This is Condoleezza Rice.
She’s accompanied cellist prodigy Yo-Yo Ma on the piano, has a Ph.D. in political science, and was Stanford University’s youngest, first female, and first African-American provost.
During then-President George W. Bush’s first term, Rice became the first woman to serve as national security advisor. By the time his second term ended, she’d also added first female African-American secretary of state to her resume.
Basically, she’s spent her life taking a hammer to every glass ceiling she’s encountered.
While the debate about the prevalence of and solution to racism and sexism rages on, Rice offered some pretty perfect advice for achieving success while you’re waiting for the world to change. During an interview with Motto, she said:
“Don’t let somebody else’s racism or sexism be your problem.”
Rice claimed that’s the message women need to hear — if someone tries to put you down, “don’t take that on,” just speak up for yourself and if you can’t, “find mentors to help you navigate those difficult circumstances.”
“The fact is life isn’t perfect and you are going to run into people who try to belittle you and put you down, and you simply have to be capable of not accepting that from them,” she said.
The caveat to this lesson is that if you’re denied something you firmly believe you should have gotten, the former secretary of state whole-heartedly encourages women to use every means of recourse available.
However, when it comes to the day-to-day “glance or interruption,” she offered the hard truth: “You just can’t let that get to you.”
If you try to tackle every problem no matter how minor, Rice predicts you’ll end up hurting your chances at success. “You’re just going to raise your blood pressure and be thrown off what you’re really supposed to be focusing on.”
These lessons were something that Rice learned at a young age and attributed to her parents. She described her upbringing to Motto:
“To be perfectly honest, I grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and that was macro-aggression, so I don’t really get microaggression.”
As an African-American woman, her family constantly told her she would have to be “twice as good” and that this notion wasn’t up for debate; it was a fact.
However, that isn’t to say her parents thought her gender or her race would prevent her from reaching her goals — their reiteration of the fact of her life seemed to seek to empower their daughter.
“They said there are no victims — the minute you think of yourself as a victim, you’ve given control of your life to someone else,” she told Motto. “I remember specifically my father saying once it’s OK if someone doesn’t want to sit next to you because you’re black, as long as they move.”
Rice, who has served in a variety of male-dominated fields, believes that diversifying the workplace begins with the women who have achieved success. She explained that the current conversations, which focus on the barriers women face, “make it sound so hard that we scare women away.”
If Rice (a “failed piano major”) can find a career, she believes others can, too. She added, “I don’t want young women to think it’s impossible.”
When she wanted to become a Soviet specialist, her only role models were “old, white men,” and if she had waited for an African-American female role model, she’d still be waiting.
So, Rice’s message to young women today is this: “Don’t wait to see someone like you.”