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Dana Perino

Political Commentator

New York, NY

She had the best advice in response, 'Put on your big girl panties and deal with it!'

For many years, I was quite happy working behind the scenes during my time in the Bush administration. I enjoyed being the deputy press secretary to Tony Snow, helping him prepare and managing the office. He was one of the best press secretaries ever to stand at the White House podium, and he became a good friend as well.

When his health took a turn for the worse, he fought back against cancer and even managed to return to work. When he did, he seemed refreshed. But the 24/7 nature of the press secretary position, plus his love for his family, and desire to spend as much time with them as possible, led him to decide to step down. And that’s when I had to step up.

As his last day at the White House loomed, and the new reality set in, my fear of not measuring up to his performance nibbled at the edges of my mind. One day, he came into my office and asked, “How are you doing?”  I said, “Well, not very well. How could I ever replace you?” Then, he asked me to stand and come over to him. Now, he was six foot five inches and I’m an even five feet. He put his hands on my shoulders, made me look him up into his eyes and said, “You’re better at this than you think you are.”

It took a couple of weeks of doing the daily briefings for me to realize he was right. I also realized what he meant: I was over-thinking it. I was letting my fear of being out front, and not behind the scenes, suppress my confidence. The day, in fact the very minute, I realized that I didn’t have to replace him, I just had to be me, I was off to the races.

There was one other piece of advice I got during that time that I think of often. I got a call from Secretary Margaret Spellings on my first day as press secretary. She said, “How ya doin’?”  I said, “Well, to be honest, I’m pretty nervous.” She had the best advice in response, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it!”

There are many times in life, in both personal and career situations, where women have to be reminded to put their big girl panties on. I remember, for me, that was when I was trying at all times to be gracious, dignified, humble, well-informed, sharp but not snappy, tough but not pushy, understanding but not a pushover – it went on and on.

I’ve realized that sometimes, we are our own worst enemy. We can talk negatively to ourselves all day long about everything – that we’re not thin, pretty, prepared, or capable enough. We disappoint ourselves and think we aren’t good enough as wives, sisters, daughters, bosses, employees and mothers. However, all of us are better at every one of those things than we think we are. Tell yourself that! When I learned “I was better at this than you think you are” it changed my life from that moment on.