Show me how to live brave

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Tell us in the comments what brave thing your mother-figure taught you, and one-randomly chosen winner will get a purple T-shirt with all of our How We Lead icons.


Dear Mom,

Thank you for showing me how to live brave.

When others assumed poor spelling to be a sign of stupidity, you fought for my education, and believed in my intelligence. You battled for my health care and without your belief that I deserved the best, Ollie and Jude might not be in my life now.

I tell our parents that their adolescent girls won’t always thank them for doing the right and hard thing as a parent until their girls turn 40. Since my 40th birthday is now on the horizon, here is one of those very belated thank you notes you were always telling me to write:

  1. Thank you for teaching me never to say no to an opportunity because it could be awkward or uncomfortable. You trusted me from an early age to conquer every bus and subway line in any city. Even though I took the express train in the wrong direction more than once, I made it back.
  2. Thank you for showing me the gift of service. When I started volunteering with kids, people would tell me how “nice” it was of me to give to others. They didn’t seem to know what you taught me, that serving others is the most rewarding work there is. When you took me with you on the long dusty drives through the New Mexico night to work with the Indian Health Service, when you sent photos back from your first deployment in Haiti, or your last deployment in the Pacific islands, I knew there was nothing cooler than working where the needs are.
  3. Thank you for giving up on perfection. Everyone tells me that you were a great cook. What I remember fondly is when I was nine and you started getting take-out and laughing during dinner. When I got married you told me not to do it all. You would be proud! The weeds have overtaken our garden. The neighbors even audibly complain sometimes, but I know that’s on them.
  4. Thank you for working hard. You were always up at 4:30, had a long commute to work you loved, took me to the office during days off from school, and told me stories every night about your patients, their diagnosis, their struggles, and your efforts to help them despite the insurance rules. While I can’t bring myself to get up much before 6:00, I’ve inherited your commitment to meaningful work. When I struggled during moments of not getting what I wanted when I wanted it, that greater purpose got me through.
  5. Thank you for breaking the rules. Sometimes I try to imagine what it was like to become a mom in 1970. I know that on top of working hard, you had to do all the cooking, and all the cleaning, wear stockings, and wear slips under your dresses. I can remember you setting your hair every night in rollers. I wonder what your mom said when you decided to do Outward Bound when I was two. So you know, I loved being the only one in my class with a mom working on an aircraft carrier. Those rules you broke — many of them now don’t exist for me. They don’t even sell slips any more!

Girls are still learning some crazy new rules about what it means to be female — how they are supposed to look, sit, and be liked. In my work at Girls Leadership, we teach them to break these rules by taking up space, being vulnerable, and asking for what they need. Our moms and mother-figures are powerful role models for their girls.

While I am grateful for the privileges that your hard work gave to me, I know that we are not done yet. I feel ready to take it on. I am #BraverTogether with you.


All my love,


  1. Joy

    One brave thing my Mom has taught me is humility. She could have easily bragged about her many accomplishments as a college professor and a pediatric oncologist and yet never did. Humility is brave because it asks of you to do the right thing for its own sake and not for the show.

  2. Grace Fan

    So beautifully written! Thank you for sharing this and for validating all of us mothers everywhere <3


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