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Women’s Legacy as Leaders

I hate to be late at events—and I become mortified to think I might be even 5 minutes late to an event where I am one of the keynote speakers. While I was braving the 10 East traffic this Thursday at 7:30 in the morning, I kept worrying if I would make it to the Pasadena Convention Center on time. Never mind that my navigation system was malfunctioning and I was trying to figure out where I need to go on my iPhone while listening to Oprah’s satellite radio program of “who is an energy sucker in your life.” Quite honestly, the question is not “who” but “what”. Traffic nowadays is the biggest drain of my energy.

But, once I parked my car and ran into the ballroom of the convention center and checked in for “Women’s Legacy Leadership Conference,” I felt a rush of positive energy go through me.

Once guided though the large doors of the banquet hall, it was clear that this was going to be a wonderful event. The room was full of beautiful round tables laid with promotional materials including, a packet and little pink rubber hard-hats symbolizing hardworking women. Before the event I was told there would be about 600 women at the event, and once I walked, it was clear that they had all arrived. There was a large stage at the front flanked by two digital movie screens with the event branding perfectly in place.

Phyllis Currie and Gail Farber are two super star women serving the county of Los Angeles in high leadership roles. They started off the day sharing their impressions on their personal journeys. Shortly after I arrived, it was my turn to present – and I focused on some of the key leadership lessons learned from the women featured in Pioneers of the Possible. It is an uncanny feeling when you feel so connected to hundreds of women in the room. Under the dimmed lights, the atmosphere felt intimate and I felt my message about the book resonated with them.

Usually when I make my way back to my seat, I check in with my assistant, who joins me at these events, to see if I did all right.  You see, I don’t think this question comes from a place of insecurity. Truthfully, it comes from a place of utter curiosity, because when I am at the podium, I feel like I am in a cocoon with the audience. I have no sense of time or much else. All I try to do is speak with passion about the subjects that I am passionate about.

Well, nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful and heartfelt response I got at the intermission. Once I got to the book-signing table, I noticed a line forming that went down the hall. If I may say so, I was so pleased that my books sold out in a matter of 20 minutes! But, the highlight was chatting with these amazing women who shared their experiences with me. One told me about her upcoming promotion, another about her 3 beautiful daughters that she has raised on her own, and yet another one told me about how arranged a stand-in to save her friend’s home during foreclosure. Now how could I have met any of these women if I hadn’t participated in this conference?

Of course, I got a chance to meet up with an old friend, best-selling author Hope Adelman, and had the opportunity to hear Christine Schwab speak for the first time.

Both are remarkable women who are passionate about seeing women succeed.

The message for the whole day for me was that our journey has much meaning. I always tell the audience that we all have a story. We define our story as much our story defines us. In order to reach higher and assume a leadership position in our own lives, we need to be committed to a path of growth. I felt privileged to have heard the many touching stories of resilience, success, hope, and courage at this conference.  If these are traits that we as women can harness, then we too can be pioneers in our own lives!

Enlightened

Before heading to the Grand Hall for my speaking engagement at Rice University, I had to make one stop! I simply could not visit the majestic Rice campus and not stand underneath James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace.  James Turell medium of art is light, and he has always said, “light itself is a form of revelation and a source of contemplation”. Of course as I watched the light show in the skyspace pavilion, I was filled with a sense of expansiveness that was indescribable.

James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”

As lifelong learners, we also hope to experience those “light filled” moments where we gain new insight on life and people. One of the ways in which we all can play a part in transformation is by sharing what inspires us. Given my natural curiosity and my training in psychology I have always been fascinated by visionaries, who have been at the forefront of change, who have led the way to a broader way of perceiving the world.

This fascination led me to write “Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World”. In the book, I offer a personal and psychological narrative of the most trailblazing women around the world.  My quest to connect and have meaningful conversations about this topic has led to a yearlong book tour, which is why I was invited to come and speak at Rice University.

It is one thing to go to an institution and talk about what I am passionate about, but it is another thing to see that an institution can so thoughtfully integrate a talk and link it to their students’ passion.  For my speaking engagement, The Center For the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality brought together 20 non-profit organizations (AssistHers, YWCA, Girls Inc., The Women’s Home to name a few) to its Grand Hall so that students could sign up to volunteer for these organizations following my talk.

If there are two messages that I can impart about my book, it would be that effective leaders 1) build a life around their strengths and 2) visionaries commit themselves to a purpose that is larger than themselves.  The idea of service is pivotal in one’s growth and transformation, and how appropriate it was for an educational institution to facilitate growth in such a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Perhaps the Turell piece that I so wanted to visit is just another symbol for what the campus does already.

