I'm fairly certain that most children in America hear it at some point in their lives, either from a parent, a teacher, or Barney. "You can be anything you want to be- even the president!" I recall a short essay my third grade class had to write on what you want to be when you grew up, and we all mainly wanted to be doctors, marine biologists (I grew up in Florida- kids wanted to play with dolphins as a profession), and a number of presidents. Think of how proud those parents must be seeing their kids' ambition from a young age. They probably implored them to not lose sight of these lofty goals and to, better yet, start working towards them.
It's a sweet image, isn't it? Looking into a classroom and seeing little chairs filled with excited, hopeful 8-year-olds sharing what they'd do for the country as president. The message touched the hearts of every kid in the class, independent of race, religion, or gender. When you're 8, everyone truly believes he or she is destined for the oval office. You put on those rose-colored sunglasses proudly.
But life gets you down. When you're interning at a law firm during college, your colleagues assume you're mistaken when you say you attend UC Berkeley; that you must be confusing such a prestigious school with some other Berkeley. You start your first job and realize there are two female executives in your entire company, and almost no leaders are people of color. You've been in countless meetings where no one even makes eye contact with you, assuming the male colleague with you is the most knowledgeable. Those sunglasses start to slide down the bridge of your freckled nose.
To this day, I'm still not sure if my parents instilled an inordinate amount of confidence in me, or if I'm bullishly stubborn, or if it's my unceasing desire to ruthlessly pursue self interest- perhaps a delightful cocktail of all three- but I've somehow managed to not let the cynical shoelaces of life's hardships trip me. I want what I want and I intend to get it, or at least give it my best shot. When you're starting off a little downstream, you have to have a certain amount of panache and gall to encounter the discrimination and prejudices attempting to hold you back and stride past with blinders on. In short: retaining the naivete of an 8-year-old can be a very good thing.
Yet I'm not going to pretend I'm living in a vacuum of self-confidence. I'm fortunate enough to have basically every advantage a person can have, and I'm grateful for that, but it doesn't mean the fight is over. During this election, there's been quite a bit of talk around equality, equity, and fair treatment of all Americans. I thought back to the first election I was eligible to vote in, which was a race between a black candidate and a white candidate. This year, I'm choosing between a woman and horrible second option. Political thoughts aside, how insanely lucky am I to be living in a time and place where the candidates increasingly reflect a reality where, indeed, anyone can become president?
Learning more and getting older comes with its fair share of cynicism, but I'm an eternal optimist. I will never, ever stop trying to do what needs to be done or change the world for the better. Hearing from RBG, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Sheryl Sandberg, and of course Hillary Clinton throughout the election season, I'm reminded of all the incredible women who have come before me. Suddenly the challenges ahead seem a little less daunting.
Don't apologize for going after what you want. Better yet, women, never apologize. Get nasty.