The “Fearless Girl” statue faces Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)
Over the course of many incarnations in the personal growth field, I have had the incomparable honor to stand before thousands of women from all over the world. In a multitude of roles, I have spoken on behalf of myself, in defense of others, and on the part of women who, however incorrectly, perceived that I have a voice greater than their own. The truth is that my unabashed passion, my brazen enthusiasm, and my lack of personal censure about women and their power has taken me by surprise far more than it has anybody else. Sometimes, when I reflect on the bodacious-ness of my mission, it embarrasses me. Most of the time, though, it merely makes me giggle.
The privilege of speaking to and for women is both a blessing and a burden; while the former is rather clear, the latter requires a bit of explanation. There is an awesome responsibility that comes with having a mouth as big as my heart. The burden comes from having the courage to stay true to myself, to keep my message pure and in integrity, and to not sway because someone won’t like me, or they’ll think I’m stupid, or not enough of one thing and too much of another.
I believe that, over the course of the past twenty-five years, I have succeeded in conveying the message that threads women, courage and leadership together in the same breath with far more success than failure in those same efforts. Not incidentally, it is the failures that persist in staying with me the longest, and it is in that which I commune with all women. (However unfortunate, we women have a predisposition to martyr ourselves with our failures, rather than elevate ourselves with our successes.)
At this point in my life, few stories still carry the adrenaline to lift my eyebrows too far out of place. I am, none-the-less, still taken aback by the ease with which women willingly relate their lives, with the eagerness they demonstrate in doing so, and with the lack of pretense with which this takes place.
I have spent many hours listening to the horror stories—the ones which depict the travesties that are committed against women, between women and, most tragically, on women by themselves.
I have stood in the holy space of some of the rawest questions, ones that will likely never be partnered with answers. “How could this have happened to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “How do I learn to love myself?” Too many times I have been silenced by the shame they carry.
I have cried with many of these women as I gripped them to my chest, their snot and tears dripping down the front of both of us, while they downloaded the emotional wreckage of their lives. I have bitten my tongue so that I wouldn’t gasp at some atrocity a woman was sharing. More than once, I have cried myself to sleep over the misery of another woman’s life.
Curiously, the stories I’ve been privy to strengthen my resolve to assist and support women. Never once have I ever wanted to retreat from the job I consider to be my own: The job of listening and tending to the wounded heart and rejuvenating the damaged spirit, the job of mining the treasures, of celebrating the victories, of turning lower case push back into upper case ACCOMPLISHMENT. Never once have I been too disillusioned to continue, too angry to be quiet, or too frightened not to care.
Though not in equal measure, I have also guffawed with women until the tears of laughter streaked my face, the warm liquid pooling at the neck of my stained shirt. I have giggled uncontrollably and shrieked with delight in both the foibles and fantasies that women will share, given a safe and caring place to do so. Some of us girls can bend toward vulgarity and shock, both intentionally and not, given the right atmosphere and the perfect audience. I’ll admit, right here, that I have participated equally in both.
I have clung to my aching ribs when I couldn’t quite catch my breath between laughing fits. I have succumbed more often than I should have to breaching professional boundaries when comparing and sharing my own truth seemed the only genuine thing to do. Not once have I regretted doing so.
We women love to share and we love to commiserate: We bond over trouble, over love, over food and over sex. We seal these connections with hope, with prayers, with tears and with chocolate. These things make many of us, most of the time, very content, if not darn happy.
I can honestly report that I have never met one single woman without a dream, a hope, a vision, or a prayer. I have never met one woman who, in private, denied having an intuition, one who didn’t seek permission to be who she already is, or one who’d never chosen failure over regret.
I have never met a woman who didn’t, at least once, apologize for being outstanding, one who didn’t ache to fit in and belong, or one who wasn’t willing to self-deprecate in order to comfort a crowd. I have never met a woman who didn’t censure her own achievements, nor have I met one who didn’t, on occasion, pretend to be a refrigerator bulb when she was, in truth, a stadium light. Most women I have met have gone several rounds with all the above.
During all my travels, I have never met a woman who’d never questioned whether she was an imposter, nor one who hadn’t compared herself to Mother Teresa or Gloria Steinham or Pamela Anderson. Of course, it was not in that order.
I have never met a woman who didn’t argue for, while simultaneously resent, her own limitations, nor have I ever met a woman who failed to compare her accomplishments with others’. I have never encountered a woman who consistently focused on her strengths, one who felt no competitiveness with her sister nor one who wished for her ass to be bigger than it was. I have never met a woman whose inner girlfriend had truly ever deserted her, and I have never known a grown woman who didn’t have a secret.
I have seldom met a woman who, when knocked down by the drift of the culture, wasn’t perfectly capable of picking herself up and carrying on with dignity. I have seldom met a woman who easily surrendered her fight for self-esteem, or one who couldn’t muster up a bit of grace when she truly needed it. Nor have I met more than a woman who didn’t secretly covet something, anything, trimmed in marabou.
The women I have known best have been starved for attention, hungry for love, and desperate for the truth. They may have read all the self-improvement books, listened to all the motivational CD’s, attended all the requisite seminars and, at the end of the day, really just wanted someone to love them exactly and precisely as they were in that moment (especially if they were having a ‘fat day’.)
Above all else, the women I have met have served most purposefully to reinforce my truest sense of what is right and just and beautiful in our world. They have been strong and proud and fierce in their determination to show up in their own lives, and make a difference in the lives of their families and in the heartbeat of their community.
Consider this an invitation to focus on everything that is right about being a woman—our gifts, our talents, our strengths, our intellect, our humor, our softness, our edges, our truth and, even, the lies we tell about ourselves when we are pretending we aren’t as amazing as we truly are.
I dedicate these words to those women I have met, to the ones I have yet to meet and to the ones I will never personally meet, but with whom I will always connect in spirit and, if only, by gender. This letter is dedicated to the essence of the feminine, the strength of our anatomy, and the power we house in our hearts.
This letter should be considered the longest thank-you note ever written. It was created for all the women about whom I have just written, in thanks for their allowing me to support them. I appreciate you more than you will ever know.
This letter is also written for all the women who have, in turn, supported me. It is for those of you who knowingly or not, have had any size impact on my life and on my soul, and who may have said any one thing that has made a difference. For some it was your presence alone that altered my perception of what it is to be a woman, and what it is to be me.
This is my very best attempt to acknowledge the contribution that you are—even knowing, as I say this, that it is impossible to fully do so.
PS This Thank You letter has been adapted from the original forward to my book, Impact! What Every Woman Needs to Know to Go From Invisible to Invincible (Wiley, 2009)