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This piece was originally published on lauraclydesdale.com and is republished with permission.
Elizabeth was 18-years-old, about to graduate from high school, and felt empty inside.
The only time she felt she could be herself was when she turned to her journal. By chance, she received the book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, as a graduation present.
It changed everything.
“I suddenly realized that I had spent the last six years putting others ahead of myself. I had spent so much time thinking about what other people wanted, I had forgotten what I wanted, had disconnected from my true value and purpose in life,” Elizabeth said. “It was through writing that I recovered my voice and found my own path.”
It also dawned on Elizabeth that journaling refilled her empty tank. It was a way to give something back to herself.
Now, almost 20 years later, Elizabeth Perlman is helping other teen girls find their power and assert their voice through writing. The big goal of her, The Intuitive Writing Project, workshops is to provide a safe space for girls to tell their story, discover their strengths, and realize their capacity for leadership.
Inspired by Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers Method, five girls at a time come together, speak their truths through writing, practice listening, and being listened to.
“The more girls know who they are, the more they can believe in themselves, and trust in the power of their own intellect and intuition. This self-trust is the foundation of self-confidence, the foundation girls need to assert their voice and remain resilient, to rise up as leaders – and to keep rising,” says Perlman.
Not only is Perlman herself, anecdotal evidence of how writing can lead to finding your self-confidence, your true calling, and even your eventual business venture, research backs up how writing can be a way to leadership.
“Research has documented that outstanding leaders take time to reflect,” says Nancy J. Adler, S. Bronfman Chair in Management at McGill University. Because of our hectic and crazy lives, we rarely take time to reflect and listen to ourselves. However, it’s these reflections that Adler believes gives us our competitive advantage as a leader: seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act. Adler is a big proponent of daily journaling to access your unique perspective which you can then bring to your decision-making process.
Henna Inam, CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. and the author of Wired for Authenticity, takes it one step further, “Self-awareness of your strengths: your energizers; what challenges you; what can derail you – is a key driver of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (the ability to know and manage yourself and others) is a key driver of success in leadership.”
Further research says journaling is even transformational. In one experiment, college students who had been struggling academically were asked to journal for 15 minutes, 4 days in a row. The students were split into two groups. Group one was asked to write about the most upsetting or stressful event in their lives and, group two, the control group, wrote about non-emotional topics such as their room or shoes. Four months later, the participants who wrote about their intense feelings had fewer visits to the health center and fewer missed classes than the control group.
Girls are naturally drawn to this form of self-expression.
In Girls Leadership’s Keds Brave Life Project Study, one of the most popular ways girls try to build bravery is by seeking inspiration. Of the girls who choose this route:
- 25% say positive things to themselves
- 16% think about a hero
- 17% seek inspirational quotes
- 25% use self-expression through art, music, and writing
- 17% keep a journal
Encourage Your Girl To Start Journaling
- Buy a journal. Handwritten journals are better at getting more expressive entries than on-line ones. There are journals out there to match any personality type. From the inspiration seeker to the goal setter, there’s a journal for everyone.
- Commit to 15 minutes a day. This is the hardest step. If you struggle, start in smaller increments.
- Find a quiet spot. This is not a time for multitasking. Put away
your phone, computer, and homework.
- Write either free form or with writing prompts. Let your thoughts just flow. Be the passenger, not the driver. Perlman suggests this easy exercise to help her face that first blank page.
- Take a piece of paper and write the numbers 1-20 down the left-hand side of the page.
- Now find twenty different things to answer, “It annoys me that…” (If you are comfortable, you can also substitute ‘angers’ for ‘annoys.’)
- Pick the one that really gets to you and write one paragraph on how you would like to see it changed.
This exercise is cathartic because it’s a bit of a purge, but Perlman says the real goal is the effort in finding twenty things. This makes you dig deeper than ‘annoying sibling’ or ‘hair in the drain.’ Often you find things you didn’t even realize were affecting you so deeply.
This is how you get to know yourself, your values, your personality, and what you are willing to stand up for.
In fact, this is exactly how one of Perlman’s students discovered what she was willing to stand up for…and did. Through the self-reflective writing she did in class, she was empowered to speak out about an issue at her school. After extensive research, she penned a passionate editorial for her high school newspaper, exposing a massive online Dropbox—shared among many boys—which contained hundreds of nude photos of underage girls. Her editorial attracted the attention of both the local media and the police, who took down the Dropbox immediately.
The realizations don’t have to be this dramatic, however, the story illustrates how powerful journaling can be. A young woman who didn’t think of herself as particularly leader-ly, discovers through a free-form writing prompt that there was a social justice issue she was compelled to solve. She was so driven, in fact, she went against her nature and bravely stepped in front of the media to help her cause.
“Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, to understand the world differently, and to lead in new and needed ways,” Adler says.
As an 18-year-old, Perlman always dreamed of having other girls with which to write with. Now, every day, she provides teenage girls with the opportunity to do just that.
Laura Clydesdale had an epiphany one day when she noticed her then 10-year-old daughter exhibiting some of the same career-derailing traits as many of her female clients. Did it really start this early, she wondered? Laura decided to leverage her 15 years of experience as a leadership development consultant and launched her popular girls leadership blog.
She is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, Parent.co and has also been featured on several radio shows and podcasts. Laura lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two children.
You can follow her on Twitter at @l_clydesdale and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.