A Letter to Elizabeth Stewart (From Elizabeth Stewart)

 |   Elizabeth Stewart, Founding Executive Director at Civic Hall Labs

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

What I would tell my younger self:

My first movie theater experience was watching Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi. I was five years old. It’s my earliest memory of feeling awe struck by a person. I left the theater wanting to be just like her. For the next five years I was Princess Leia in all my pretend play. I would spend hours directing imaginary characters for new storylines in my own version of Star Wars, channeling the bold, strong-willed, and sometimes-vulnerable woman I saw on screen. Through that play, I naturally explored parts of her character that resonated with my own. It even affected how I played with the boys in my neighborhood. Riding my bright pink dirt bike, I simply expected that I should ride out in front of the pack with the oldest boys and set the direction for our adventures.

Arriving at my teenage years, I lost that bold, confident, and defiant self I had cultivated in my early childhood. I retreated into the insecurities that come with the transition from child to teenager to college age (and this was before Facebook!). I became more quiet, unsure, and cautious as I navigated the emotional ups and downs of relating to boys and then men personally and professionally. I even forgot about Carrie Fisher’s influence as Princess Leia until 15 years later.

The last 15 years, in many ways, has been a journey to rediscover the bold, confident, defiant, and vulnerable parts of myself, and learn how to express them. With that journey in mind, I’d like to tell my younger 20-something year old self these four things:

  • Find time to remember how you saw and interacted with the world as a child. That person, in many ways, is the most authentic and honest version of yourself. Find that voice and cultivate it alongside the wisdom that comes from getting older.
  • Learn to identify feelings of awkwardness and emotional or mental discomfort and ask why. Don’t distract yourself with busyness to avoid these feelings. It’s in these moments that you will grow the most individually and in your relationship with others.
  • Live from a place of inquiry rather than judgment. Have bold ideas and strong opinions, but focus even more on nurturing empathic understandings and insights in your relationship with yourself and others. You will be more effective sooner in life if you do.
  • Play more. Play is an important part of exploring self-expression and seeing how comfortable you are in your own skin. For some it comes naturally, but for some it needs to be practiced. Either way, the older you get, the more life becomes about work, and having this as a practice early on leads to a more well-rounded self.

Best,

Elizabeth

For the last fifteen years, Elizabeth’s career has focused on strategy, fundraising, and cross-sector partnerships that advance social innovation. She is cofounder of Impact Hub Los Angeles, a for-profit social enterprise that offers physical space, professional and cultural programming, and community for a diverse array of Angelenos working to create positive impact. As the founding CEO, for four years she advised a variety of social and civic startups ranging from clean tech to community-oriented technology enterprises, and advanced the field of impact investing in Los Angeles. During that time she launched Civic Innovation Lab in partnership with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office and Microsoft, a three-part lab harnessing citizen ingenuity to solve pressing civic and social issues culminating in a city accelerator program. Prior to Impact Hub LA, she founded Causemopolis, a boutique consulting firm focused on economic development and environmental sustainability in cities. She has also worked abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America on poverty reduction and women’s empowerment programs. Elizabeth holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA, where she pioneered the Graduate Leaders in Sustainability Certificate. Her board service includes Liberty Hill Foundation, Advisors in Philanthropy LA, and Concerned Capital. She is one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People for 2013, and was profiled on Forbes.com as “a woman changing the LA entrepreneur landscape.” Find her @elizinmotion.

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