To my dearest Sabrina:
You are six days away from turning 13. It is the age of adulthood in many religions and cultures—and in ours, the beginning of a transition that is as confusing as it is liberating. You have strong opinions, can make decisions, can float freely around your neighborhood (and all over the virtual world), and yet, you are still a subject—of your parents, your teachers, or any adult who says they know better. You are a butterfly that has emerged from your chrysalis, but whose wings are still wet.
You are also a woman. Or a girl-soon-to-be-a-woman. And that means so many different things—some glorious and beautiful, others difficult and disheartening. I watch you take in the world and my heart swells, both with pride at who you have become and the desire to protect you from the inevitable hurts and injustices you will face. I am so deeply, truly honored to be your mother every single day (and that includes the days when I have to drag you out of bed!). Having you and your sister has been the pride of my life.
As you take your first steps toward becoming the leader in the professional world that you are already becoming at home and at school, I want to share with you some thoughts on being a woman in this world. I don’t expect you to emulate them: You are already your own person, an empathetic, warm, passionate, giant-hearted deep thinker who has taught me more than I could ever teach you. I just hope that in some small way these thoughts will percolate, and that you’ll improve upon them. I already know you will.
Own your mistakes–and your power. Already, in 7th grade, you have noticed the tendency of many boys to confidently speak up–regardless of whether they are right or wrong. Some girls (and many professional women) hang back. They defer to the others unless they are 100% sure they are right; better to stay quiet than to risk a mistake, they say.
But this, I believe, is wrong. Those 7th grade boys aren’t smarter; they are more confident. They know that even if they are not right this time, they’ll get there eventually. And so will you—but only when you own and love your mistakes just like those boys do. So go for it, I say. Fall flat on your face. You might be embarrassed for a moment. So what? And then shake it off, go forward and kick butt, armed with what you’ve learned and the confidence you’ve gained. My mom and your Nonnie taught me this. She was right.
Help your sisters. For all of the progress that has been made in the workplace, there is a very long way to go to reach gender equity. The events of this past year have made this clearer than ever. But there is something you and your friends can do, every single day: give other women and girls the support they deserve. In the last Presidential Administration, several women used a technique they called amplification. This means that when a woman contributes something in a group discussion that other women restate that point and back it up, to ensure that voice is heard. With your strong sense of justice, I know that you already do this. Now get your friends to do it too.
Be you. You are not like everyone else. This is sometimes hard right now, but I promise you that what makes you special is what will drive your success as you get older—especially and despite the fact that you are a woman. You think out of the box. You see things others don’t. You feel more deeply than most people—and have the courage to talk about it. You have a capacity to take in the world that others don’t. Don’t lose this—even if it feels hard today. If there is one thing I can assure you, it is that middle school does not determine who you become. Help your friends understand this too, and you will help to create even more women leaders.
Sabrina, I love you. And I am so proud of you. Remember, difficulties will pass. Your wings will dry. And as you become an independent, strong woman, I will be there when you need me—and, hopefully, have the strength to stand back when you no longer do.
All my love, Mom
Jennifer Reingold is the Global Head of Content at Egon Zehnder and the mother of two amazing girls.