It's not often that you see a former U.S. Ambassador, major Hollywood producer and high-powered TV journalist intimidated. Was it a head of state? An internet mogul? A rock legend who made these women feel daunted? No. It was a group of unassuming teenage girls who had come for dinner.
I'm fortunate to be included in a monthly women's evening. Created by Kim Moses and Willow Bay, each dinner has a list of attendees that reads like a Fortune's women's conference. The goal is to support each other, network and learn from each other. Over the months, it has become known as "The Vault." It's a vault where nothing leaves, so everyone and everything we say can be protected.
On this night, we had teenage girls involved with Step-Up Women's network joining us. This impressive organization was founded by Kaye Popofsky Kramer. Step-Up's mission is to "ignite women and girls to fulfill their potential." I can't do the organization justice, but suffice it to say they mentor high school girls, get them to college, provide hope where it's needed and resources where they are lacking. We had 16 girls come to dinner, along with 13 of our regular members. The girls sat in their matching orange tees as we sailed in, in designer dresses and expensive handbags.
The girls' told their stories, which made our career climbs seem like a cakewalk. Virtually every girl would be the first in her family to attend college or even graduate high school. Their ability to persevere through hardship was inspiring. They spoke of the challenges they faced with friends on drugs, pregnant, or even deceased. They felt lucky to have made it through, lucky to have connected with Step-Up, and lucky to have been selected to attend tonight. Then, as we the "professionals" spoke, we talked about feeling lucky to have risen in our careers, lucky to have such a supportive group of women, lucky to be where we were in our lives.
I realized that the word "lucky" was being inserted as often as a Valley Girl uses "like;" and I was reminded of several studies that showed that women typically attribute their success to luck while men attribute their own success to hard work.
But it was clear listening to everyone at the table that luck actually had little to do with any of it -- not for us and even less so for these girls. Sure, serendipity can help you be in the right place at the right time, and little blessings might offer opportunity. But it isn't luck that gives you resilience or determination. It isn't luck that allows you to be strong enough to make difficult choices. It isn't luck that makes you go to school every day when your friends are ditching to do drugs.
So I told the girls and our women that we weren't lucky. That luck was not what had put any of us where we were, and luck wouldn't determine who we would become.
We all were hard workers. We were all tough in our own ways. We all wanted to help, but also needed help. We all admired what we saw in the others around us but too often didn't see it in ourselves.
So I walked away feeling "blessed," not lucky, to have been a part of the evening. Learning from the girls, and from each other, that luck is for Vegas, not the Vault.
Note: We asked Marioli from Step Up to give us her perspective of the evening. Here's what she had to say:
Mariloli Barcelona, 16 years old:
I was given a packet with the names of the women I would be meeting and their accomplishments, and I said to myself, "I can remember them by tonight I'm great at studying last minute." But the minute I stepped out of the car to the freezing night air and feeling a little bit underdressed, I forgot the names and the accomplishments that came with them. So I entered the premises, the only thing in mind was, "Why do they call themselves the vault?" "Are they top secret agents?" I sat down, and then a force field came over our table... not literally. A force field of support and acceptance. We started to talk and although we all came from different backgrounds, we all had one thing in common: we were willing to share our knowledge and grow from one another. MTV producers picked the girls' brains by asking questions such as, "What is your favorite T.V series?" Meanwhile, the girls were trying to ask the right questions so they could receive hints as to how you could become... a producer, ambassador, editor of a newspaper, and the list goes on.
Some of the women gave advice saying that choosing the right partner is essential -- two of them stating they had stay-at-home husbands -- while others stated that asking for help was another important skill. At the end of the night, after being encouraged and praised until my ego couldn't get any higher, Maya Angelou came to mind. "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." And I have to say, I felt good. And although most of the women I met were affluent and successful, which was inspiring within itself, but that was not the most important part. What stuck out to me the most was the confidence they radiated as well as the high regard they had for each other, and to me that is what success truly is. Life is a battle, but you always have to remember that you are not the only one fighting the battle. The "vault," to me, is a network of people who help each other from the bombs thrown at them.