07/01/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

Throw Your Hat in, Move a Mountain

"Throw your hat into the ring," my mother said.

I was sixteen, sitting at the dinner table with my parents, staring down at my plate of food. My slouched posture revealed a total lack of self-confidence. My hands lay crumpled in fists on my lap. I sat there glumly, convinced that I didn't stand a chance.

It was this moment that I now look back on and remember when I am confronting a risk, a potential opportunity. This moment transformed my risk-taking abilities, something women of my generation are said to lack.

I was applying to be editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, a position I saw as the beacon of opportunity to help me reach my goal of becoming a journalist. It would round out my senior year of high school with a flourish. It would enhance my college applications to journalism schools across the country.

"Go talk to your teacher tomorrow, and tell him you are interested in the position," my mother said. "Get your name out there."

I knew she was right. I knew I should at least try. So I dragged myself into school the next day, walked to my journalism teacher's desk and blurted out: "I just wanted to let you know I am interested in the editor-in-chief position."

"I thought you would be," he said with a smile. "Thanks for letting me know."

In the end, I got the position, and worked alongside my co-editor-in-chief and my teacher, who turned out to be one of my greatest mentors. In the process, I transformed from a wallflower into a confident and outgoing individual. I reaffirmed my passion for journalism and writing, and took a liking to being in a position of leadership.

The next steps in this journey, the Northwestern University Cherubs program and the SI Newhouse school, were all the result of that one simple step: Throwing my hat into the ring.

But that step really wasn't so simple.

I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, to initially appease my mother, who is herself a leader and manager in corporate America.

In the first chapter, Sandberg writes, "Millennial women are less likely than Millennial men to agree that the statement 'I aspire to a leadership role in whatever field I ultimately work' describes them very well. Millennial women were also less likely than their male peers to characterize themselves as 'leaders,' 'visionaries,' 'self-confident,' and 'willing to take risks.'"

I was disappointed to read this, especially at the very beginning of the book. I was expecting to feel inspired about women and leadership. As I read on, I was inspired, sure. But I also was confronted with an uncomfortable truth about my life as a Millennial female, but mostly, just as a female.

The fact is, women have not been primed for leadership for generations, even centuries.

Growing up, we are taught to believe certain things. We are told that our "happy ending" will always come when we meet the right guy. I haven't read a book yet where the story ends after the women lands her dream job. Professional success is apparently not good enough for a woman's ultimate happiness.

Even though we are a generation known for our forward-thinking attitudes and bold confidence, the same old stereotypical attitudes about females are very much alive for women like me. Mantras such as "Be a Princess," and "Wear your invisible crown," are strewn across the Internet on sites like Pinterest. We are still being told to put ourselves on a pedestal, based solely on our looks rather than success.

But at the same time, it's the 21st century. "Fight on" and "Be a warrior" are also maxims used by young women.

I mean, if you can't tell by now, we are a bit confused.

We are a generation using terms like "BAMF" and "Bad Bitch" to describe being powerful (which, to me, means wearing lots of rings, big sunglasses and the ability to not be destroyed by someone's rude or careless words).

But also, being "BAMF-y" or a "Bad Bitch" means taking the kinds of professional risks that Sandberg describes in her book.

As a woman within the demographic Sandberg describes, I know why my peers and I may struggle to define ourselves as leaders.

We need support, role models, leadership conferences and programs to help us -- the women of my generation -- so we can learn the potential power of our leadership muscles.

On my own college campus, I have joined organizations where women are on the forefront of leadership. Through this, I have gained mentors and role models, some of whom are also my closest friends.

These women have challenged me to take on new ambitions; they have yelled at me over the phone when I dared to lower my standards; they have told me, "Yes you can," when all I could think was, "No, I can't."

This has been both comforting and inspiring.

If society is asking why women are waiting to step into their power and true potential, it is because we haven't learned what our true potential is, the difference it could make, the mountains it could move.

Role models certainly help. In the end, though, you just have to know a world of opportunity is there, lurking beneath your self-doubt.

So just do it: Lean in and throw your hat into the ring.