Category Archives: Ellyn’s Blog

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

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

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

My Soldier Dad

We had our father’s 89th birthday celebration over Memorial Day weekend this year. My brother, three sisters and I had planned on a 90th birthday bash, but our stepmother suggested this year might be better. There would be a better chance of Dad being able to enjoy it. Continue reading

Thank you David Brooks

I’m privileged to look behind the curtain and I know it. Working with executives, celebrities, neighbors, friends and women everywhere on writing letters to their younger selves gives me a glimpse into what I think of as their interior landscape. It’s emotional territory, but studded with distinctive landmarks, just like the earth’s topography: shining pools of pure, intense feeling, hills containing sedimentary layers of inchoate sensations and stands of giant trees clustered around supercharged memories. Continue reading

What Men Say When They Talk To Their Younger Selves

What do male executives say in their letters to their younger selves? Frankly, I was recently blown away by the experience.

On May 10th I conducted a standing-room-only Letters To My Younger Self® Seminar with five managing director panelists—three women and two men—for Deutsche Bank at its Wall Street headquarters. Because this event served as the kick-off for the Aspire Project, sponsored by DB’s Americas Finance Diversity team, it was well-attended by more than 150 male and female bankers from various disciplines and backgrounds.

Continue reading

Two reasons to write a letter to your younger self

Shopping is called “retail therapy.”  But it sometimes gets out of hand.  Jill Chivers is an Australian entrepreneur who helps women find a healthier  approach to shopping. She recently decided to write a letter to her younger self and discovered the exercise’s surprising power. Here, she explains why.

There’s something magical about writing a letter to your younger self.  In writing to my teenage self, I discovered two main reasons to do it: Continue reading