Wisdom//

Advice From Jane Fonda, Anita Hill, Amy Poehler, and Other Influential Women on Building Confidence

Start by exploring your interests.

Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock
Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock

Through sharing some of my favorite quotes, insights, and valuable lessons from my interviews with dozens of influential women, I want to reaffirm that you are powerful and capable and, most important, that your voice is needed. Your dreams, your visions, your ideas, your solutions, your art, your writing, your leadership—whatever it is you feel called to bring into the world—are valued and can make a positive impact.

My book Dare to Be You is a reminder to resist the negative, disempowering messages you will no doubt receive from society and the media, and to listen to and value your own voice and inner compass. Instead of being driven to fit in or conform, to be liked or be popular, or to be just like everyone else, I encourage you to embrace and celebrate the uniqueness and specialness of who you are. 

LOVE YOURSELF JUST THE WAY YOU ARE

I’ve been traveling all these years in the world and witnessing girls and seeing their struggles and their obstacles, but also seeing their enormous resilience and brilliance and energy and realizing: What if these girls were free? What if they could be themselves? What if they weren’t spending their days pleasing but were actually in their authentic beings, listening and following their own desires and voices? What would the world look like? 

—Eve Ensler

Each [girl] is already a unique and valuable person when she’s born; every human being is. Inside each of us is a unique person resulting from millennia of environment and heredity combined in a way that could never happen again and could never have happened before. We aren’t blank slates, but we are also communal creatures who are born before our brains are fully developed, so we’re very sensitive to our environment. The question is: How to find the support and the circumstances that allow you to express what’s inside you? 

—Gloria Steinem 

The message I would most want to instill in girls is: You are more powerful than you know; you are beautiful just as you are. 

—Melissa Etheridge

I just think you really have to know who you are—come to terms with that, accept that, and love that, and understand your talents, what your gifts may be, and how to develop them. If you’re comfortable with yourself and know yourself, you’re going to shine and radiate, and other people are going to be drawn to you. 

—Dolly Parton

Just be what it is that you are, and that is just fine. You don’t have to be what you’re not in any way. Live that and live that fully, and that is where you discover ecstasy. You can’t really have ecstasy as something other than yourself. 

—Alice Walker 

DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS 

Think about your potential—what you’ve been given. Practice your strengths. Know your strengths because, just like in sports, we practice our strengths every single day, and we make our weaknesses adequate. If you have a strength, go for it. Zone in on that, and that will help you decide where you are going to go. 

—Billie Jean King 

Find out your own potentiality. Don’t look to other people and put them on a pedestal; it’s pointless. Find your own strength. Look to your own strengths and weaknesses, and be your own self. 

—Annie Lennox 

In response to the sentence that begins “I can’t do this because . . . ,” just think about the answer. “I can’t do this because I’m a woman” or “I can’t do this because I’m a kid” or “I can’t do this because I’m too tall or I’m too short or I’m too old. I’m too young or I’m from this country or that country.” I just have to say get over it. Come on—use what you’ve got! 

—Sylvia Earle 

VALUE YOUR INTELLECT AND EXPLORE YOUR INTERESTS 

Being interested is more important than being interesting. If you try to learn something every day and you stay interested, you’re going to be an interesting person and you’re going to continue to grow. 

—Jane Fonda 

It’s cool to be smart. . . . Girls have to fight against a lot of the same stuff we did growing up—peer pressure, exploitation, etcetera. But what worries me the most is this trend that caring about something isn’t cool. That it’s better to comment on something than to commit to it. That it’s so much cooler to be unmotivated and indifferent. 

—Amy Poehler 

When other people laughed at me and called me dummy, [my brother] said, “Don’t worry about them calling you a dummy. You’re smarter than anyone here!” And he was absolutely right! He told me that I was very intelligent and that I had to depend upon myself. He knew more than most people, and if he said I was very intelligent, I believed him. That was a big gift. 

—Maya Angelou 

Hang out with people who make you feel smart, not dumb. That’s crucial. Because if they make you feel dumb, they’re not supporting you, and they’re not helping you. It isn’t that we’re right or wrong. It doesn’t have to do with being right all the time, but if you have consistency of support from people who value your opinion, it will help you to value your opinion. 

—Gloria Steinem 

SEE YOURSELF AS A LEADER

My advice would be to take the tools and the skills and the resources of every kind that you have and go out, find something that you know is not fair, is not just, and begin to change it. In whatever way you know, in whatever way is appropriate for you—but don’t ignore it. Don’t think it’s somebody else’s job to change it. Confront it in your own way, and make it your job to make change. 

—Anita Hill 

You don’t have to wait to become a leader. You can start right now. What do you see in the world that doesn’t seem right, feels unfair, needs to change? Learn more about it. Speak up—at school, at home, with your friends. Brainstorm solutions. Then get going. You don’t have to wait until you’re an expert or have your degree—or even until you’re old enough to vote. 

Greta Thunberg is sixteen years old, and she’s already a global climate activist. Emma Gonzalez and her classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High survived the attack on their high school to become passionate gun-control advocates. Their tools belong to you—your voice, your experiences, your time. Go to a march. Share a petition. Start a school club. Make public art with a message. Help register voters—and when you’re old enough, vote in every election you can. 

You can make a difference, and you can help others do the same. That’s what a leader does: She helps us build a better future together. You got this. Now get to work! 

—Sheryl Sandberg

From DARE TO BE YOU by Marianne Schnall, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2019 by Marianne Schnall. All rights reserved.

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