A Letter to My Daughters

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
4 min readMay 17, 2021

A couple of years ago, when I worked for IBM, I gave an interview for their “Women of Watson” series. During the interview, my favorite question was this:

What advice do you have for young women looking to become leaders?
I answered with conviction: I will offer the same advice I give to my teenage daughters: Find purpose in what you do, be curious, and always look for the “why.”

In those pre-pandemic times, that advice rolled off my tongue quite easily — as my daughters know only too well, I do like to wrap things up in a tidy phrase or two. And I still believe those things hold true.

But, how do we find meaning and purpose during the most disruptive times of our lives? And where do we look for the “why” when the world is facing so much loss?

If that’s been a struggle for me, I can only imagine what it’s been like for my teenage daughters. At a time when they should be stretching their wings, they’ve been forcibly clipped by a global pandemic that has pressed “pause” on their dreams. As a mother, I’m sometimes tempted to “sit on the nest” until the danger passes. But, as time marches on, and life begins to open up again, I realize they need more from me. In fact, as they face an uncertain future, young women everywhere need more from us.

And so, at the risk of a few daughterly eye rolls, I’ve attempted to put down on paper some of the things I’ve learned during the last thirteen months.

Dear Petra and Raya,

We’ve all seen those movies where a mysterious letter pops up from a person who is long gone, full of scandalous revelations or helpful advice. Personally, I’ve always felt that letter would have been better sent sooner rather than later. So, here’s mine to you.

There’s so much I’d like to say. But I’ll start with a question: Have I told you lately how grateful I am to have the privilege of being your mother? Whether your believe it now or not, it is the greatest joy of my life.

We’ve shared the best of times and yes, the worst of times together, and I know this much is true: I believe in you.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to believe in ourselves. Especially when the world has been turned upside down by something beyond our control. I’ve had some pretty rough days myself, days when I questioned everything. But you know what? That’s ok. In fact, if we didn’t question everything, we wouldn’t learn anything. And you know how I feel about learning.

So, without further ado, here are some things I’ve learned lately. I’ve enlisted the “help” of some pretty remarkable women, who’ve said some pretty remarkable things. (After all, sometimes it’s easier to take advice from someone who isn’t your mother.)

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Where you find conflict, start with an open heart. Or, as Indira Gandhi said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” — Audrey Hepburn

Truly honoring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion means valuing every person, and empowering them to succeed.

Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place.” — Sheryl Sandberg

And, just because you know how much I adore her … I’m sneaking in a Dolly quote:

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” — Dolly Parton

You may notice that “leadership” is the theme here. But I believe we all have the potential to lead, whether it’s leading a nation, leading a business, or simply leading by example. I see that in you.

The photo I chose for that yesteryear interview, incidentally, is one I love. There we are, three peas in a pod, unique but united. I know that this time has been incredibly rocky (pun intended). It’s my biggest hope that someday you look back on this and say, like Louisa May Alcott,

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Sail on. And, just in case you need a lighthouse in the distance … look for me; I’ll be there.

Love, Mom