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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

Career Advice from Melinda Gates & Arianna Huffington

November 13, 2013

Malala Yousafzai (Associated Press)

On Monday night, I had the incredible opportunity of attending Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall, an evening that celebrated a diverse group of some of this year’s most astounding female leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai, philanthropist Melinda Gates, Lady Gaga, Sandy Hook elementary school teacher Kaitlin Roig-Debellis, and models-turned-maternal health advocates Liya Kebede and Christy Turlington-Burns, to name just a few. Oh, and Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance to introduce “couple of the year” Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. I cried unabashedly at least five times during the awards show, which seemed to be about the average rate given the crowd and the moving content of the program.

Throughout the evening, I picked up on a few themes. First and foremost, even the most ostensibly successful women still feel like complete frauds on occasion. Case in point: Lena Dunham hilariously introduced Melinda Gates, asking: “Are you sure, Melinda, that when you asked that I introduce you, you weren’t typing Nelson Mandela into your iPhone, and then it auto-corrected to Lena Dunham, and now we’re both just as confused as I am?”

Lena Dunham (Tory Hoen)

Similarly, when I spoke to Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive later that night for New York Magazine, she admitted to having periods of self-doubt, just like every other woman. “Whenever anybody asks you ‘How do you do it all?’ you just feel like a big impostor, because all you can think about are the 572 things you’re not doing at that moment. All you can do is puncture that thinking. I also think there are incredibly high standards for women now. They feel like they have to occupy the corner office and have a perfect body and have an incredibly hot love life. I just think those super high standards actually make women feel like failures… And it’s easy to sit at these events and see these amazing overachievers onstage and think, ‘They’re incredible, they’re amazing, they’re extraordinary, and that could never be me.’ But I think the message of tonight is that a lot of these women were regular women who pushed themselves.”

Cindi Leive (Rob Kim 2013)

So what should we be striving for? An impactful job? A comfortable lifestyle? A Nobel Peace Prize? Throughout the course of the inspiring evening, I got a chance to speak briefly with a few women whose very presence blew my tiny little pea brain. And here’s the advice they had to offer to young women of purpose at the beginning of their careers:

Melinda Gates: Go for it. Go for it right out of school. Go for it at every moment that you have. And know that there are trailblazing women who are there to support you. Look for a mentor, a sponsor, or some role models in your career, because I think they make a huge difference.

Melinda Gates (Larry Busacca, Getty Images)

Arianna Huffington: I love Malala Yousafzai’s message of finding your voice; I would only add that women need to redefine success beyond money and power. For me, success includes four things: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. It’s important to follow one’s authentic passion and to take care of ourselves in the process, because I think burnout is one of the major problems we’re facing—men and women. But women will have to lead that revolution to have a successful life. I think young women are re-evaluating their priorities, which is very exciting. It’s going to affect the whole culture.

Arianna Huffington (Tory Hoen)

Liya Kebede: Go forth unafraid. That’s my son’s school’s motto, but it’s true! Live your life and enjoy it. Take risks and go for it. There were a lot of moments in my life where I doubted myself. There will always be those moments, but it’s a matter of pushing through. Every problem has a solution. It’s about continuing to dream and believe, and not back down.

Liya Kebede (Getty Images)

So there you have it, straight from the mouths of visionaries: Go for it, define success on your own terms, and don’t back down. Piece of cake, right?

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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