11/20/13

Texas Conference for Women Revelations #txconfwomen 2013

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Texas Conference for Women. Although it was their 14th conference, it was my first. I had applied to attend as "press" several months ago, and was ecstatic to be accepted since many places still (sadly) don't consider bloggers to be a member of the press. I mean, come on, I can write an article reporting on what I did in a day, I just do it from a more personal perspective. I hope you enjoy my recap of the conference and I strongly encourage you attend next year's conference!
The Texas Conference for Women was expecting about 5000 attendees and although I'm not certain of the final number, it was definitely well-attended. The theme for the conference was the "the power of possibilities" and I personally came away from the conference filled with inspiration and energy. The speakers were amazing and I wanted to share a few of my notes from the day. (I apologize in advance for the photo quality of the speakers, but apparently I need a zoom lens so I don't have to photograph the big-screen at conferences.)
Verna Myers called herself "Miss Diversity Lady." She stressed to us that diversity is not inclusion. Diversity is simply the acknowledgement that all groups are represented. I loved her quote, "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." She confirmed that we all have an innate bias towards others, defining it simply as how you figure out someone is before you know them, and to be conscious of any bias and reach beyond it. She directed us to do that with three simple steps: OUCH, Sorry, Ask. If someone offends you, simply say OUCH. If someone says OUCH to you, apologize, then ask what it was you said that offended them. Quite simply, she encourages people to connect, after all isn't that what life is all about?
Bob Beaudine spoke about energy and encouragement. (Apparently I was so immersed once he said the word NASCAR, I forgot to take a picture.) He talked about the Power of Who, emphasizing that we already know everyone we need to know. By focusing more on the people who are already in your life and strengthening the connections you already have, you will open up a more meaningful path of opportunities for yourself. Encourage and energize the people who already matter most in your life. He also encouraged us to dream bigger with an example that made a great point..."Do you want a golf club or a Golf Club?"
Esmerelda Santiago was the perfect example of how anyone can make things happen. At the impressionable age of 13, her mother moved her from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. She was forced to move from her beloved home and tight-knit community to a place where she didn't even speak the language. Gone were the exotic fruit trees, traded in for tall brick walls that hid even the sun from her. As a sibling to ten brothers and sisters, life was a daily struggle that made her question who she was supposed to be. Her epiphany came in the middle of the night, in her 30s, as she stared into her baby's face...Life is about self-creation. We create who we become. My favorite quote from her, "History doesn't happen. We make it happen."
Jenny Lawson is my new favorite blogger. She taught me never to put my arm inside a cow's vagina. Quite simply, Jenny, also known as The Bloggess, is hysterically hilarious. Yes, her stories are funny, but she also has a natural ability to write her stories that make them even funnier. She read one of her chapters to us that described her challenges to fit in as a teenager, something I'm certain we can all relate to, and through the encouragement of her sister, ended up with her arm inside a cow's vagina as part of a school field trip (true story).
She has the wonderful talent of reflecting on some of her life's most embarrassing moments and understanding that those experiences helped to shape who she is today. Even better, she knows how to share them with others in a funny and slightly brash way that connects with her audience. Instead of pushing aside our past events with shame, we should embrace them. Her blog is amazing.
Yes, that is Rachael Ray. Not on the screen, but standing right next to me. I wonder if she knows I won a prize on her television show a few months ago? Does she have any idea how excited I was that she said my last name correctly on tv? Probably not, but meeting her was on my bucket list. I spent the entire morning in anticipation of the opportunity to interview her. I'd written out my questions the day before, pouring over them to make sure I'd phrased them correctly. I waited in the press room eagerly for 45 minutes with a few other press people. Things never go as planned. Rachael was on the phone doing an interview, as time chipped away at our interview time. She's funny, she's humble, and she's just a regular person with a really cool job. We could even be friends maybe, if I was cooler. As she closed out the phone interview, she came over to talk to us as a group and time allowed us to ask just one question each, then she graciously agreed to  give us a photo opp (which I revealed yesterday because I was so excited to meet her).
My question for Rachel was, "If you could give your 20 year old self advice, what would you say?" She said nothing. I mean, she didn't say nothing, she answered, "Nothing." She said that she wouldn't change a thing about her past because it made her who she is today. You have to take the bad to appreciate the good. You have to know that going through the worst times is what shapes your character and that life is a process of growing past the challenges. She believes strongly in working hard and throws the word "balance" to the wind, because life truly is about experiencing all there is to experience. I love this woman!
