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Stephanie Armstrong

Executive Director

San Diego, CA

Sophomore year was the first time I can remember leaning back, and once I started, I didn't stop until I found myself needing to pick up the pieces and try again.

During my freshman year of high school, after trying to reason with my physics teacher when he said that boys were better than girls in science, I went to the headmaster to request that he be reprimanded. I did not see any difference in potential between my male and female peers.

Later that year, my classmates voted me Student of the Year for excelling in sports, academics, and student government while getting along with my peers. These accolades might seem like they would have been encouraging for a young woman, but instead they quickly turned into fuel for a fall from grace.

I leaned back to protect myself and to fit in. When insecurities hidden under my good-girl veil compelled me to make some poor choices, I became an easy target for rumors, mean girls and male attention. In retrospect, I see that the eating disorder I developed my senior year served in part as an attempt to kill off my drive and desire so that I would no longer stick out.

Years later, I left my dream job at Conde Nast in NYC to move to San Diego to marry my high school sweetheart. Having almost completely killed off my drive and desire with my eating disorder, I took a job in online marketing that had limited upside.

I had not only leaned back, I had left the playing field all together—and I was miserable. I broke off my engagement and set off on the journey to make nice with my heart's desires. What a treacherous, gut-wrenching and exhilarating road it has been.

In leaning back, I was forcefully hiding part of who I was created to be. I had been wrestling with my burning desire to excel, make a difference and champion justice since early high school. These past seven years have been a process of recovering, revealing and healing.

In the past three years, I have spoken to nearly 100,000 teens and adults internationally about body image, self-esteem and making a difference. In a month and a half, I will graduate with a Masters in Executive Leadership and soon thereafter will be launching a non profit with a mission to empower teen girls to fulfill their true purposes. We have an incredible core team, and I'm excited for what's to come.

Sometimes messages have resonance that gives permission to a part of us that has been dormant. I felt that resonance with Lean In. It is one of those books I wish I had read about 20 years ago when I was entering high school. Sophomore year was the first time I can remember leaning back, and once I started, I didn't stop until I found myself needing to pick up the pieces and try again.

We as adults need to lean in, and we need to light the path for our youth. Teens today are under even more pressure and can feel even more isolated than we did. As we learn, we must help young people acquire the self-knowledge, confidence, and courage lean in, too. Silencing desires and trying to manipulate a sense of purpose doesn't help anyone. Leaning in is being bold, being different, and being willing to not be liked all the time.