Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Super Gathering of Women that Changed Lives!

Johnita Jones, President, TCW and ExxonMobile Executive
Get ready to buckle your seat belts as I recap the Texas Conference for Women (TCW) that was as big as Texas!  Not because of its sheer size, although there were over 6,000+ amazing women in, it was Texas sized because the themes from every direction at the massive Austin Convention Center was that when you empower a woman, it changes a home, community, business, board, nonprofit and government!

Upon entering the convention hall on Thursday, the first thing I noticed was how beautifully diverse the attendees were carrying their gift bags around scurrying to the next not-to-be-missed session.  There were all races, background, ages, career levels and interests represented.  Surely the hard working organizers, including the founder of the conference First Lady of Texas Anita Perry and conference president Johnita Jones are aware of their reach after 14 years and over 80,000 attendees.

#DesireMap Creator Danielle LaPorte
For this post, I wanted to give you the experience and feel of the conference so that you can catch the fire that was also re-ignited in me after a day of hit-you-hard love, empowerment, high-fives and pats on the back.

While there was no way I could ever make it to each session, I wanted to share some brilliant nuggets that were themes throughout the day:

One of the most refreshing quotes from a session was from Danielle LaPorte, Desire Map creator and accompanying "Creating Goals with Soul".  During my session listening to her and taking notes, someone asked about her thoughts on "work/life balance".  Without hesitating, LaPorte said she thought work/life balance was bullsh*t and a myth.  LaPorte went on to say that she believed the pursuit of work/life balance is causing more stress than the actual feeling of imbalance.  

I wish you were there with me to know the sigh of relief, cheers and high-fives that occurred around the room of about 1,000 session attendees.  I spoke with an executive with FreeScale Semiconductor after the session and asked what part of LaPorte's speech she liked the most and she immediately said the work/life balance part.  With tears in her eyes, she said LaPorte's comment made her feel better about herself and her inability to achieve the "lean in" balance that LaPorte also stated was a myth.

LaPorte ended her session with " wants you to win.  And then you'll realize it is your soul that is calling you (to a life that wins) listen up, get closer, and decide to rise."  Yes!

Surviving and believing with the gracious Tamara Mellon:  Mellon was perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole conference for me.  I was very familiar with her background but the graciousness in which she spoke during her interview with Soledad O'Brien and her responses to my inquiries were deeply authentic.

Soledad O'Brien, Anita Perry, Diana Nyad, Johnita Jones
During her O'Brien interview, she shared how most people don't believe they can relate to her because she not only comes from money but she married a man with wealth.  Even though she didn't have a want for anything, she shared how she created Jimmy Choo so that she could prove to herself her own worth!

Mellon also shared how she battled self-esteem issues and for the longest time didn't want to be the face of the Jimmy Choo brand even though she was doing most of the heavy lifting to operate the company.  For years no one knew she was the mastermind until she became brave enough to "own it" and get acknowledged for the hard work.  We were all inspired and could relate to what it means to get up the courage to "own it" in our lives whether we literally own the brand or if it's as simple as speaking up to voice our contributions.

In response to my inquiries to Mellon regarding how can women show more authenticity in their lives no matter if they are a stay at home mom, politician, board member, or community advocate, Mellon stated, "Authenticity is being true to your values. Being honest and staying with your values."

When I asked Mellon her thoughts on what has motivated her she said, "The first thing that motivated me was the fear of not being able to take care of myself. Don't give up.  Your passion is the most important thing you have.  And if you follow your passion, then the rest will come.  Do what your passion is even if it's cooking, working for a charity or picking the kids up from school.  Follow your passion."

A Fireside Chat with Diana Nyad
One of the highlights of the conference was a "fireside chat" with the very frank and real Diana Nyad, endurance swimmer and author.  Before our chat, I had already heard all the buzz from attendees from her compassionate and honest keynote lunch address.  Scores of women were very moved by her heartfelt desire to "use her platform to impact humanity".

What was shocking was that during the keynote lunch, Nyad shared (for what I believe is the first time publicly) that she had been traumatized when at 14 years of age her beloved mentor and swimming coach raped her.  The shock around the room was palpable.  She went on the encourage women that no matter what happens or what someone says or does, don't ever give up on something that fuels you and that you deeply care about.

