Karen Elizaga is founder of
the program Forward Options, which strives to turn young girls’ potential into success
through inspiring workshops.
Real-life stories are the backbone of her
five-hour workshop and though I haven’t attended one myself, interviewing Elizaga helped
me realize that there’s more to success than GPAs and SAT scores. Success isn’t
about luck, it’s about diligence, drive, and
What did you do before creating
I went to law school and practiced as an
attorney before moving to London and serving in executive management for two technology companies.
Why did you decide to leave behind your successful
I left being an attorney because it was a job that I liked, not
loved, and I think I only liked it because I was paid well. I left the technology field because I
was traveling too much and wanted to start a family. I also wanted to start Forward
How did you come up with the idea of
I had two epiphanies while startin ga new business in
London: one, that I could absolutely adore my work(the job in London I would have done for free),
and two, success in the classroom (even at prestigious institutions) doesn’t
guarantee long-term success, or even success at the next level.
I wanted to share these two fundamental points with young women as
they began to shape their lives. I want women to pursue careers because they have great passion for
them, not because it’s what they should
What did you learn from your executive jobs
that prepared you for Forward Options?
I learned an inordinate amount
from my executive jobs. Because I knew I wanted to found Forward Options while at the second
company, I spent a lot of time observing people, especially their strengths and weaknesses. I
learned that being successful takes a lot of skills that need to be learned on the job. I learned
that first impressions carried me a long way.
anything in the classroom that prepared me for being a woman in a predominantly male industry. I
learned that it takes good people skills to negotiate a highly political arena. I always needed to be
prepared and know what I was talking about. I learned that respect and hard work are
How did you found Forward
I spent two years interviewing successful women who had found
happiness in their personal and professional lives,then put together a workshop and pitched it to
private schools. Once the schools started buying into the workshop and girls started getting a
lot out of it, I gained credibility and an
What main ideas does your workshop
The main component I want girls to take away from the
workshop is the idea that life is filled with all kinds of options that they should take advantage
of by creating and maximizing these options and opportunities. I want girls to understand that by
making conscious decisions and setting themselves up for the next step, they can choose success.
Success doesn’t just pick a lucky few.
do you view women in the workplace?
Women have all kinds of
opportunities in the workplace, and are only limited by their lack of knowledge and confidence. Women
should believe that they are entitled to everything for which they work and shouldn’t step
back because someone else also seems to have the goods. Many large institutions are sitting up
and paying attention to retaining and promoting women, so I think we enjoy the fact that the
workplace can be a meritocracy.
What do you hope to
achieve through these workshops?
I hope that girls are inspired to
think forward and create options for themselves. I want them to understand that Forward Options Women
- the women from all over the world whom I’ve interviewed - came from the same place they
did with their own uncertainty, nerves and excitement. But they accomplished a lot. I want to
demystify success and make every girl believe that her own version of success is attainable. I want
to provide girls with tools to help them move forward in life with great confidence.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.