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See Nancy Pelosi's best advice for women: Know your why, know your what

Pelosi, an honoree on Forbes and Know Your Value’s “50 over 50” list, gives her best advice to women trying to juggle career and family.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was honored on Know Your Value and Forbes' inaugural "50 over 50" list this week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was honored on Know Your Value and Forbes' inaugural "50 over 50" list this week.Rebecca Miller for Forbes

Though it’s hard to believe that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was ever anything but a fiery, powerful legislator, she actually had no intention of launching a political career until her late 40s. First, she raised five children.

“I had no interest or idea that I would run for public office,” Pelosi told Mika Brzezinski in an interview that aired Thursday as part of the release of Know Your Value and Forbes’ “50 over 50” list. “I was doing what I loved to do: being a mom. I just loved that.”

Pelosi, 81, is ranked on the list, which honors women who are defying expectations around age and gender. Pelosi sat down with Brzezinski to discuss her achievements, and to provide advice for younger women who are trying to juggle career and family.

Hailing from a political family, Pelosi waited until her kids went to school full time before running for Democratic National Convention committee chair positions in the 1980s. Pelosi has since climbed the ranks to become many firsts, including the first woman House Minority Whip and the first woman, the first Californian and the first Italian-American to become Speaker of the House.

Pelosi said her political career was initially motivated by her children. She wanted to protect other kids, she told Brzezinski, since one out of five children in America live in poverty.

“My motivation sprang from being a mom,” said Pelosi. “... I always say to people: ‘know your why. Know why you’re following the career you are, or the pursuit that you have in the community, whether it’s education, saving the planet, social and economic justice, whatever it happens to be—know your why, know your what, and know about it so that people ask your opinion and respect your judgment.’”

Pelosi has spent the last few years of her career taking risky political stances, such as fighting to impeach President Donald J. Trump, twice. She advised women to be ready for life’s challenges, which is how she personally got through the proceedings.

“Take inventory of who you are and what you have inside of you, and what you have done,” said Pelosi. “Give yourself a gold star for being the unique person that you are. When the challenge is there, you’ll be ready.”

Pelosi contended that times have changed for women. Many mothers are now building their careers and raising children concurrently. Pelosi, on the other hand, took time off and built her political career from scratch later in life. But every woman should own her personal timeline, she said.

“Don’t worry about following someone else’s path. It will have its own natural tempo...Women just have to make their decisions. Decisions are the most liberating acts you can make,” Pelosi said.

For young women who feel bogged down by multitasking, Pelosi advised them to get help, and to view their tasks in a positive light: “All of these interruptions are enhancements. See it as an opportunity, and as a plus.”

Whatever their path in life, women should never give up their dreams, Pelosi said, especially if they dream of being leaders.

“Families now recognize that their daughters, their sisters, their wives, their moms can do whatever they want,” she said. “... Nothing is more important than the full involvement of women in decision making in our society, whether it’s governmental, education, military, corporate America or the world, than to have women involved.”

She added: “My message to young women would be: know your power, be confident, and understand that nothing is more important than you fulfilling your role, whatever that may be.”