Mindful Leadership

What Happens When You Get 5,000 Women in One Place?


Me and Christy Turlington Burns

I’ve just returned from speaking at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. It was an amazing, empowering event with 5,000 (yes, 5,000) incredible women – and a few brave men – all celebrating the bond of successful sisterhood. One of the reasons I love this program is that the organizers bombard you with information. For example, there wasn’t just one lunch keynote – there were FOUR – all unique and remarkable ladies who just happened to dominate their respective industries. From Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison to supermodel Christy Turlington Burns to the grand finale – Gloria Steinem – it was nice to take a break from thinking about how far we have left to go… and just sit back to appreciate how far we’ve come. As I pour over my own notes, I thought I’d share with you some of my key takeaways from the conference. I hope these “bits of insight” inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

1.)   “You have to sell yourself before you can sell anything else.” Patricia Miller founded Vera Bradley in 1982 with a very small loan and very big dreams. Today, she says this was the single best piece of career advice she’s ever received and the foundation for the global success of her company today.

2.)    “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” Gretchen Rubin, author of New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project, suggested this simple tip for increasing our own sense of wellness: De-clutter. Evidentially, the more “junk” we have around us, the higher our state of anxiety. Rubin suggested practicing what she called the One Minute Rule, i.e. take one minute every day to clean up the clutter around you. (She’s also a big fan of making your bed. Errrr… no comment here.)

3.)    “Low-level thoughts attract low-level reality.” I loved this little gem from life coach Gabrielle Bernstein. Gabrielle urged the audience to take five minutes every morning – before everyone else in your house wakes up and before you reach for your phone – to stop, breathe, and mentally align with the day ahead. Visualize yourself in a positive state, proactively and enthusiastically tackling the projects you have to complete. Disclaimer: I do this every morning and it is hands-down the very best thing I’ve found for centering myself in a hectic, crazy world. (I also don’t watch a lot of news. As Martha Beck (see #10) says, “If you went by TV alone, you’d think most people in this country die from murder or sharks.”)

4.)    “Put your life plan before the business plan.” Small business expert Melinda Emerson urged the audience to step back and evaluate what “success” means to you. So often we can get caught up in wanting what other people project onto to us, e.g. success = a title, or success = being home every night with your kids, but the truth is success is different for everyone. So don’t feel guilty because you’re not living up to someone else’s image of what you should be. Define your own image and live up to that without apology.

5.)    “Make an effort.” Personal branding speaker Samantha Ettus told the crowd that she would “fall over dead” before telling her own daughters to look their best every day “because they might meet their future husband.” (Something her family said to her growing up.) However, she did say that she would always tell her daughters to dress up because they want to make a positive impression. Ettus says too often we “barely look in the mirror” before running out the door sometimes – especially on weekends and taking the kids to school (Guilty!)– when we should take advantage of every opportunity to control the impressions we’re making on others.

6.)     “Treat yourself as well as you treat others.” Gloria Steinem said that women tend to put everyone else first. (No surprise there, right?) She went on to say that if we want to truly help others, we have to give to them from the highest and best parts of ourselves. This only happens if we take the time to nurture our own physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.

7.)     “Until someone does something new, nobody thinks it’s a good idea.” Fifteen years ago, maternity designer (actually, make that pioneer) Liz Lange said everyone – including close friends and family – tried to talk her out of creating a line of stylish clothes for pregnant women. No one doubts the validity of her idea today.

8.)    “Fear is a sign of growth.” Tory Johnson, workforce contributor for Good Morning America, says if you’re not regularly uncomfortable, you’re not pushing yourself enough.

9.)    “The more I surround myself with women who live fearlessly, the more I emulate this myself.” If it were up to us, we would all stay safe and warm inside our comfort zones. Sometimes it takes others to motivate, push, and encourage us to see something bigger and better for ourselves – and remind us that we already have everything we need to grab it. Supermodel and filmmaker Christy Turlington Burns challenged the crowd to seek courageous role models – and emulate them.

10.) “Under stress, men fight or flight. Women fight or flight, but also make sure everyone has a sweater and a sandwich.” Life coach and O Magazine columnist Martha
Beck said if you ask any EMT or police officer how to survive a traumatic incident (like a car crash, etc.), they will tell you the best thing to do is relax your body as much as possible. This is obviously counter-intuitive. Our natural first reaction is to tense up (and scream bloody murder) which, ironically, increases our chances of getting seriously hurt. During life’s most
traumatic times, Beck says we should also be counter-intuitive. Rather than “fight or flight”, we should try to “rest and relax.” This doesn’t mean take a nap, but it does mean approaching every challenging, stressful situation at work and home in a way that gives us the best chance of survival – and that’s calmly.