This past weekend, 40 aspiring teen leaders gathered for a weekend of inspiration to challenge the status quo, live confidently and change the world. It's a big undertaking, so we sought the advice, insight and stories of incredible female role models.
We learned some surprising tidbits that, beyond motivating us to take on the world, also filled us with immense relief. The conversation was blessedly transparent. These women, who seemingly had it all together, each running three businesses and side project without a hair out of place, were actually human. When they were teenagers (and maybe even just yesterday), they didn't know exactly what to do with their lives. They made mistakes and experienced massive failures. They get too tired, have meltdowns and have to think about how to handle their stress in ways that don't include eating an entire chocolate cake or writing another list. They change their mind, have to ask for help, and sometimes don't feel like they're making any progress.
Any happiness and true success that they'd achieved seemed to have one thing in common: it wasn't about them anymore. Yes, they wrote books and went on speaking tours and made money (because, well, you have to). But their driving force is their passion to improve the world by being a light in it.
We discovered that we all, regardless of age or background, struggle with a similar thing: The perception we have of ourselves is often less of the truth and more of a story given to us by the world -- shaped by the people we meet, the media, the bad experiences that we remember better than the good experiences, and the expectations we collect along the way and usually cannot live up to. This narrative ties our worth to our popularity status, to the opinions of ours, to our external accomplishments, to our material things... it says that if we fail or mess up or don't have enough money or don't wear the right clothes, that we are unworthy... if we are disliked or made fun of or misperceived, our value decreases and we should spend all of our time and energy earning it back or beating ourselves up if we can't.
We realized that sometimes we're just following along with the story that's already been written for us. And either the world can shape us or our unique stories can shape the world. We've highlighted 11 pieces of advice for making the most of your story, no matter what shape it takes, angle it comes from or language it's written in:
1. "Human connection counts. People will remember how you make them feel, so operate with empathy, patience, focus and humility. "
- Kate Otto, Founder and Author, Everyday Ambassador
2. "You don't have to have it all together to keep moving forward. Embracing your legacy is not the same as having all the answers."
- Maria Melendez, Women's Leadership Advocate, Entrepreneur and Author, Embrace Her Legacy
3. "Sometimes you think you're supposed to climb over the high wall and you end up breaking your leg instead. Don't be defeated; think about how you can still be effective in a different way."
- Katie Rosman, Project Manager, NYC Economic Development Corp
4. "You can be too weird for one place, and too normal for a different place. Maybe we can just focus on being ourselves, whatever that means and however that changes."
- Linda Kay Klein, Director, Work on Purpose Program, Echoing Green and Writer
5. "Feeling bummed by midday? Blood sugar is key. If you want to be your best self--and not the crabby, snappy, too tired self that sometimes makes an appearance, eat breakfast and get out of your seat."
- Erika Hval, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Light Bytes
6. "If you're not taking ownership of your life, someone else is. Now is always the time to take control of your decisions. It's only if you think "it's too late" that it will be."
- Onome Ofoman, Software Engineer, Google
7. "Be persistent about putting yourself in awkward, uncomfortable situations as often as possible. That's when your box gets a little bigger."
- Jen Glantz, Writer, TheThingsILearnedFrom.com and Founder, Bridesmaid for Hire
8. "Rejection is not the end all, be all. Let that slap in the face shape your dream and don't resist the surprising new direction that seems to be calling your name."
- Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Author, Her Campus
10. "Dress to get the right kind of attention. The kind that highlights who you are inside, what your mind is capable of, and the amazing things you're doing. All else is fleeting. "
- Faith Rim, Image Consultant and Personal Stylist, Keaton Row and The Mod Girl
11. "Positivity and problem solving will get you everywhere you need to go. "
- Danielle Kayembe, Founder, Startup Lab/Impact Africa