A Letter to My Daughters

Every mother wants to appear confident and in charge to her growing daughters. I’ve always tried to be a great role model for you, and show you how to be both strong and compassionate. I want you to believe in yourselves and have the inner confidence that comes from your own validation, not that of anyone outside of you.

I’m content where I am. The job of mom is positive far beyond anything I could have ever imagined – especially because I really wasn’t interested in having children. My own upbringing soured me a bit on marriage and having children, so I wasn’t anxious to do it. I put it off as long as I could, and now I can’t imagine life without the two of you, and your brother. You are the best things to ever, ever happen to me.

As women growing and maturing in the world, and coming to age in some tumultuous times, I feel a duty to share some of my own experiences so you know whatever you encounter, it’s not about you. I always had many more male friends than female ones growing up, and with an alcoholic father and alcoholic family members, it’s not like I was protected or sheltered from the “real world”. However, no one prepared me for what I would face as a woman in our society, so I want to share some learnings for you in the hope that you may fare differently.

I chose a professional path, earning an MBA after my undergraduate degree. I was educated and ready to take on the world! My first experiences in corporate America are hard to put into words. Of course there was the part about making a lot of money, establishing wonderful and deep friendships that last to this day, and learning a ton about many things, but then there were the undercurrents where simply being a female put me in a different category from my male peers.

Like the boss who said “A woman with such small breasts must have a small mind to go along with it” and the colleague who said “Doesn’t it ever bother you that no one takes you seriously because you aren’t a guy?” and the other boss who said “You are a small woman; I wouldn’t be so bold talking back about things you disagree with when you have to walk through the parking lot late at night alone.” Then there were the dozens and dozens of times someone mistook my outgoing nature and friendliness for something more, and the uncomfortable experience of having to be aloof, or even nasty, in order to send a different message.

Then there were times I was scared but surprised. One of the very large prospects I was working with asked if I wanted to join him and his colleagues for drinks and I agreed. They picked me up in a car in a remote area of North Carolina and drove to a deserted parking lot. I feared that I’d never see my family again and would disappear, but they opened the car doors, took out a few six packs of beer, and sat around talking until midnight. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings I ever spent with prospects!

Contrast this with the time another prospect insisted we join them at a strip joint. As the only woman, with 8 men, I was mortified. The worst thing – and this is when my mother instinct must have been developing – was that I felt so sad for the women gyrating, and wanted to take them aside and tell them “you can do more with your life!” They looked so terribly unhappy to be there doing what they were doing.

It’s been a long, long journey, and along the way I’ve had many more positive experiences with my male colleagues than negative ones. I have many male clients today whom I consider to be friends and the brothers I never had. They are supportive, positive, generous with their time, and smart people to work alongside. I feel gifted every single day to do what I do and work with the people I do.

But sometimes you have to go through the weeds  to find the good experiences, so my advice to you, my daughters, and all of the other women developing into seasoned professionals out there is this:

Developing Internal Strength:

  1. Develop an inner sense of “I’m okay” no matter what the external circumstances are doing. If you seek validation or confirmation from someone else, you will leave yourself vulnerable. You really are okay – no matter how you look, no matter where you are on your journey, no matter your background or whatever previous choices you have made. Other people may look like they are in charge, but everyone has an inner child still trying to figure things out. Don’t let others bully you into believing you aren’t good enough – you are A-OK.
  2. Learn the art of stepping out of the theatre of oneself. This means once in a while in a communication with someone, or a meeting, you mentally step aside to observe your own body language and tone of voice, and how you are interacting. Practicing awareness gives you more choice in how you want to be perceived and what your body language tells others about you.
  3. Practice with different communication styles so you can come across as confident, yet not overly forceful. It’s tough for a woman – oftentimes if we have an opinion and we present it strongly, we are “bitchy” or “pushy”. By contrast, if we are too meek or soft-spoken, our ideas can be ignored and overruled by louder colleagues. It’s important to practice until you acquire a strong communication style that allows you to speak your mind and command attention, but do it with authority!

Developing External Savvy:

  1. Refrain from playing the girl card as much as possible. Yes, it is true – women are endowed with a number of skills that make men want to take care of them. This is not feminism; this is evolution. However, you must be careful not to overplay this card – tears may elicit the need to comfort you, but they can also diminish your professionalism. Being coy or cute can draw attention, but sometimes it is the wrong attention, and the same with wearing alluring clothing or makeup. It’s not that any of these things in themselves are “bad”, but be thoughtful about what you are doing and how you are coming across.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. One of the things I most worry about in today’s age is walking and talking on the cell phone, or looking down at the screen. Having had far too many friends and relatives who were raped, I know the importance of staying alert and aware. When you are out, remember that no one is looking out for you but you. Take care to pay attention. Be prepared and don’t get distracted.

I believe that being a woman is a gift, but in many situations it can be a curse. Be diligent in becoming the kind of woman who is savvy, knowledgeable and in charge of herself and her surroundings. And know that, whatever you do and wherever you go, I’m very, very proud of you.

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