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Stacey Abrams Says Self-Acceptance and “Wild Ambitions” Are Keys to Success

Stacey Abrams, founder, author, and first Black woman to be a gubernational nominee of a major party in the U.S.

“Think small” is not in Stacey Abrams‘ toolkit.

Almost turned away from the Governor’s Mansion in her home state of Georgia as a high school valedictorian who didn’t look like what the security guard expected, she vowed to return one day—as Governor—and open the gates to all.

Narrowly defeated as the first Black woman to win a major party nomination for Governor, she galvanized a movement that would register 800,000 new voters.

So how does this remarkable woman—who is also a lawyer, entrepreneur, and award-winning author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller, Lead from the Outside—think about things like ambition, fear of failure, and perfection?

Here are highlights of what she shared at the 2021 California Conference for Women:

  • Dream big. “Regardless of the scope of the ambition and whether it seems to be so personal as to be small, or so massive as to be unattainable, our responsibility is to dream it anyway, to desire it anyway,” she said. “You may not get what you want but you will get something so much better than you had because you tried and more than likely you’ll succeed.”
  • Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. “The only responsibility you have is to understand why you succeeded and multiply it or understand why you didn’t succeed and solve for it. But we can’t let our ambitions be edited by our fears.”

I like to say take your fear out for a drink. Get to know it well. Make it your friend because fear makes you brave. And if fear makes you brave, bravery makes you ambitious; and ambition makes us better; and that’s how we start to create change.”

  • Don’t wait to be perfect. When getting ready to run for office, some people told her she should change her hair, lose weight, and get braces. She thought: They may have legitimate points.

“But to tell myself that I’m not prepared to serve because I don’t look like what people expect is not viable for me. So, part of my authenticity is just stubbornness. I’m not willing to wait to do what I think needs to be done, and that means I’ve got to accept who I am.”

“Fundamentally if we don’t like ourselves, if we aren’t willing to be our whole selves, if we wait until we are perfect to act, then we never do anything.”

  • Share the credit—and the work. “I heard a long time ago that I’d rather have 50 percent of something than 100 percent of nothing. When it comes to justice, when it comes to progress, when it comes to getting things done, I’ve always believed in partnership.”

“And for me the sharing piece, it’s not only sharing credit; it’s sharing the work. And if you are willing to do one and not the other, then that requires self-investigation.”

  • Don’t just champion your own success. “So often, we focus on what’s happening at the CEO level and forget what happens to the cleaning ladies and the janitors and the secretaries and the assistants. Part of the way to hack the system is instead of championing your change, work within your organization to ensure that you are doing the best you can by those who are the most vulnerable and have the smallest voices and the weakest choices.”

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