Editor's Letter: Tapping Into My Inner Bad Girl

Lesley Jane Seymour on challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone and break some rules

by Lesley Jane Seymour
lesley jane seymour image
Photograph: Melanie Acevedo

Imagine this scene: A woman of some accomplishment has been asked to chair a university alumnae panel on getting ahead in the workplace. The plane is delayed, so she arrives only 15 minutes before the panel’s start time instead of the anticipated two hours. It is nearly 3 pm, time to go on, and she is starving. She wolfs down half a wrap sandwich and takes a few swigs of beer. But she notices a big sign on the auditorium door saying no alcohol allowed. She is tossing out the nearly full beer when another alum, a man, steps forward and says, “Go ahead, take it with you.” “I can’t,” she says, betraying that even as a fully therapized adult, she can’t bring herself to disobey. “I’ll do it for you,” he offers, and with a sly smile slips the bottle into his inner coat pocket.

As she follows him up the aisle, she frets about how she will disguise the bottle onstage. (Reader, please note: This woman is worried not about flubbing the high-profile program but about breaking the rule!) On the podium, she is relieved to spy an empty water glass, into which she pours said beer. She takes special pleasure in the panel that follows because she has had a victory, albeit a tiny one. In the past she would have worried all afternoon that her contraband would be discovered and she would face disapproval.

That woman, of course, is me. And the irony is that I learned long ago that to be effective in business, you often have to challenge the way things have always been done if tradition is getting in the way of creativity and innovation.

But I still have trouble questioning authority in my personal life. I know this goes back to my authoritarian father— a doctor with a God complex—but I also know that at about age 29, the statute of limitations on blaming your parents for your problems expires.

I believe part of what holds many of us back from breaking the rules that block us from economic success or a more fulfilling relationship is a fear of relinquishing our good-girl status. I think that is also why many of us who are raising daughters complain about how “difficult” or “independent” this generation is and yet do little to stifle these girls’ natural instinct to challenge authority. Perhaps that is also why we’re fascinated by the newfound ballsiness of former good girl Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife, played by our April cover star, Julianna Margulies. Now that I’ve outed myself as a recovering good girl, I would love to hear about issues you still struggle with. Write me in the comments below.

Next: Editor's Letter: Reinventing Myself By Decade

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First published in the April 2014 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Karen Perkins06.14.2014

Picture this scene: A 24 year old female graduate student in a research laboratory of 20 males analyzing data from a recent experiment, who can't open her mouth to voice her opinion, such is the extent of her stage fright. That was me. My boss pulled me aside, and said, literally, "Who did this to you?"
And since the statute of limitations hadn't expired on blaming my family, I did blame them. I think I still do. My sister was a loud-mouth, and fourteen months older than I. Still, that's no excuse for not fixing my own issues.
This was all thirty years ago, mind you. I've since become a teacher, where I have to (get to) voice my opinions every day. Teaching, like daily Improv, has been the perfect solution to my stage-fright mentality, which is really about fear of failure. And my own daughter, now in her early twenties definitely has a natural instinct to challenge authority. I raised her that way.

Nancy Rose04.15.2014

I just love it. I too agree that review of 'rules' needs to be done frequently to see if they are truly helpful.


Love this letter - it really hits home for me right now. At 47, probably at height of my career, and just notified of my pending status of grandparenthood, I have found the confidence to start releasing the binds of good girl status. I'm not quite at my 91 year old mother's mentality of "I'm 91, I can do/say what I want" but I'm well on my way.
Most recent sign of rebellion is my new found love for tattoos. Yes, tattoos. I have one from my early twenties that I loved at the time but clearly looks 25+/- years old now. But I got a new one last year that I love. It is on my back and no one at work will ever see it. I'm planning on updating the original one, so it doesn't pale by comparison and have plans for another new one that would also be well hidden by regular clothes.
As I near retirement, and the end of my percieved ties to public opinon end, I might venture one on an ankle or arm. I guess it is my way of rebellion and fully embrassing my 'bad girl' status.


To find success in work and personal life, I had to work beyond not only gender/societal pressures but also cultural influences(immigrant Chinese parents) that reinforced 'good girl' behavior. As a strong feminist with two grown daughters (ages 24 and 25), I don't agree that girls have a natural instinct to challenge authority; they need permission and encouragement to do so.

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