Words of Wisdom From Women Who've Been There


If there’s one universal thing that girls and women are familiar with, it might just be unsolicited advice. From advice on what to wear to advice on venturing down a new career path, there always seems to be a plethora of feedback directed toward women—even when they didn’t necessarily ask for it. But what about good advice? You know, that kind of advice that reignites your purpose or helps you reframe a failure into an opportunity. That kind of advice is priceless, and, oftentimes, can be difficult to come by. 

That’s why we’ve collected “life advice” from ten successful, self-sufficient women that is applicable to girls and women of all ages. These women also happen to be graduates of The Ellis School, an all-girls private school in Pittsburgh, and often credit their ambition, poise, and belief in themselves to the institution. Sophisticated, smart, and strategic, these alumnae are calling back to their own experiences and now using their expertise to create space not only for themselves, but for the young women following in their footsteps. 

On starting a business: 

“Surround yourself with people who know what they're doing. Hire the talent you need and make good business decisions, because you can’t do everything yourself. Your team will make your vision a reality and move things forward.”

Heidi Holzapfel, Entrepreneur & Business Owner

On figuring out “what you want to be when you grow up”:

“Don’t be afraid to be who you are and take risks. When you’re trying to figure out what you want to do, put yourself out there and try different things—you’ll find what you love. If you try something and don’t like it, at least you know it wasn’t for you. Be true to yourself along the way, and be kind to yourself, too.”

Bonnie West, Artist 

On putting yourself out there:

“You need to advocate for yourself. No one will speak up for you if you don’t do so first. There will be people who are genuinely invested in bringing the next person up, but you need to work hard to find and nurture those relationships.”

Marina Lorenzini, Research Associate and Law Student

On collaborating with and working in diverse teams:

"Find someone who doesn’t look like you, who has had different experiences than you, and get to know them without judgment. Learn to listen. It will not only make you a better worker but a better person."

Indea Herndon, Engagement and Inclusion Consultant

On the importance of hard work:

“If you have an image in your mind of how you wish your life to be, no matter how blurry it may seem, do everything in your power to make that image clearer by working toward your goals. Every single day of work counts towards overcoming difficulties and making your dreams a reality.“

Claire Richards, Design Researcher

On skills that will help you no matter what your path is:

“Listening skills are crucial to success and survival in many areas as you navigate your career. It’s also important to remember that someone is always watching and one cannot pick and choose times or places to lead by example.”

Dr. Marsha Brown, Forensic Psychologist

On using your voice:

“Never qualify a question with, “I was just wondering...“ or “This might be wrong, but...” Speak up and ask. If you’re wrong, someone will tell you and then you will be wiser. Don’t begin by discounting the value of your question. If you don’t know the answer, likely others don’t, either. Asking questions doesn’t show weakness or lack of intellect—it demonstrates precisely the opposite: You have the desire to learn more and that you are confident enough to acknowledge where you need to learn.”

Susan Ellenberg, Santa Clara County Supervisor

On the importance of self-care:

“My work life has reinforced the importance of self-care and finding balance. It’s the advice I give to women who are struggling every day, and it’s advice that’s important to continuously implement for myself. It’s like they say on an airplane: Get your own oxygen mask on securely before you attempt to assist others.”

Dr. Jo Kim, Perinatal Depression Program Director

On knowing your worth: 

“Be bold and resilient. The Ellis School is an incredible place where no one questions your worth or value as a young woman. The rest of the world is not as kind. Don’t forget that you’ve earned your place at every table you sit at. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”

Kate Schuler-Walsh, Antiquities Analyst

On following your own path:

Do what feels best to you. Don’t let anyone tell you what is right or wrong. Only you know your true potential and what gives your pure happiness. Follow your dreams and no one else’s dream for you.  

Kitty Cook, Market Research Strategist


Graduates of The Ellis School are sophisticated, thoughtful, impossible to forget. As made evident by the above, they are generous—of their expertise, their energy, and their creativity. Do you want your daughter to grow into a woman who creates space for herself and others?

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