Ellsworth Kelly: Living Inspired at 89

Ellsworth Kelly
(photo: Vanity Fair)

When many people think of growing old they imagine a life on the decline – instead of reaching a climax. Why not travel the world, write a book, fall in love, or create something spectacular or start something new?

I love when I come across people in any field who break stereotypes and set an example for us all of what can be. Their lives inspire us. Ellsworth Kelly is such a man.

Painter, sculptor and printmaker, Ellsworth Kelly is famous for his abstract work, use of simple forms, and hard edge and color field painting. His works hang in museums and private collections worldwide including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego to name just a few.

He lives a painter’s dream producing exceptional works of art, and now at age 89 and with two major shows coming up – one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and another at the Morgan Library & Museum – he doesn’t allow his age to paint him into a corner.

Living the good life, he works in what many would consider a painters paradise — 15,000 sq ft of a perfectly re-designed studio in Spencertown, NY, and lives with his life partner and renowned photographer Jack Shear.

Although age has gifted him with more aches and pains, and most notably oxygen tanks that have become his daily companions, Ellsworth Kelly continues to paint, and for that we are grateful.

Posted in Art

Meet me at the Frankfurt Airport

It doesn’t matter that I have not been a student for two decades. Still, when summer rolls around, I feel like I have been let out of school and it is time to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunny days. No doubt, summer is also about travel and exploring new places. This past month, my travels took my family and me to Berlin, Israel, and South of France. Each country has such a different flare for living. Berlin to me is the center of what is up and coming in the art world—a young and vibrant city. Israel, on the other hand, feels ancient and spiritual. And what can I say about the sunny beaches of Cot d’ Azur—the beautiful coastline, the marvelous food, and the medieval villages are feasts for the senses.

But the most exciting part of my travel actually took place in transit—on a short layover at the Frankfurt Airport. Well, you might say, she has lost her mind! How can an airport terminal be more exciting than the list of places I had just mentioned? Comes to show you that people are the essence of what makes something truly memorable.

You see, from the time I was eleven until the age of 22, everyone thought I had a twin. Well she didn’t look like me at all. She had light brown hair and fair skin and she was half German and half Persian—A very exotic combination, don’t you think? Shirin was my dearest friend all through my growing up years. We did everything together! No one would see one without the other and when we were 13 years old, we went to a store to get our BFF charm for each other.  She was my maid of honor at my wedding as well.

Shirin happened to fall in love with a dashing guy in Germany and permanently moved there 18 years ago. She came and stayed over a couple times with her family over the years but for the last decade we lost touch. That is until this past year! We have been updating each other through facebook and once she learned that my family was traveling to Berlin she wrote, “we have to find a way to see each other.” These were my sentiments exactly!

Shirin took off work and met me during my transit at the Lufthansa gate in Frankfurt. Words cannot describe the avalanche of excitement in both of us. Laughter broke out as we both rushed to hug each other. The next hour and a half was spent over coffee, catching up with each other.  It was uncanny, it seemed like no time had gone by. We talked and laughed and cried as if we were those two eleven year old girls joined at the  hip in grade school. Only difference is that we had this illusion that everything around us is older—older kids, parents, siblings, and spouses. It is really hard to pluck yourself out of yourself to see who you are after some odd 25 years. But most definitely the core of who we are really remains the same.

Oh, by the way,  there was one other thing that was different between us. We both had premature gray hair in our twenties even. I started highlighting my hair and she started dying her hair a deeper shade. To think that I now have lighter hair than her is quite amusing! What a truly heart-warming hour we spent together, and it was so hard to say good bye.

Wishing you a sun-filled and beautiful month of July!

Strong Women of the Week

For those of you who follow my blogs, you know that I had been in NY for another book event last week. It really is one of my favorite things to do—to connect with my readers and create a dialogue about topics that have meaning to me.  I was lucky enough to plan some meetings with some exceptional women during my stay in NY.  Pat Mitchell, who is a pioneering woman in every sense, (she was the first woman to become president of PBS and she also organizes TED Women Conferences) extended an invitation for a lunch and an interview at the Payley Center. I had the distinct pleasure of watching Pat interview Nancy Pelosi. Who would have ever thought that a mother of 5 kids decides to run for office in her 40’s and later become the first female speaker of the house? Her story was really inspirational!  I did also get a chance to chat with Pat and talk about the many projects that I am working on in the coming year.

