In May 2018, Abby Wambach – two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion with the U.S. women’s national team – gave an extraordinary speech to the graduating class of Barnard College.
These were not typical verbose commencement remarks full of flowery cliches, gentle warnings, or uplifting lessons learned.
Wambach’s words included everything that makes a speech unforgettable — humor, inspiring personal stories and a clear call to action.
She laid out career advice to women in the form of rules for stepping out of the sidelines and taking charge.
Abby Wambach’s Career Advice and Rules for the Wolf Pack
Be the Wolf, not Red Riding Hood. Girls are taught to be grateful for what they receive and to stay in line. “I was taught to keep my head down, stay on the path, and get my job done. The message is clear: Don’t be curious, don’t make trouble, don’t say too much, or bad things will happen. I stayed on the path out of fear–not of being eaten by a wolf–but of being cut, being benched, losing my paycheck.” Take charge, be a wolf and turn the system on its head.
Make failure your fuel. Allow the feelings and lessons of failure to transform into fuel; turn that fuel into power. “Non-athletes don’t know what to do with the gift of failure. So they hide it, pretend it never happened, reject it outright — and they end up wasting it.” Wambach says. Yet “failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on.”
Lead from the bench. You won’t always be designated the starter, the MVP or team leader. When that happens you still have to lead and be a wolf. Wambach says if you’re not a leader from the bench, you’re not one on the field. “You’ll feel benched sometimes. You’ll be passed over for the promotion, taken off the project—you might even find yourself holding a baby instead of a briefcase—watching your colleagues ‘get ahead.’ Here’s what’s important. You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.”
Champion each other. If it’s not you who scored the goal, or received a plum assignment, or closed the important deal, make sure you’re rushing to congratulate the woman who did. Celebrating the joy and success of others does not mean less joy and success for you. “Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.”
Demand the ball. Working hard and performing well isn’t enough. No one will pass you the ball unless you demand it. “Give me the same pay that the guy next to me gets. Give me the promotion. Give me the microphone.”