Women Receiving Coaching Sessions at "Coaches Corner"
During our fireside chat, Nyad brought tears to the eyes of every person in the room with her direct responses to how she views authenticity and doing your part to help humanity.  She also shared, "There are over 7 billion people in this world who don't have choices (what they can drink, eat, or sleep due to poverty)."  She went on to say, "The thing that I hate to see the most is when you have perfectly capable people sit on a couch while their lives passes them by.  Get up and do something!  The heroes are not the people who will necessarily ever be rich or famous. The heroes are the people who do something for someone else!"  Wow!

Other highlights I experienced and observed during this awesome whirlwind of a day included:
  • There was a "Coaches Corner" sponsored by the International Coaches Federation that I participated in with a lovely executive banker from Plano.  We immediately delved in on transitions of life and she was a source of encouragement to keep pursuing my dream.
  • "Resume Review" focused on helping women by reviewing their resumes, getting clarity on what jobs they wanted to either pursue or transition to or how to best be positioned for a promotion.  There were some powerful things happening through my 10 minute observation.
  • I was truly delighted by the "Young Women's Program" track that included talks about "Turning Your Dreams Into Reality" and an inspiring time discussing Alexis Jone's "I Am That Girl".  Jones created the organization to advise young women to be the best version of each of us and not to let the bombardment of messages make young women question who they are...brilliant!  I loved knowing about this program track because when I interviewed college attendees Joey H. and Jaquelin H., they both expressed their fears and with living up to expectations and their future in finding the right career paths.
  • The "Small Business Roundtables" included sessions led by expert facilitators including Jeanne Corrigan.  I met Corrigan and her passion for working with clients on how to market to women through her company Mosaic Insight Group.  Corrigan's session included marketing to women from customer service to storytelling and contest promotions.  She shared how a woman is very brand-loyal and can be an enthusiastic brand ambassador to her friends, family and colleagues.  It was insightful and a must for any business that markets to women.
There was an onsite book store that featured some of the best works by the speakers and I have tracked the ones I would highly recommend to you based on where you are in life:

One of the sold-out sessions was "How to Become the Social Entrepreneur of Your Own Life" which had 3,000 attendees packed into an overflowing convention room.  The session were centered around "Teach a Woman to Fish" and how women who are passionate about changing the world can use their talents by leveraging their professional skills to make a difference in the nonprofit world and globally.  The attendees LOVED this session!

"Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message" was also a very popular book and theme from the conference.  Author Tara Mohr saw how women were "playing small" in their lives and careers, were frustrated by it, and wanted to "play bigger."  While not all women aspire to end up in the corner office, every woman aspires to something. "Playing Big" offers tools to help every woman play bigger—whether she’s an executive, community volunteer, artist, or stay-at-home mom.

Kerri Zane was a hoot in the session I attended where a panel discussed "Survival Strategies in a Lean In World'.  Zane is the author of "It Takes All 5" about a single mom's journey to get her life back! The book is a guide to getting your life back on track by healing the whole woman inside and out. The book is centered around using the Five-Finger Philosophy which encompasses the physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and sexual part of every being for an authentic and renewable "REAL"ationship.

"A Path Appears" co-authored by Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Her book is a narrative of how everyday global citizens is transforming lives everyday.  WuDunn and her husband are also the authors of the ground-breaking book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" which I'd highly recommend!  Both books will inspire you to assess how you can do more to impact others on a small scale or bigger...

Tamara Mellon's "In My Shoes: A Memoir" is recommended because it will inspire entrepreneurs building their companies.  The central theme is based on advice from Mellon's dad who told her never to let accountants run her business.  The struggle between “financial” and “creative” would become one of the central themes as Mellon’s business savvy, creative eye, and flair for design built Jimmy Choo into a premier name in the competitive fashion industry.

I hope post effectively captures for you the essence and themes that I kept hearing over and over from the day regarding fears, joys, transitions, designing a life of meaning and impact and overall, evolving to be whole women who makes contributions that positively empowers our families, communities and places of work.
Michele Ruiz (far right) "Leveraging technology is pathway to profit!"

This conference is a must attend and if I were you, I'd make it a goal to attend the conference next year because after 14 years, there doesn't seem to be any signs of it lowering its level of exceptional and powerhouse speakers and empowering experiences that changes the lives of women...


Thanks kindly to Getty Images for all the photos and permission to use, including help from Julia Ballantyne (Media Affairs Director).

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