Letters To My Younger Self

A few years ago, in-between traveling for business and working 80+ hours a week, Robin Belsky got stuck in an airport. She grabbed and read a small 183 paged book while killing time called, What I Know Now—Letters To My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins. This book inspired Robin to create the Jewish Professional Women’s “Letters To My Younger Self” event. Robin loves mentoring new and younger employees—and this book spoke to her.

Her own female mentors were important to her successes, sharing the good and not so good lessons they learned while crawling and then climbing to the top. Because of her mentors’ stories, lessons and warnings, Robin pays-it-forward in the knowledge she shares with those that work alongside her. She prides herself on her own personal line she always shares with new coworkers, which is, “I will teach you all I have, then get out of your way and give you the wings to fly and to sore higher than me.”

Her first inception of the “Letters To My Younger Self” event was at a pharmaceutical executives conference in New York City. She and the sold-out audience in the large convention space loved the knowledge shared from the letters that were read. As a result of the event’s success and takeaways, Robin knew this idea was exactly what JPW needed, bringing the concept home to Baltimore.

For the past three years, she has helped to pick the panelists, created the questions and moderated the conversation in front of an audience of close to 100 women. Robin’s brainchild idea is now an annual JPW event which just completed its third run this past April, via Zoom this year. Three deeply talented and extraordinary women shared their letters and their journeys. Due to its popularity, The Associated chose to share these letters with a greater audience. Read on for excerpts from each of our letter writers.

Excerpt of Letter from Iris Krasnow

Author, professor, and Senior Editor AARP’s The Ethel

Dear 20-year-old Iris: Things work out.

At the age of 33, you will marry a loyal architect on a snowy night in your hometown of Chicago. By the age of 39, you will have four sons under the age of three-twins made that happen.

You will become a journalism professor, a bestselling author of seven books, and you will appear twice on the Oprah Winfrey show.

These accomplishments will come from tenacity and resilience – traits that were planted early on by parents who loved you so deeply that you felt like you could do anything. Your Polish-born mother, a Holocaust survivor, pushed you through any pocket of adversity with this line, “If Hitler didn’t get me, nothing will get you.”

In your late twenties, as the national feature writer for United Press International, you roamed the country and the world interviewing a formidable cast that spanned Elie Wiesel to Yoko Ono to Ted Kennedy to the King and Queen of Jordan.

Shaped by the onset of feminism, you yearned to be more worldly than your housewife mother. In later years, with your own brood, you realized that by staying home with her three children she gave her family the greatest gift of all – she structured your lives and gave you stability.

And now young Iris, here is who you are today: You have an empty nest and a husband who will never leave you and will never change. He watches hockey constantly, takes out the garbage, gets you two dozen perfect red roses every Valentine’s Day. He is reliable — the best quality you could hope for in a spouse.

You will live life urgently, knowing from your mom’s tragic history the eggshell-thin line that separates life from death. You will spend a lot of time with loved ones while you have them within reach. You will say “I love you” after every visit, and every virtual conversation.

Because you know what everyone should know: You can’t say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” at a funeral.

Excerpt of Letter from Andrea Lieber

Professor of Religion at Dickinson College

There are two key things you must know as you navigate the beautiful life that awaits you. Print them out and hang them up in a place you will see them every day. For some crazy reason, the world wants you to forget this wisdom, so you will need frequent reminders:

  1. Take up space— physically, intellectually and emotionally.
  2. Always leave a little room for community.

Like so many women, you will expend tremendous resources toward the goal of shrinking yourself, ironically, out of an intense desire to be seen. But all that energy, all that money, all that time is so much better spent growing, not shrinking, Andrea. You deserve to take up space, to have desserts, to live an expansive life. You are worthy of deep, full breaths and a tall, proud posture. It might take you a very long time to learn this lesson, but when you do, you will dance with joy and confidence through wide open spaces.

