I joined the Girl Scouts of the United States of America as a Brownie growing up in Westport, Conn. Looking back now, joining the Girl Scouts wasn’t so different from launching my professional career. Becoming a Brownie was like jumping into the workforce — unknown but fun, exciting and sure to be filled with new friends. Juniors included learning the ropes of community service, communication and, of course, camping. In Cadettes I began to see who was going to stick it out. I chose to stay involved with the Girl Scouts, and achieved my Silver Award for acts of leadership, service and learning. However, it was in Seniors when I looked around and realized we were the committed few. I knew that the years I had put in were worth it and the payoff would set me up for success.
So, what did being a Girl Scout teach me?
- Creativity, strategy and focus (aka selling cookies): I knew I wanted to be successful at selling Girl Scout cookies — and success was measured by how many, so I wanted to sell THE MOST. But if I was competing with my friends, how was I going to do that? I knew everyone wanted Girl Scout cookies; who doesn’t love them? But everyone was going to buy them from their daughters — except for the families that didn’t have Girl Scout daughters. So I pulled out my school directory and called the mother of every boy in my class (and every girl who wasn’t in Girl Scouts). By third grade I had exceeded my personal high. I continued to follow the same business plan, and by sixth grade I had sold the most cookies in my troop, my town and my county! Girl Scouts taught me to verbalize my goal; set a plan; put it in motion; and follow through on that plan year after year, scaling it to grow.
- Accountability and agility (aka camping): Here’s a key memory: Over the years, my leaders had set up many roaring campfires; but today it was my turn to do it. All eyes were on me after my third failed attempt. I wasn’t afraid to fail — I was determined to succeed. I tapped my resources and my grit, finding dryer leaves and more kindling, and finally a spark caught and the fire roared. We were all on our way to eating s’mores, as a troop and as a team. Furthermore, I had held up my part of the bargain — I built the fire. Girl Scouts taught me to learn from others, both their successes and mistakes; to understand the guardrails; to be resilient; and to never give up.
- Loyalty and empathy (aka make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold): I’ve valued a network of women since my Brownie days — I just didn’t know it was a network. As Girl Scouts, we understood and supported each other’s challenges. We empowered one another by being empowered, trusting our strengths, and knowing who to turn to when we needed help. Girl Scouts taught me to be an advocate for my peers, to support and appreciate my team, and to see their perspective.
I could have never imagined all those years ago raising my hand to say the pledge for the very first time that the values and skills I learned in Girl Scouts would carry into my profession and shape me as a successful leader today.
As a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, Susan Elliott-Bocassi acts as an advocate for the organization. She resides in Greenwich, Conn. with her wife and two children (one who is a first-year Daisy).