Apparently everyone else at the conference also loved her because the line to get an autographed book from Rachael Ray, went all the way around the outer edge of the conference hall. Besides the many speakers, the conference hall was filled with exhibits offering everything from onsite massages to charity information for local organizations. There were booths selling books, jewelry, vacation packages, insurance, handbags, makeup, snack foods, and clothes. Can you believe I didn't buy a single thing? It helped that I only had enough cash to pay for the outrageously priced parking lot. There were also speakers throughout the day both in the exhibit hall and in break-out sessions, a health and wellness pavilion, a career pavilion, community connection pavilion, social media round-tables, and local leader meet-ups.
You know I was going to report on the lunch that was served, didn't you? I love my food photos! Lunch was a cup of cold seasoned chicken, with Mediterranean salad, cold seasoned green beans, cold oval-shaped potatoes, and rolls. I learned ranch dressing tastes good on everything. I'm not sure what the little purple fruit or veggie things were in the salad, but they were delicious. Dessert should always come first. Lucky for me, it was on the table when I got there. You know I tasted the chocolate ones first. Absolutely, incredibly delicious. The lemon ones are almost as good. I learned they were provided by Hail Merry, one of the sponsors of the conference and there was a card on the lunch table saying Tory Johnson lost 70 pounds while enjoying Hail Merry snacks. So from now on, I think I'll just live on these!
Sallie Krawcheck spoke while we enjoyed lunch (hence the reason I didn't get a picture). Although I did manage to photograph the food. She shared with us her stories of being fired and what she learned from those experiences. I learned if it comes down to choosing between your job and your ethics, to always choose ethics because you can find another job. She urged us to find a sponsor or super-mentor, rather than just a mentor. A sponsor is the person who will go to bat for you when your job is on the line. It's the person who will reach out for you and help you to make the connections that influence your life and career. She stressed the need for women to make true connections with the people in your network, especially if you work in a place that tends toward the "old boys' club." She made me laugh when she talked about the power of gratitude, when she told us that on the days that she got fired from two top employers, she was just excited to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. 
Lehmah Gbowee touched my heart and brought me to tears when she spoke. The 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Lehmah has proven that anything is possible. In the face of terror, rape, and death through civil war in her country, she brought together the women and moved the nation of Liberia to peace. She stood up to those who laughed at her and shamed her for wanting more than the life of poverty she was in, and driven by anger and a deep desire for justice, she changed the tide. Her story teaches us that the power of possibilities can change the world and she urged each of us to step up and step out of our "safe circle" to make a real impact on our world. Lehmah received a thunderous standing ovation and, even now as I write, the soul-stirring emotions are trying to leak out of my eyes. She is a beautiful person and she continues every day to push against the waves and the winds of our individualistic world with what she calls great "visions trapped in an ordinary girl."
The final keynote speaker of the day was Rachael Ray. She sat on stage with Addie Broyles from Relish Austin to chat about food, life, and helping others. I loved the conversational interview style because it allowed Rachael to direct the conversation to the things that were most important to her. She has a great sense of humor and works really hard to succeed and to use her celebrity status to benefit organizations that support children, hunger, pets, and more. She is a very direct person and urges others to do the same. Speaking about social media, she praised Twitter for its ability to connect everyone around the world in real time. She sees it as a "witness for the world" where we can watch current events as they happen through the eyes of real people. Rachael also sees it as a wonderful community builder tool. As they wrapped up the interview, Rachael said Austin is her favorite city in America, a great example of fairness and kindness, with fabulous food and marvelous music. She laughed a bit as she recalled herself "goofball waitress" and says she looks at every single day as a new possibility. Anyone can make it in America, she says, if you work really hard, stay true to your brand, and be flexible enough to experience everything that comes your way!

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*Special thanks to Julia Wright, media affairs director, and to all who pulled together this wonderful conference.
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2 comments:

  1. It looks like you really had a chance to "experience life". Would you have changed anything about your experience? I'm glad that you got to meet Rachael.

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would have liked to have NOT gotten lost in the wrong parking garage, searching for my car after the conference! LOL. Other than that, it was fabulous!

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