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5 Pieces of Life Wisdom from Renowned Women

We look up to Oprah, Amy Poehler, Jane Fonda, and Kerry Washington for good reason–they’re icons! And journalist, Marianne Schnall, author of LEADING THE WAY, has gotten to interview them all. Now, she shares the best advice she’s picked up from some of the renowned women she’s interviewed over the years…

Throughout my career as a journalist, author, and activist, I have had the privilege of  interviewing some of today’s most remarkable and successful women who have offered their powerful insights to encourage more women to step into leadership positions—whether that means becoming a leader in your professional life, your personal life, or your community. In my new book Leading the Way: Inspiring Words for Women on How to Live and Lead with Courage, Confidence, and Authenticity, I share the wisdom from over 100 well-known women leaders on being happy, healthy, and successful in all areas of life.

Here are five of the many important lessons I’ve learned from the women featured in Leading the Way.

#1: Be Authentic

Being authentic and true to ourselves can be challenging, since women and girls often feel pressure from society to conform, to please, to be liked, or to act in a way that isn’t authentic to who they really are. We can begin to change the culture by being true to ourselves, using our voices, not worrying about backlash, and simply being unapologetically and proudly who we are.

“What we all try to do in our lives is amplify our souls—try to be as authentic as we can be and as whole as we can be, regardless of what people think or what society says we should be. We all want to die having lived—having been authentic, whole people. That’s the goal.” —JANE FONDA

“I think vulnerability is power. I like vulnerable and open people, and I think when you’re that way, you are actually being very brave. By presenting the real truth of yourself, who you really are, you change the molecules in the room.” —AMY POEHLER

Leading the Way book cover

#2: Find the Courage to Face Your Fears

We all have fears that can hold us back, yet In order to achieve our goals and dreams, we have to overcome our doubts and fears and be willing to take risks and make mistakes. In fact, it is practically impossible to make progress toward achieving anything bold without doing so. In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, we need women to overcome their fears and step confidently and courageously into their power—and not be afraid to use it.

“Being brave is not being unafraid but feeling the fear and doing it anyway. When you feel fear, try using it as a signal that something really important is about to happen.” —GLORIA STEINEM

“There is no one way to [find the courage to face your fear]. I think it just comes from knowing, acknowledging the fact that it is scary but then kind of taking a deep breath, swallowing hard, and just doing whatever that is anyway. There is no easy way—just do it. It’s just one of those things that comes with fortitude of like, ‘Okay, I have to do it. So I am just going to acknowledge the fact that this is how I am feeling about it, but it is not going to stop me.’ I am really trying to encourage people to do what feels scary . . . encouraging people to just tell the truth.” —LUVVIE AJAYI

#3: Know That You Are Enough

This is a message that so many of my interviewees want to instill in women everywhere: you are enough. So often women buy into the belief that they have to be perfect and do everything perfectly that we begin to feel like we’re inadequate. We look outside of ourselves for approval or happiness or courage, when in fact, we already have everything we need within ourselves.

“You already have everything you need to be successful. Though I remember spending a lot of time trying to reach outside of myself in order to acquire things that I thought that I needed, now in hindsight, the things that had made me most successful, the things that are my capital, the things that are my highest value, are things that I had all along. And it’s so ironic, but you’ve already got it. You are everything that you need, as opposed to operating from this feeling of inadequacy, as if we’re not enough.” —TIFFANY DUFU

“We’re not supposed to be perfect; we’re supposed to be complete. And you can’t be complete if you’re trying to be perfect.” —JANE FONDA

#4: Put Yourself First

One of the hardest and yet most important priorities for women is taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first. After all, when we prioritize our own needs—getting enough sleep, taking time alone for stillness and reflection, taking care of our bodies and our health—we can actually be more productive in all areas of life and be more present for our work and friends and families. So give yourself permission to put your own well-being first.

“I try to put myself first. If I don’t put my own physical and emotional health first, then I’m not really useful to any movement, to any work of art, to any creative endeavor. I have to be aware—not selfish and self-absorbed and self-obsessed—but I have to be self-aware of what my needs are and be willing to take care of my own needs.” —KERRY WASHINGTON

“The better people are at taking care of themselves, the more effective they’ll be in taking care of others, including their families, coworkers, communities, and fellow citizens. When you’re on an airplane, you’re told to “secure your own mask first before helping others,” even your own child. After all, it’s not easy to help somebody else breathe easier if you’re fighting for air yourself.” —ARIANNA HUFFINGTON

#5: Use Your Gifts to Make a Difference

As we strive for happiness and success in our lives, it’s important to remember that one of the best ways to experience a sense of fulfillment is to give back by advocating for issues we care about. Our voices matter, and we each have something powerful and unique to offer. We can all be agents of change and experience the rewards of being a part of a hopeful, positive movement to create a better world.

Your life is more enhanced when you can take what you’ve been given and give to others. The idea is servant leadership, the spirit of Ubuntu—“I am because we are.” The idea is using the fullest, highest expression of yourself in such a way that it changes not just you but other people.” —OPRAH WINFREY

“If we all give up hope and do nothing, then indeed there is no hope. It will be helped by all of us taking action of some sort. Cumulatively, our small decisions, choices, and actions make a very big difference.” —JANE GOODALL

For inspirational quotes from more than 100 well-known women leaders, pick up a copy of LEADING THE WAY by Marianne Schnall.


If you enjoyed this article, you may also like: 7 Boss Books for Ladies Who Lead.


Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash.

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