A few weeks ago, I attended the California Governor’s Conference for Women as the chair of NAWBO. In the seven years she’s been in office, California First Lady Maria Shriver has taken a mediocre annual conference and transformed it into the nation’s premier forum for women. It was certainly the most inspirational event I have ever attended.
With a speaker lineup featuring more than 150 notable and extraordinary women—and men—from across the country, the conference strived to empower women to be “architects of change,” not only in their own lives but in their communities and throughout the world. And the audience showed up—in record numbers. A friend of mine asked me how I could get inspired sitting with 30,000 other women in a packed conference center for two days.
The answer was simple: The speakers were so inspiring and thought-provoking that I was able to tune out everything around me and make a direct connection with the speakers and their message.
In addition to Maria Shriver, the conference provided a platform for the likes of Sandra Day O’Conner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, Erin Brockovich, Billie Jean King, Suze Orman, Jill Biden, Laura Bush, and other powerful women to share their journeys to empowerment. All were successful women—achieving status in government, politics, sports, television, the arts or some other field. Some were born into privilege; most were not. Their overriding message was that “it’s time” . . . that we all need to just start, to take the resources we have at the moment and realistically determine what we can do with them. And build from there. One step at a time.
As Maria Shriver noted, ”it’s time” means all different kinds of things to all different kinds of people depending on where you are in your life. She recalled election evening seven years ago, when her Hollywood husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, officially learned he was the next governor of California. She said that despite being a child who grew up in the swirl of politics, she suddenly found herself out of her comfort zone. She did not know how to be a first lady, and she was scared and confused. But, it was time to figure it out. Without going into Shriver’s entire journey, the bottom line is that she learned to define her new role, and in defining it, she redefined herself as well.
“Being outside of your comfort zone doesn’t mean you can’t handle it. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, and it doesn’t mean you’re powerless. It just means you’re uncomfortable,” she said.
Oprah Winfrey concluded the conference by saying, “I am not afraid of what the future holds because I know who holds the future . . . the miracle is always waiting for you—waiting on you to change your perception so you can see it.”
Businesses and their owners have been through a tough few years. We’ve had to redefine ourselves and our companies, to step out of our comfort zones, and to take what limited resources we’ve had and realistically assess what we can do right now. We’ve learned a lot about what we’re made of, and about what we’re not willing to do as well. It’s been an uncomfortable time, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t handle it.
As tennis legend Billie Jean King, said, “If you believe you can, the world is yours.”