Fresh Takes

Forging your own path forward and the power of uniting your pack

Melinda Gates speaks with soccer star Abby Wambach
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Abby Wambach celebrates winning the World Cup with her U.S. National Team teammates.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images
Melinda Gates: Thanks for joining me, Abby! Let’s get right to it! You've said that if women keep playing by the old rules, we'll never change the game—and you aren't just talking about soccer. What is an example of an old rule and a new rule that should take its place?

Abby Wambach: Yes, exactly. We’ve been following the old rules, ones that were never meant to include us—and it’s time to come together and start living by new rules. Like most little girls, I was taught to follow the old rule: Stay on the path.

In a million different ways, the world tells us: Keep your head down, get your job done, don’t make trouble. Remember Little Red Riding Hood and the disaster that happened when she dared to get curious and wander off the path?

But that old rule exists only to maintain the status quo for those in control of things. When I look around at my life and the world, I see that every good thing that has come to me—and the women I respect—has come when we dared to venture off the path.
The new rule calls us to build a life and a community and a future based on our unique and powerful voices, talents, dreams, curiosities, and courage
So the new rule is: Create your own path.

The new rule calls us to build a life and a community and a future based on our unique and powerful voices, talents, dreams, curiosities, and courage.

I want every woman to know that she was never Little Red Riding Hood. She was always the Wolf. And that her life—and our future—will be forged by her, beyond the path.
Melinda: You’ve discovered these new rules while traveling the world playing soccer and now as an author and speaker. Tell us about a project or organization you've come across that has impressed you with its approach to improving women's lives.

Abby: Without a doubt, the organization that has impressed me most is the nonprofit Together Rising, which was founded by my wife, Glennon Doyle. We all see suffering in our communities and around the world, and we want to help, but don't know where to turn. Together Rising fixes that—it exists to turn our collective heartbreak into effective action. It shares the same core belief that I’ve heard you express countless times and I know you highlight in your new book: “When you lift up women, you lift up humanity.”

Whether it’s mobilizing to reunify the families torn apart at the border, pulling children out of the sea outside refugee camps in Greece, establishing the first opioid recovery home for pregnant teens in New Hampshire, building a maternal health wing in Port-au-Prince, providing a single mother access to breast cancer treatment, or keeping a foster family’s heat on in Texas—Together Rising is everywhere, helping women rise so they can raise their people and their communities up with them.

One hundred percent of what Together Rising receives from personal donations goes to people in urgent crisis. The organization disproves the myth that these crises are too massive for us to address them with modest donations. In the past six years, Together Rising has raised $16 million—with a mean donation of just $31. By focusing on small gifts, they have created the most impassioned group of engaged givers I’ve ever seen, givers who are grateful to be part of a solution to their own heartbreak.

Together Rising proves the power of the pack: That when a group of women come together, they can change the world in revolutionary ways.
Melinda: “The power of the pack.” That’s from your new book, WOLFPACK, and it’s an idea you shared during your incredible commencement speech last year. You write that every woman needs to find and unleash her inner wolf so she can unite her pack. Can you explain what you mean?

Abby: I wrote the book so that every woman who is trying to lead—whether it’s a team, a company, a family, or a meaningful life—will be able to use the hard-won lessons I learned from decades of training, failure, and triumph on the field.

Throughout my 20 years of training and playing professionally, there was a moment in every soccer game when I’d feel the energy shift toward me. Whether it was a morale boost, a momentum swing, or a goal that we needed—it was my job to make it happen. When I felt that shift, I’d say silently to myself: Let’s go, Abby. It’s your time.

Through WOLFPACK, I want to empower women everywhere to step into those monumental everyday moments—to take leadership of our own lives and careers. Because above all, this is what I know is true: It’s our time.

I believe there has never been a more urgent time for women to begin to fully lead our own precious lives, and to come together with our pack to lead our communities and world into a better future.
Melinda: After you retired from soccer, you shared the stage at the ESPYs with Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning and realized how much more money they had just because they were male athletes. A lot of women, from many professions, can relate to that. You've said you wish you’d done more before your retirement to improve things for the women who came after you. What advice would you give to women leaders today about what they can do to make things better for women in the future?

Abby: The collective power of the wolfpack begins by unleashing the power of each individual. But owning and unleashing your power isn’t just about you. It’s also about the domino effect. When you stand up and demand the ball, the job, the promotion, the paycheck, the microphone—you give others permission to do the same.

Championing one another can be difficult for us, because for so long we’ve been pitted against each other for the token seat at the table. Maintaining the illusion of scarcity is how power keeps women competing instead of collaborating.

The future is not about competing for the singular seat at the old table—the future is about uniting to build a bigger table.
The wolfpack needs to know that scarcity is a lie. That power and success and joy are not pies—a bigger slice for one woman doesn’t mean a smaller slice for another. The wolfpack knows that love, justice, and success are infinite and meant for all of us.

So we celebrate each other’s successes. We champion one another. We amplify each other’s voices. We demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. The future is not about competing for the singular seat at the old table—the future is about uniting to build a bigger table.

Melinda: Let’s wrap up with one of my favorite questions: what do you do to maintain your optimism?

Abby: My optimism comes from the recurring lesson of my life—on the field and off—which is: Women who refuse to give up, united together in purpose and passion, cannot lose.

So the way I maintain my optimism is to keep myself surrounded by my pack—and together, we support each other in refusing to give up. Even when we fail. Especially when we fail. Because what the world needs right now is more women who are not afraid to take risks, fail big—and continue to insist on their right to stick around and try again. And again. And again. Because, when we do, we can’t lose.

Posted: March 5, 2019
Edition: Forward


The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.

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