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Ruthie Ackerman

Philanthropic Executive

New York, NY

Now I am in a position to encourage others to believe in themselves and their capabilities, whether or not they have the gold stars to prove their worth.

In Mrs. Silver’s second grade class we had weekly math and spelling quizzes. Whenever we answered all of the questions correctly, we got a gold star on the appropriate construction paper fish – one marked “MATH” and the other “SPELLING” – which hung up on the wall for the entire class to see. Every week I watched as my "spelling fish" got filled up with gold stars, while my "math fish" remained hideously empty. That was when my seven-year old self came to a realization: I was bad with numbers.

Yet a funny thing happened. Instead of shying away from math, I leaned in. In middle and high school I took progressively harder math classes—and to my surprise, I did well. But nothing could get the "I am bad at math" mantra out of my head. Even when I got an “A” in Advanced Calculus my senior year and rocked the math section of the SATs and GREs, I still remembered the empty fish on that wall in my second grade classroom and cringed.

The gig was finally up when I went to graduate school for journalism and discovered the only jobs that could pay the bills were at financial publications. I had to be good at math—my job and my livelihood depended on it.

My first job out of school was at Forbes, where I spent two years number-crunching and becoming an expert on all things financial: from the stock market to the subprime mortgage crisis. Suddenly, I didn’t only have to be good at math,  I had to be an expert who was willing to speak publicly and confidently about what I knew.

More jobs in financial journalism followed and the focus of much of my writing began to focus on women’s economic empowerment. The little girl who believed she was bad at math was now the grown woman who wrote high-profile articles for top publications like American Banker and the Wall Street Journal on women and investing and the reasons why women need to take control of their money. The little voice in my head telling me I’m bad at math is still there. It has just gotten quieter.

What I’ve learned is that we all have voices telling us we’re not good enough – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary – and it is in those moments that we need to lean in the hardest. When we do, we are allowing ourselves to pursue opportunities and to become role models for that next generation who needs to see more women leading in every arena, especially math, science, engineering and technology. If I had given in to what I perceived to be my weakness in math, I never would have achieved the same professional success. Now I am in a position to encourage others to believe in themselves and their capabilities, whether or not they have the gold stars to prove their worth.

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