People tell you that your college years are the best of your life. But nobody tells you that those years are also some of the hardest. In my four years at Roger Williams University, I met some incredible people and bloomed intellectually, building deep and valuable relationships with many of my professors. But at the end of my junior year and into my senior year, I reached an all-time low in my self-esteem and self-confidence. Three years ago, I was a shell. More than anything, I wanted to feel strong, confident, and capable again, and in that desperation, I discovered one of my greatest ideas. If I couldn’t figure out how to grow into a strong, empowered woman on my own, I was going to figure out how other women did it and copy them. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
So I started collecting, almost like baseball cards, female mentors. I flirted with the idea of sending one letter per day to powerful women, from author/poet/revolutionary Gioconda Belli to Ellen Degeneres. I decided against the latter for fear that she would invite me onto her show.
Eventually, time, my own personal drive, and plenty of wonderful people I already knew helped me find my way back to myself, but I was a believer in female mentors now more than ever. In May, when I arrived in London, I knew that a favorite fitness influencer of mine lived close to where we were staying. I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to cultivate my collection of female role models.
But it was when I actually started the project that I began learning more than I expected. Lucky for me, the influencer I wanted to interview let me email her questions, but even my summer boss did not make time for me to speak with her, even though I asked several times. Other influencers I reached out to, and who I really admired, never even returned my polite and well-thought-out messages. I learned that not only are influencers far less accessible than they appear, but also, that just because you admire a person doesn’t make them – and shouldn’t make them – your mentor.
The women that agreed to participate in this project were more than willing – excited even – to share their experiences, wisdom, and advice with another woman, and any interested readers seeking some more pathways and landmarks to pencil into a career (and life) roadmap. Each woman I interviewed took a completely different route to a fulfilling career. We talked about their different industries, paths, and most importantly, about success, failure, and risk. I began admiring these women for their success and charisma. Now, reflecting on my time and interactions with each of them, I admire them for so much more, including their being open and vulnerable in our conversations.
Completing these interviews affirmed my belief in finding mentors and seeking advice from people with rich and abundant experiences. I think too many people start their lives without investing in other people’s wisdom. I have male mentors too – anyone is a potential mentor. Each of the women in the posts that follow taught me something invaluable, and the only thing better than receiving wisdom is sharing it with other people in need. Enjoy.