15 for 15: Peggy Noonan

15 for 15 is shorthand for '15 people that I'd like to interview for 15 minutes each'.

Will I ever get to interview Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan?

The odds are higher than they were, now that I've said out loud and in a public forum what I want, but still very low.


Nor is an interview necessary for ‘daring to dream'.

When you and I admire someone, it's almost always because we see a piece of ourselves mirrored in that person.  If we will articulate what it is we admire, what we'd like to learn from them, we are in effect saying, ‘This is a piece of my ‘self' I want to develop, that I have it in me to develop.  And my gut tells me that you, person-that-I-admire, hold some clues.'

For my first '15 for 15′, or perhaps better said, ‘1 for 15', my interview takes shape via a letter I sent to Ms. Noonan several years ago.

Dear Ms.  Noonan,

I am a 42 year-old Wall Streeter, mother of two, in search of role models.

In early February, I sat in a training meeting for senior level professionals at my bulge bracket firm.  Out of 30 attendees, only two of us were women.

Several days later, in browsing through an airport bookstore, I thought — maybe there are some interesting autobiographies.  Katharine Graham's book was there, which I had already read, and found riveting, but not much else.

Having read “What I Saw at the Revolution,” “The Case Against Hillary Clinton,” “When Character Was King“, “On Speaking Well“, I wondered — has Peggy Noonan written her autobiography?

My interest was further piqued as I spoke to a friend who once interviewed you.  Her comments, “SOOO smart, and absolutely delightful.”

Here's why I'd like to hear your story.

I want to find my voice. Happily, I'm beginning to find it, but would like to have done so sooner. My friends and I often discuss “finding our voices”.  We can learn from hearing how you found yours.

I want to be successful professionally.  Not by mimicking men.  Or by relying solely on feminine wiles. But rather because I've brought all of me, the essence of me, to my work. It seems you have figured out how to do this.

I want to grow old gracefully. I'm guessing you are about 10 years old than me; I like watching you age.  You seem to be becoming seasoned and wise.  I want to know about your journey.

If you decide not to write your autobiography, know that you have already been a role model. But, on the hope that I have indeed helped persuade you to put pen to paper, please ask your staff to let me know when you publish.

With warmest regards,

Whitney L. Johnson

I didn't ever hear back from Ms. Noonan's office.  Maybe the e-mail never made it past the spam filter.  I don't know.  For my ‘daring to dream' it wasn't necessary.  Because in writing the letter, in articulating what I wanted to know from her, I learned the following about myself:

1)  Finding my voice matters to me; interestingly, since writing this letter, I started my blog.
2)  I want to be successful professionally; since writing this letter, I left Merrill Lynch, and have embarked on a distinctly feminine entrepreneurial journey.
3)  Growing old gracefully is a priority, and problem to puzzle through; no answers yet, but I know that when I am 60, I don't want to behave like I'm 40, etc.

Who would be on your list of 15 for 15?  What would you ask them (e.g. what piece of your self are they showing to you?)

Mentoring for a Moment

Is there someone that you admire — that is very much your hero — to whom you can say thank you?

Whether the person responds or not, in our expression of thanks, we not only clarify what we value, our gratitude reminds us that we are not the center of everything, but a part; that we are connected. (Note: though Peggy Noonan didn't respond to my ‘fan mail' two years ago, in setting forth what I admired about her, I clarified how I aspire to be.)

Who admires you? Someone you know well, not at all, younger (probably), the children in your life? Anything you can do to receive this gift freely given?

Gift given, gift received.

Yes, yes, but it feels like there is something more….

In the Identifying my heroes entry, I posed the question, “given that my childhood heroes (Samantha Stevens, UCLA cheerleaders) have shaped who I've become, is it possible that my current heroes (e.g. Peggy Noonan, Laura Laviada) can shape who I will yet become?”

If this is indeed true, then isn't it also true that when we respond to those who admire us, we increase the odds that they will become what they aspire to be?

And finally, when we respond to someone who admires us — aren't we actually saying that we see something magnificent in her that she can’t yet see, and that we are here, in this moment, to be her see-er until she can be her own?

I'm not a betting woman, but I sure do like these odds.

Whose hero are you?

Will you mentor her for a moment?

What I’ve Learned by Identifying My Heroes

Writing about my heroes (which you can find at the bottom of this post) was indeed revelatory. Here's why:

1) I was surprised by how much my heroes have changed over time — from Bewitched‘s Samantha to Peggy Noonan?


2) It was also interesting to observe that my childhood heroes were imaginary. A reminder just how much children identify with the imaginary, magical world. I wonder too if I over-agonize about the quantity of television my children consume. I clearly watched television as a child, yet most would consider me a contributing member of society.

Who were your heroes as a child? Who are they today? How have they changed?

2) My heroes have played a greater role in who I've become than I would have predicted prior to this exercise.

Example A: The fact that I so admired Samantha and Shirley Partridge as a young girl makes it a lot less surprising that I care about mothering well, my many years of “not wanting to have kids yet” notwithstanding.

Given your current vantage point, anything about your childhood heros that surprises you?

Example B: I'm rather astonished that my interest in attending UCLA was piqued because of their cheerleaders; were it not for a providential fluke, I would be a UCLA graduate. Which leads me to wonder what other decisions I've made on the basis of who I admire. Perhaps more importantly, why did I admire them in the first place?

What about you? Any decisions that you've made that now surprise you given how little forethought went in to the decision?

Example C: If I consider a cheerleader a metaphor for a hero of support, I've observed that in some aspects of my life I've internalized this role so thoroughly, it has actually been problematic as I've pursued my career. Sometimes you can be too good at something.


3) On the premise that my childhood heroes have helped shape who I've become, I am consequently hopeful that I can become like my current heroes, whether Peggy Noonan, Laura Laviada, Galadriel, or India.Arie. That I can, in fact, successfully undergo Psyche's journey, learning to be the ship AND the harbor, the hero of support AND the hero.

Who are your heros today?
What do they tell you about what you are hoping to accomplish?
Who and how you want to be?


Below is what I wrote for Matt Langdon's blog:

My hero as a young girl was Samantha on Bewitched. She was pert, adorable, and no matter what kind of tangle she found herself in, she could make things better with a wiggle of her nose. I also idolized Shirley Jones, who played the mother in The Partridge Family with whom I became even more enamored when I saw her as the ingénue in the film Oklahoma. As an eight year-old, it was magical to see that the same person could be a mother and ingénue.

In high school, my heroes were pretty, popular, feminine cheerleaders. So much so that UCLA became my top college pick because I loved watching their song girls perform whenever they played Stanford in football (my father took us to Stanford football games every fall from the time I was 7-8 years old). Footnote: Stanford was actually my top choice, but I was on the waiting list, whereas I was accepted to UCLA.

My heroes today are women who successfully embark on Psyche’s journey: they’ve learned to say no, to exercise choice, to achieve goals without throwing their caring and compassionate selves under the bus. In other words, I see all of these women as living in a both/and world.

These heroes include: Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist who made her name as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, Laura Laviada, the former CEO and major shareholder of Editorial Televisa, Mexico’s largest magazine publisher (and who I had the privilege of interacting with when I covered the stock Televisa (NYSE: TV), Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, and India.Arie, a musician-singer-songwriter who it would appear loves Stevie Wonder’s music even more than I do. Until very recently, I would have also included Sydney Bristow, the fictional lead in the television show Alias.\

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