Recap: Massachusetts Conference for Women

This past Thursday I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. My employer was kind enough to excuse a portion of our staff that wished to attend for a day of panels, talks, discussions, and lectures at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

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I love a conference. I like the little glossy badges and the advertising lanyards. I like the swag bags and the exhibition halls hocking products and services. But mostly, I love the overwhelming numbers that gather for a specific cause. Over 10,000 women gathered for the conference. That is a lot of ladies. And together we strove to better ourselves and learn something we perhaps did not know before we attended the conference. It was very empowering and inspiring. Another item I love about conferences is whenever I leave one I always feel like taking action. They inspire frenzy and belief.

The breakfast keynote started at 8:30 am and the convention center is as far from my apartment as it is possible to be so naturally I got very little sleep the night before. Whenever I know I have to be somewhere early, I have a tendency to let my anxiety over that need to keep me awake. I guess my brain says, if you don’t sleep, you’ll definitely be on time! I find this counterproductive. But it is also natural. Another aspect that seems to always come with conference territory is early mornings and a lack of sleep. I felt right at home.

The morning keynote speakers were very impressive. Most notable, I would say, was Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts and also a TED talk superstar (see here). It was wonderful to see her speak in person. She had a very compelling presentation. The world is full of people who work best under vastly different conditions (i.e. introverts versus extroverts). She argues that the world works in a way encouraging to extroverts, but less so to introverts and that a quiet revolution is at hand. If we give all people the tools they need to work their best and understand how that functions, everyone will be better off. Personally, I find myself to be socially extroverted, but fairly introverted when it comes to working or coming up with ideas (I’d rather do it by myself). Though, at work I like having lots of tasks and keeping very busy. I miss running around, which is crazy because my very full plate just made me stressed. I think I miss being stressed. More on that another time.

Another noted morning keynoter was Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer prize winner and noted historian. She spoke on her biographies of presidents and had many anecdotes. She talked about how she cultivated her love of history and her time with the Johnson administration. I want to pick up some of her books. I never know what historical accounts to read! Now I’ve got a bit better of an idea.

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I attended three panels, two mainly personal development related, the other more practical skills: Season of Unlikely Happiness, Winning from Within, and The Facebook Era. Piece out which is which.

I have a lot I could say about Season and Winning from Within. Being 22 and almost 23 is a very weird place to be in your life. I have accomplished everything I could have wanted (i.e. graduated with a bachelor’s degree and obtained a salaried, excellent position). This general success is making me very unhappy (don’t worry, I am fully aware of the madness in this). I want to do so much and I am still uncertain of the exact path that will take me to where I want to end up. I have been told this crisis of uncertainty and desire for more is perfectly natural, which is reassuring but not exactly helpful.

Laura Munson, who ran the Season of Unlikely Happiness panel, put forth her philosophy that you cannot define your happiness on things outside your control, and rather you can control what you can create, which begins with how you think. She discusses how wanting is outside of yourself, meanwhile creating comes from inside you. So rather than saying, I want this, you should say I am creating this. One of her more interesting points was to focus on what you can control and let go of everything else. She said, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” Most days, I worry that I choose to suffer out of habit and I think it would be a good cycle to break. As Munson would say I have a tendency to live in the negative story told to me by my inner critic. Rather, I should step into the world of yes! This is the world that thrives in possibility. While a lovely sentiment, this is easier said than done and I believe it’s something I can attain through a lot of hard work.

This ties into Erica Ariel Fox’s panel Winning from Within. She talks also about “inner negotiators”; these are the thoughts that propel you toward different action. Fox argues that there are four main quadrants: The Thinker, who focuses on logic and rational thinking and analysis; The Dreamer, who sees a version of the future and reaches for it; The Warrior, who takes action; and The Lover, who is the people person and is concerned mostly with emotions and empathy. Fox says that neuroscience shows that all people have each of these four types of thinking accessible inside of them, but we only listen to one or two. In order to be the best negotiators we can be, it is ideal to take all four into account when making decisions. She also talked about getting caught up in a story you are telling yourself about who you are and letting that limit you. The potential is all there.

The final panel was just about social media and the best ways to implement it. It focused mostly on brand marketing (rather than personal marketing), and while not something I can use entirely at this moment, it was interesting. I will definitely put it on the back burner.

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The keynote luncheon was also lovely (including the lunch, which was so pretty I hardly wanted to eat it – though I did… of course!). Notably we heard from Blake Mycoskie, the mind behind TOMS Shoes. His story was very compelling. We also heard from Kerry Washington and Robin Roberts of Good Morning America via satellite. Finally, Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate and Liberian peace activist spoke. Her story was very moving. There is so much suffering and sadness out there, but it is within our power to ease some of it. Through the “power of us,” as the conference touted as its tag line.

It was a good conference and this was a long post! Thanks for reading all the way through if you’ve made it to the end. Do let me know your thoughts. I feel like I get so caught up in what I ought to be doing that I don’t take action at all! I need to listen to my warrior negotiator, as opposed to just the lover and thinker, especially that lover. Can it be a bad thing to take other people’s feelings into account too much? At least now I better understand why I’m so guilt ridden all the time! I just want everyone to be happy.

My biggest take away from the conference is that I can personally be doing more and that I need to focus on setting goals for myself. The reason why NaNoWriMo was such a success was because I had a community around me encouraging me to barrel on. I think I lack this in daily life. So I will build it myself! Writers, musicians, and collaborators: this is my formal call to you. Let’s help each other help ourselves.

So much to do and so much to get done! Until next time.

xx

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