Founder – Chief Change Optimist – Author – Host – Speaker – TV/Radio Personality – Mentor
Ariane de Bonvoisin - Founder and Chief Change Optimist

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Lessons from the California Women's Conference

I promised you an update after The California Womens Conference—it's taken some time to gather all those thoughts from such an incredible event.

Close to 15,000 women attended the sessions in Long Beach, organized by Maria Shriver and her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, there was an incredible line up of speakers (Bono, Warren Buffett, Condolezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, JLo, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dr Mehmet Oz, Rachael Ray and a dozen more) and what energy they all had!

The night before the conference began, there was a speaker's reception for about 40 of us. I had a lovely chat with Cherie Blair (Tony's wife) about the role of women, education, the differences between the US and UK in that regard. I also met Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent and one of my role models. She just exudes power and grace at the same time—a worthy lesson for all of us in times of crisis, and any time really. I also had a chance to meet Maria who is just a beautiful woman inside and out. Passionate about helping women, she speaks from the heart and truly wants to see women become empowered.

I was very fortunate to be invited as a speaker on Women Starting Businesses. Heidi Klum was also on the panel. I had the pleasure of being seated next to her and have never in my life had so many photographers in that kind of proximity.

Here are my top 5 tips on starting a business that I shared on the panel:
Its all about the team. You can't do anything alone. Ask people for help. There's always someone who can assist you.
Find a way to take away people's pain in whatever business you start. Find a way to contribute. Find a way to create meaning for those who interact with your business.
Always, always trust your intuition in all decisions. Do not let your mind/intellect, fear, other peoples opinions override this. Every mistake I've made has been when I didn't trust my gut and gave my power away to something or someone else.
Starting a business takes time, give yourself a very long runway to take off. It's about hundreds of small steps daily, not one giant leap.
Get really good at change, at uncertainty, at going with the flow, at not needing to control everything.
Bonus—take care of yourself, and your health. Starting a business is more like an endurance test. You need energy. That's all you have to give everyday to your team, your customers, the press and anyone who interacts with you. Stay healthy, inside and out.

There were many panelists I learned from and I wanted to share a few thoughts that have stuck with me since.

Heidi Klum:
Recommends to just keep at the thing you're pursuing, "nag" (call and call up again), ask all the questions you have, you're never silly and you're not supposed to know everything. Find people who do and learn from them. She added that you shouldn't get stuck on regrets or mistakes or the past—just do what you can do today.

Chris Matthews:
Thinks that "it's not that women's capabilities are new or have changed, it's the recognition of them that is changing, finally." He is very different than on TV—what a lovely man, father and husband. He also thinks that women who excel in sports are going to be the next leaders of tomorrow.

Jamie Lee Curtis:
Said that we must stand apart from our family history and start making independent thoughts. She asks herself two questions at the end of each day: Did I learn something and become wiser? Did I love well?

A panel with women who had reinvented themselves talked about how our "disease to please" influences all our choices in life. Authenticity is what we must choose. We must start being true to ourselves. And yes, that has consequences and takes work. But do not subject yourself to a half-lived life, or a mediocre one. There is always something inside of us calling us to live bigger and better. We know what's right for us, at all times.

In the closing keynote, he said if you are trying to create change in anything—whether a business or a country—don't appeal to the conscience of people, appeal to their greatness. Remind them of that, always. It's very tempting to turn inward and focus on our own stuff in times of crisis. In crises we rediscover who we are and what we are about. And realize we are connected to others.

Our most dominant emotion comes up when things get tough. If we are fearful, we become more fearful. If we blame, we blame more. And if we are grateful, we become more grateful. If we usually are the type that helps, we find ways to help more.

Right after the conference I flew to Hawaii for a conference with Wayne Dyer, a beloved spiritual teacher, on how to identify the excuses that rule your life and how to get rid of them. Look for a blog post on that experience shortly.