Dear Harlan, I’m a 15-year-old, and my life goals are set. I want to graduate from high school, go to a college where I can pursue architecture, then come back to Texas and start my own firm. However, people tend to say that a woman of my cultural background can’t achieve those things. I have mixed feelings with just about everything. Lately, I’ve given up. My grades are falling, and I’m losing focus. What’s the best thing to do in order to regain my confidence and dreams? – Losing the Dream
Dear Losing the Dream, Cover your walls with pictures of these women (search online and print them out): Maya Angelou (author, poet, actress, singer), Eleanor Roosevelt (politician, activist and former first lady), Amelia Earhart (American aviation pioneer), Hillary Clinton (presidential candidate and former secretary of state), Marie Curie (the first woman to win a Nobel Prize), Margaret Thatcher (first female prime minister in Britain), Toni Morrison (novelist, editor, professor), Rosa Parks (civil-rights activist), Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist for female education), Oprah Winfrey (media mogul), Helen Keller (writer and lecturer), Dr. Hawa Abdi (human-rights activist, Nobel Prize nominee), Mother Teresa (religious sister and missionary), and the 16 women in this article by Arch Daly in The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/21/woman-architect-of-the-year_n_4576298.html). Also, include the most important person’s picture – you. Sleep, wake up and live among these women. This is your sisterhood. It belongs to you. There is no limit to what you can accomplish. It’s hard to see at 15 years old, so you need to be reminded. I meet women from all backgrounds and cultures who have shattered others’ expectations. There are two more things you must do: The first is to get help immediately. There’s no time to waste. Be loud and proud, and say, “I need help!” Talk to your teachers, counselors and adults who believe in you. Ask them for help. Once you find answers, find strong female mentors who live, breathe and know your journey. Find women who will inspire, encourage and help you get wherever you want to go. Ask your career counselor for ideas, ask teachers to connect you, talk to a spiritual leader, and search for women in architectural magazines and websites. Find their contact info via Google and LinkedIn. Reach out to them. YES. Actually reach out. Interview them for a class assignment (ask your teacher for extra credit). Ask them questions that will help you find answers. Ask each woman, Who are the five people who helped you the most? Ask them what three places helped them learn the most. Ask what advice they’d give to a 15-year-old who is told that she can’t do it. When you finish writing, ask if you can stay in touch. Continue the relationships. Along your journey, remember: People who tell you it can’t be done are talking about themselves. Something happened that made them stop believing. Find out what happened. Use their experiences to teach you how to overcome obstacles and reach your own goals. People who achieve their dreams don’t spend their time discouraging others from dreaming. Dreamers inspire and encourage others to dream big. I know, because I’m one of them.
Attention Readers: I’d love to hear your stories and words of wisdom for this 15-year-old. What has been your journey? Who are the people who helped you? What other women should she model? Where are the places you found support? What other advice would you offer this 15-year-old leader? → Send responses here