Tag Archives: Letters

Letters To My Younger Self Parties!

Three Party Kits ready to go My grand experiment is underway. To spread the word about What I Know Now About Success—and to enable women to share the letter-writing experience—I recruited nearly 50 women to host Letters To My Younger Self Parties all over the country. Each woman invited 10 friends and, using materials supplied in my Letters To My Younger Self Party Kits, led them through the process of writing and sharing their letters to their younger selves.

Most of these parties took place over the weekend of April 30 – May 2nd and I could not be happier with the feedback I’m getting. Continue reading

Class of 2010 Graduates

Dear Class of 2010 Graduates,

Soon, commencement speakers are going to hold sway over the advice racket. So I’m sneaking mine in now, just before the tsunami of entertaining, clichéd, quotable, original, soporific and lively guidance crashes over your caps and gowns.

I’m pretty sure you won’t hear this anywhere else. First, it’s advice designed specifically for women who want to succeed. It’s not PC to say that success is different for women than for men. Continue reading

Anne of Green Gables and Miss Congeniality

Lessons from an Illness      Just in time to reinforce yesterday’s giving of thanks came a message from a reader–with her own letter to her younger self. Leslie Rott, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, is writing to herself at about 20 or 21. Continue reading

Trusting Your Gut

Trusting Your Gut

I had the most spectacular experience with the women of Johnson & Johnson at a WIKN seminar on Wednesday. The three star executives with me were Lisa Uthgenannt, Melissa Maret and Deb DeRosa. If I were to give them themed titles, they would be “The Ice Queen,” “The Idealist,” and “The Rationalist.”

Lisa, The Ice Queen, was nothing of the sort. But that poorly-chosen high school nickname sums up how misunderstood and deficient she felt in high school. Melissa’s idealism prevented her from seeing that she could never succeed in the highly-political workplace where she stayed for much too long. Deb’s predilection for analysis and rational thought led her to discount her emotional needs in the same way that her husband was discounting them. We talked about revealing ourselves—even the universally dreaded act of crying—at work and the power of someone else’s unshakeable belief in you.

So—whew—it was very emotional. And FUN because it was the first seminar where I showed Brad Paisley’s tender, wry “Letter To Me,” which he was inspired to write after I interviewed his wife, Kimberly Williams Paisley, for If I’d Known Then. He is writing to himself at 17 and for the music video went back to his real high school and featured real teachers that he mentions in the song. Definitely check it out.

At the seminar, I was struck by the conversation on trusting your gut. That’s a message or sub-theme that comes up so frequently in women’s letters to their younger selves. And yet—we are never taught how to do it. Or we are taught to suppress those gut-messages. I certainly trained myself to dismiss them and forge ahead anyway, undoubtedly trampling all over instincts that would have served me well.

It’s a murky business, sorting out the “true” messages that guide us and the non-messages that have more to do with fear or nervousness about an upcoming situation. For Melissa, who had a powerful instinct that guided her the right way as a young girl, the signal actually comes from the gut. Lisa mentioned the heart or chest area as the source. Ilona Rubino, who ably organized the entire event, had a chills-down-the-spine story about how trusting her gut in high school saved her life and someone else’s. For me, when it’s a “warning” message, I feel something like a stubborn lump in my gut. But affirmation, a positive signal, is something I sense as my heart actually lifting.

I think meditation–which I resolve to do regularly, but never quite get to–is one way to quiet all the brain noise in order to hear those signals more clearly. Do you ever hear those signals? How have you learned to separate true, useful instincts from all the other nonsense swirling in your head? And, what I’d really like to know so as to do a good job passing this on to my kids, how would you teach someone how to trust their gut?

What’s the difference between rapid cognition, which Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Blink, and trustworthy gut guidance?

What’s Success To You?

I’m suffering from cognitive dissonance. The markets crash daily, uncertainty pervades and it seems we are all collectively holding our breath…but at the same time each day presents itself with so many of our responsibilities unchanged.

Being authentic–understanding who we really are and defining what we really want–seems all the more critical when so much is up in the air. Mya Harrison, who performed at Women, Wisdom & You, has learned this very young. Here’s a shot from that afternoon as her voice filled the room.

She’s one of the most interesting celebrities I’ve worked with because despite her very public life she is retains so much of the shy, reserved personality she had as a teen. She holds back…and you lean in to hear what she says.

The message in her letter—to define for yourself what beauty and success is—is the lesson I have to keep learning. For Mya, the symbol of letting someone else define it for you was the Guess logo patch that she sewed onto a different pair of jeans each night. I loved presenting her with a pair of vintage Guess jeans I bought on eBay. I hope they make her laugh.

Here’s my definition of success for today: getting my new garden bed ready for winter.

Kate Spade, Stay-At-Home Mom!

Kate Spade, Redux

Wow, that was even more fun than the first time. The first time I interviewed Kate Spade (for Fortune Small Business, now a shadow of its former self) I described her as looking like Audrey Hepburn’s best friend—fresh-faced, super-stylish and charming. Yesterday, as I sat in the lobby of her Manhattan apartment, completely absorbed in my Kindle (Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson), Kate paused after she’d walked past me (cued by the doorman) and said, “Ellyn?”

She was dressed in her workout clothes, running tights under shorts and topped with a t-shirt and comfortably worn pullover. All my fears about not owning a single Kate Spade handbag, pair of shoes or sunglasses evaporated. She is utterly unaffected and has the knack of smiling as she speaks, giving me the impression that she’s the sunniest person I’ve been around in days.

She and her husband, Andy, sold the company last year and now she is a stay-at-home mom happily making muffins and going to play dates with daughter Frances. I don’t want to steal my books’s thunder and reveal what her letter is going to be about. But I will offer that I think her message will be fascinating to any woman in a career, especially entrepreneurs and creative women.

Also, her apartment was so wonderful. Gorgeous, of course, but not one of those too-perfect hands-off places. The patrician bones of the apartment (high-ceilings, huge rooms) were all there, but the feel of her space was of a large, generous, slightly bohemian home. Art of all kinds filled the walls in the long foyer and living room. Not curated art. Not art that cleverly played well with the wall and furniture colors. Or lined up like soldiers guarding good taste. Kate and Andy clearly had fallen in love with all these pieces and just kept putting them up wherever they had space. You got the feeling that a lively conversation was happening in that room even when no one was there.