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To Boast or Not to Boast

Once upon a time I let a successful clothing line go because I chose motherhood. I have no regrets, especially when I spend time with my now 11-year-old daughter. I said this then and I’ll say it again now, I can relaunch a career at 50 but I cannot relaunch my children’s lives at age 10 or 11. And here I am.

I’ve been gathering my ducks and getting them in a row and the most interesting advice I’ve received is not to mention that I was a professional or Division I athlete: not on LinkedIn, my resume or in person. What’s interesting is who is dishing out the advice and how their athletic career compares to mine. Fortunately, my experience in business and in the film industry has made it clear how wrong this advice is.

In 2004 when I launched a children’s clothing line I met with bankers for loans and former CEOs for mentors. The meetings all went about the same. They started out with a series of questions: where did you go to school, what did you study, what experience do you have in design, in fashion merchandising, retail? What makes you equipped to launch a children’s clothing line? Nothing but desire and a dream. With each question I could see their interest dwindle until they reached a specific line in my resume: Professional Tennis Player: WTA Tour. Division I Scholarship Student Athlete. That was the 180-degree line, where all of a sudden, I became the most interesting person they had talked to all day. Professional athlete became synonymous with Wharton or RISDY graduate. If it was appropriate, this would have been the moment I asked, “what about hitting a ball over a net and between three lines equips me to run a clothing line?”. I know the answer to this now. It has nothing to do with the technique or tangibles and everything to do with the mindset and habits I built out of a 20-year career that started before I learned how to tie my shoes.

As my company and contacts grew, I saw the respect I was granted because of my athleticism, often despite being the only woman in the room. Tennis has opened more doors and granted me more opportunities than anything else in my life, including long standing personal relationships. So how on God’s green earth am I supposed to omit this, not one accomplishment but this SERIES of accomplishments from my story? Because society says women shouldn’t boast? This isn’t boasting, this is pure facts. It’s as truthful and mundane as stating that the sky is blue, and the grass is green. I didn’t see my success as a boast or a bonus. I see it as the things that happen when you work very hard and very focused for a very long time.

When Lewis Howes came on the scene, he talked about his professional athletic career all the time and it shocked me. I never did. Women 10 times more successful than myself never mentioned it either. Because I am my father’s daughter raised primarily by my father, I decided to do the same as Lewis and I started mentioning my 180-degree line more often when appropriate. I’ve experienced wonderful things and I suspect it’s kept me from working with men who are threatened by a woman’s success. Even if women have been societally conditioned to view their success as a team effort and to thank everyone because without them, their success could not have been made possible.

Today I give this advice to all girls and women: always, ALWAYS mention your accomplishments. State them as basic facts. If your success is in the field of athletics for the love of the Olympic rings talk about it! That’s not a small or basic accomplishment! It sets you apart and I promise more good than bad will come by you listing it on your LinkedIn profile.

If you don’t believe me, believe Glennon Doyle and Oprah. From Glennon’s book “Untamed” this passage is the message that reiterates what my gut feeling has been saying:

"Girls and women sense this. We want to be liked. We want to be trusted. So we downplay our strengths to avoid threatening anyone and invoking disdain. We do not mention our accomplishments. We do not accept compliments. We temper, qualify, and discount our opinions. We walk without swagger. And we yield incessantly. We step out of the way. We say, “I feel like” instead of “I know.”. We ask if our ideas make sense instead of assuming they do. We apologize for…everything. Conversations among brilliant women often devolve into competitions for who wins the trophy for hottest mess. We want to be respected but we want to be liked and accepted even more.

I once sat with Oprah Winfrey at her kitchen table, and she asked me what I was most proud of in my life as an activist, writer, mother. I panicked and started mumbling something like “Oh I don’t feel proud I feel grateful. None of it’s really me. I’m surrounded by great people. I’m just incredibly lucky and…”

She put her hand on mine and said, “Don’t do that. Don’t be modest. Dr. Maya Angelo used to say, “Modesty is a learned affectation. You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. “.

I think of what she said to me very day. She was saying: Playing dumb, weak and silly is a disservice to yourself and to me and to the world. Every time you pretend to be less than you are you steal permission from other women to exist fully. Don’t mistake modesty for humility. Modesty is a giggly lie. An act. A mask. A fake game. We have no time for it."

This is your permission to not play small and to not be small. If you haven’t read “Untamed” it should be next on your list...right after updating your LinkedIn profile and resume.


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