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Overcoming the “I can’t do that” syndrome to approach success

Once upon a time a sixteen-year-old girl from a small Southern Italian town was attending the closing ceremony of her first Model United Nations, listening to foreign consuls talking about their diplomatic careers and addressing crucial issues for both their countries and the international community. She pictured herself doing the same one day - traveling the world, speaking on behalf of her people, cooperating for a fairer future, having strong beliefs to share and inspiring younger generations - so, she instantly made the decision to enroll in a political science program and work on her goal of representing her country in important international venues. That visionary sixteen-year-old was me, Alessia Ruta, and that dream of hers became my reality sooner than expected. I am now 19 and I have lived in Padova since 2020 when I moved from my hometown, Mercogliano located in the area of Avellino to study Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights at UniPD.

Alessia in Lisboa, summer 2021

This summer, between two exam seasons, I flew to Lisbon on a full scholarship to attend the first edition of the Summer School for Female Leadership in the Digital Age, a leadership academy organized by Huawei Europe, supported by the Comissão para a Cidadania e a Igualdade de Género of the Portuguese government and the Portugal INCoDe.2030 initiative. The twenty-seven participants, one for each member State of the European Union, who were selected among one-thousand-two-hundred-twenty-five candidates, were involved in lessons, panel discussions and workshops with distinguished speakers from the fields of politics, STEAM, mass media, activism, business and leadership training, as well as academia and arts. We were not only expected to learn, but also to share our knowledge, amplify the voices of our peers back home, support each other and work in project groups according to the value of “leaving no one behind”. In a sentence, we were expected to behave as true leaders.

In fact, critical thinking, public speaking, teamworking, activism and advocacy have dominated my daily life in the past six years, especially regarding gender equality, sustainable development, innovation, better education and cultural heritage conservations. To keep myself active and motivated, I channel these interests of mine through several different activities; from writing to volunteering, from joining competitions to attending courses and conferences related to the topics mentioned above. The desire for new stimuli

makes me constantly search for new adventures to go on, initiatives that allow me to broaden my horizons, meet new people, and mature by always learning about the world and about myself. This is how I found the call for applications for the academy and decided to give it a try, although the admission letter arrived as a huge surprise.

Alessia at the summer school dinner in Lisboa, summer 2021

While waiting for the results, I spent weeks on end fantasizing about going abroad, joining such a unique program, living in a cultural exchange and expanding my knowledge of the digital world, plus its relation to the social challenges I am committed to. However, I didn’t dare to think that it was actually going to happen. Not setting our hopes too high is a way to avoid major disappointments, but the borderline between staying down to earth and convincing ourselves that good things are not meant to happen to us is easily crossed. Similarly, the line between being humble and totally lacking confidence can be blurry. There was a time this year when I crossed both lines. I started feeling burnt out and vulnerable, and the better things were going, the more this negativity intensified. Having major accomplishments such as ranking first in the selection for the eight ambassadors representing the university during its 800th anniversary celebrations, and later on the admission to the summer school; actually seemed to be a powertrain for that doubtful state of mind rather than a cure. I even found myself questioning the career path I am pursuing through the bachelor I have chosen.

Fortunately, this mindset shifted during my first night in Portugal. While at the welcome party on a rooftop with a mesmerizing view of Lisbon, I was unexpectedly approached by the juror who had chosen me to represent Italy after evaluating my motivation letter, previous experiences and introduction video. “Your background [and] CV are impressive, and so were many others, but do you know what led me to my final decision? That spark [that] I see in your eyes, showing your passion and outstanding motivation” she said. I was delighted that someone else had seen in me, crystal clear, something that I thought I had lost. It turned out that the only thing I had lost was sight of my potential.

Honestly, we all go through self-doubt at some point, even those of us who may appear too focused, successful and unbothered but, the secret is to keep going with the flow. Only through continuous movement can we find the occasions and the tools we need to adjust and improve. If I hadn’t done so, I would have missed the chance to give that sixteen-year-old girl her first ambassadorship experience.

For more on the doubting voice in our heads, read this LinkedIn article.

Written by Alessia Ruta

Edited by Christine Nanteza

Picture courtesy of Huawei Europe/Moka Design Agency


Alessia is a 2nd year student of BA Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights who wants to do her part in shaping a brighter future. Her enthusiasm and passion always lead her on new adventures to make the most out of her life without ever waiting for “the right time” to come. Follow Alessia on Instagram at @alessiarut_ and on LinkedIn at @alessiaruta


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