You can’t give something away that you don’t have to begin with. That applies to money, possessions, and even basic human kindness, according to Town Councilman Ashley Gaudiano.

“We can’t give kindness to the world, without first giving kindness to ourselves — to our hearts, minds and bodies,” Gaudiano told a group of nearly 100 middle school girls at “Kindness Summit” presented by LiveGirl, a New Canaan-based non-profit that provides leadership training and mentoring for Fairfield County girls.

Sheri West, founder and CEO of LiveGirl, said kindness is one of the group’s leadership pillars.

“We need next generation leaders who are inclusive and focused on spreading kindness to make the world a better place,” West said. The group’s website, golivegirl.org, lists the need to “help young women, especially those who need us most, realize their full potential.”

Gaudiano, who has been mentoring with LiveGirls since earlier this year, was the keynote speaker at the retreat. She told the girls her life story, which included a mix of academic and professional success and self-inflicted psychological barriers.

“From a young age and well into my teens, I was a competitive gymnast; and I succeeded academically thanks to some good genes and a lot of hard work,” she said. “When I was 10 or 11 years old, I ran for student government president. I don’t remember much about the experience, other than the outcome. I lost.”

For the next two decades, Gaudiano said, that failure defined her as she decided that not trying was less painful than not succeeding.

“For the next 20 years, I lived life paralyzed with fear. Fear of letting people down. Fear of being anything but ‘perfect.’ Fear of not succeeding,” she said. “I carried that fear of failure with me every day, in every decision, and it consumed me.”

But when a person lives with fear, they miss out on countless opportunity, she said.

“When we live with fear instead of bravery, we miss out on so much,” she told those at the retreat. “We rob ourselves of countless opportunities to grow; to experience; to do. It’s not just a losing proposition for us, our communities and the world miss out on all that we have to offer; they miss out on kindness we could be spreading.”

It took the experience of moving to a different state, and having a daughter, to nudge Gaudiano out of her comfort zone. She quit her job, passed the bar exam, and began working pro bono. A year later she ran for Town Council, and then for state representative.

“There are some amazing things you can do as a local elected official. We can touch issues that impact climate change, social justice, sustainable development,” she said. “We have the chance to infuse local politics with kindness and decency, and to transform an often heated arena into one that people trust and respect.”

Gaudiano said her personal growth culminated in her run for the state legislature, in which she took on an entrenched incumbent in a district where her party was outnumbered.

“I said failure be damned,” Gaudiano said of her long-shot campaign, which she lost by about 500 votes.

“But for the first time in my life, ‘failing’ doesn’t have me down for the count,” she said. “It doesn’t have me running scared.”

Gaudiano concluded her speech with a request to the girls to push themselves to do things that they are afraid to do. Including, she said, showing themselves basic kindness.

“As I look at out at this room of amazing young women, I want to ask you all to give yourself kindness. To see your worth and know your value. To surround yourself with people who love you deeply. To step into your magnificence and be resilient,” she said. “Only then, can you spread kindness that will shake the world.”