Deborah Coogan Seltzer’s 2016 STAR speech

Deb croppedI am so deeply grateful for this award – thank you, HBA, for providing this pinnacle moment for me, both personally and professionally. I accept this on behalf of all HBA volunteers, past and present, since I know I wouldn’t be standing here today without your own hard work and dedication.

I grew up not far from here – in Maplewood, NJ, Columbia High School. Class of ’81.

Sophomore year, our English teacher assigned Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and, call me a Philistine, but I didn’t exactly jump for joy. But sometimes, even when we’re resistant, we find pearls of wisdom where we least expect them – and one quote stood out for me then and has continued to resonate for more than 30 years now.

Cassius and Brutus were discussing Caesar and what led to his downfall, and Cassius says: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

At first, I had a pretty simplistic view of this quote’s meaning – that it isn’t fate or destiny that limits us, but our own flaws and imperfections. However, as the years have passed and I have wrestled with my own failures and celebrated successes… as I have seen some who have reached terrific heights, while other incredibly talented people have had more depressed trajectories, I can’t help but think that there is one overarching fault that is most pernicious of all – the failure of belief.

An absolute cliché is that if you think you can’t do something, you’re probably right – because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t believe… if we doubt ourselves, we can’t help but pull back and not give something our all – or we don’t even try. Women consistently underestimate what they’re capable of, and that leads to missed opportunities. Don’t be one of those women!

At times I’ve had much too close a personal relationship with self-doubt, and I’ve heard its insidious voice in my head, telling me not to risk what it has assured me is almost pre-ordained failure.

I haven’t always succeeded – but I’ve had many more positive outcomes than I would have, had I never put myself in the game. A prime example is when I was asked to serve as 2011 HBA president without first serving in the traditional president-elect role which is so valuable in preparing you to be president. I found myself saying “yes” in shock, and then wondering what I’d just done. But, if I hadn’t jumped into the deep end I would have missed out on so many opportunities that helped me learn and grow. More to the point, I was not alone – I had so many HBA colleagues that helped me find my footing. You see, doubt can be so isolating where taking that leap of faith often brings you into the middle of a wonderful community.

The failure of belief is one of many inhibiting factors in the effort to achieve gender parity – and there has never been a better time to fight for this. We no longer have to make the case that women can be incredibly successful, talented leaders in a myriad of business settings. I have seen this in my own executive search work – clients demand a diverse slate of candidates. But as HBA and other organizations work on the external environment, we women have another mission-critical battle to wage – we must fight against the gravitational pull of doubt. This interior terrain may prove to be the most decisive battlefield.

What makes HBA such a special organization because they mindfully develop their volunteers and create self-confident leaders who can and will make a difference within HBA, their own employers and the broader community. For me and other volunteer leaders, the opportunities HBA has provided to learn, grow, take risks, and improve our skills and leadership capabilities – all of this has increased our confidence and our ability to see ourselves differently.

This has helped so many HBA leaders to understand their unique talents… has awakened them to possibilities…to the power of the question, “why not me?”

Clearly I’m partial to HBA, but whatever your areas of interest, I’d encourage you to volunteer, because as it opens up personal horizons, it also provides a way to amplify your talents and efforts in service to others.

Imagine if we let ourselves believe, if we let that belief take deep root. What might we achieve? I have full confidence that this would allow us to personally contribute to shaping a new reality, and transform a more positive future.

It’s time. Right now. There’s never been a better time. It’s time to believe, to know that you belong – in the room, at the table – at the head of the table, in the lead. And HBA will be with you every step of the way.

Once again, my sincere thanks to HBA for this tremendous honor, and for all you’ve invested in me.


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