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Letter to my daughter: get ready, it’s lonely at the top

Being a leader can be a very lonely experience, so I want to tell you what that feels like and how you can overcome it, because you are amazing and I think some day soon, you’ll rule your world!


lonely leader

Dear daughter,

You’re almost 16 and you’re finishing up your sophomore year. You have such an amazing life ahead of you, and we’re feeling confident that we’ve raised you well and that you are ready for the ups and downs of college, then of your career, but I think there’s something we haven’t spent much time on, and it’s one of the cruel secrets of being a leader – it’s lonely at the top, especially for women.

We’ve showed you the entrepreneurial path and the corporate path, and because you are insanely intelligent, an amazingly fast learner, a great communicator, and a superior listener, you can take either path you chose and crush it. But what we’ve always agreed is that you’re destined for the top no matter where you are.

Because you’ve seen me work as a leader in my industry and our company, you’ve seen a very positive view of what it means to be at a company that has more women leaders and employees than male, so I’m not lonely here. But I have been before. Let me explain.

You already know I’ve experienced sexual harassment and discrimination and I’ve told you to tell men to get their own damn coffee, that you’re brains, not boobs. And you already know that I think a lot about cultivating female leaders at an early age, so we talk about it a lot already, but did you know that almost any female executive you come across will have been called a “bitch” for most of her career because she refused to accept that women are required to be receptionists?

Did you know that some women go to work and know that there are many people with eyes on her that are angry that she’s in charge and shouldn’t be? Did you know many women leaders are suspected of having slept their way to the top rather than earning their spot? Sexism is still alive and well and while the pay gap between men and women is improving and great strides are being made, there are still offices that will give you the biggest challenge of your life.

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As if you won’t have enough on your shoulders running a company some day, you may have to deal with the garbage that comes along with being a female leader. I’m sorry I haven’t expressed this sooner and that I’ve let you think that my situation is normal – it’s not.

So darling, here are some things you’ll need to do in advance:

  1. Know in advance that it may be lonely at the top. Knowing that much can be quite empowering. Because you’re a kind hearted person, you’ll be tempted to compromise your core values to make people like you at work, but you know everyone has haters, so it’s better to have haters for the right reasons than the wrong reasons.
  2. Network. Find other female leaders and connect with them. Find mentors who you admire and connect with them. Go to networking events for leaders in your field and make time to talk to one another.
  3. Play hard, have hobbies, and don’t obsess over work 24-7. Keep doing the things we do together now – go kayaking on weekends, read every night, run marathons, look at internet kittehs, and go shopping even if you don’t want to buy anything. Keep competitive and healthy and you’ll always feel energetic at work, and there’s nothing that overcomes a bitch reputation more than a natural smile because you are happy.

Now that we’ve talked about being lonely at the top and how you can overcome it, let me share a secret with you, honey – it’s only lonely if you let it be. Now get out there and crush it, the world is waiting for you! We love you, we are insanely proud of you, and we can’t wait to see your life take off!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. vanhoosear

    April 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Good Advice, Lani! You have every reason to be proud of both yourself and your daughter!

  2. Tinu

    April 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Great advice. My advice to young women is that, while it’s harder out there for some due to economics, gender, race, lack of skill or talent — it just means your “yes” is in a different place. It does NOT mean it doesn’t exist, nor does it mean that you have to sit around and wait for yes. In some cases you can make your own.

  3. Jill Przybyla

    April 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I wish I received this letter before I started my career. American values tell us we can do anything if we try hard enough, because we are all equal. While we strive for this, we have different chances and hurdles to overcome. Knowing this is half the battle.

  4. Charity Kountz

    May 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    What a great post! I wish someone had told me this ten years ago!

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