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Stacey Abrams to women: Don't let others disqualify your ambition

Undaunted by comments about her appearance or her 2018 gubernatorial loss, Abrams is leaving the door open to a 2020 presidential run.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on the set of "Morning Joe" on Friday.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on the set of "Morning Joe" on Friday. Anthony Scutro

Stacey Abrams knows her value. She’s unabashedly proud of her accomplishments, which include serving as minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and delivering the 2019 rebuttal to the State of the Union. She also doesn’t allow setbacks, like her loss in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, to dent her dreams.

And she wants other women to be unafraid to showcase their ambition and their capacity to get the job done.

That’s the Democrat’s message in her updated reissue of her 2018 book “Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change,” which she recently discussed with “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.

One of the biggest barriers, according to Abrams, is that women allow feelings about their appearance to determine their capability.

“I am a sturdy black woman with natural hair,” Abrams told Brzezinski. “When you close your eyes and imagine the person you think of as a leader, I’m likely not the image that pops into your head.”

In fact, several people told Abrams she couldn’t run for governor until she lost 100 pounds, that she needed to straighten her hair or that she was simply “too dark.”

“I acknowledge that people will see something on the outside that tells them a story about who I am. My job is to tell them the whole story,” Abrams said. “My job is to believe my own story.

Yet many women, “particularly minority women, are trained to disqualify ourselves… My belief is I know who I am … and I’m never going to allow my exterior, my phenotype, to determine my capacity,” she said.

And so, undaunted by comments about her appearance or her 2018 gubernatorial loss, Abrams is leaving the door open to a 2020 presidential run.

Abrams recalled the backlash she received over saying she wanted to be president someday in a 2017 Cosmopolitan article written about her gubernatorial run: “You would have thought I said I wanted to take over some terrible thing. Women feel guilty because we’re trained to sublimate our needs and our wants and pretend that they’re not real.”

Confidence-boosting tips

So, how can women overcome the societal pressures that would keep them down? Abrams outlines her solutions in her book.

“The very first chapter is called ‘Dare to Want More’” for a specific reason, Abrams said. “We are so often limited in our ambition by what we’ve seen others do before or what we’ve been told we’re capable of ... we’re trained to believe that we’re not supposed to want more.”

Expanding that ambition is the first step, but Abrams noted that “No. 2 is, accept that the stereotypes are real. The barriers are real ... but acknowledging reality doesn’t mean you have to succumb to it.”

Don’t be afraid to articulate just how smart you are, Abrams said. She certainly isn’t scared: She speaks proudly about how she has been a tax attorney, studied operational dissonance of the tax code, written romance novels in additional to her memoir and even explored research in Mesopotamian astronomy.

Too often our culture equates women’s confidence with braggadocio. So women are “supposed to be self-effacing,” Abrams said. But she adds that it’s possible to be confident yet humble, certain of your capability to do the job well, without thinking you’re of a higher station than others somehow.

Brzezinski turned to the camera to tell Know Your Value viewers why this message is so important: “When you listen to Stacey Abrams talk, you want to hire her ... it’s exactly what you want to see ... You can tell she can do it.”

Too often women tend to “talk fast; they feel they’re taking too much time,” Brzezinski said, noting women may fidget and adjust their posture in ways that undermine their message. “They’re throwing the whole thing away because they’re thinking about all these things that have nothing to do with the goal in front of them.”

Abrams said her message boils down to one core tenet:

“Recognize that you have the right to prepare to win, but you need to embrace the fail,” Abrams said. “Barriers are real … but understand you can make a mistake, you can trip, you can fall. You can lose the race for governor. It doesn’t disqualify you from wanting even more.”