Quila Cervelli

Global Employer Branding Manager, RMIT University


It’s 2001 and like every New Yorker, you’ve just survived the bone-chilling day of 9/11. Months later, you’re still sleeping in your mother’s bed because you close your eyes and picture the “bad guys” coming back. This is 100% embarrassing and confusing as a teenager, but in your gut- you know you’ll never experience anything that scary ever again, so it’s ok to need your mom like this for a little while longer.

As a 13-year-old, you make the decision with your single mom to move out of New York City where the danger still feels so raw, to a small suburb called Dobbs Ferry. It’s the town over from your cousins, so you’re familiar with the area and know that while it’s only 30 minutes from the city, it feels significantly safer. Your mom, the poet and dreamer in our duo, wants to try her hand at living in Sydney, Australia… but you think that’s just too far away from the rest of your family. You’re extremely close with your grandparents, aunts and cousins (and ALWAYS will be, regardless of distance). You’ll get to Sydney some day and will laugh at this decision!

On the first night in this big new house, you sleep in your own bed, and you feel like the worst is behind you. It is and you’ve been really brave.

Remember this feeling. Bottle it up. Your baseline for things that can hurt or scare you has just gotten higher. That’s what courage is –and you’re going to need it a few more times in your life.

And so, suburban life it was. Safe, just as depicted on TV: cheerleaders, football players, homecoming and prom. You’ll be starting high school in September, where you know no one – and you’re nervous. Will I have friends? Will I still be in the popular crowd? More importantly: will I have to change who I am to fit in?

You’ve just come from a Jewish religious school – a built-in community – where you pictured the remainder of your life looking like that of your teachers: continue your education, marry a nice Jewish guy, wear a long skirt and “sheitel” (wig or hair covering) and have lots of nice Jewish babies. Instead, you’ve moved to this small town, predominantly made up of Irish and Italian families. Like every other teenager, you’re going to have to start making hard decisions.

This is your first sliding door moment: Looking back, this is the moment in time you started to define what your religion means to you. You don’t have to fit into a box. You can still experience tradition, remember the meaning behind the stories and pave your own life.

You’re a solid B+ student… with exception to Physics. Physics can honestly go screw itself. So can basketball. You’ve been playing sport your whole life to find out that you’re not that great at it now that you’re in a bigger school with a better funded program.

This is one of your first lessons that you’re not going to be good at everything you do… and the feeling never stops sucking, but it’s a part of life.

That being said, you’re short and fast… track and field is going to be your new passion and you’ll even run a few marathons someday. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. Only crazy people run marathons… but again, you were brave, put in the work and look at what you’ve achieved!

Today, you’re almoooost 32. You live in Melbourne, Australia (OMG, told you you’d laugh!!) and wait for it… you’re married to an Italian guy! Nope, he’s not even Jewish. Can you believe it? You knew you were going to marry him the second you met him; although he tells the story in a very different way (which he swears is the way it actually went down!) “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story” is what you always tell him! Your version is way more romantic! Dave is a brilliant man; he recognises that your traditions are deeply embedded in your heart, but he challenges you daily to create new ones. For that, you’re most grateful for him. He’s a daddy and husband that loves deeply and renews your faith in the role of a father, partnership and parenting

Remember when you used to play with your American Girl Dolls, Molly and Samantha, and you wished so hard that someday you’d be a mommy? Well, it was a long journey (something you learn to take pride in) – but you now have a two-year-old named Siena. You are absolutely obsessed with her; she’s your little bestie and she’s just so much more amazing than you ever could have pictured. Wait for it… your kid has an Australian accent and it’s the cutest thing ever! Being a mom is the hardest job in the world; and while you thought you had the ultimate gratitude for the work that your mom did to raise you by herself… you have multiplied that gratitude with first-hand-experience. Both your grandparents have passed away in the last few years. The pain was crippling at the time, but you get little sparks of them in Siena – and it keeps their memory alive.

Despite applying to the biggest and farthest colleges, you go to the smallest and closest to your home (still 2 hours away). It’s where you meet your best friends, get your first mentor (Patti Mittleman), do your first keg stand and fall in love a few times.

You start off your career in Corporate America, working hard and learning as much as you can about how the world of work works. You’ve been raised to believe that work ethic is more important than work satisfaction; but you’re about to learn that they’re equally as important when you ditch the corporates for blue-haired-tattoo’d- colleagues at a tech company, LivePerson. It’s where you learn that people from all over the globe can come together to do incredible work AND love what they do. You even meet your husband here!

Back to that work satisfaction thing… you’ll build a career making sure other people get to have this experience. It’s not on your radar yet, but this is called Employer Branding. Ten years into your career, you’re newer on the scene in Employer Branding than others in your industry, but you’re starting to make a name for yourself because you have leaders that have your back and you uniquely combine all of your learnings from sales, marketing and talent to create truly special work.

13-year-old-Quila… you’re going to be more than ok, but I think you know that. Of course, you know everythinggggg already.

Bottom line is:

You’re not going to excel at everything you do

Just like Physics and basketball… you’re going to have moments where you are the weakest link. It won’t happen often, but have some humility and realise there’s always something to be learned from these experiences. Some of the best things that have happened to you in your adult life have been due to the humble connections you’ve made with really smart people, learning from them and leveling up slowly.

You’ve been through more as a kid than most adults have been. This is your advantage:

Lots has happened in your little life… but you’ll grow up to realise these things happened to you and not because of you. You’re stronger for all of these experiences and you gained a perspective. During your college interview, the Dean of Admissions is going to ask you what your super power is. Your response? “I am really good at speaking to adults”. Well, you can talk until the cows come home… but you’ve been put into adult situations your whole life and the outcome is that you’ve been able to turn this into a strength.

Just because you grew up doing something one way, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it that way:

Dave is living proof. You never thought you’d live on the other side of the world, married to a man who is outside of your faith and outside of your safety zone in so many ways. You also won’t do things in the order you expect things to happen: you have a baby before you’re married (the horror!) Dave becomes your safety and your challenger, and you’ll use this to create a brand new life together.

Make people feel good; it doesn’t cost a thing:

You’re in the “cool group” both in school and at sleep away camp, but you’re always inviting the loner or the nerdy kids to come sit with you. Your friends have zero patience for this and often make fun of you for taking these people under your wing. In a world where you can choose between Regina George and Cady Heron, be Cady

You can actually enjoy what you do for work:

This! Will! Shape! Your! Future! That stomach ache you got the first few years of working, the suits, the heels, the mandatory start times and paper pushing. None of that matters. None of that has to exist. In the previous generation, loyalty meant sticking around at an organisation for 20+ years. Now, it means feeling engaged and feeling like yourself. When your mom advises you not to move to that tech company, don’t listen (sorry, mom!) – GO GO GO!

I love you, you courageous little human! Do the naughty things, don’t get caught and remember how special you are to your family.


Q (they call you this now!)

Thank you Quila Cervelli for writing A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self

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