My Best Friend Died 3 Years Ago—This Is What Her Life Continues to Teach Me About Accomplishment

UPDATED: June 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 20, 2022

Her name was Stefani Spainhower.

She was born with a bicuspid aortic valve that eventually developed an aortic aneurysm. She died nearly three years ago, outliving several predictions. But I’m not here to write about her death. I’m here to write about the ways in which she was responsible for how I came to write this editor’s note today.

I met Stefani on my 21st birthday. She was a cardiothoracic nurse practitioner who transitioned into medical device research and implementation—for aortic valve replacements, of course. I was a bank teller going to night school to get an English degree—for what, I had no clue. She was confident, unwavering and kind. We were fast friends.

After a particularly difficult breakup, she took me out for champagne and rabbit pâté and told me all the things she saw in me that my brain and bruised ego failed to see. She pushed me to transfer to the Missouri School of Journalism and fielded all my “I can’t do this” late-night texts. She pushed me to apply for positions I felt wildly underqualified for. She cautioned me against interpreting opinions as anything but. She held me accountable when I sacrificed my boundaries for someone else’s comfort. She showed me that you can be kind and generous and also thoroughly unapologetic about your needs, wants and goals.

She embodied the idea that success is less about personal accomplishment and more about those you help along the way—like, perhaps, a directionless 21-year-old.

It’s fitting to remember someone like Stefani in this, our first-of-its-kind women’s edition—created exclusively by women and filled with stories of resilience, love and mutual support. You’ll hear from Elena Cardone, a powerhouse entrepreneur who is on a mission to help other women build their own empires and stride unapologetically into male-dominated board rooms. You’ll learn the story of Me Too movement founder, Tarana Burke, whose only goal was healing. Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First 100k details what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be a financial feminist. And you’ll see just a sample of our inaugural Women of Influence awards, a list of 50 incredible people who have dedicated their lives to impacting their communities and creating a better future.

This issue looks and feels a little different, and not just because it’s female-led. As always, our mission is to help equip you with the knowledge and tools to navigate a rapidly changing world. As part of that mission, we’ve revamped the magazine. You’ll see new sections at the beginning and end, built to give easily digestible stories and research-backed tips.

I hope this issue serves as your personal Stefani, and that you embrace the responsibility to be an example for future generations. Someone is always watching and learning from you. What kind of person will you choose to be?

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine.