You’re a leader. You just don’t know it yet.

You heard it on TV in the background this morning. Headlines on your way to school sang about “firsts” and “waves.” Something about the youngest woman elected to Congress in…ever. Um, hello, what does this even mean?

It means, girls, that leadership is redefining itself. It’s starting earlier, growing more diverse and — specifically — showing up female. Midterm elections just got a tiny bit cooler last night…and this matters to you.

It matters because not only did women run in record numbers this year (want stats? 16 women ran for governor, 23 ran for Senate and 235 ran for the House. Records, all. Oh, and 3,379 women ran for state legislatures), but they made history. More women were elected to the House last night than ever before…which means more decision makers and role models that look like you.

So when you see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who just turned 29, elected to Congress, remember that she might be younger than some of your teachers. When you see Ayanna Pressley become the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts, it’s a seriously big deal. When Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar become the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland become the first Native American women in Congress, it changes things. What if in one night your student government suddenly, and spectacularly, changed complexion and direction? It would matter.

OK, so it matters, but what does this mean for you? We know, role models are one thing, but relatable how-can-I-use-this-today lessons are something else.

Here are 5 quick takeaways from last night’s midterms for you right now:

  1. Leadership isn’t luck. Leadership, as last night’s candidates would tell you, is about preparation, hard work and accentuating your unique skills. It isn’t about flash and chance. It’s about homework and effort. Leaders aren’t lucky, girls…they’re ready.

  2. Leaders are listeners. True leaders listen actively and make sure even the quietest members around them are heard. Eye contact and empathy replace cynicism, and they’re probably not scrolling through their phones while constituents are talking. Leaders listen to learn.

  3. Leaders are helpers. Not only do valued leaders listen, they remember what they’ve heard…so they know how to help. That’s how a difference is made. Asking “What can I do?” isn’t just polite — it’s powerful and produces change.

  4. Leaders aren’t perfect. Nope, they’re not. In fact, many impactful leaders lost their first time around. But they owned their mistakes and learned valuable lessons along the way. Listen to Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani talk about her first run for Congress in Brave Not Perfect…a strong leader will pick brave every time.

  5. Leaders lead from anywhere. What we mean here is that leadership doesn't have to exist on a large scale. You can lead from even the smallest places— the front of morning assembly, the back of the class, the end of the bench — and you can start any time.
    Like, now. Start now.

If last night showed us anything, it’s that leaders who look a lot like you are standing up and defying expectations. They worked hard, listened well and looked for ways to help. They learned from failure and picked issues, big and small, that needed a champion. And they just…started.

Maybe they never intended to be politicians. Maybe they woke up amazed and awed this morning at what the night brought. But girls, all of them were once in middle school — just like you — eager to make a difference but uncertain how to begin. They were leaders…they just didn’t know it yet.

Now you do. And you’re ready.

Listen, learn and lead, girls. Starting now.

by Ilana Raia of Etre