Send the letter you never wrote

June 10, 2013
Read the letter that a Harvard professor sent to Phyllis Richman in 1961.
Read the letter that a Harvard professor sent to Phyllis Richman in 1961.

Have you ever grasped for the perfect comeback when someone underestimated you or asked a disarming question? Sometimes the thought of what you should have said can stay with you for a long time – even decades.

In 1961, Phyllis Richman applied to a Harvard graduate program and received a letter from a professor there, asking her to detail how she planned to “combine a professional life in city planning with [her] responsibilities to [her] husband and a possible future family.” Fifty-two years later in The Post’s Outlook section, she’s responded. Armed with her success as a mother, a food critic and ever-powerful hindsight, Richman delivered a retort that resonated with readers. Richman writes:

“In 1961 your letter left me down but not out. While women of my era had significant careers, many of them had to break through barriers to do so. Before your letter, it hadn’t occurred to me that marriage could hinder my acceptance at Harvard or my career. I was so discouraged by it that I don’t think I ever completed the application, yet I was too intimidated to contradict you when we met face to face.

At the time, I didn’t know how to begin writing the essay you requested. But now, two marriages, three children and a successful writing career allow me to, as you put it, “speak directly” to the concerns in your letter.”

Send us the letter you never wrote
Tell us about a time you received discouraging career advice and how it influenced the person or employee you have become. What did you say — or wish you could say now — to a person who doubted you?

This is about overcoming adversity, not retribution — so please omit identifying details about the person or people you’re discussing. And if you have a letter like the one Phyllis Richman received that you’d like to share with us, please upload it here.

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