Let me be clear. The challenge to take up space is not just about physical presence. It is also a charge to step into your intellectual gifts—your capacity to bring wisdom into this world and to share it. As a child, you gained so much approval and attention for being smart. But, as you grow into a young woman, those same messages about becoming physically smaller will also subtly teach you to make yourself intellectually smaller— to second guess your ideas and conceal your smarts.

Like so many of your students, you will wrestle daily with that sneaky demon, perfectionism, whose persistent whispers instill self-doubt and cause you to fear making mistakes, sounding stupid, and taking intellectual risks. “Imposter syndrome” may sometimes cause you to question your legitimacy as a scholar and your authority to offer your opinion, and this will be a confounding obstacle as you struggle to become an academic writer. But, Andrea, it is so important to resist the forces that seek to diminish your intellectual presence. You must work hard every day to claim your voice of authority, to remember that your ideas matter in this world, and that you are worthy of the status your education and academic achievement confer upon you. As an educator and mentor, your work will be profoundly informed by these lessons, which you will learn both through experience and the wisdom of so many female mentors who have walked this path. In gratitude to those who taught you, you will feel called to help and support others find their authentic voice, especially in Jewish spaces.

You will be privileged to become a decision-maker at synagogues, federations, foundations, schools and summer camps. Raising a family in Central Pennsylvania, you will embrace opportunities to co-create the Jewish community you dream of for your daughters. But, your relentless quest for vibrant Jewish life will eventually bring you to Baltimore, where you will quickly feel at home. You will hear the frequent warning, “it’s so hard to break in to the Baltimore community,” but this will not be your experience—only warmth, welcome and so much love

Excerpt of Letter from Rachel Hirsch

In-House Counsel at American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

Being the best, however, brings its own set of challenges, including overcoming your own fears—your fear of failure, of not doing enough, or of being enough. Fear seems to be the only thing that motivates you, and it also explains why you are known to procrastinate in school, in work, in life. It’s not that you don’t want to do the task in front of you; it’s that your brain focuses better when the adrenaline is pumping, and your fight or flight instincts take hold.

But little girl, you need to stop operating from a position of fear. Don’t be afraid to slow down and be still. It’s in the stillness that we can truly appreciate what we have and open ourselves up to new experiences.

You will repeat these fear-based patterns in your career. You will always be running, trying to chase the next big case, the next big client, or the next level of praise from your boss. But in that running, you will miss life’s true “highs.”

One day, G-d will bless you with two beautiful children, spaced (deliberately) six years apart. The first will be a little girl, one you simultaneously hope will be like you but also unlike you. You will instill in her this same desire to run, to achieve, to be the best—all the while, still running yourself. You will leave her at the drop of the hat to wrap yourself in the comforts of your stress—i.e. your work, which has become synonymous with your identity. You will miss milestones, and you will miss getting to truly know your little girl, which, in turn, will make you short-tempered.

Then after six years of running and thinking you’re on your way to making it big, G-d will bless you with a second child. You will take this pregnancy for granted. You will work all hours of the night, and you will take countless trips while pregnant, even at 36 weeks. Then this child comes into your life and does not behave as you expect. You try everything just to find a way to keep running—to keep the same pace as before while still taking care of your child.

But that’s not how life works. This child will not sleep, and he will not stick to your carefully planned routine, but he will absolutely take your breath away. You try to keep running, but he literally makes you stop. You can’t type that motion because all he wants you to do is sit with him and rock him.

You begin to slow down because you have to, not because you want to. Yet as a result, you slowly begin to realize that what you thought you were running toward is what you should have been running away from. 

Robin Belsky, a female business executive and owner of Taverngreen Associates, a healthcare strategic planning and international brand market research company, joined The Associated’s Jewish Professional Women (JPW) group 6 years ago. Looking for like-minded professionals she could relate to and network with, Robin felt JPW needed programming ideas that would inspire working women during their personal and professional successes, triumphs, challenges and pitfalls…proving that all careers had highs-and-lows and that today’s work world is full of changing chapters and that this is okay.

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