Dina Powell, the director of Global Corporate Engagement for the Goldman Sachs Group, is another dynamic woman that met with.  First of all, when you meet her, you think she should be on the cover of some magazine! She is absolutely stunning and at the same time brilliant. What a combination. Dina leaders the 10,000 women program at Goldman Sachs which helps women start up their dream business all around the globe.  As a matter of fact Dina had just come back from a trip to Delhi and was energized by all that was happening in women’s start-ups.

I guess you can see that the theme of the week was about strong women. And to cap it off, I made sure I visited Cindy Sherman’s exhibition at the MOMA, which is a must see! For years I have been following Cindy’s work, but I have to admit, I didn’t get some of her photographs. It was only last week, when you see decades of her work, side by side, that you truly grasp the evolution of this gifted artist. And speaking of gifted artists, I paid a visit to the new studio of Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari.  Shirin is indeed a good friend of Cindy’s and I am proud that we have such a prolific artist representing Iranian Women today.  Shirin was excited about her upcoming project with Natalie Portman and LVMH for Dior. Her idea for the short film is provocative and insightful. Can’t wait to see it!

With all that was happening all around me, my heart was with a dear friend in Los Angeles.  Desiree Kohan was a dear friend of mine who had been struggling to stay alive in the face of stage IV cancer for the past seven years. I knew she was not doing well, and I made frequent calls to LA to check in with her.  I came back to LA on Wednesday evening, and Thursday morning I was at her side.  It pains me to think that such a vibrant and wonderful human being is no longer with us.  I hold her deep in my heart for her courage, her relentless grace, and for the light of her soul.  These past few days have not been easy to say the least and this Sunday I will speak at her memorial. I am holding her memory close to my heart as she was a spectacular woman.

Whirlwind New York City Tour

It all started with a red eye flight to NY. “You must be out of your mind to start our such a busy week of book promotion with a red eye flight,” everyone warned me.  But for someone like m, who needs very little sleep and is always scrambling for more time, the red eye flight was the answer! No bloodshot eyes or energy drinks for me…I was ready to go!  Part of the excitement comes from not knowing how the week unfolds and but a big part of it is connecting with all of the wonderful people I had planned to see.

Diving right in, Monday was an important day. I met with my publishers at their big office in the city — Assouline — to sign three-hundred books in preparation for the two big upcoming events.

I remember a few years back, before my first book was even an idea, going into Rizzoli’s and looking at all the beautiful books on display. I started to think back then how great it would be if I could one day write a book that would be sold in such a special place. Now here I am on my second book tour for “Pioneers of the Possible”, signing many books, prepping for parties, and am able to walk by Rizzoli’s see my own book in the window. It is such moments so personal that nobody sees that have such significance for me. These are the moments that make my heart full and remind me that anything is possible. The power of our dreams and of dedication is the magic that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, March 6th in the evening there was a packed book signing event at theLeila Heller Gallery followed up by a special dinner at the Americano. The very talented Shirin Neshat, photographer and filmmaker, was there as were many wonderful friends and some new faces.

Photo Courtesy: [Tory Burch, Jacqueline Novogratz, Dawn Ostroff, Angella Nazarian, Melissa Berkelhammer via BFA]

Wednesday was another huge day for me. That evening ( March 7th) Tory Burch & Dawn Ostroff co-hosted a glamorous Book Launch Party at Tory Burch’s Flagship store on Madison Avenue. What a delight for the senses! And what a turnout—250 people in attendance. One of the greatest gifts was that Jacqueline Novogratz, who is featured in the book, came and spoke. She is literally changing the face of philanthropy with her Acumen Fund. Featured on the Forbes cover in December 2011, she has created a new model for philanthropy, which combines venture capitalism in industries that support sustainable life in third world nations. For example, brining in clean water to a community, and electricity, etc.  It was nothing short of a magical event with some of the most inspirational people that work in media, philanthropy and women’s organizations all there in one room with the same heart beat — to make a difference in the world.

Thursday, March 8th, marked the eve of International Day of the Women. Tina Brown’s Women of the World Summit was in New York and drew in pioneering women from all around the world to speak. Among them, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Diane Von Furstenberg, Leymah Gbowee, and Christine Lagarde.

Hillary happened to speak on the importance of women to living fearlessly. This, yet another common thread weaved through the lives of inspiring women who have changed the world.

I left New York full of inspiration. There were so many precious moments and seeds planted  that I know will tie into the greater message of my life… “We really can all pioneers, visionaries and accomplish great things in our own lives”…. But the first step is courage—developing that fearlessness inside of us!

Seven of my dearest friends came on this trip to support me and to celebrate the launch of my new book, which was so kind,  and I have to give them a public thank you for being what Arianna Huffington refers to as “my fearless tribe”. This is a group of women who all support one another in pursuit of our dreams, and are always there to celebrate one another’s achievements. Thank you my dear friends — you know who you are!

