"This isn’t done until you blush when you read it out loud.”

Leslie Feinzaig with brother, Lenny Feinzaig, in Argentina circa 1993.
It was January 2005 and I had less than a week to submit my application to Harvard Business School. I was asked to write an essay making my case to the admissions committee, to convince them that I belonged at Harvard. This essay was difficult to write, because I was uncomfortable talking myself up.
But I had less than a week left, and nothing to lose, so I did my best and then asked my big brother Lenny – my idol and mentor – to help me make it better. He read the first draft and handed it back. He asked me to stand up and made me read the essay out loud.
When I was done, he looked at me and said: “You are competing with the smartest, most prepared, most outstanding young professionals in the world. This is not a time to be shy. You have to advocate for yourself and give it everything you’ve got.”
I knew this to be true. Except deep down, I didn’t think I belonged at Harvard. I didn’t believe I was good enough.
Then my brother said the words that have stayed with me since.
“This isn’t done until you blush when you read it out loud”.
This was 2004. Before #metoo and #timesup, before the “likeability penalty”, before anyone knew that women routinely sell ourselves short. The rest of the world didn’t matter just then. I was just a girl with good grades but low self confidence, lucky enough to have a big brother who believed in me more than I believed in myself. And who forced me to read my Harvard application essays out loud, over and over again, until I painted the picture I was scared to paint, the picture he knew to be true. Until I blushed.
“This isn’t done until you blush when you read it out loud”.
Fourteen years later, I routinely have to advocate for myself. I have to convince sponsors to come on board. I have to convince investors of my vision. I have to convince candidates to join my team. I have to write a speaker’s bio and submit my company for awards and tell my story to the media. And I still feel like an imposter, almost every single day.
But then I think of my big brother, and remind myself that he believes in me, and that so many people I admire believe in me too. So I try, and try, and try again. And I’m not done until I read it out loud and blush.
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