended, started creating annual vision boards, formed new health habits, and regained the confidence to socialize with peers my age. Even though none of these actions would promise me a perfect score on the SAT or put me on the fast track to becoming a doctor, I trusted that what I was gaining was just as valuable.

Even though watching The Oprah Winfrey Show wasn’t the only factor that helped me bounce back after those years of bullying, I credit it for having a monumental positive influence on my life.  

There was one request I always had for Oprah: to come out with another show or platform that would talk about personal development...but for young people. I could never easily find resources for high school students that were as impactful as Oprah’s were. I hoped someone, if not Oprah herself, would change that.

Fast forward to July 2017. It had been several months since I made my cross country move from New York City to the Bay Area; where no one close to me —family or friends —lived close by. I was transitioning from working in the healthcare industry to one of the most successful tech companies. And I was recently single after being in a serious long-term relationship. With all of these new changes, my life took huge leaps in the positive direction—until I hit a crossroads. Somebody very close to me had been admittedly spiraling down a wrong path. Yet no matter how much I tried to help them, they continued to became a more and more toxic person in my life. I felt they were leaving me with no choice but to cut off all communication with them. So, I did. 

Because this person was like family to me, I had invested a lot of my time, money, and energy into their well-being. Letting them go wasn't easy. I felt myself quickly slipping into former bad habits again. To prevent myself from completely veering off the positive path I had been on, I decided I needed to reevaluate who I was and the life I was living; the summer of 2017 became my season of personal development.

One Saturday afternoon, I took out a piece of paper and pen, put all of my electronics away, and asked myself, “Who and what makes me happiest?” My goal was to create a list of everyone and everything that made me smile, then develop a plan to build a life that would include as many of those people, places, and things as possible.

Miracle Corners of the World. Mentoring young people. Traveling the world. Books. Personal development. St. Pete Beach. Writing. Public speaking. My best friend. Networking. Warm weather. DoSomething.Org...As I jotted down each word, I started to connect the dots. Why didn’t I ask myself this question sooner? Do young people know to ask themselves these kinds of questions? What personal development resources do young people now have access to?

That’s when I had my aha! moment. My purpose was to build a movement that would empower high schoolers all over the world to invest in their personal development. I wanted to become the voice I wish I had heard when I was in high school.

On March 1st, 2018, my 25th birthday, I launched Learn What Matters.

Ever since, I’ve been committed to creating online content, workshops, presentations, scholarships, and a coaching program designed to help young people become their best selves. I want every high schooler who engages with Learn What Matters to become excited to learn about personal development and how to become their best self. Then to tell all of their friends to join the movement too. 

Personal development is an ongoing lifelong journey. I’m still on mine, like you and even like the GOAT, Oprah. I make mistakes, sometimes even the same ones, more than once. I haven’t crushed every goal I’ve set for myself. I’ll never have the answer to every question. But to me, this is the beauty of personal development: It’s not about perfection, it’s about progression.

And it’s never too early or late to start investing in your personal development. The important part is to just start. If you haven’t done so already, let today be that day.

Whether you’ve already begun or just chose to begin your journey, I’d love for you to join me. Let’s do this together.

Please say hi, too, over on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Learn What Matters will be re-launching this fall, and you’ll definitely want to be the first to see all of the upcoming surprises.

I can’t wait to see where each of our journeys will lead us next. Now...let’s get to learning what matters!

Love always,
Mal


*The girls apologized and stopped bullying me in my sophomore year. These days we periodically keep in touch.

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or health professional. Watching The Oprah Winfrey Show or investing in your personal development will not guarantee the same impact that both have had on me. Everybody’s journey is different. The Learn What Matters website and all of its products, services, and programs are not substitutes for professional advice or treatment. You should always first consult an appropriately trained and qualified specialist, such as a licensed physician, psychologist, or other health professional. You should not delay seeking professional help because of the Learn What Matters founding story.