The Brave Collection: Where Fashion Becomes Social Action

Fashion, jewelry and accessories have been used socially for generations to help others understand a part of our story. In some cases, it becomes like a second skin, reflecting our values, passions, interests, or industry. Whether artistic, formal, protective, casual or ever-changing — our fashions are always leaving clues and whispering hidden messages of who we are, or who we want to become.

THE BRAVE COLLECTION, created by Jessica Hendricks is a line of bracelets with a message of its own.  Made of sterling silver, 14k gold and recycled brass bombshell castings from the Cambodian Civil War, the bracelets proudly display the word “Klahan” which means “Brave” in Khmer, the language of Cambodia. After being charmed by the sweet designs of the bracelet, the obvious questions that arise are “what does that say?” and “what does it mean?” propelling the inquisitor into the heart of a terrifying and tragic story, one that’s all too real, but one that offers a call to action that can be as simple as wearing the fashion.

Now for Jessica’s story…

Jessica was an English teacher working abroad in Thailand. Having the opportunity to take some side trips, she ventured into Cambodia and fell in love with the culture and people until she learned of the horrible human violations plaguing the country as a result of the sex-trade industry. Amongst the horror stories, she learned that Cambodia is among the worst solicitors of sex slaves, and although now a global problem, Cambodian children, especially girls, are among the worst targeted. Like all sex slaves, they are stolen or traded and sold for enormous profits at the cost of their personhood. According to Jessica’s research, girls as young as four years old are being sold to brothels, are terribly abused, and sometimes forced to serve up to 30 “clients” a day. Unable to escape these enormity of the problem, she came back with a vision to make a difference. She discovered Cambodian schools and artisans that offered exploited women new opportunities, and this was perfect point of connection for her and the dream in her heart to take shape. Jessica’s company has helped bring girls and women over to New York to be a part of “THE BRAVE COLLECTION” team. This happens when brave individuals like Jessica unite to create awareness. She has developed a beautiful line, and given voice to a cause that needs our immediate attention. By wearing the bracelet, one not only supports an ethical, love-driven business, but helps share the story and raise awareness.

For me, Jessica Hendricks is a pioneering woman. Her passion to make a difference is contagious, and it’s one of the markers of a successful leader. This coincides with a message I’ve been passionately pursuing in my own life journey. I’ve just released my second book “Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World” (Assouline), with the desire to encourage women to live their best lives, and follow the guidance of their conscience, regardless of how difficult a journey it seems. “Pioneers of the Possible” is a collection of stories of women who in their own right, have changed the world to make it a better place for us all, and what better examples can we give ourselves than the inspiring stories of other great women?

The First week of Pioneers of the Possible Book launch

I woke up Tuesday morning especially early. For those of you who know me, it is of no surprise when you receive an email from me at 5:30 am!  For the past few years, I have been waking up automatically at 5am, and quite frankly this is the only time in the day that I feel I can get uninterrupted work done. So just imagine, here I was—wide awake at 4:30 in the morning, in the pitch dark—thinking of my big day ahead. Yes. It was my book launch celebration that Tuesday.

I tiptoed out of my bedroom to my home office and saw a message flashing on my screen.  Women’s Wear Daily had just printed a full-page article on my book, Pioneers of the Possible, the very day of my book launch on Tues. Feb. 21st!  I hoped that this wonderful review is a good omen for things to come for my book—my labor of love for the past 2 years.

You never know how a book is received by the public; as a writer you do what is most fascinating to you and you only hope that you transfer that excitement to the reader.   That Tuesday morning, I stepped into the SLS Hotel to find 350 eager readers and supporters greeting me.

I don’t know if I have the words to describe the special bond one creates with the reader; but most certainly it is an intimate one, because the book becomes a medium for both the writer and the reader to take a journey together.

People who have been following my blogs, who had read my previous book were there in full support.  And may I add with such enthusiasm that there was a certain kind of electricity in the room.

I not only have created a bond with my readers, but I also have formed a special connection to the 20 pioneering women I have showcased in the book. While researching their lives, reading their memoirs and going over interview clips, I felt as if I was getting to know a new friend, or an admired mentor.  Their lives, their presence in the world inspired me. I posted their pictures on a board in my office and wrote down the quotes that resonated in my life.

My wish is that Pioneers of the Possible, and the lives of these visionary women around the world opens that door for the readers to once again take that special journey of discovery with me.  These are stories of hope, resilience, creativity, and the joy in celebrating the achievement of women.

