• Did you know your grandparents? What are or were they like?
  • Is there any knowledge from previous generations we should pay more attention to?
  • What do you want from life? In the Lesson Document make a list of the two or three goals that are most important for you to achieve in this life.


Life Lessons: 3 Things My Grandmother Taught Me About Being a Successful Modern Woman

Author: Heidi Sigua

old woman with flowers

There are things we learn from textbooks, institutions of higher learning, internships, and the holy bibles of the WSJ, NYT and other acronyms of very important and revered publications. And then there are the life lessons, like being the only woman in a startup of seven (no Snow White analogies please); being unemployed after college; dating anyone, from deep-pocketed developers to fitness instructors with not a lot of money.

Even with that wealth of wisdom, I still found myself unequipped to define what it means to be a “successful modern woman.” In a career world that advocates “love or bust,” I have seen my fair share of consultants, developers, engineers, and marketing mavericks who do it all for a throne of gold, but go home to an empty apartment.

During my quarter-life crisis, my immigrant grandmother celebrated her 93rd birthday and posted the pictures of her party on Facebook (see above). It was then that I realized that in my search for progress, I had forgotten that the women of yesterday were once in our same position: in the crossroads of reinvention, of new ways to define a modern woman, of wanting more than our mothers and our grandmothers.

This small and mighty woman represents the very model of modern female success. Many of our mothers and grandmothers were once modern women who reinvented themselves in the wake of civil liberties, single motherhood and sexual awakening. They might never be recognized, but they are the ones who taught me, first and foremost, how to be a woman in this modern time.

I may have been a girl when I first learned these lessons, but now as a woman, I am going to share with you the three things I learned about being a modern woman from my immigrant grandmother. Trust me, this is not some Victorian etiquette pamphlet.

1. Humility says more about a woman than arrogance.

When my grandmother was middle-aged, she asked one of her children to teach her how to read and write in order to write letters to her family. She was never too arrogant to admit her illiteracy and ask to be educated. During my job search, I lost a potential job opportunity because I had written down the wrong time for the interview and sent the company an email saying that the missed appointment was a “misunderstanding” rather than a “mistake.” The recruitment associate would have granted me another interview if I had admitted the mistake. As a young Stanford graduate, I had always assumed the default attitude for a professional woman was arrogance fed by natural intellect. True competency is admitting that we don’t know everything, but we would like to.

2. Education is the great equalizer.

My grandmother planted and harvested rice for a living, but she managed to send all eight of her children to college. She has always emphasized that a degree from an university is the great equalizer of those who have nothing and those who have everything, of women and men, of those who are born and die in the same place and those who don’t. Your brain doesn’t have to be prom queen or 10 pounds lighter, wear makeup to bed or think like a man. It needs to learn another language and chase after a Fulbright.

3. Living should be a bigger priority than making a living.

The body calls it homeostasis. Buddhism calls it “the Middle way.” My grandmother would describe it as “balance.” She was never a woman of tremendous financial wealth, but she always had enough for every day and a savings account. She managed to live in three countries for an extended period of time, retire early, and sustain a healthy and well-loved existence in her 90s. A paycheck is essentially Monopoly money if you don’t have the time or the resources to enjoy other aspects of your life: your health, your family, your love life, your creative endeavors, your travel pursuits. Sign up for a weekly belly dancing class. Choose love for engaging work over salary lust. Leave a legacy that isn’t just summarized with a resume.

Yes, Grandmother knows best.


  • In our modern world, do we still respect our grandparents enough?
  • What’s the most important thing you learned from a grandparent or older relative. Take a few minute to think it over. When you have, share it with the class.


Open the exercise to begin the activity. Follow the instructions in the document.