"Failure is not the opposite of success. It is the stepping stone to success."
I never thought I would get to see Arianna Huffington speak, much less meet her in person. Yet after attending the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on Oct. 2, I not only had met a role model of mine, I had secured a vision.
I'm 16 years old, and I came to the conference simply to promote Girl Up, a campaign by the United Nations Foundation dedicated to mobilizing American girls to support UN programs that help girls in developing nations. I came in the door of the massive Pennsylvania Convention Center, unsure and tentative, but I left knowing the steps to success.
The Pennsylvania Conference for Women is the state's largest convention for women, held annually at the beginning of October. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan leadership conference for women of all ages and backgrounds. The one-day event consists of keynote addresses and breakout sessions led by experts in the fields of business, philanthropy, health, finance, media and professional development. It was an honor to be able to go at all, but even that morning, I had no idea how much I would learn.
The day began with an inspirational conversation with Delia Ephron, best-selling author and screenwriter for the movie "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Because I want to be a writer of some sort in the future, I inquired as to Ephron's secret to success -- that nothing is ever coincidence. At age 30, Ephron decided that she wanted to be an author, so she sold everything and went to New York, with the specific goal of getting published in The New York Times. She knew that it mattered where you were published, so she leveraged her connections--and it paid off. When her money was down to $300, she got published, and her big break came soon after. Within a year and a half of coming to New York, she had a book deal for her first book, "How to Eat like a Child," but it all rested on that turning point when she packed up her entire life and went to New York to pursue her dream. Ephron emphasized that success is almost always intentional. If you want something to happen for you, make it happen.
Later, I attended a breakout session by Cathie Black, former president and publisher of USA Today as well as author of book "Basic Black," held a session on executive presence where she emphasized the fact that to succeed in business, women have to have an aura that says, I belong in this seat. She talked about dressing well, making good first impressions, and going out there to say to your boss, "I deserve this raise and promotion." Just like Ephron, Black stressed the importance of taking initiative.
During the luncheon, board president of PA Conference for Women Leslie Stiles spoke about how women still have ways to go for women to achieve gender equality. She reminded us that the most important thing we can do is to vote this November--because that is one more way for women to shape our world. Keynote speaker Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, stressed the importance of sleep and of perseverance. In her speech, she empathized with many of the women sitting before her and cautioned against the fear of failure, which she called "the biggest fear women face." However, she also encouraged us to "redefine success" personally, which is really doing whatever makes us happiest. She also shared a piece of advice from her own mother, the quote that I used to open this piece, "Failure is not the opposite of success; it is a stepping stone to success."
In the afternoon, my mentoring session with Elle Kaplan, CEO & Founder of Lexion Capital was amazing. She taught me how to balance confidence with humility. She told me about her year-and-a-half year old company that appeared to be an overnight success, earning six figures within three hours of its launch, but was really a decade of hard work. She emphasized the 10 years of sleepless nights and eating half a bagel for lunch and half a bagel for dinner that led to the skill and foundation for her later victory. She told me about how being a multimillionaire doesn't mean she isn't humble--she still shops at TJ Maxx because that's where she shopped when she came to New York with only $200. Humility is important, and you have to give back no matter what level of success you reach.
Lastly, it was amazing to speak to the girls at the Young Women's Program about Girl Up, a campaign by the United Nations Foundation. After I set up my station with promotional materials in the back, I explained some more about Girl U, how to get a club started, and encouraged everyone to get involved. When I asked the audience, "Any questions?" I was still surprised by the number of hands that shot up. The girls had so many questions about how to become involved in Girl Up, how to spread the word at their respective high schools, and throughout the day, I saw many girls wearing the "Ask Me about Girl Up" pins on their blazers. Later, a girl approached me with some event ideas and told me her own personal experiences about carrying buckets of water on her head when she was 7, living in Ghana. Other girls I spoke to told me they had signed up on the website as I spoke.
As I heard these girls' passion and initiative, I was reminded of author Delia Ephron and Cathie Black's points about going for what you want. I was inspired myself, both by these influential women's stories and by the confirmation of what I had always known--this generation of girls cares so much about the future and about other girls, and it is truly in our hands to change the world. We have great role models and someday, we will be those great role models, stressing the importance of initiative to the next generation. I am so excited to see what this generation of girls accomplishes, given our seemingly inherent knowledge of how to succeed. But it was only attending the Pennsylvania Conference for Women that I managed to put the pieces together.
I'll keep it simple and sum it up: Initiative + Persistence + Humility. All of the speakers possessed these, and like the high school student from Ghana, had a desire to give back. Thanks to them, I can share what I learned with all of Girl Up and all the girls that have the potential to change the world. When girls succeed, so does society. Let's get started.