Author Archives: espragins

When Maya Angelou was Marguerite Johnson

When Maya Angelou died last week, I read the obituaries, marveling once again at the enormous spectrum of her talents and achievements.

But none of them put their finger on the characteristic that most powerfully shaped her life, from my perspective. When we worked together on her letter to her younger self for What I Know Now, the predominant trait that emerged was Maya’s indomitable will. Did you know that her mother, Lady Vivian Baxter, was an accomplished businesswoman who had live-in help at home when Maya was a teenager? That narrative detail doesn’t fit neatly with a pivotal moment in Maya’s 17-year-old life: she was pregnant when she graduated from high school and decided to leave home with her baby two months after he was born.

Why would she leave the comfort of her mother’s home for a room in a boarding house? More than anything else, Maya wanted to do things her way. And nothing was going prevent her. Her mother’s reaction speaks volumes about Maya’s independent drive.

Here’s the letter we created, written to herself at 17:

Dear Marguerite,

      You’re itching to be on your own. You don’t want anybody telling you what time you have to be in at night or how to raise your baby. You’re going to leave your mother’s big comfortable house and she won’t stop you, because she knows you too well.

But listen to what she says:

When you walk out of my door, don’t let anybody raise you—you’ve been raised.

You know right from wrong.

In every relationship you make, you’ll have to show readiness to adjust and make adaptions.

Remember you can always come home.

      You will go home again when the world knocks you down—or when you fall down in full view of the world. But only for two or three weeks at a time. Your mother will pamper you and feed you your favorite meal of red beans and rice. You’ll make a practice of going home so she can liberate you again—one of the greatest gifts, along with nurturing your courage, that she will give you.

     Be courageous but not foolhardy.

Walk proud as you are,


Saying Yes to The Universe

Melanie's photo for the Marie Claire artlcle

Melanie’s photo for the Marie Claire artlcle

Once upon a time a fabulous young lady named Melanie Tozzi (now Hicks) wrote a beautiful letter to her younger self and entered it in a  Marie Claire magazine contest that was promoting If I’d Known Then, my second book. A shortened version of her letter appeared, along with a few others, next to a beautiful photograph staged to fit with the theme of her letter.

Her letter was about fear. As she said to her younger self: “When I peer into the looking glass that illuminates you, Continue reading

A Letter To My Younger Self About Being Trapped By Fear

This amazing letter was written by Melanie Tozzi (now Hicks) and was one of the winners in a contest run by Marie Claire magazine in celebration of the publication of my second book, If I’d Known Then. The best part: Chapter Two of Melanie’s story, which you can read here.

To my younger self:

When I peer into the looking glass that illuminates you, I see a shy, quiet girl who is critically afraid. Afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, afraid of loneliness…and all these things are holding you back like an anchor holds a ship near a shoreline.

So if there is one lesson I can give to you it would be to stop letting fear keep you from living. Life will not always be easy and it will not always be kind but don’t run away for joy often lies just below the surface of uncomfortable.

The truth is all that you fear will come to pass. You will fail at times but each time will make success a little richer. You will be rejected at times but it will help refine your inner strength. You will be lonely at times but you will also experience great love. For in the end you are stronger than you think and the consequences for all that you fear are not nearly as bad as the regret of what is missed while standing on the sidelines.

Never be afraid to be who you are, flaws and all – for that is where your true beauty lies. Never let others tear you down. Be purposeful and confident even when you don’t feel like it. Have the courage to live your values and the understanding to know those values may differ from others’ and that is okay.  Be good to yourself: practice self-reverence, self-discipline and self-control.

When you stumble never be ashamed, for everyone has had skinned knees at some time in their life. Get back up, smile and try again. Give love, even when it is not returned. Trust yourself and others will place their trust in you. Give of yourself and others will do the same.

So take that summer job your senior year at the Olympics instead of hanging out with your high schools friends at the beach; move 12 states away to the ivy league school you really want to attend even though you won’t know anyone; take the extra time and patience to let your mom teach you how to cook; accept that position in the new overseas office even though you’ve never owned a passport; run (don’t walk) away from people who neglect or abuse you; drive the extra hours to go fishing with your Grandpa before he is no longer here.

Through it all remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, a man who despite great success had devastating failures as well, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”

For life is far too short to be trapped by fear.

Motherhood: The Truth is too Tough to Tell

“You thought parenting would be so much easier than this. If it’s this stormy between the two of you now, how will you possibly have the loving, affectionate relationship with your daughter that you’d always imagined?”

If you, like me, have faced some scary, heart-wrenching challenges as a mother, it won’t surprise you to learn that relatively few women choose to write to their younger selves about those painful moments. It cuts too close to the Continue reading

A letter to my younger self about a challenging child

This letter was co-created for a Letters To My Younger Self Seminar at Executive Women’s Day at The John Deere Classic in July of 2013

Marie Z. Ziegler is Vice President and Deputy Financial Officer for Deere & Company, a position she’s held since January of 2013. Marie is responsible for the company’s investor relations, treasury and pension fund and investment operations.

Marie’s current position caps a 35-year career at Deere. She joined the company in 1978 as a consolidation accountant and has pretty much covered the waterfront in finance since then–holding management positions in finance, treasury operations, strategic planning and investor and banking relations. She became Vice President and Treasurer for the company, her job prior to this one, in November 2010.

One of the most important roles Marie took on was at age 28. Continue reading

Growing Golf at The John Deere Classic

     Visiting the Quad Cities is a dip in the best of small, tight-knit communities. I was there yesterday to keynote Executive Women’s Day at PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic tournament. The brainchild of Donna Fiedorowicz, Executive Women’s Day attracts female business leaders from the community—who have likely never played golf.

Donna Fiedorowicz with Sarah Gardial, a panelist at Executive Women's Day

Donna Fiedorowicz with Sarah Gardial, a panelist at Executive Women’s Day in Silvas, IL

     At first blush this doesn’t seem to make much sense. I think many of the 100 or so receptive, spirited women in the audience were like me: we see golf as a bit of a benign mystery. Continue reading

Canyon Ranch III !

“What a terrific opportunity to look at my life in the biggest picture way possible, under the thoughtful guidance of Ellyn.  Since a look in the rear-view mirror reflects the present, I find it empowering to be aware that if I’m willing to learn through my own experiences, I can be my own best advisor.”  Rose Maloney, 2011 LTMYS Retreat attendee

My favorite part of last year’s Letters To My Younger Self® Retreat at Canyon Ranch (Lenox, MA) was a combined paddle-and-hike amidst the colorful Continue reading

Fighting the Double Standard with a High-Visibility Cocktail Party


     One of the unspoken struggles that flummox many women’s leadership initiatives is a double standard in perception.

     As research reflects, when a woman executive keeps her head down, performs well and waits to be rewarded, she’s perceived as unambitious and lacking drive. If she’s aggressive and makes tough decisions, she may be viewed as a cold, calculating shrew. Continue reading

A Letter To My Younger Self about the Mind as a Powerful Tool

Antara Prakash, 25, decided to write to herself at 13 because that was the age when she “was beginning to notice shifts in my mindset. I was noticing different interactions with friends, and how much importance is placed on your self-image Continue reading

A Letter to my Younger Self about Fashion Stress and Teensanity

Melissa Fares is a 20 year-old student from Wilton, CT who is studying psychology at Smith College and blogging at Womankind. In the letter below, she is writing to herself at 13 when she was getting ready to go to her new school and be seen by her new friends. At the time, she says she was trying to “figure out Continue reading