“It’s Our Turn” Brentwood School hosts it’s first ever Young Women’s Conference featuring Maria Shriver, Mary J Blige, and surprise guest Lady GAGA.

Eight hundred and fifty young women from 150 schools in the Los Angeles area had gathered in the Gym of Brentwood School for its first ever, Young Women’s Conference, called “It’s Our Turn.”

It was a proud moment for all of us women and especially Brentwood parents to see such a thoughtful and inspirational day unfold before us.  Maria Shriver was the honorary chair for the event and the executive committee—the ones who put on the conference—was made of 10 brilliant Brentwood School Girls that had a passion for growth and for tackling some modern-day issues facing girls today.

It goes without saying the discussion panels and the speakers were beyond belief! Yes, just imagine that the fierce and talented Mary J Blige spoke onstage about her journey, her relationships, and her own experiences with work and rejection.  She was so gracious, candid, and open-hearted that you couldn’t help but admire this woman for what she has done.

I had the great privilege of being a presenter as well and I when I was in the green room, I ran into her and told her how real and remarkable she was.  She smiled at me and said, “Thank you, it means a lot to me.” She wasn’t acting like a larger than life personality, but rather a humble and authentic woman.

A whole host of accomplished women took the stage talking about balancing work and family, about giving back to the community, self-defense and creating boundaries, self-esteem, and bullying.

The big surprise came at the final hour of the event. The surprise guest speaker was blonde donning Chanel sunglasses, a bright red lipstick, a biker leather jacket with studs all over. Any clues? A red silk blouse was tied around her waste that served as a make shift mini skirt and heals that must have been 10 inches high. She came on the stage and the entire gym went wild—there she was—Lady Gaga!

In a world where everything dwindles down to images and sound bites, Lady Gaga sat and talked about her difficulties she faced in being excluded in high school, her own insecurities, and some of the obstacles that have come across her path.  Well over a hundred girls stood in line to ask her questions, and I was amazed to see the level of connection and truthfulness she shared with the audience.

As everyone headed out of the conference, all I could hear were the girls chatting among themselves about the incredible day they had all shared. I was thinking to myself how wonderful it would have been for my generation to have had this kind of opportunity to talk about such issues when we were in the midst of our tumultuous, hormonal ride through high school.  Indeed “It is Our Turn” was the most appropriate name for the conference for these girls.

Margaret Thatcher: If You Want Anything Done, Ask a Woman

“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man — If you want anything done, ask a woman.” — Margaret Thatcher 1982.

Margaret Thatcher, known best as the ‘Iron Lady’ and former Prime Minister of Great Britain (from 1979-1990), will forever be remembered as the United Kingdom’s most powerful Prime Minister since the days of Winston Churchill.

She entered government during difficult times, and is largely credited to turning things around. Labor Unions were on strikes for various reasons, and the nation’s economy was facing recession. As the first ever woman Prime Minister, and leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher put a plan into action. She privatized public housing and formerly nationalized enterprises such as coal, iron, steel, gas, electricity and water supply, and restricted some of the power of trade unions. Her riskiest move of all was the way she tried to control inflation. She believed inflation was a disease of money and only controlling the money supply could cure, and that she did. During her tenure, inflation fell from 27% in 1975 to 2.5 % in 1986.

She never lost an election, and won wars — most notably the Faulkland Islands. She forged a key alliance with President Ronald Reagan, where Britain and the US became the most powerful allies in fighting the Cold War.

Born into a middle-class family in Grantham, Lincolnshire (13 October 1925), Martha neither knew great lack or great privilege in her youth.

Margaret’s father, Alfred, was the single biggest influence in her life.

He stressed the importance of handwork and duty, and always asked her to form her own opinions on matters. She graduated from Oxford in 1947, with a degree in Chemistry, and was the first in her family to go to University. In 1951 she met Denis Thatcher, a wealthy divorced businessman, with whom she married and had two sons. He funded her continuing education, which enabled her to become a barrister. This man must have been an incredible man for knowing and understanding who Margaret was and supporting her in her dreams. And she was also quite grateful.

When she finally resigned as Prime Minister, she asked the Queen that Dennis not she, be given an honorary title, as Sir Dennis.

As much as she didn’t have many close women friends and enjoyed the company of men, she had no qualms about her identity as a woman. When running for premiership, she explained, “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home, will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”

Respected by Presidents, World Leaders, and civilians Margaret Thatcher will be remembered as a strong politician who was never afraid to put up a fight for her country. I can’t wait to see the new movie coming out that features Meryll Streep as Mrs. Thatcher. I hear that the movie is not so kind to her, but in the world of politics, even the kindest of women is fair game.