That Little Voice Inside Me


I always imagine how to tell my life story to my daughters and share what I’ve learned with them. And it’s interesting to realise how my story changes each year; the difference is not just in the content, but also in how I approach it. This is my current version.

I was born in Ankara when my mother was about to graduate from Hacettepe University as a doctor. My parents raised me in Karabuk, a small town where life is much slower than in Istanbul. I always felt like a misfit. I had super short hair, a strong, muscular body as a result of playing volleyball all the time, and my clothes were black. I inherited a love of sport from my dad and I’m still very thankful to him for this precious gift, because sport was a welcome distraction for me,

In my last year of high school, the boy I had a crush on told me I wouldn’t get into a top university and I should focus on a private university if I wanted a good education. This broke my heart – I was one of three children and my family would not be able to afford a private university education. But more than that, I was hurt by his assumption that I wouldn’t succeed. I shared my frustration with my mother and I can still hear her voice: ‘My daughter, you deserve everything. If you really want it and work for it, you can hit your top choice.’

This was a wake-up call for me. With only six months left to the exams, I started studying really hard. I put on weight because I was no longer doing sport every day, and the stress I was under made me cry almost every night. But I got the marks I needed to win a place on the Bosphorus University Business Administration course. I remember telling everyone what I’d achieved and how magical it felt; my only wish the year before had been to have friends at Bosphorus University so that I could go and visit them there. When I started packing, in my cupboard behind all the test books, I found a paper, on it was written with my handwriting; ‘I am Canay. I will make it to Bosphorus University Business Administration’. Even now, I cannot remember when and with what courage I wrote it.

The first weeks at university were tortuous. Everybody seemed to know what they are doing and who to hang out with. They laughed and talked with their perfect English pronunciation. I remember sitting in one class for almost an hour and leaving it with a totally blank mind and no clue about what the teacher had taught us.

I was so discouraged I thought I must be either stupid or really bad at English. Then a little voice inside me asked: ‘Hey, how can you be either of these things when you won a place at this school and passed the English proficiency?’ . Thanks to that little voice, I didn’t quit and for couple of months I went to classes with an English dictionary in my hand. There were so many other moments when that little voice kept me on track, trying to reach the objectives I dreamed of. Most of those aims I achieved: I lost weight and became captain of the gymnastics and aerobics team; I had done 10 different jobs by the time I graduated; I worked in many student clubs, wrote in magazines, learned French and German (though then I forgot both languages!) and had a great group of friends.

The little voice grew stronger as I stepped into business life. I managed to become the youngest brand manager in the pharmaceutical industry in less than a year, then moved to a mobile marketing and advertising company (Mobilera) and became a partner there. I ran community marketing programmes like the youth-targeted gnctrkcll online platform for GSM operators around the world, and ran digital media and marketing campaigns for international brands such as Coca Cola, Unilever and Ulker.

We received global awards for digital Turkish promotion campaigns that I ran in 45 countries over two years. I felt so ambitious about my job and my passion flowed into projects when I was helping people through brands. For instance, I loved it when we made it possible for teenagers around the world to go to cinemas, mostly because I hadn’t been able to watch movies on a big screen while I was growing up because back then there were no cinemas in Karabuk. Then there was the time that we supported a production company to shoot a movie about teenagers’ exam stress, something else I had personal experience of.

During this time, I married and had my daughters in quick succession – only 18 months separates my girls. They have been my greatest teachers in life. Before them, I was pure warrior; I tried to plan and control everything. There were times when I was tense, stressed and sometimes too authoritative with my colleagues when things weren’t going as I planned. That started to change with the ‘Ah-ha!’ moment that came when they put my first-born Mey into my arms; I realised that there was a bigger designer who could dream even bigger than me. Whether we call that designer Allah, God, the Universe, I felt that this designer must love me very much to give me the chance to hold that amazing and perfect creature in my arms. I have never been the same woman since.

Sadly, my marriage started to crumble and I had to survive a very tough four and a half years. When I woke up in the mornings, I looked into the mirror and wondered where the bubbly Canay had gone, with her bright eyes and a constant belief in miracles. I couldn’t recognise the sad woman looking back at me in the mirror. I pretended to be happy, hiding my problems even from my family.

One day at home, I heard a voice inside me saying: ‘My life is over.’ Yes, I was walking, functioning at work and looking after my girls, but I had no dreams or hopes left for myself. It was all about surviving another day and growing my daughters. As I finally admitted my desperation, another familiar voice – the same little voice who had kept me going for many years through my studies and career – began to talk to me again, whispering: ‘There must be a way, there is still hope.’

I had learned to trust that voice, so I started researching and talking to my friends. The best advice, which opened the doors of to the journey I have been on for four years now, was that I should discover myself, grow myself and become a better role model to my daughters. That’s an integral part of my life now.

I joined design consultancy Fjord, Design and Innovation by Accenture Interactive. Soon I started running the company in Turkey and I learned a lot from colleagues who were on much the same journey; they were the best design talents and strategists from around the world who were spreading the awareness about Human Centred Design thinking.

Inevitably my personal journey was reflected in my choices and beliefs. My husband and I separated and I started another chapter of my life as a single mother. I was so scared at first, but soon realised that I was stronger than I assumed. And when I’m happy and taking care of myself, I can get even stronger. I also learned that I was not alone and I have a great support system of family, friends and mentors. I am grateful to all of them.

So throughout my life, I have gone on changing myself.  I am always ready to learn new skills, explore new cultures and discover who I am by living this life fully. I have also discovered that my core value is purposefulness. While I am grateful for my gifts, I also believe that I have a responsibility to use these gifts for the whole of humanity.

This can be hard in corporate business life when all you are asked is about profit and numbers. I want to both make money and serve the world. And that’s how I came to establish my new company, in partnership with Patica, an organisation that seeks to accelerate human-to-human learning. I can’t wait to launch a new way of learning in areas such as health, entrepreneurship, personal development and language. This is also my gift to my daughters, my two little great teachers, to help them learn and grow themselves in whatever direction they want.

So here I am, at the age of 34, with shiny eyes once more and a hopeful heart for the future. I have grown from all my experiences and all people who have come into my life. As I carried on learning, my understanding about who I am grew with me, and I created a new version of myself.

Thanks to the little voice inside me, I know we are all equipped with an inner compass that helps us to flow in our life to meet with our purpose and true self.



Photographer & Videographer Credit: Canay Atalay

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  • Oluwafunbi Alatise

    Thanks for sharing. You are indeed a strong woman. That little voice is an inner voice that is  so powerful. It is a strong intuition that speaks direction to the right path of life. That voice should never be ignored
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    The little voice that makes a difference, thanks for sharing dear.
  • Moureen Njule Eseme
    You are an inspiration to women all over the world. Thank you Canay for sharing your story with us. Every woman need people like you to tell them it is not over.
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