One of my first ambitions in life was to be 8'9" and a football player.
Neither hope would be realized, but they speak volumes about how I saw myself as a child: capable of anything I wanted to do, even if my goal was predicated on a genetic anomaly.
Whenever I’ve been responsible for the care and support of young women, I’ve tried to instill that same level of possibility in them. Yes, you are smart enough. Yes, you are strong enough. Yes, you are creative enough. Yes, you are talented enough.
You can do anything.
But I know that’s not true. Not always.
There are obstacles and hurdles in the way of women across the globe that I can’t eliminate with my conviction and chutzpah alone.
Should I do everything in my power to help? Yes. But there are a lot of entrenched, time-worn, ambition-stifling systems out there holding my sisters down — literally, at times — and a lot of people committed to keeping those systems in place.
I don’t know how I ended up in a position to succeed when so many other women are forced to struggle, but I know my privilege comes with a deep responsibility to pass on what I’ve been given.
Which brings me back to the young women in my life.
Running a summer camp is probably the most cushy job I’ll ever have, but at the time I was young and inexperienced enough to believe the hours I worked and the gaggle of people I was responsible for represented the ultimate in stress.
Don’t get me wrong: keeping 150 staff and 300 campers out of harm’s way each week was no small task. But I wasn’t alone.
Hiring the right team of people was an odyssey that took months to complete: counselors, lifeguards, skill teachers, cooks, maintenance workers, administrators, program directors, boat drivers… you name it, we interviewed for it. In any given year, women made up at least half of those 150 people, and most were between the ages of 16 and 30.
I had the privilege of giving some of those women their first job, and while I think I was pretty fair as directors go, I’m sure they have varying perceptions of my leadership. Some probably thought I was too strict, while others thought I was too lax. Some probably thought I micro-managed, while others felt abandoned in a distant orbit.
Some likely thought they could do my job better than I did… and some of them would have been right.
What I wanted them to feel was exactly as capable and empowered as any man who worked alongside them — if not more. And that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t teaching their male co-workers to see them the same way. Women were to be respected intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, without question.
Anyone who did otherwise was demolished when I dropped in like a cartoon anvil. Men got that same consideration, mind you; Anvil-Meg was equal opportunity in her smackdowns.
But because I knew the women would face unique challenges in the decades to come, it was critical to infuse them with every ounce of self-possession, confidence, trust, and passion I possibly could during their stay on my little island.
I put them in leadership roles. I expected them to speak up in meetings. I left them in charge of intimidating tasks. I made them the public-facing voice of our organization. I set up mentoring relationships between my senior and junior staff. I pushed them creatively. I defended them when things went awry. I tried to cultivate an encouraging atmosphere, even when we were too tired to say much more than, “Oh, awesome job.” I made myself available for job references for years to come, long after I’d left the camp.
I still give out references, 14 years later.
Those young women have gone on to be a lot of things: doctors; lawyers; professors; chefs; physicists; entrepreneurs; writers; artists; musicians; clothing designers; architects; elected officials; actors; photographers; police officers; youth counselors; teachers; social workers; fitness trainers; store owners; investment bankers; and yes… camp directors.
I don’t harbor any illusions about how important my time with them was to achieving their goals. Some don’t even remember me, and for many of them, summer camp was far more about learning to play guitar, or sleeping under the stars, or that time they jumped off the 30-foot pier into the salty deep.
But on a day like today, when we recognize the contributions women make locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, I’m reminded what an honor it was to be a girlboss to a whole bunch of girlbosses.
I’m reminded of the responsibility I have to young women in my midst to model strength, integrity, and commitment in every aspect of my work.
I’m reminded that, the more I kick at ceilings in my own life, the better precedent I set for the next generation.
And I’m reminded of all the women who showed me strength before I realized what I was learning, including my mad genius and love tsunami of a mom.
Every day should be a day of equality for women. We shouldn’t have sisters who aren’t given the freedoms they deserve.
But until we get there, each of us has a responsibility to make life better for the ones coming next, and to model daily what it means to be a fierce, powerful, and proud female.
And sometimes, if my life is any proof, it’ll even be fun.