Jessica Angell’s Letter to her Teen Self

Jessica Angell is a veteran of Boston’s mobile start-up community and currently heads marketing for the PayPal Media Network, a division of PayPal. She is dedicated to promoting women in technology with work for the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and involvement with SCFG. She earned her dual Bachelors degree in Modern European History and Spanish Literature from Wesleyan University.

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 Jessie, stop!

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I know what you’re about to do. You’re about to walk into Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s 8th grade science classroom and ask her to reduce the grade she gave you on your invention for the class project. You’ve been torturing yourself over the emptiness of the A she gave you, because you don’t think you worked hard enough on it, it wasn’t polished enough, it wasn’t ground-breaking enough. A well-earned B+ would be better than this sham of an A. Besides, if you were a REAL inventor, one that deserved an A, you certainly wouldn’t have come up with something so…. lame. And, because your invention was lame, logically, you don’t deserve an A.

Mrs. Fitzpatrick will be kind and gentle enough to usher you out of her classroom with reassurances that your invention did, in fact, deserve the A. But, the grown up world isn’t always so supportive and reassuring, and if you develop the habit of undermining yourself now, it’s going to be mighty tough to break in the future.

You will hoard the criticism and share the accolades; you will only go after projects that are well within your grasp and not reach for projects that will expand your horizons; you will dismiss legions of compliments and dwell on a single negative comment; and, worst of all, you will punish yourself over and over again for no other reason than that you’re not living up to your own standards, that you can’t adequately explain the reasons for your success, and thus, don’t deserve it.

You tell yourself that you’re simply accepting compliments gracefully. It’s lady-like to be modest. It would be crass to simply accept a compliment without some demurral. But really, it’s self-effacing behavior masquerading as good manners. And, it would be better for both of us if you learned these lessons in the 8th grade, instead of mid-career. The starting points are below:

1) In order to accept a compliment gracefully, you have to actually ACCEPT the compliment. No demurrals. No ifs. No ands. No buts. Start now. Smile, nod, say thank you, and move on.

2) Enjoy your victories – they may come easy now in the 8th grade, but they won’t always.

3) Stop invalidating your wins. Yes, the competition could have been stiffer, you could have been given less time and fewer resources, you could have been asked to complete that project blind-folded. Is that what you’re looking for? Know that the win you’re refusing to acknowledge was won in the hardest of circumstances. Just. Stop.

And, for the record, these rules don’t just apply to the words coming out of your mouth, but also (and most importantly) to the constant stream running through your head. It won’t come easy at first, but practice makes perfect, so let’s just start with not asking for your grade to be reduced and go from there. Sound like a plan? Good! We’ll learn how to do this thing right together.

Best,

You + 20 years

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